Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Discards and Keepers

May 26, 2003

Not that it's going to change your commute much tomorrow or even disrupt cell phone reception more than the next canyon does, but the recent news that Jupiter has at least 60 moons instead of 40 is enticing. Galileo counted just four back in 1610. After having found 23 new moons, two astronomers in Hawaii prepared a Nature article about Jupiter's 40 moons -- then uncovered an additional 20. By the time you finish reading this, there could be more.

It's not that Jupiter is uselessly collecting more moons, much as a certain term-limited governor continues to collect campaign funds without a campaign to run. It's that down here on Earth, where we make do with one moon, we're now getting better at finding Jupiter's satellites. And a whole lot more.

Telescopes are more refined, able to "see" distant objects and phenomena unknown or only suspected a few years ago. Astronomers can, in effect, look back in time to trace planet formation and the history of this vast neighborhood in space. Someday, they might predict the galaxy's future beyond, say, foreseeing the annoying piety of next week's "The West Wing."

The relentless march of humanity's knowledge is taken for granted on most days. Today, however, is special. Humankind labored centuries with scant new knowledge beyond how to improve the killing efficiency of wars. For generations, much of what was known could be assembled into encyclopedic books sold door to door to linger in relevance and dust for years without updating. Less than a century ago, the first airplane soared. A quarter-century later someone flew the Atlantic. Twenty years after, another pilot broke the sound barrier. A decade later, Earth launched its own metal moons. Then manned capsules. Lunar orbits. Landings. Returns. Space stations. Today, even April's encyclopedia is outdated.

Humanity's quenchless quests for new, newer, newest is not without accident, tragedy or frivolity. But the accelerating pace of knowledge acquisition is so quick now that it's hard to track. Wonderful for social progress and all. But as individuals making our own manned landings in Pacoima and elsewhere each workday, we feel a tad overwhelmed. New isn't always better. And it's hard to feel in control if you can't grasp the blur of what's happening. As soon as we master portable CDs, there's a smaller gizmo that not only holds every song ever written but translates them into every known language. Having 134 TV channels probably is great too, even if we really watch only 14.

Now, if we could just remember that new information does not always produce new wisdom. Ahh, that takes processing, stopping now and then, taking a deep breath -- maybe two -- and pondering all that's changed. Sorting everything for ourselves into discards and keepers.

That's a good thing to pause for on Memorial Day, officially devoted to remembering past sacrifices that were once new. No matter how many moons Jupiter ends up having.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|