Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sexy Saturn!

This is a super sexy image of Saturn produced by the Cassini spacecraft!  I have a class this semester for Planets, Moons, and Ring Systems.  Our professor, Larry Esposito, is a PI for the UV spectrometer instrument on Cassini.  I'm stoked to learn more about the formation of rings.  Saturn has always been my favorite planet.  Part of my quarter sleeve tattoo is a copy of the image Galileo drew in 1610 when he first saw Saturn.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Astrobiology - A Natural Philosophy?

In his book, Lonely Planets, David Grinspoon states "The odd status of astrobiology in the suite of sciences can, I think, be understood by realizing that it is not yet science, exactly, but still natural philosophy."

I think I felt a little opposed to this statement at first, as it seemed at first sight to debase astrobiology in the eyes of a young scientist.  Then, after thinking about the true nature of my interests in astrobiology, I realized I agree with Dr. Grinspoon.  A natural philosophy of astrobiology, as opposed to a natural science in the common connotation, may not only consider the scientific approach to the study of life in the universe, but may lead us to ask some much larger (or at least, much different) questions than objective science and modern scientific methodology can answer.  Taking a natural philosophy approach to the study of life means blending the science of astrobiology with the philosophy of astrobiology.  How can we come to know about life?  What questions must we ask to learn more?  Is the scientific method of modern times the best approach to learning about the unknown?  As a trained young scientist, I love the scientific method and the rigors of experimentation, but it may be that, for the time being, we need to take a step back and get to know ourselves while we try to learn about something else.  Galileo Galilei really upturned the age-old Aristotelian approach to the study of the natural world.  Galileo utilized experimentation to investigate prior speculations.  He was conducting science.  The natural philosophy of the past began to fade not too long after and modern science was born.  But perhaps we need a broader approach to the study of life.  Back to Dr. Grinspoon:

"During the Enlightenment, science grew out of natural philosophy and took on a life of its own.  In an unconstrained field like astrobiology, where our ignorance so outweighs our knowledge that we are not even sure how to ask the right questions, we can benefit from hearkening back to the earlier approach.  Our innocence in the ways of the universe demands that we be natural philosophers again."
-David Grinspoon, Lonely Planets 

Cosmobiology may be gaining some steam in regards to acceptance by the scientific body at large, but there is much about our integrative approach to the study of life that takes it beyond the scientific realm.
In some ways our past defaults to anthropocentrism show us that we may be too ignorant about some deeper truths in the vast universal ocean to really understand all that lies beyond our cosmic shores.  I'm in no way inciting the supernatural here, but it may be that we need to really open up the boundaries of modern science when it comes to exploring life beyond Earth because, otherwise, we may be blinding ourselves with our own forced ideologies and objections.

The question "Are we alone in the universe?" seems like it would warrant a simple 'yes or no' answer (and perhaps someday it will), but in the modern time our ability to begin elucidating an answer relies heavily on whether or not we can blend what we know with what we think we know and what we really don't know.  It's that last bit that gives us trouble.  How can we blend what we don't know into what we do know?  And how can we determine if what we think we know is true or false or something in between?  This is where the natural philosophy side of cosmobiology comes into play.  We can use the objective inquiry and rigorous experimentation and examination of science to chip away at little bits of knowledge and continue to feed our cumulative understanding, but, by taking a step back and examining the character of our study and how we've come to know what we know, we may find there is more to the question of the study of life beyond Earth than simply, "Are we alone?"

"An awareness of the limits of science is especially important when we skirt close to its edge." 
- David Grinspoon, Lonely Planets

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I wish he would have walked into the temple...

Touching Another Galaxy!

This is not photoshopped!  This is a picture of me touching a wall mural at Goddard Space Flight Center back in 2007.  We took the YCP Biology Club down to Goddard to see Science on a Sphere and check out the Goddard Center.

Getting this whole shebang started!

I've been meaning to start my own blog for the past couple of years (I mean, come on, all the cool kids are doin' it, right?).  Just a way to share my thoughts, experiences, and life with everyone and anyone.

I'm a young scientist, an astrobiologist, and a lover of life.  Get ready, 'cause here I come!

Update: 26 February 2015

Looking back over my blog over the last few years, it's been interesting to see how it's grown, and I've grown along with it.  I started this blog in 2010, when I was just beginning graduate school and still very unsure of what I wanted to do afterward.  Now, 4.5 years later, I know that I want to be an educator and a science communicator.  I want to share science and philosophy with people across our world and have conversations so that people can learn about me and I can learn about people.  This blog has helped me to start that process and to allow me to engage with a more diverse audience than I could have otherwise.  

This is an old post, so you may never see this, but, if you do check it out and find this update, than take this as my thank you for reading my blog.  Thank you from the depth of my being for reading my writing and for joining me on my journey through life.