Thoughts on the Rising of the Moon

The awesome sight of last night’s full moon rising slowly above the ridgeline into a cloudless sky brought back a recollection of a book I read a long time ago: “The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World”, by Jenny Uglow, ISBN 0-374-19440-8, 588 pages (2002).

Centered on Birmingham, England, the group launched in the 1760s with Matthew Boulton and James Watt (steam engines), Josiah Wedgewood (pottery), Erasmus Darwin (inspiration for his grandson Charles), and Joseph Priestly (chemist). Later other notable chemists, doctors, and political philosophers joined the group.

Why did they call themselves the Lunar Society? Because their monthly meetings were scheduled at the time of the full moon. Their experimentations and discussions tended to run on until long after sunset. In those days of darkness after the sun went down, they needed the light of the full moon to be able to find their way home at night.

They were some of the most advanced human beings in the world at that time – and yet about 260 years ago, they had no answer to the darkness of night. Depending on how one thinks about time, that is only 3 or 4 human lifetimes ago … or 10-12 generations. That timescale is much longer than any of today’s “leaders” considers, but it also a mere fraction of recorded human history.

The bottom line is that we have indeed come a long way, baby. Many of the things we take for granted (like street lights) are the product of generations of hard work & sacrifice by our predecessors. With our focus on the short term, will we be able to keep the results of their efforts?

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Answer: probably not. Ironic, isn’t it that though the descendants have been exposed to far less light reflected from the moon, they are still lunatics! Inspiring, no?

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Do you mean Olbers’s Paradox? To be fair to those guys, they couldn’t possibly have known about the Hubble expansion or Planck’s Law. It was curiosity of succeeding generations that led to the observations, which in turn led to the discoveries.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, baby. And it’s also a long way down.

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No. I was thinking about the lack of streetlights.

Think of those satellite night-time photos of the planet – with the land surface glowing, except for those patches of darkness in North Korea and the Ukraine.

We have made darkness a voluntary experience – but those lights represent an amazing lengthy development of technology and a huge amount of physical work to mine the materials, manufacture the equipment, power them up, and keep them running. Unless people work very hard, those night lights are going to decay and sections of the planet will again revert to darkness when the sun goes down.

We will once more thank goodness for the Moon!

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