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James Glanz writing in the NY Times  finds an excellent way to filter science through the eyes of humanity - by comparing scientific efforts that took generations to build and sustain the efforts. The problem is that the efforts required become so great that the humans are forced to abandon the projects. This tension between "big" and productive science is made all the more interesting because of Glanz's chosen examples - a Mayan pyramid in Belize and the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland:
"On the hill in Belize, we were sweating from the climb and distracted by Albert, who was squinting with his one good eye and poking a stick into a tarantula’s hole to entertain a family from Oklahoma. But standing before the ruin, I had at least a hint of the thought that gripped me with full force last week: In Xunantunich and now again in Switzerland, the vast reaches of cosmic time and space have a way of humbling the puny efforts and resources of mortals who try to figure out the universe.
It may have been the local rum punches, but to me the similarities between the two projects were clear-cut. The collider is a gargantuan structure at the European Center for Nuclear Research, called CERN, that scientists have built over generations to help them connect the smallest and largest structures in the universe, and perhaps make sense of why the cosmos is so hospitable to life.
Sans particles, Xunantunich was designed to do more or less the same thing in the Central American hills. Instead of quarks and leptons, the friezes ringing the pyramid depict the gods of heaven, earth and the underworld, and humanity’s place among them. The stone structures themselves were laid out according to careful astronomical observations to help priests, rulers and common folk alike organize their lives and accurately mark the passing of time."
What is interesting to consider here is how worldviews, more so than overwhelming evidence, inspire humans to build on a massive scale in an attempt to answer, what they believe to be, the greatest questions of their time. Yet in failing to acquire the necessary evidence to sustain their worldview, the projects collapse from a lack of popular support in successive generations. We've already seen this public failure in America with the miles of unused tube in Texas. When Science ceases to inspire, she dies.
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