Sunday food for thought

Scientific American published an article describing new findings on exoplanets in the Milky Way (BTW, this has always struck me as a particularly lame name for our galaxy – “The Milky Way” – that’s the best we can do?). One statistic that struck me in the article is that astronomers now estimate that there are a trillion planets in our galaxy. A thousand-billion planets in just one galaxy. The idea that we’re the only intelligent life among that stupendous number is laughable.

Another 200-ish Earth species will go extinct again today, just like every day lately. Due to human action and population pressure, plants, insects and animals are dying off at more than 1000 times the “natural” extinction rate. This leads to real worries about the viability of Earth’s ecosystem in 50-100 years. Will new grandson Jessamine (see featured image above) have to experience the bitter end of…everything? The optimist in me says no, that things will work out just like they always have. But the numbers-driven rationalist in me says whoa, this is seriously awful. Horrific. But I won’t be around to apologize.

Seeing all the “open up America” protestors with their flags and signs proclaiming their loss of freedom has made me think hard about the definition of “freedom”. My definition of freedom is my ability to live comfortably within a system of rules that keep me (and my neighbors) safe and healthy. It seems that a lot of the protestors’ notion of freedom is “no one can tell me what to do (or not to do)”. They think the laws and US Constitution give them the right to do and say pretty much anything they desire. There’s a huge difference between “freedom to act within a system of rules” and “freedom from any rules”. The latter is anarchy. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of anarchy.

When you think about it, we never have complete freedom. There are laws of science, physics and biology that define our limits. We can’t just wish for wings and fly. And a civilization is defined largely by the set of rules that people agree to (or are forced to) follow. What the coronavirus has illustrated is that a large number of people in America have not in fact understood and/or agreed to the rules after all. That’s a pretty big problem we have to deal with, virus or otherwise.

I watched a new Bruce Springsteen movie/concert yesterday on HBO – Western Stars. It’s the best work Springsteen has done in years, and the concert – featuring all 13 new songs from the album of the same name –  is superb. At age 70 Springsteen is a master at work, with stories, lyrics and music that both inspire you and break your heart. IMHO Springsteen is a national treasure. As an aside, NPR hated it. Their reviewer must have had a bad day.