The James Webb Space Telescope will ripple through our moral universe

62 points2
kashunstva7 hours ago

As awe-inspiring as the imagery from the JWST is, along with what we stand to gain in understanding about the universe, I don’t see that causing any fundamental shift in human philosophical perspectives. We’ve had our “pale blue dot” moment several times, beginning with the Apollo missions. Then practically every subsequent probe has turned around and photographed Earth from increasing distances. Yet here we are, still largely consumed by trivial matters. Any meaningful effects that I think the author is touching on would require the sort collective shift in perspectives that I’m not sure the species is capable of. But perhaps I’m reading it wrong; I’m impatient with this sort of circumlocution.

jacooper1 hour ago

Because these trivial matters aren't trivial. Putting food in the table isn't trivial, finding jobs isn't trivial either. Once life becomes guaranteed, our outlook will change.

slfnflctd28 minutes ago

When I realized my partner was (mostly) both able and willing to support me through what turned out to be a prolonged mental health crisis that few would've had sympathy for, it completely changed my life. The amount of suicidal ideation I experienced plummeted. I was no longer crippled by fear that I'll be abandoned and imprisoned/homeless if I can't always live up to some externally imposed standard of output. I eventually became more able and willing myself again to 'give back', but with a new & improved perspective.

Unfortunately, far too many have nothing like this. I am extraordinarily privileged and have to continually process the guilt which comes along with that fact.

None of us asked to be born. In any truly forward thinking culture, the option to receive the basic essentials of life without being overly marginalized for not always having anything substantial to offer in return should 100% be a requirement. I believe many if not most 'deaths of despair' would be obliterated by such an approach, and that a large number of people who would've otherwise died could ultimately give back to their communities in enough ways to make the long term costs justifiable to even the most cynical economist.

9dev30 minutes ago

Still, all the fuss about maximum individualism, petty politics and celebrities feels so utterly irrelevant, it’s frustrating for me sometimes. Here we sit, apes with a giant brain, the most complex structure in the known universe, and we use it to haggle commodities, shift borders a bit and stare at short videos on people’s opinion on other people?

Don’t you ever get that sad revelation that we’re all just moving in a spinning wheel, a dead end? The Fermi paradox being nothing but stagnation after a convenience threshold?

infogulch6 hours ago

If Everettian interpretation of QM is right we may face another pale blue dot universe scale realization.

golergka6 hours ago

Can you please elaborate? I don't understand.

jahnu6 hours ago

They are referring to many worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics that argues that the quantum wave function is as real as anything. As real as say electromagnetic fields. If this is true then the mathematics say that the universe branches or splits at each quantum event.

Here’s a very very good explanation of this:

thaw135794 hours ago
jeezfrk2 hours ago

I think retro-causality explains QM better.

causality04 hours ago
scotty794 hours ago

Not sure if JWST is capable of that but I believe next step in furthering our insignificance will be concluding (due to looking closer and closer to the Big Bang and finding contradicting evidence like huge, very old galaxies) that Big Bang was not a creation event just a "small", "local" annihilation of "some" amount of matter and anti-matter that kinetically blew remaining stuff apart sort of dragging the deformed space-time along. So we can't have any hopes of seeing any evidence of actual beginning of the universe or even any proof that it wasn't eternal.

hirundo3 hours ago

> I believe next step in furthering our insignificance

The next step seems to be coming from the computer science department rather than astronomy or biology, with the growing demonstrations that intelligence can emerge from simple mechanical operations.

scotty793 hours ago

This seems to be the current step rather than next one.

jadbox4 hours ago

Indeed. It seems there's some mounting research that the universe may have always existed, and this awareness calls into question our physical and philosophical notions of nothingness (or lack of absolute nothing in the universe).

realjhol8 hours ago

What a foolish concept. The article is basically made of non-sequiters.

The central issue is that a telescope can show you what is. It can never tell you how people ought to live.

The is-ought distinction is the boundary of science into philosophy, ethics, religion and politics.

The article is a transparent attempt hand-wave away this distinction.

javajosh3 hours ago

David Hume identified the useful distinction between is and ought.

For most of my life I've adhered to this idea - however I've come to believe, against my own protests, that the universe does, in fact, embed something like a moral code. Or more like a challenge. When we look upon it, we see a vast, empty thing, devoid of any evidence of life. The biosphere of Earth is the most precious "substance" that exists because it is the most unique. It is also the only place where this discussion can take place, since the rest of the universe is (apparently) rather dead.

