Monday, February 10, 2014

February 10th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The number of people left believing that our planet is flat, is, I hope, statistically insignificant. Until a certain point in time, sailors would not venture out of sight of land, for fear of sailing off the edge of the planet. They had good reasons too! So many sailors had ventured out of sight of land, never to return! Clearly, they had not simply died, but they had 'gone over the edge'... It was a simple explanation - easily believed, fitted within the confines of using fear to control, and made perfect sense to the faith based 'limited creation' of a god. Look at our poor sailors - they went too far and failed to return. Different cultures had the concept of a spherical planet and by the 6th century it was pretty much universally accepted that the planet was a spinning ball in space. It took another thousand years to widely dispel the myth that the sun, stars, etc. were orbiting the earth! History confirms, time and time again, that 'it is easier to fool somebody than it is to convince them that they have been fooled', a quote attributed to Mark Twain!

Understanding our planet, our solar system, our universe and the immenseness of space itself is important to our understanding of ourselves, and the development of our society as a whole. Yet, the pursuit of science has been abhorred by so many, even more so postulations of theories, based on observations!

The underlying concept described in the phrase 'We only fear what we do not understand' is often the cause for such behaviour. Sadly, Church leaders and Politicians have learned to manipulate such fears to their own benefit for a long time. Copernicus and Galileo were victims of such attitudes, even imprisoned for telling scientific truths that went against the religious and political propaganda of the day. In the days when it was decreed that the earth was stationary and the sun orbited the earth (geocentric dogma), It was considered, against the law, to teach that the earth orbits the sun (heliocentric theory). A simple, obvious fact that we all accept today. How many generations did it take to break the false-'truth' of the earth being the centre of the universe? Too many, and the impact on development of mankind and science has been incredibly negative. 

What I find most amazing is that Science is always ready to change position, based on facts discovered - and that politics and religion are hard pushed to change a position, for it is in their concrete boots that they find stability. It is a shame that so many great thinkers have been silenced, some by being put to death over scientific theories that challenge political and religious thinking. 

One of the least well known names is that of Giordano Bruno. Bruno was put on a seven year trial, which ended in his execution by burning at the stake, for his scientific beliefs and teachings. Now, some of his ideas were perhaps a bit wonky, but should he have been put on trial for postulating new ideas? Bruno was one of the earliest thinkers to propose exoplanets - a planet orbiting a star (remember that stars are simply suns in other solar systems). This idea, amongst others, cost him his life in February 1600.  

Others postulated the same concepts as Bruno, but it was not until 1992 that their existence was proved. Today, we have logged over 1,000 confirmed exoplanets, and postulate that there are, in fact, billions of them. The past 20 years have seen astronomers eyes bulge and minds spin as they gain more and more knowledge past the edge of our own solar system and deep into space.

It is just recently that we have come to understand how suns are born, out of Gas Giants - and our understanding of how suns and planets are born has gone from a frail theory towards firm facts.

The scale of these dynamics is so immense and so majestic - and yet even today there are people who fail to embrace the knowledge that is being discovered, simply because it does not fit within their 'received envelope of the possible'.

Much as those who fly aircraft are still accused of being 'magicians' in some places, and the theory of flight dismissed by a remaining few pockets of thought-rejecters, so there are still many to convince that we are nothing but a mere speck in a magnificent universe. The most important thing is that we are a thinking and discovering speck.

Even though my body is nothing but a collection of atoms, mainly water (65% by mass and over 98% by molecular count!), I am able to reason, think and learn. 

Thankfully, I was allowed, even encouraged, to read amazing books as a child - fact and fiction. Now, as I look back, I find that some of the facts that I learned have been superseded, and some of the fiction that I read has now become fact! For instance, the Planet Pluto, is no longer considered to be a planet. Furthermore, the fanciful idea of a handheld device that would allow me to see and hear a caller on the other side of the planet, without any wires connected, is no longer limited to pages of speculation and movie makers deceptions - it is real and in my pocket!

This year we will see the start of space tourism, thanks to the vision and finance of Richard Branson at Virgin Galactic - who has already sold over six hundred tickets at $250,000 each! Those people who have paid up front, without any proof of service ever coming to pass, are about to go boldly where 'ordinary people' have never before been. 

It was once thought simply not-possible that space travel would ever happen - the very concept of leaving earths gravity was too extreme for many minds! For the Virgin Galactic astronauts, after they return to terra firma, some of them will still not be believed when they tell their tales of orbiting the earth, floating weightless and then re-entering the earths atmosphere to land in a space glider. 

Being believed should never be something you seek - only the achieving. It matters not what others think - develop your ideas, make your plans, carry out your research and discover yourself through the trying and opening of new doors to new futures - and never be put off by those whose mental mobility is constrained by thinking-mud!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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