“Mom can I go to Space Camp?”
“You betta get on outta here I ain’t got no Space Camp money!”
Back in the day Nickelodeon could get a kid hype to do anything. Watching those commercials advertising Universal Studios parks, Figure It Out, and Space Camp made me wish I had grown up in Florida so I could be around it all. Space was the Place (and still is) for me. I wanted to be up there, what kid didn’t in the 90s?
That dream got deferred pretty quick, for a dumb, childish reason of course. This idea was seeded in my brain that if I wasn’t a math genius there was no point in me trying to be an astronaut. I also thought (let me remind you this was in my childhood) that everyone in Texas was racist. I didn’t want to be out in Houston surrounded by a bunch of Southerners, living just off the NASA base. Man, I was some naive little kid. But it all seems funny now looking back.
Space flight as a career was out of the question for the time being. Interstellar interests didn’t return to my life until sometime in college, when I discovered NASA on Twitter. After that I pretty much became obsessed.
I knew very little from a mathematical/scientific perspective about the goings on in the Universe. But the writers at NASA had a talent for writing space articles in laymen’s terms. In addition to this, they supplemented these easy-to-read essays with more technical ones. I was on that site everyday and for some time it was my homepage. I would frantically share NASA’s almost weekly discoveries on my social media profiles. Hoping that some random person out of my 1000+ “friends” would click the like button. Or better yet, give their own two cents. Yet my posts never really attracted as much attention as I wanted them to. Deep down I felt the importance of the space program for the entire world. But I couldn’t get others passionate about it. Most of my peers seemed to be worried about more immediate concerns. The problems in their own personal backyards. I was thinking of my backyard too. But when I looked out at it, I didn’t see green grass and dirt. I saw the Milky Way Galaxy.
I felt that space education was important for everyone. Any time I had sensed an opportunity to drum up a conversation about science or the intergalactic nonsense of quantum physics, I would find a way to sneak it into the chatter. There was even one infamous double-slit experiment conversation.
After rediscovering crazy quantum physics via Youtube, I had pretty much committed to memory the basics of the double-slit experiment. Well, almost. I was still rusty when explaining the observation anomaly, and my explanations got that much worse when drunk. Of course, the only times I wound up talking about quantum physics, I was drunk. And at one point during my junior year of college I thought that flexing my biggest muscle (my brain) at get-togethers would be a good way to pick up chicks.
So I’m at this rooftop Christmas party down South Philly and things seem to be going well with this girl I’m talking to. I’m sipping wine like water. And periodically being coerced to take shots with friends I wouldn’t be seeing for a while after leaving for Tokyo. Wine: it hits you in a way that you don’t know you’ve been hit. Just smiling and carrying on, and then those smiles transform into reasonless, teeth-filled grins. Which then become laughter. Only after your brain back dates all this information do you realize, “Hey, I’m pretty drank.”
That was what was happening to me when I decided to take the conversation to the next level. The Quantum Level. She had never heard about the double-slit experiment but was really interested in learning about it; or so it seemed. I proceeded to go in. Loudly, passionate, and with gestures over 9000, I described the thing in detail. From my red, wide-eyed perspective she hung on to every word I said. Yet looking back with sober eyes, she was simply waiting for a pause so she could politely excuse herself. I must have been talking in one long, off-beat run-on sentence. Fifteen minutes in she just darted out of my vicinity and never came back. Theoretical physics: a no-no in the “Hi, I just met you” phase. Or really, I had to be come better at communicating science. Yeah, that was it! Neil DeGrasse Tyson came into the picture.
I found out about this genius, of course, through the viral veins of the Facebook news feed. A friend had shared a video of a Tyson sound bite that inspired me to no end. “I know exactly what you mean!” I yelled at the moving images on my computer. He explained the profound wonders of the Universe in ways non-space enthusiasts could understand. He unveiled the big picture that I had such a difficult time getting across to my friends.
Instead of ranting online about the minuscule NASA budget, I started spreading around videos of Tyson interviews, and other speakers in a similar vein (Carl Sagan, Jason Silva, Michio Kaku, etc.). I’d try to memorize these talks and quote them in conversations. I would like to say that I got a little better at communicating science. And was it helping me develop as a human being? Yes, but in a way I had not expected. It made me feel (for lack of a better word) more spiritual.
As mentioned before, in college I was sort of phasing out of following religion as I was brought up to understand it. In Star Trek terminology, I was becoming a Vulcan. More rational, objective. I felt that gaining knowledge was more important than worshipping a conflicted entity. Ironically, the deeper I went down the rabbit hole of understanding, the more I came to the conclusion that there is more beyond textbook knowledge. These realizations occurred particularly when I got deeper into the understanding of the Universe. I felt a deep connection to everything out there: the stars, galaxies, quasars. I knew that I was made up of the same materials of all that “stuff” out there. Interestingly enough, the more I learned about the Universe the more I realized how much we, humans, didn’t know. Watching a documentary on quantum physics always left me with more questions than answers. Eventually I saw these questions and anomalies as possibilities of existence within the Universe(s). “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” as the Vulcans would say. Even the most rational species in the Star Trek canon knew that because of the vastness of the Universe, there are an endless amount of calculable possibilities of being. Most of which is probably beyond our capabilities to understand.
So yes, I believe. Not in the god of western religions, or the many deities of eastern ones. But in the possibilities of things which my brain has not yet evolved to comprehend. It could all very well exist beyond the realm of human understanding.
Whatever is next for me in Life, I will somehow find a way to communicate the awesomeness of the Universe. I just can’t get it out of me. We need more Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s in the world.