Monday, October 29, 2012

The Mini - The Macro

The Mini - The Macro

I don't rightly know just how I learned about this latest scientific initiative, most likely from television's "Modern Marvels" or some other show about science. My interest, spanning well over half a life time, was peeked again by a science show which stressed that the information age is not satisfied with computers of today. They're too big and therefore far too slow.

Today's cutting edge scientists figure they can develop a one cell thick filament which would allow computers to store facts up to tens of thousands of times greater than those commonly in use today. Simpler means faster and smaller which translates into how much more efficient they'd be. Hand held models are tools in size dictated by the average person's hand girth not the amount of informational guts inside the casing. The informational guts of the future will only be a very minor portion of the total size of the unit.

Fifty years ago I attended a Sunday morning service at The Mainline Unitarian Universalist Church at Devon, Pa. where Professor Emeritus, Doctor Harlow Shapley, of the Harvard Astronomy Department spoke to the assembled congregation about our own universe.

That morning was memorable to me to the nth degree, its ora will follow me to my grave. Spring warmth was in the air brought by bright sunshine as I entered the large room for the service. Once a grand old Main Line mansion now a church used the largest room, a grand room with a huge fireplace centering on its north wall, for its Sunday services. The lectern was up front just to the left side of the logs burning in the fireplace and on the mantel sat a beautiful arrangement of cut flowers placed in quite an attractive vase. To the right side of the fireplace sat a lovely long blond haired lady playing a harp which drew everyone into a quiet mood as her cords filled the room.

A hushed quiet captured the entire room before the service which began with the reading of a number of announcements concerning church matters. Finally Doctor Shapley was introduced. Harlow Shapley was by then, the mid60's, a fairly old man with an arms length of honors and academic accolades. Doctor Shapley spoke some of his place in academia and then he began on his main theme as the audience hushed to listen. Looking to the south out the expanse of glassed French doors making up the whole south wall, he said something to this affect, referring to the sun peeking through the straight trunks of mature oak trees growing just beyond the south patio.

"I wonder what those trees are thinking of us ?" he nudged the congregation.

From there he took us into the cellular structure of trees and their place in the architecture of life. He then turned to an explanation of the universe, from the smallest to the largest, and he put humans within this scale somewhere in the middle. He admonished all of us to remember that the study of science is never finished, it is ever evolving, it builds upon the newest findings with discoveries happening each and every day all over the World.

Now, punching through way-out space, probes are on their course beyond our solar system's gravitational grasp and will continue out beyond our galaxy's pull. Also representing the macro would be the rover leaving its marks on the surface of Mars.

The micro may be realized by a pill which when swallowed sends a television signal to the doctors and lets them see the inner workings of their patient's body. And, a judicious look at the history of the silicone chip shows an ever reduction in size beyond an amateur's perception.

Somewhere between these extremes we "live our lives in quiet desperation", as Henry David Thoreau stated in his book, Walden. Our needs are realized in understanding the role of science in our lives. The scientists explain the relativity of things in the cosmos, the philosophers explain the interaction between these things, and the poets hope to bring both of their positions together.

Ronald C. Downie

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