I am spending the week in Uluru (or Ayers Rock) in the Australian outback as astronomer in residence. It is one of the most amazing places I’ve had the privilege to visit. It has been a great time to reflect as 1) I’m alone a lot because I don’t really “know” anyone here; and 2) nature has a way to help me process and organise my thoughts.
Wisdom from Uluru
Reading about some of the aboriginal stories while I have been here has made me mindful. Aboriginal Australians boast the world’s oldest civilisation! Like discussing the size of the universe, it is humbling to let that fact sink in! I have read about some of the stories that locals teach their children based on the various features on the face of Uluru. Informative signs around the rock also instruct tourists like myself that these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the level of interpretation, and that deeper layers of meaning are revealed through storytelling as children grow up. These rock features and the stories they recount have been like scriptures, passed on through the generations over tens of thousands of years! No book could have survived that long, but this tradition of storytelling preserved the culture through millennia!
I also found that the stories, although meant for children, were extremely wise. They indicated that aboriginals care for the land that they journey on and endeavour to leave it better than they found it. For example, travellers would help the bush regenerate by carefully burning strategic areas of the bush before leaving each year to allow regeneration (seeds from many Australian plant species require fire to germinate). I think the world could learn a thing of two from this ancient wisdom… at the rate at which we are destroying planet Earth, I doubt we will even survive another millennium…
IT IS UP TO US TO LIVE UP TO THE LEGACY THAT WAS LEFT FOR US, AND TO LEAVE A LEGACY THAT IS WORTHY OF OUR CHILDREN AND OF FUTURE GENERATIONS –Christine Gregoire
What legacy are we leaving for future generations? Will that legacy last 50,000 years?
In this day and age, we attach value to financial gain. Many funding agencies and universities now demand an economic return on their research investments. The merit of a scientific work is often associated to the number of times it is cited or referenced.
After submitting previous posts, I have eagerly (more-like obsessively) monitored my website stats to try and evaluate whether or not I was wasting my time writing all these ideas down. Very few people have read or responded, re-tweeted or liked my posts so far. At first this was disheartening, but then I realised that the ideas that matter most probably do not fit in a tweet… Sadly also, few people have the time to read long posts (it’s ok y’all, no hard feelings, I’m in the same boat)…
Of the 162,957 refereed astronomy papers published between 2010 and 2015, 131,335 of them have never been cited (NASA-ADS)! When I published my first paper, my masters thesis adviser said something I will never forget: “let’s hope the paper is not not-even-wrong”. He was referring to this staggering proportion of scientific work that go un-cited. At least if a paper is wrong, someone might care enough to debunk it, and give it one cite in the process…
But does the value of an idea match its number of likes, retweets or citations? Are all worthwhile pursuits inherently popular?
NOT EVERYTHING THAT COUNTS CAN BE COUNTED, AND NOT EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE COUNTED COUNTS — Albert Einstein
Van Gogh was never famous as a painter during his lifetime. Fermi’s seminal paper on weak interaction was rejected at first because “it contained speculations too remote from reality to be of interest to the reader” (that’s 1930’s wording for zero likes). These are but two examples of unpopular pursuits that left a legacy.
I have spent many years pondering the intersection between science and faith. I enjoy writing these thoughts down, it helps me to synthesise them. Even if it helps just one reader on his/her faith or scientific journey, it was worth my while!