In these closing days of the year, a year where so much controversy and distrust bubbled up in the U.S. and abroad, it is a relief — and I'd say even therapeutic — to look at the reliability of science as a harbor, a place to anchor our expectations for the future.
For if science is not infallible — and how could it be, given that it is the creation of fallible humans? — it does provide a reliable method for building trust. This happens through a community of individuals who strive to attain an ever more precise knowledge of the natural world and use it to create technological applications that shape and define the way we live our lives, fight illness, communicate with one another, travel across continents, are alerted to future dangers, and dream of better days. It is true that science also kills and, when extrapolated forward, that it creates nightmarish scenarios of what may become of us. But those reflect not the nature of science, but of our own — confused and morally lost as we remain after millennia of endless strife.
So to celebrate this season, ever hopeful, with optimism of what we can accomplish as we work together to fulfill our dreams and expectations, I share with you this video clip from the IMAX documentary Roving Mars — covering the spectacular Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. What's amazing about this video is not only the almost magical quality of the science, the incredibly complex technological feats necessary for the success of the mission, but also the human element, the passion, the genius, the hopes and, even more important, the togetherness that emerges throughout the video.
May we learn something from this amazing group of human beings.
Marcelo Gleiser is a theoretical physicist and writer — and a professor of natural philosophy, physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is the director of the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth, co-founder of 13.7 and an active promoter of science to the general public. His latest book is The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected: A Natural Philosopher's Quest for Trout and the Meaning of Everything. You can keep up with Marcelo on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser