Musings of Great Minds

As many of you know (perhaps from reading the ‘about’ section of this site), I am a graduate student. This means I am tasked with running discussion sections for an astronomy class–this semester a class called Cosmic Controversies, which teaches some 180 non-major students about some of the most controversial aspects of science and Astronomy. Well, some of the students in my sections have been a bit difficult to reach…or at least, to stimulate interesting and fun discussion with…and I’ve been trying to find subtle ways to spice the discussion section up in a way to get them interested. We’ve recently begun a short section on the history of Astronomy, detailing discoveries and lives of notable names in Astronomy and Physics. Notable figures that include Aristotle, Pythagoras, Hipparchus, Kepler, Aristarchus, Brahe, as well as a whole slew of others. These figures were powerful minds who spent their fascinating lives pondering and discovering the secrets of the Universe.

Well, I decided that as a way to try and spur some interest in this class, I wrote quotes I found interesting or inspiring on all of their quizzes. Maybe it won’t make a difference at all (wishful thinking is always nice), but we’ll see how it goes. If any of you readers have suggestions for stimulating interest among non-majors in a discussion section (generally, during class, etc.), feel free to leave a comment! In the meantime, since I haven’t got enough time to write a science entry here today, I thought I’d share with y’all some of the quotes I shared with my students. I highly encourage all of you to look up the lives and accomplishments of some these brilliant scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, and writers. I apologize for the lack of female minds mentioned here…don’t let it make you think women are any less brilliant. Because they are just as scientifically minded and gifted as their male counterparts.

“Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day, but when I follow the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth; I ascend to Zeus himself to feast me on ambrosia, the food of the gods.” – Ptolemy

“Mensus eram coelos, nunc terrae metior umbras. Mens coelestis erat, corporis umbra iacet.” (I measured the skies, now the shadows I measure/ Skybound was the mind, earthbound the body rests.) – Johannes Kepler (apparently a self-authored epitaph)

“The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons.” – Edwin Hubble

“Bright points in the sky or a blow on the head will equally cause one to see stars.” – Percival Lowell

“E pur si muove.” (And yet it moves.) – Galileo Galilei (supposedly muttered after he recanted his beliefs to the inquisition)

“In the center of all rests the Sun. For who would place this lamp of a very beautiful temple in another or better place than this from which it can illuminate everything at the same time.” – Nicolaus Copernicus

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie

“Astronomy? Impossible to understand and madness to investigate.” – Sophocles

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong

“Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar’, every ‘supreme leader’, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan

Who knows? Maybe you will one day be a part of one of these lists–a smattering of human brilliance and achievement. Let the lives of men and women of the past and present inspire you to build a fruitful and bright future for yourself and those around you. And remember this inspiration the next time you vote on the future of scientific funding.

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