So, I don't think the universe has anything to say about hat sizes or personal sexual proclivities (and indeed wrt sex the universe seems to wear its freak flag proudly given that the life-cycles of many critters involves...questionable activity). But it does say that surviving is very hard - It is quite difficult to escape a gravity well, and many OOM harder to get to another system fast enough that your craft and crew doesn't die of old age.

(I've come to believe too that there is a positive side to this setup: if it were easier to move around, there would be horrible chaos as so cheerily depicted in assorted space opera novels. It would be colonialism writ large, victimizing trillions instead of millions. And most likely humans would be the exploited and not the exploiters, not that it matters.)

What's interesting though is that the problem of spreading life beyond earth seems extremely hard-- but its not theoretically impossible. It's going to take time, which means humans need to find a stable space in which to dwell for a long time while we build planet-spanning particle colliders, or whatever else we need to do to figure out how to send vehicles to other stars. Creativity exists in tension with stability, which is an interesting place to end a conversation about how to pass The Great Filter.

realjhol2 hours ago

> For most of my life I've adhered to this idea - however I've come to believe, against my own protests, that the universe does, in fact, embed something like a moral code

So what if it does?

> So, I don't think the universe has anything to say about [..] personal sexual proclivities

Wow - who on earth would have believed that your pre-supposed moral sensibilities would both be completely correct and even coded into the fabric of the universe itself.

If the universe does in fact have a moral code as you suggest, there is every reason to think it might speak against anti-social behaviours and codes of sexual ethics that inhibit family formation and reproduction.

javajosh1 hour ago

I feel like if you were on the ISS and the crew stopped to admire a particularly beautiful view of Earth, you'd be the one to start complaining about...something. Whether or not your complaint is legitimate, the fact that you'd pick this moment, this thread, to complain about your favorite little topic, means you've missed the point entirely. (This is the most common failure mode among humans, so you're in good company).

realjhol1 hour ago
mrangle2 hours ago

The theory of spreading Life Beyond Earth has obstacles that I've never seen it adequately approach.

It suffers from worldwide popularized optimism to which it early succumbs without a proper fight. That it doesn't have to, much like other nationalistic fictions, indicates its low possibility. It is a theory that claims legitimacy without ever stepping into the ring. Which is the proper positioning for meatbags that can't take the pummeling of the infinite gorilla of space. Or more precisely, who can't physically survive the trauma of being separated from their Mother(Earth).

People get all of the space travel that they require from the next Chris Pine Star Trek film. That's psychologically enough for the world. The gap between now and survivable manned travel to Mars is so large that no one can see the opposite shore. An educated wager might be that this is because it doesn't exist. But again, one has to abandon addiction to popular optimism to start down the road of analyzing why. Start with the simple factor of our circadian rhythm that is inseparably tied to the Earth's clock that is uniquely a product of the relationship of this specific Earth to our specific Sun. Don't include how the Earth's gravity or magnetic field may play parts, as that's too advanced as of yet. Before we would get to lethal space radiation, we have to figure out how to survive even in otherwise perfectly safe synthetic conditions. It's unclear to the point that we haven't started the discussion.

I want to meet the man who is going to have the vaccine, ahead of time and before a truly apocalyptic pandemic, for space infections picked up from space-victims of space-colonialism by the eternal oppressors of Earth (hard to accomplish that much oppression in infinite space but ok) .

The Universe has plenty to say about both hat sizes and sex.

javajosh1 hour ago

>It suffers from worldwide popularized optimism

Yes, that is certainly true. It bothers me that I can't explain why Asimov, for example, didn't refrain from silly FTL fantasy when he knew better, even then. I pity the science-optimists who claim victory and hope with every advance, but then ignore the constraints who's reality undergird every advance (esp relativity, in this case).

>That's psychologically enough for the world

The universe, or God if you prefer, has thrown down the gauntlets and left us in a default dead state. This is urgent on a long time scale. Fantasy calling itself "science fiction" does damage to our collective physical intuitions, and our intuitions about the future. (A fact which has not gone unnoticed by those with the means to fund such entertainments). But in truth I don't care about what the world wants, I care about keeping it alive long enough to become multi-system. Then, sure, entertain yourself to death if you want. It's only one world, at that point. The last few years have greatly revised (downward) my estimate of modern human knowledge of science, and reality in general. Until then, yeah, if NASA were to come out strongly in favor of protecting our collective scientific minds by requiring virtually all "science fiction" to be relabeled "fantasy", I'd be for it. Why do we assume that children must be protected from sexual imagery but warping their physical intuition is fine??

