Commentary

Editorial: The Miracle of the Webb Telescope

This has been a stunning week for historically novel and profound new developments in our collective national and species history. Topping the list is the flawless execution of the newly-activated James Webb Space Telescope that has begun sharing with the entire human race images from deep space orders of magnitude more revealing than anything anyone on this planet has ever before seen.

Not only images, but data is already coming to us about the makeup of the universe dating back to its earliest periods 13 billion years ago. It has brought us evidence that the most essential building blocks of life, for example, have been around since at least that time on what will become many more cases of earth-like planets out there. It is purely mind-boggling to even try to comprehend the significance of this. What if indisputable evidence of signatures of intelligent life is detected by this telescope? How would that change our species’ sense of itself, and that of every thinking person among us?

Optimists that we are, we contend that the longer term impact of these kinds of seminal discoveries will begin to infiltrate the thinking of human beings on this little planet in profound ways. For example, it hopefully could put the folly of certain types of deadly conflicts based on territorial or racial and ethnic differences into an entirely different context. If it begins to sink in that this planet is only one of countless billions of others out there, a kind of therapeutic humility may come to govern more of our policy making among ourselves. Some will scoff at such a notion, but give this some time. More and more of these profound images of that which surrounds us need to be plastered all over the place to challenge us to think on a new level about the meaning of our lives and actions.

The now dawning new realizations about our universe, akin in their profound significance to the discovery by Galileo that the earth is not the center of the universe, puts the lives of each and every human mortal, every earthling among us, into a context defined not solely by non-rational claims of religious faith, once developed as attempts at putting our lives in a universal context, into a now realistic, scientific basis for the same thing.

For example, won’t we learn that the recently-discovered existence of what is now called “dark matter” constituting over 90 percent of the universe is, in fact, that which in our human lives we experience as empathy? Is it not an invisible binding reality that is central to our lives but not material in the usual sense? This is our hopeful conviction of something both intimate and fundamental that connects our lives to the vastness of the cosmos, but now appreciated not as a matter of faith, but as a scientifically-proven reality. Thus, the subject of our new world view is not an authoritarian deity, but empathy.