Cosmic Clearance

     My father had Cosmic Clearance.
     That’s higher than Top Secret.
     My dad was one in the first generation of scientists to work on medical uses of atomic energy. He helped develop the tests they still use in which you swallow a noxious substance, then they photograph your innards while you’re still glowing, to see where the problem is.
     My father needed atomic isotopes to do this, and to get the radioactive isotopes he needed Cosmic Clearance. And he got it, at the government research labs in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
     I thought that was cooler than hell when I was a kid, but I couldn’t tell anyone. Not in the 1950s. I’ve never told anyone until now.
     My father died when he was 49, when I was a senior in high school. Years after he died, my grandfather – my father’s father – had a stroke, and doctors used the technique my father had helped develop to find the blood clot in my grandpa’s neck. They did a carotidectomy, got the blood clot out, and my grandpa lived healthy and happy for many years.
     For that, and many other reasons, I’m a big fan of science.
     Science – facts about the real world – is the common inheritance of humanity today.
     It’s a lot better common inheritance than we used to have.
     Science does not, as Bertrand Russell said, “lay down a complete system, covering human morality, human hopes, and the past and future history of the universe. It pronounces only on whatever, at the time, appears to have been scientifically ascertained.”
     We are not penalized for not believing in science. Scientists do not proclaim their truths universal and unalterable. Scientists are willing to look at new evidence.
     It seems to me that millions of Americans today, and very many members of the U.S. Congress, do not understand science.
     If you look the past 50 years of our wars, it’s obvious that our politicians are reluctant to look at evidence.
     Your average Muslim terrorist does not understand science, either. Your average Muslim terrorist insists he knows the “complete system, covering human morality, human hopes, and the past and future history of the universe.” And he insists that these truths are unalterable.
     That’s one reason science is so pitiful in Arab countries today.
     And it’s one reason that politics are so pitiful in the United States.
     Our politicians are always appealing to what they call “human morality, human hopes, and the past and future history of the universe.” Some of them claim to know all about this.
     Now, it’s true that science can’t answer questions like that, but neither can politics, and neither can religion. Not all of it – not all at once.
     Back in the old days, 2,000 years ago, when people were just as smart and just as stupid as we are today, what did each new generation inherit?
     A piece of land, if they were lucky. A language. A religion. Obligations, restrictions or privileges that came along with where and to whom they were born.
     Today every human being inherits much more than that – and, thank God, a little bit less. We inherit real knowledge. We inherit the products of science.
     We also inherit the same sort of stupid superstitions that Caesar laughed at, Cicero worried about, and that scientists have to put aside for a moment while they investigate problems that may be susceptible to solution – out there in the cosmos or right here on Earth.
     Would that Congress could do it.

%d bloggers like this: