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Categorized | Religion, Science

Detached by Familiarity

Omega Nebula, 5500 light years away, in the constellation of Sagittarius (Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Hester)

Skeptics are often accused of being dismissive of the numinous and the magical aspects of life. Belief in the miraculous brings to people an aspect of life that is beyond cold and calculated reality. How can skeptics think that it’s okay to sully the wonder that comes from belief in fairies that may hide under rocks, waiting for a child to turn over their homes with the intent of granting the child’s wishes? Doesn’t faith in the supernatural bring even adults back to the delightful unfamiliarity of childhood?

Instead of turning over rocks to look for fairies, you can teach your child all about the armored bugs crawling there in lieu of imps. You can tell her about the societies these alien creatures build, where they go about their own business just like grownup people with their suits and briefcases. If she finds that interesting, wait ’til she sees what a drop of pond water looks like under a microscope. Perhaps you yourself won’t be able to suppress a childlike elation, seeing the most unremarkable of places brimming with life.

We live in a time rendered uninterested and detached by familiarity. Ignoring the marvels that can be plainly found in nature, we turn to superstitions that we think will recover the excitement we had as children, cowering under the bed sheets from monsters that are deterred only by cloth blankets. The myths we choose as bedfellows pervert and diminish the beauty readily available with a glance up at the night sky. Consider those who take horoscopes at face value. Most do not even have a thought to spare for the stars that comprise the Zodiac signs. It is amazing how our narcissism can demote KW Sagittarii, a red hypergiant star in the constellation of Sagittarius and a staggering 1,460 Suns wide, down to a menial post in newsprint, proclaiming that those born from November 23 to December 21 should hit the casinos today.

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthase, which is a turbine the size of a molecule, turns the protons from your food into energy your body can use. These motors are inside all of the cells that make up your body and they evolved blindly from simpler forms that did other tasks inside your single-celled forefathers. On to the macro scale, mass deforms the fabric of space-time just like how your college textbooks bend your mattress out of shape while you study for an exam. This warping of not just space but of time has magnificent implications that predict different relative rates of aging depending on whether you live by the sea or on top of a mountain. Ranging from the sub-atomic to the so-massive-it-sucks-even-light, the cosmos is vast and mystifying beyond human comprehension.

Dig into your pocket and take out your mobile phone. Open up the menu and click through the programs. You are holding in your hands something worthy of immolation, if found in 15th century Europe. Even during a time as recent and as enlightened as the 1990’s, some onlookers may be tempted to grab their long-retired pitchforks upon hearing the witchcraft that is a Nokia polyphonic ringtone. But here you are in the 21st century, dropping your sorcerous electromagnetic contraption on the floor from time to time, without concern.

Science has been unweaving rainbows and smashing things together for hundreds of years now, allowing us to revel at even the fundamental particles that form the spectacular and the colossal. Technology has turned the fantastic into the everyday. We are living in the future. It is only our fault that we think it mundane. Albeit, it does seem rather absurd to wax poetic every time your phone receives invisible waves from space sent by your friend, declaring: ‘K’. The silliness of the situation only goes to show that we don’t need to ponder on the doctrine of the Trinity to appreciate mystery nor do we need to buy that words can transform tap water into a liquid imbued with the essence of a ghost in order to delight in the transcendent. Let us not cheapen our curiosity by satiating it with self-absorbed imitations. Reality is more arresting and much more fascinating than what humans can ever grasp. There is still much to find out and, if we’re lucky, this is a pursuit that will never cease.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.