Brainy Quote of the Day

Friday, October 21, 2016

Little Girl Lost...

Image Source: Pinterest - The Twilight Zone
Topics: Commentary, Politics, Science Fiction

I miss television shows like this. Television - before the special effects and hyped violence - was an introspective experience, plots took time to develop because people actually read more for enjoyment and expected a similar pacing. Things like horror and thrills weren't created for voyeuristic consumption: most of the greatest thrills were completely fabricated in your mind. I missed this quite literally and existentially by five months (and perhaps a few years to develop language and comprehension), gestating in my mother's womb. I would see it much later in syndication.

"Little Girl Lost": the video has a weird blue background on YouTube, so I just give the link. A fourth dimension seemed exotic then, well after Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity established spacetime as four dimensions, the fourth being time. The notion of other dimensions beyond even these was at least thought of philosophically well before anyone thought of String Theory and multiple dimensions as is now theorized. It was an age where the United States was in a pitched battle called the Space Race, an extension of the Cold War with the USSR. It was an age of dichotomy - fear and suspicion; wonder and adventure: The Invaders, Lost in Space, Star Trek, The Time Tunnel were actual prime time popular science fiction shows along with The Twilight Zone.

Here we are: in the 21st Century, the notion of reasoned, scientific inquiry is suspect to manipulation, politicization, "conspiracy" allegations and charges of fraud. Whole screeds are posted to the Internet on the "folly" of climate science in particular or science in general without the slightest notion of the powerful irony of their actions.

In the American Physical Society article by James Kakalios (that inspired this post):

The March 1962 episode “Little Girl Lost” of the television anthology program The Twilight Zone added some speculative inter-dimensional physics to a suspenseful science fiction tale.[1] In this story a small child rolls out of her bed in the middle of the night and disappears. Her parents become frantic when they can hear her calls for help, but cannot see or touch her. Fortunately they know what to do in just such an emergency — they call for their neighbor Bill, who is a physicist. He determines that the girl has accidentally fallen through a portal into another dimension. With his aid, and the help of the family dog, they manage to retrieve their daughter. Whether this portal was to one of the extra dimensions predicted by String Theory is open to interpretation, but the show clearly demonstrated the utility of a friendly neighborhood physicist.

Indeed, in the early 1960’s, the U.S. Government had similarly concluded that it was worthwhile to have physicists and other scientists on call. Following the Manhattan Project; the development of radar; and the proximity fuse in World War II the value of scientists and engineers to national security was accepted by the general public. In 1942 West Virginia Senator Harley Kilgore had proposed legislation calling for federal support of scientific research and in 1945 Vannevar Bush’s report Science, The Endless Frontier, [2] forcefully argued that it was in the nation’s best interest to develop and maintain strength in what we now would refer to as STEM fields. In 1950 Congress responded with the establishment of the National Science Foundation.

The situation today is very different. There is no longer broad agreement among the public of the value of scientific research.[3] Which is ironic, for this same public has enthusiastically embraced personal electronics and technology that is enabled, in part, through federally funded research. As expressed a few years ago by a Dean at M.I.T., never before in human history have so many become so wealthy solely through education. [4].

Metaphorically, we are nationally that little lost girl, or more gender-neutral: children. The world is as it has always been. There weren't transistor tubes before semiconductors; there weren't transistor radios before boom boxes, walk-men, CD players or cell phones with apps. The Internet wasn't a concept by ARPA/DARPA in 1964 before it became DARPANET soon after 1984 when I was a commissioned Communications Officer in the Air Force. There was no file transfer protocol (FTP); or hypertext markup language (HTML): we've always had Dreamweaver. We will always have fossil fuels as long as we have drills, liquid and fracking to force them from their depths. We will never as a planetary system - Earth - be subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics as over time other systems (like our bodies) go from order to chaos.

The sanest reason for outreach: to find and reach humanity's children guiding them en masse socially to at least technological adolescence. So we, collectively will no longer "be lost." Dr. Martin Luther King was famous for a lot of things, but this quote was the most poignant and jarring, as the latter part of it is an obvious; glaring choice:

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

APS Physics: Why Do Outreach? James Kakalios

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