Saturday, August 11, 2012

Once upon a time, I was a more science-y type of nerd.

Like, Math Club President, Academic Team (akin to Quiz Bowl) Captain, co-founder and VP of my high school's Astronomy Club nerd. 

...Shocking, I know. 

I also held leadership positions in Habitat for Humanity and Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, so when I grew up and turned into a full-fledged a social justice nerd, I basically said, kthanxbai science. But sometimes, given the right confluence of events, that science nerd part of me comes roaring back. Last weekend was one of those times.

First TN got me tipsy and then took me to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where there are awesome dinosaur skeletons (and those of lots of other prehistoric beasts and creatures), but dinosaurs were my favorite when I was a kid. I had dinosaur figurines and dinosaur stuffed animals (the tail of one of which later became my first dildo-like object because I was a freaky kid) and dinosaur books and I could have told you anything about any dinosaur using its scientific name. I watched The Land Before Time whenever it came on TV. I wanted to be a paleontologist so I could think dinosaurs are cool for a living. And all of that rushes back to me whenever I'm in a natural history museum to this day, except that it's all accompanied by an overwhelming sense of awe at how people can find these things and put the skeletons together and understand the life and habits of creatures that lived millions of years ago. 

I also got to feel a piece of Mars at the exhibit on the planet, which got me pumped to go to the Air and Space Museum next (after we spent 3 and a half hours at that museum and saw every exhibit). At the Air and Space Museum, I got to marvel again at how ridiculously amazing flight is as a concept and feel humbled by the men and women who started it. I also got into a theoretical discussion about Jupiter with TN's boyfriend because I just don't understand how a planet can BE a swirling ball of gas. 

And then Sunday night, after we'd each rubbed a little piece of Mars at the museum, the Curiosity Rover landed safely on Mars, ready to start its explorations for life. And I suppose I was primed for this kind of a freakout because of the days' activities, but thinking about how we could go from first landing on the Moon the year my mother was born, 43 years ago, to doing something like this now just floored me. It prompted a conversation between the three of us about how TN's boyfriend and I just profoundly don't *get* science/technology.

It started from me reading some article that said that NASA had to wait an agonizing 8 minutes for the message to get from the Curiosity back to their lab saying that it had landed safely. EIGHT MINUTES. Eight minutes for information to go from an automated robot on MARS to a building on Earth. #mindblown This led to us looking up how satellites work, which led to a discussion of radio waves, because TN's boyfriend and I really don't get how information can be turned into waves that go through air and space and time to be received by devices that turn it back into things that make sense to humans. 

It was very reminiscent of a conversation I once had in the Large Library with ChoosingPancakes about how, really, if you want to break it down to the most fundamental level, conversation astounds me. The fact that I can open my mouth and make  a series of sounds and you can hear those sounds, interpret them as having some meaning, and then make a different series of sounds to which I'll react the same way is mind-boggling. The fact that I can do that on paper and we can have the same interaction with little squiggly lines that somehow represent the sounds? Even crazier. And the idea that I can sit here in my dining room in DC typing these words on my laptop (which I have zero understanding of the workings of either--I understand that binary code is involved, sure, but that doesn't mean I understand how 1s and 0s = information) and whenever I feel like I'm finished, click a little button that says publish and then somehow it exists in this space on the internet for all of you to see on computers and phones all over the world. 

I have to spend most of my life not thinking about the technology that gets me through the day, because otherwise I think I'd spend my whole life just sitting on the floor in awe of all the magic that is life.

Science makes me go like this (except that all of my excitement is questions):

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