One of my favorite scenes from Men In Black. The history is a little skewed but the sentiment is spot on:
Just now I looked up in the sky and saw Jupiter and Venus “side-by-side”… even though they are in completely different orbits. I could put my arm out and they would straddle my thumb. And over my shoulder was Mars, like all the planets circling in a dance of momentum and attraction around the sun’s gravity. I could picture it all in my mind, with me standing on the Earth and where all the other spheres were. In relation to my body.
Once upon a time we didn’t know what those lights were, and we didn’t even know about “orbits”, but people were killed for saying the wrong things about them. Galileo figured it out and he was arrested. We’ve sent robots to get a close look; now we know. What they are. There is still so much to be learned about them but our stories are better now. We don’t have to kill anyone if they get it wrong; we show them the data and if they still don’t get it, we get to stop taking them seriously. The aggression of belief has been supplanted by the joy of discovery.
We didn’t know blood circulates in the body. We didn’t know about mitochondria, let alone how they got there. We didn’t know about oxygen. We didn’t know, really, why people got sick. Now we’ve seen the little wee beasties, and we are wrestling with them now instead of with myths.
Some of our tools for learning can be touched and felt; telescopes, particle accelerators, microscopes, spectrometers. But the most important one is courage. We stopped praying to the lightning god and started… studying lightning. And Ben Franklin came up with lightning rods.
Imagine what we’ll know, tomorrow.