31Aug2019

Astronomy & The Psychological Impact Of Seeing The Unknown

Neil Armstrong’s famous statement upon landing on the moon in 1969 that “one small step for man” was also “one giant leap for mankind” resonated around the globe. Our correspondent Sally explains more:

Galaxy Illustration

That was because people have always wanted to physically penetrate the great beyond and understand more than their mundane, everyday experiences provide. Mankind’s yearning to see–and know–more led to the first moon landing just as surely as it did to copernicus’ revolutionary astronomical claim that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the observable solar system. That same thirst for knowledge, however, has sometimes led us away from science and towards pseudo-scientific thinking.

The Drive to Make Sense of the World

Wanting to know not just what exists in the heavens, but also how it might affect our everyday lives led to the development of astrology, an offshoot of astronomy which blends scientific thinking with less rigorously tested theories.  People have always wanted ways to make sense of their everyday, sometimes, disorderly, lives, and studying the stars seemed to offer a way. Developing in tandem with general astronomical study, the idea that the stars might influence human behavior or that the soul might leave the body and ascend to the stars to enter into dialogue with those same cosmic forces began to gain popularity with the Ancient Greeks and continues to exist to this day.

Scientific Observation Versus Theories of Causation

While the meditative practice of astral projection or studying tarot may provide the same psychological solace as any other private religious practice, astrology definitely lacks the rigorous scientific support that undergrounds astronomy. It would be hard to argue with the fact that astronomy may provide us with a literal glimpse into the past–in the sense of seeing light which has traveled billions of years to reach the human eye–or evidence of the impact of certain forces, such as gravity, upon humanity, but when it comes to less rigorously testable theories of the stars impact on human lives, the more nebulous theories of astrology leave science behind. The sort insight into the past that astrology purports to offer is based, not on observable facts or measurable effects, but on more theoretical suppositions of how the stars might impact the physical world with which we are in contact.

Making Observations Beyond Our Immediate Physical Realm

And yet even the relatively stringent parameters of the scientific method have still permitted astronomy to allow us a glimpse of a universe we couldn’t possibly experience with our physical bodies. Telescopes, and more recently, satellites and even solar powered space probes, make it possible to collect information about the far flung planets travelling the night sky and allow scientists to make calculations about the size and distance of objects that they themselves will never visit. And while astronomy probably won’t tell you where and when you’ll have a life altering experience, it can itself be one. Gallileo and Copernicus’ calculations and the resulting shift towards a heliocentric view of the solar system, combined with more recent studies providing evidence for just how temporary and fragile our galaxy is, have made mankind increasingly aware of our own place in the larger universe. So while the stars might not themselves do so, it seems fairly certain that the knowledge that we humans are just a tiny part of a tiny moment in the universe’s history will affect our behavior and change the way we view things.

*Article supplied by our regular correspondent ‘Sally – sally@diamondmail.net

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