The Joy of Boggling

January 13, 2012

Margi and I almost maxed out on wonder when we went to an IMAX theater and put on 3-D glasses to watch a movie about the Hubble Telescope. We saw close-ups of a nursery galaxy full of baby starts. Stars spilled out of the screen towards us. At one point the narrator explained that Hubble was showing us a star 13 billion light years away, very near the beginning of the universe.

Modern star pictures fascinate me; I sometimes stare at a greeting card depicting the “photogenic Whirlpool Galaxy, M51 (NGC 5194).” Galaxy photos amaze me, overwhelm me. I’m boggled enough traveling “scenic” roads showing the Cascade string-of-pearls volcanoes, the amazing Columbia River Gorge, and the powerful Pacific Ocean. To imagine all of this as just a small dot in an expanding universe filled with billions of stars and galaxies makes me wonder with the psalmist, “When I look at the stars, who are we humans that you even give us a thought?” (paraphrase from Psalm 8:3)

It also makes me feel stupid. I need a course, “The Universe in 10 Easy Lessons,” or a book, Black Holes for Dummies. So two recent stories about really smart star experts cheered me up.

The first story reported that a Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Saul Perlmutter and two colleagues who discovered that the universe, powered by “dark energy” (!), is speeding up as it expands, rather than slowing down. Perlmutter thinks that seeking knowledge is “part of what it means to be human.” But, even as an elite astrophysicist, he adds, “As soon as you consider any of these things, your mind is boggled. I think you have to enjoy having your mind boggled.” I was comforted and amused to consider the joy of boggling.

The other expert is astronomer J. Xavier Prochaska. He, with colleagues and a basement full of computers, finally succeeded in finding 12-billion-year-old, “pristine clouds of primordial gas, conceived when the universe was a very young, dark and lonely place.” (Lisa Krieger in bostonherald.com 11/11/11) Apparently, the primordial gas hydrogen reveals itself by blocking light that we would otherwise see. So Prochaska observes that he does astronomy “backwards,” studying “light that doesn’t get here.” What cheered me was his jest, “We get excited about nothing. When it was immediately clear that nothing was there, that really floored us.”

Perhaps being boggled and laughing a bit in the tension between grand achievement and bumbling along can help us keep our perspective and our joy. Maybe I should write a boggle.

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  1. MRS.NIGERIAFINANCEMINISTER says:

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Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

Fun Nooks and Crannies

There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

Sometimes I’ll brag on some of the friends I’ve been given or share some photos I’ve enjoyed taking. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not, but they’ve brought joy in my journey.

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