The Race and Case for Space

Although this was definitely not my plan, it seems fitting that the first, last and only posts of this month have a Star Trek component. As the passing of Leonard Nimoy is being commented upon by people the world over including statements by President Obama and Charlie Bolden – leaders of the US space program, I am reflecting on the juxtaposition of art and science. On the one hand, in the modern mythology of Star Trek, Vulcans observing the “real” first manmade artificial satellite Sputnik in 1957, crash in a fictional town in Pennsylvania. In the “real” world town of Lakehurst, NJ a few years later, a ground station at the naval base relayed the first live two-way telephone call between heads of state via geosynchronous satellite Syncom II to President Kennedy. On the other end of the call, via the US Kingsport docked in Lagos Harbor was the Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa. In a brilliant essay entitled The Race for Space written sometime in late 1957 but unpublished until 1993, Duke Ellington articulates how racial issues were holding America back in the space race. Pointing out the lack of educational and employment opportunities in the fields needed to compete The Duke said

“Everybody has to get in the game if we are playing to win”

America won, but barely and then stumbled. In 1958 Ellington  named his band The Spacemen one of the first in the lineage Big K.R.I.T  recognizes in this Rolling Stones interview from Nov of 2014, African-American musicians were not only tuned into outer space, but saw themselves as intellectually and creatively capable of contributing to the US space effort.TheCosmicScene Now we’re in a new race for space with an African-American in charge of NASA but no companies like Space X or Virgin Galactic. Dr. Ellen Stofan, Chief Scientist at NASA puts it this way:

“When you have problems like trying to get humans down onto the surface of Mars, if you don’t have all the best minds in the world — not just white men — then you’re not utilizing humanity the way you should.”

Even though the benefits of the space program have been well documented, some people still don’t see why we should care(let alone spend money on) space. There’s one simple reason why every human should care about space. It’s home! Someone might say that our home is here on Earth, but Earth is a planet orbiting a star in space. Space is also a repository of vast material resources and has proven economic value.  Contemporary astronauts speak about the transforming impact of seeing Earth from orbit – something called the Overview Effect.  At least 6000 years ago on what is now the Nubian desert, ancient astronomers at Nabta Playa were charting the stars.


Expanding The Cosmos

I’m finally getting to comment on the first episode of Cosmos hosted by physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson which I found to be very good overall. I was struck however, by the claim that Giordano Bruno merely made a “lucky guess”. This is part of the same kind of poorly informed view that ignores earlier phases of science. Others @Slate @coreyspowell have pointed out, The Cosmos didn’t do a great job presenting the complexities of Bruno but these writers are also operating from an incomplete view.  As stated earlier in African Information Engineering Part 2 a close examination challenges

“the unscientific notion that early human thinkers were rooted in and blinded by religious views.”

Frances Yate’s Art of Memory makes a compelling case for how Bruno represents a path from Egypt to the growth of the scientific method. Newton and Leibniz were both influenced by Bruno and both intermixed religion and science(google Newton alchemy).

More important than correcting the historical record, is examining how Bruno(and those before him) were able to conceive of things they had no experimental data for. “Lucky guess” isn’t a solid scientific explanation.  Bruno was using sophisticated spatial/geometrical techniques to develop and test ideas.  In his posthumously published The Computer and the Brain, John von Neumann says

“…when we talk mathematics, we may be discussing a secondary language, built on the primary language truly used by the central nervous system.”

Perhaps The Shadows of Ideas are baked into the fabric of the Cosmos in a way that makes it possible for human consciousness to perceive the math science depends on. Maybe that’s why Adinkra symbols map very easily to supersymmetry. We don’t know but good science requires us to explore the facts we have at hand. We will all benefit from a more complete view of humanity’s journey and it may likely IMO prove to be necessary in order to comprehend the wonders of the Cosmos STEM is helping to reveal.

Quadruple Play: Physics, Biology, Math and Music

Physicist and 2013 Edward Bouchet Award winner Stephon Alexander can be seen below with Jim Gates, who as we’ve previously noted was the first(1994) recipient of that award.


In the background of the photo above you can see that the two physicists are at the E.E. Just Symposium. Stephon Alexander is the Ernest Everett Just 1907 Professor of Natural Sciences at Dartmouth. Just was a visionary biologist who saw

that organisms are holistic systems with emergent properties that arise from their organization and complexity …

Only today, with powerful tools such as low-light, high-contrast optical-sectioning microscopy (Yuste and Konnerth, 2005), are we beginning to noninvasively image molecular activities and other events inside cells as they occur during development.

E. E. Just understood, long before such technologies were available, that treating the cell as a holistic system necessitates using methods that do not destroy its integrity. Today, as ecology and biological development, separated for a hundred years, are reunited under the auspices of Eco-Devo, we can celebrate the work and insight of Ernest Everett Just.

Science Direct

Stephon Alexander is also exploring relationships between disciplines:

“There is a conceptual connection between physics and music,” Alexander observes. “In composition or improvisation I see geometric parallels to physical laws like gravity, with the musician gravitating to or away from certain tonal tensions. I see geometry as a principle that governs physical law and also harmonic and rhythmic ideas in music, especially in jazz.

Dartmouth Now(emphasis mine)

In this Ted Talk he even demonstrates how John Coltrane’s Giant Steps can be related geometrically to quantum gravity and dna! As he notes in his presentation it might be  “a bit much”, however recalling the notion that Drummers Are Natural Intellectuals, perhaps it’s quite Natural.