>The Universe has plenty to say about both hat sizes and sex.

Not at the scale I'm talking about. The nihilistic, self-amusing jokes of the cynic who lies to himself and says he doesn't care, that he is courageously indifferent, show fear. Total, abject fear.

throwaway17_1715 minutes ago

Not sure if you were looking for response to your proposals, but…

I think one of the real problems in implementing this sort of policy, i.e. ensuring that, as a society, individuals (particularly the young) are taught correctly about physical reality is that from a western mindset any measures taken will appear authoritarian. The history of ‘western’ thought, in the tradition of the enlightenment and what followed, is inherently tied to Judeo-Christian ethics and morals. Further, there is a huge pattern of individualism that runs through the core of that same philosophical lineage. It is this basis that allows for the dual positions you allude to in your comment. Traditional ‘western’ thought would enforce the rightness of the society impinging on an individual when it is motivated by Judie-Christian (or at least some interpretation thereof) ideals/morals/precepts. Whereas, impinging on an individual with ‘mere’ facts about the physical world is intolerable because the physical world is clearly an unholy/flawed/unknowable place that only exists to further the goals of a deity in being more deific.

All that to say, unfortunately, given the conditioning of culture that has occurred for the last 500 years in the ‘west’ it seems unlikely to me that any societal commitment to correct physical intuition (and the subsequent marking of non-real things as non-realistic/fantasy/imaginary) will never happen. I honk this also answers the question of why protect children from sexual content, but not from unrealistic scifi. To force those labels would be argued to be authoritarian, and it would probably be supported with slippery slope arguments pointing toward the ‘authority’s’ eventual labeling of religious content as well.

realjhol2 hours ago
javajosh11 minutes ago

Any statement that begins with "It's all just..." is false before it ends.

Why are you on this thread? Is Reddit down?

foysauce4 hours ago

Have been reading "What's Our Problem?: A Self-Help Book for Societies" by Tim Urban? I've been loving it, and he talks about the importance of 2 counterparties identifying what _is_, before distinguishing what _should be_.

jschveibinz2 hours ago

I think I’d like a broader sampling than just two, please, even if they are counterparts. I’m with the skeptics.

drewcoo6 hours ago

Telescopes can only show us what was, not what is.

I had expected the article to be about overturning Lemaitre's Big Bang Theory, both because Lemaitre was a Catholic priest and his theory is very neatly Catholic and because Kant's sense of moral law is something at the core of the way everything works.

The article did not talk about that. It talked around it, but not about it.

msla6 hours ago

Given the number of people who try to derive Is from Ought, maybe giving more people a better view of what is will keep them from listening to the ones attempting to make a new reality.

realjhol6 hours ago

Why? The same people who support the idea behind this article, support the idea that men and women are equal, for example, because they think it ought to be so.

And there's a lot more things they say ought to be true that I won't enumerate here because my account will be banned

nkrisc5 hours ago

Using your example, the way in which men and women are meant to be equal has no basis in objective reality, just as much the claim that men and women are not equal has no such basis either.

Regarding the realm of “is”, we can plainly see men and women are biologically different. But that’s not the argument. The argument is over the question: “should men and women be allowed to share equivalent roles in society, if they desire?”

The language can get murky. When someone says, “men and women are equal” I highly doubt they mean that they are equal in the biological or any empirical sense. What they probably mean is, “men and women ought to be equals in society.”

On the contrary, some think that “men and women ought not to be equals in society.”

I would wager that those many other examples that you think would get you banned from HN fall safely in the camp of “how ought we treat people?”

So I’m the end I doing think the JWST is going to change anything here.

havblue4 hours ago

>The argument is over the question: “should men and women be allowed to share equivalent roles in society, if they desire?”

I think that question is settled, more or less. People usually aren't debating whether a certain person occupying a certain role should be permitted or not.

