Saturday, December 27, 2008

Philosophy, Religion, Science, Astronomy and Sharks

This blog was to be on 'Light Pollution' - that curse of all astronomers both amateur and professional. I'm a founding member of SOLIS - The Sydney Outdoor Lighting Improvement Society, more on that another time.

But I wasted a lot of time - I originally wrote this on the 27/12/2008. I've now posted it despite it's old age!

Whilst I was scanning through a weekend paper 'The Weekend Australian Financial Review' I was drawn to a photograph of a remarkable astronomical object - 'Menzel 3'. This is a planetary nebulae revealed as only modern science can - a mystery no longer and so, I was led to the article, 'Realignment of Ideas'. It turns out that this article is a book review of an anthology of works from 23 philosophers. It was originally 30 philosophers and I guess that's another story - the book itself is titled '23 Questions from Great Philosophers', the author is 'Leszek Kolakowski'.

Nowhere in the article is there a reference to 'Menzel 3', so what is the logic behind using the picture? The article about the book attempts to link Philosophy and Religion, the anthology is of articles that attempt to answer the question 'Of Being'. The book itself apparently presents each article then poses a few questions for your musings. The title of the book is however 'Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?' The book lines up some of the heavy hitters from Socrates to Husserl (who?) and with a few astronomer/science noteries lurking in there. The author of the book Kolakowski does not refer to astronomy . So why does the author of the newspaper article use the picture - it is a wonderful picture and I will post it here, it has been the APOD, and probably not a well known object - and it does look like - well an ant.

And so, why did I mention sharks in the title here, not quite as random as the Ant Nebula in the book review. Today in Perth, Western Australia, a truly tragic event has overtaken a family. A family's father was lost to a very large White Pointer shark. The chances of dying to shark attack in Australia is diminishing small, to April 2008 there have been 11 fatal attacks in the last 50 years. I guess people often just don't believe sharks will attack. I don't need to believe in sharks to know this can happen, I know that sharks exist, and I know that sharks attack people. I once was snorkelling with friends at a local beach 'Cabbage Tree Bay', nearby at a distance I saw a group of small sharks. They were the 'Grey Nurse' variety so I wasn't alarmed, they were in deep water and I was in shallow water. A few minutes later directly below me, less than a metre, the shilloute of a shark appeared, swimming across my path - certainly alarming!

The reviewer of this book is promoting the idea that Religion can explain that there is something rather than nothing, and he uses the philosophers, not all of whom actually manage to reach that particular conclusion. Some in fact come adrift and head into nihlism. I expect that The Ant nebula is used as a tag to show as 'something' and give a 'scientific' slant to the article.

And the conclusion - there's nothing philosophical about sharks in their oen environment - I expect to see them there and I expect to see them behave in a shark-like manner. Today 7/01/2009 I saw another shark article in the Sydney Morning Hearld, something about a shark swimming near a surf life saver - fancy that! Maybe that surf life-saver was swimming close to the shark. So, I expect to see astronomical objects and I expect a simple and straight-forward explanation, sometimes revealing but never a matter of blind faith. And I would never have faith in a shark - I got out of the water and walked back!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Getting Started

Who knows where this sort of activity may end - is it some sort of slippery slope? All experiments can have a random outcome - sometimes serendipitous, although mostly uninteresting and boring - not necessarily failure just boring. So here's hoping for some interesting serendipitous random outcomes!

Just looking through my observing log the last night I ran up the scope was the 2nd September 2008. Since then most evenings have not been worth it - mostly cloudy, or I attended a commitment such as a Committee Meeting for something - most likely astronomical related. Fortunately Christmas suspends most of these commitments and I get an opportunity to utilise a clear night.

The first topic off the rank is - the weather. I'm sure most people talk about the weather, for an astronomer it's about the clouds. Earlier this year at the Sydney City Skywatchers we listened to a great talk by Julie Evans of The Bureau of Meterolgy. She gave us lots of ideas of how to plan for the weather and told us about The Cloud Appreciation Society.

So far to-night looks like it might be clear - for a change - still about 5 hours to go to twilight. The Sydney MTSAT-1R VIS is showing some scattered cloud coming from the West. The South-East Australia shot shows about a 500Km gap. My guess is it will be line-ball, maybe clear in the early to late morning. It's been a hot humid day so the seeing will be shocking.