One Small Step, I

There are only a few TV shows that I watch regularly, and most of them aren't showing new episodes right now, due to the writers' strike, or other reasons. So I've been watching some other things instead, including Star Trek: Voyager, because Spike TV shows it at a time when there's not much else on. The episode I watched today ("One Small Step") was about the natural desire to explore.

Quick summary: The crew encounters a strange and dangerous "spatial anomaly" which simply appears out of subspace. They realize the anomaly is probably the same one that caused the mysterious disappearance of the Ares IV ship and its commander, John Kelly, way back in 2032, during one of the Mars missions. They send the Delta Flyer inside the anomaly, where they find the entire Ares IV, basically intact, along with the debris of many other ships that have been swallowed up over the centuries. Everyone wants to go get the Ares IV, because it's such an important part of history, except Seven of Nine, who repeatedly insists that "History is irrelevant" and the mission is too dangerous. In the end, Seven herself ends up beaming aboard the ancient ship, and finding a wealth of data and video logs, recorded by John Kelly, from inside the anomaly, which have never been seen before by anyone. The entire crew, discovers that John Kelly, like themselves, was willing to risk his life in the name of collecting data and learning more about the universe. Seven discovers her own humanity as well, and begins to recognize the value of history, and of exploration for the sake of exploration.

Typing it out like that makes it sound a little corny, I admit. But the episode is basically about the natural human urge to explore the world, to seek out new civilizations, to boldy... well, you get the idea. At the risk of reading into it a little too much, the title is obviously meant to remind readers of a time not too far back in our own history, when the public's desire for space exploration was greater than it is now. (Or in 1999 when the episode was aired.)

Of course, there are good reasons for opposing space exploration, but I think the desire to explore is definitely lacking. And this isn't just about space. Any time you take a class, or even talk to a new person, it's an opportunity to explore something new, and many people don't see classes that way. Classes, it seems, are about getting good grades, rather than being an opportunity to inspire a sense of wonder in yourself.

Professor Bickers likes to inject a little of the history of physics into his lectures. You might call it a digression, and sometimes it is (Super-Professor! Able to leap from Coulomb's Law to the Grand Unified Theory, to Bose-Einstein Condensates, in a single aside), but I think it also gives you an appreciation for the process of science, and what you can achieve with two simple words: "I wonder..."

For example, this last semester, in Physics 162, he made a big deal about what he likes to call "the punchline of the course" how the Maxwell equations predict the propagation of electromagnetic waves, and how the speed of light "pops out" of the equations automatically. Sure, not everyone is going to be excited by that, or even have any desire to understand it. But the point is that Maxwell figured out there was a single missing term in one equation, and in doing so, he answered a very fundamental question about the universe: What is light?

It makes you wonder. Perhaps there's some equation now that's taken to be true, and is reprinted in textbooks all over the world, but anyone who's curious enough could come across it, and notice that it's not quite right, and develop a whole new theory. If your goal is just to memorize things and get a 4.0, this probably won't happen.

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