Saturday, March 7

"Why are things as they are, and not otherwise?" - Johannes Kepler

Late last night, NASA launched the Kepler spacecraft for a mission of more than three and a half years to find habitable "earth-like" planets in, as they call it, "our" region of the Milky Way. The mission is named after Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) whose laws of planetary motion demonstrated the elliptical nature of orbit.

Say what you will about the expense, especially in these times of financial hardship.  I just have to say that I find this so interesting, and will follow the mission, as can you.  Click on the pic of liftoff above to go to the site that tells you everything and anything you would want to know about the Kepler mission.

Of course, as you would expect, there is something I don't get.  I don't really understand the limitations we put upon ourselves in our search for "other" or even "human-like" life on other planets.  The singular focus is on water, or the capability for water.  It's our "evidence" because life "as we know it" requires water in order to survive.    On the other hand, we're pretty clear that there's a lot that we don't know.  So why do we limit ourselves to look for life by our definition of life?  What if there is life, even human-like life (in some fashion) that survives by a totally different set of mechanisms than we do?  Why is such a possibility never included in our dialogue about this sort of search?  I don't get it.  It just seems and narcissistically human...and hopelessly ironic...that when we look for beings that we know absolutely nothing about, including their existence, we presume that we already know something about them.  Do you get that?

Of course, I am also delighted at the confluence of Keplers -- Kepler's bookstore was the best bookstore on the S.F. Peninsula throughout my childhood, and remains a key destination during my visits west (they also have their own blog!)  It's also the subject, along with Berkeley's dearly departed Cody's (hand me a kleenex, will ya?) , of a movie entitled "Paperback Dreams", about the life and times of independent bookstores, and those that love them.  Count me in.

I would kill, by the way, for a photo of Kepler's as it appeared in the 70's.  It wasn't at its current location, but in the sprawling, old, hippie-like location on the other side of El Camino Real, much closer to Stanford shopping center.  The books were on wooden crates and on seemingly endless rough wooden shelves, there were tons of little tables to hang out at (you could read all day without buying), and there was a poster room with all sorts of true-to-the-era posters that, shall we say, "broadened" my horizons as a child.   This is the sort of place my parents frequently took me when I was a kid, and I wandered for an hour or more while my dad looked at books. 

Explains a lot, doesn't it?

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