"To Know"

Jeff Hester Lecture

 
Jeff Hester
Arizona State University
School of Earth & Space Exploration.
 
Date: Friday,
April 18, 2008
 
Lecture:
Jeff Hester

FREE
8:00 PM
White Hall, Room 208
First-come first-served seating
Doors open at 7:30
(Adults, college students
& mature teens)
 

Invitation from Dr. Richard Williamon,
Director of the Emory Planetarium and Observatory


"The Physics Department cordially invites you to attend a public lecture by noted author, speaker and Arizona State University astronomer Jeff Hester. Jeff's astronomy textbook, "Astronomy for the 21st Century," is one of the most widely used in the United States. Some of you may unknowingly be familiar with some of Jeff's work; several of the iconic images from the Hubble Space Telescope such as the "Pillars of Creation" are due at least in part to the efforts of Dr. Hester. We look forward to seeing you here on April 18 when Dr. Hester will link together many of the seemingly random pieces of the universe in our quest "to know." " - Richard Williamon

Abstract: To Know
We live in a Universe that came into existence 13.7 billion years ago in a cataclysmic "Big Bang," and has been expanding ever since. In that early Universe the simplest chemical elements were born, seed material for further alchemy in the hearts of stars. Some 4.5 billion years ago our own Sun formed from the collapse of a vast cloud of interstellar gas and dust, and on one rock orbiting that run of the mill star, life evolved to contemplate its own existence. We know these things to be true. And yet all of this knowledge stands in stark contrast to what humankind has "known" for most of its existence.

How can science make such claims to knowledge about events and processes that occur so remotely in both time and in distance, and on scales that are all but impossible for the human mind to fathom? It's a fair question, but one that is seldom answered head-on by those who speak for science in public forums. To answer this question we have to ask an even more basic question. What does it mean when we say, "I know" in the first place? Ironically, "really knowing" comes not from trying to prove that something is true, but instead from doing all that you fairly can to show that it is false. And knowing something "for certain" is the same as not knowing it at all.

Like art, literature, and poetry, science is an expression of human creativity as we seek to understand the world around us. Science distinguishes itself by following that creativity with no holds barred intellectual violence, as even the most elegant and beautiful fruits of our creative labors are forced to run a never-ending gauntlet of challenges based on new evidence. That is a standard that can and should be applied any time we care about the real answer to a question, whether it is a question of science or a question in our everyday lives. In the end, only the ideas that can survive that kind of scrutiny and attack are safe places to hang your hat. These are the things that we "truly know."

Modern science has shown us the history and evolution of a remarkable Universe that came into existence in a cataclysmic "Big Bang," and over the ensuing 13.7 billion years has given rise to stars, galaxies, planets, and eventually humankind. We know these things to be true, but how? How can science conceivably make such firm claims to knowledge about events that span times and distances that are all but impossible to fathom, especially when that knowledge stands in such stark contrast to so many age-old and venerated ideas? It's a fair question, but one that leads to an even more basic question: When I say, "I know," just exactly what do I mean? Ironically, reliable knowledge comes not from trying to prove that things are true, but instead from doing all that we fairly can to show that they are false. The result is a gold standard for knowledge that can and should be applied any time we care about the real answer to a question, whether it is a question of science or a question in our everyday lives. Only the ideas that can survive the intellectual violence of that kind of scrutiny are safe places to hang your hat. These are the things that we "truly know."

Please be sure to visit Jeff Hester’s own Web site
http://eagle.la.asu.edu/hester/

We look forward to seeing you on the evening of the 18th!