I am a big space nerd, but I happen to also be a bit of a Shakespeare nerd (I’m so well-rounded, you guys). In my Shakespeare class today, we were talking about Much Ado About Nothing. SPOILER ALERT for the next quote, but it’s a Shakespeare spoiler so you should probably just keep reading anyway. In the play (at II.i.275-278) , Beatrice describes her previous heartbreak, saying:
Indeed, my lord, he lent it me a while, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one. Marry, once before he won it of me with false dice; therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.
That has all kinds of implications in the play, but for now I’m more interested in talking about the science of it. As my professor explained, in the Elizabethan era, people believed that when someone found their true love, the two physically exchanged hearts. It’s unclear how strongly people believed this (probably less and less as time went on), but it was definitely a part of the culture. So, if, say, Beatrice falls in love with Benedick, and he spurns her, she ends up with no heart and he has two.
But once again, while the beliefs are fascinating, that’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is a throwaway comment my professor made after explaining this: something along the lines of “They don’t believe that anymore because, y’know, people learn.”
Science changes over time. Things we believe now, we may know to be totally untrue in 400 years or in 20 years or in 2 years. Up until relatively recently, we thought that continents were completely immovable and had been in the same position since Earth’s genesis – now we know that tectonic plates have caused vast, slow shifts. We thought that the universe was neither expanding or contracting – now we know that not only is it expanding, it’s accelerating outward. And just like those ideas that we formerly held to be fact, all that we know now may eventually reveal itself to be fiction.
This may sound a bit pessimistic, but in fact it’s the opposite. We will always have new information – we will never finish learning. Science will continue to forge forward for as long as humans are alive and curious and care about our universe. And, equally importantly, as far as science education goes there is no such thing as a lost cause. People learn. Our understanding of our world and our universe is constantly changing; that’s part of the beauty of it. As individual people learn and teach, science and society advance. The more we know about our universe, the more we can appreciate it and the better we can care for it.
People learn. It’s the best reason I know of for us to exist.
NOTE: I saw the aurora again tonight and it was super-bright and beautiful.