How Hubble Saved My Soul
by Noah Lugeons
I’m proud that I was rational enough to reject formal religion at a young age, but must shamefully admit that the shackles of nonsense still weighed heavily on me into my early adulthood. I wasn’t religious, but I was just as irrational in my new-age hippy spiritualism. I was able to dismiss all the doctrines of revealed faith, but I retained a soft spot for ancient wisdom. I wanted magic and eternal life, I just wasn’t willing to get it from a church.
So I alternately identified myself as a Wiccan, a spiritualist or, my personal favorite, a Pangeantheologist. But then, in the mid nineties, something happened that would start to slowly erode the foundation of my misconceptions: I started to see the images being returned from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Like practically everyone, I fell in love with these images. I was fascinated by them and could not possibly see enough. I wanted to know more about what they were and the incredible universe they revealed. But more than that I wanted to know how we got them and what they meant. While a slow gestation would follow, that was the beginnings of my love for science. Somehow underpaid, uninspired public school teachers had failed to instill any real appreciation for something as fascinating as everything in my developing mind and it took seeing the universe in this scale for me to truly appreciate the wonders of human curiosity.
But there was something else gestating right along with this new found interest. It was like a pinhole in the dam that allowed my credulity to slowly start to slip away. As I sat there, enthralled with images like the one above, I could not help but consider their source. Not just the telescope itself and the marvel of technology it was, but also the process that allowed it to come about; the process of science.
Spiritualism had a lot to say about heaven, but they never managed to take pictures. We never glimpsed the earliest stars through the power of herbal supplements. The methods and practiced that all my hippy gurus promoted had been around for centuries and sometimes millenia, and yet knowledge of their deep and mystical secrets had never managed something as stupefying and eye-opening as even the lowliest of Hubble’s observations.
Science, as Carl Sagan said, brings the goods. It is all but impossible to cocoon oneself in the arrogant worldview that places humanity in the center of it all when things like the Hubble images are taken into consideration. The appeal of all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo was rooted in my desire to be part of something larger, but when I glanced at the universe through the eyes of a space telescope, I saw that science was offering me something larger than any new-age guru could dream of. And what’s more is that it was real; tangible; provable. Unlike the “truth” offered by religion, science demands nothing in return.