The real question that seems to be asked now is more along the lines of: "is the fact that we don't pursue certain roles in society equally a sign of our own inherent wickedness?"

barrysteve3 hours ago

They're often the same thing. How people ought to live, is commonly built up from principles and axioms inspired by natural law.

How you ought to live depends heavily upon the axioms you choose, and the axioms that do not coincide with nature and physics are often foolish.

realjhol2 hours ago

> How people ought to live, is commonly built up from principles and axioms inspired by natural law.

You have it backwards. Belief in natural laws is an axiom.

Hardly anyone actually chooses their axioms. They're either handed to us, or expressions of innate personality in most cases.

People generally decide what they think feels right, then reason backwards from there to conjure up a set of principles that they claim to live by.

maroonblazer1 hour ago

>How you ought to live depends heavily upon the axioms you choose, and the axioms that do not coincide with nature and physics are often foolish.

How are you defining "natural"?

We treated each other, and animals, pretty horribly for centuries. This was 'natural'. Then we reasoned about what makes for the kinds of societies where the most number of people can flourish. Certainly not natural, nor foolish.

zabzonk40 minutes ago

> The apprehension of biosignatures – indications of life in exoplanetary atmospheres – would demand a reordering, not only of how humans perceive the Universe, but of ourselves as living, if perhaps not lonely, beings within it.

I don't see why. It seems so unlikely that out of the billions of planets out there, ours is the only one that has managed to produce a bacterium. Given that, I do not understand why actually discovering one (which, to be frank, I am not expecting to happen) would "demand a reordering, not only of how humans perceive the Universe".

Dalewyn8 hours ago

Asking sincerely, anyone got a TL;DR?

The writing is so esoteric it might as well be written in hieroglyphs.

OrderlyTiamat8 hours ago

I've skimmed it, I believe the main point is that the possible discovery of techno signals, indicating life, would require a shift in philosophy akin to the Copernicun revolution. I believe this summary by gpt4 to be (mostly) accurate:

> Enlightenment philosophers struggled to reconcile empirical science with religious and moral traditions. Immanuel Kant believed the world of appearances resulted from the human mind, resolving the perceived discrepancy between the observable world and the mind. This philosophy connected with the political shift from aristocratic rule to freedom through reason.

> Kant's theories expanded to include the Earth, the solar system, and the cosmos. Technologies like telescopes have helped humans understand these vast spaces. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has returned images that deepen our understanding of the cosmos and ourselves, revealing new astrophysical phenomena and potentially even extraterrestrial life.

> Scientists have been able to trace the history of the universe back to the Big Bang, and the discovery of exoplanets has expanded our understanding of life in the universe. The JWST's data on exoplanetary atmospheres and planet formation could yield a generalised theory of life, and future advancements in technology may help us explore even further.

This is precisely the sort of writing that made me less interested in aeon to be honest. The main point seems to be shallow, with a lot of meanderings. Atmittedly those meanderings are interesting, but they also serve to bury the main point, which always leaves me slightly dissatisfied when I've read the whole thing thoroughly. I realise this is a harsh condemnation which may seem unfair, so I'm interested to hear opposing views.

mongol7 hours ago

I think this kind of writing are for readers who enjoy reading kind of like travellers who travel for the journey and not to reach the destination. It should feel like an enlightening experience to just reflect on the words written. I am usually not in the mood for that and leave dissatisfied.

trqx7 hours ago

For fun, GPT4 summary based on the URL alone:

> Can you summarise this article? >

The article discusses the upcoming launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and how its capabilities will allow us to explore the universe in new ways, potentially leading to significant scientific discoveries. However, the article also highlights how the revelations that JWST will bring may have a profound impact on our interior lives as well, leading to shifts in our perspectives, beliefs, and worldviews. The author argues that the awe-inspiring images and information that JWST provides may inspire a new appreciation for the cosmos and our place in it, leading to a more nuanced understanding of our own existence and purpose. Additionally, the discoveries made by JWST may challenge some of our preconceived notions about the universe, leading to a re-evaluation of our beliefs and assumptions. Ultimately, the author suggests that the launch of JWST marks an exciting and transformative moment in human history, one that has the potential to change both our scientific understanding of the universe and our personal and spiritual lives.

> Did you hallucinate the article out of the url, or did you open that link?

> As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to open links or browse the internet. I provided the summary based on the information in the URL that you provided me.

jcims4 hours ago

Bing Chat can read content from its index. This was its attempt:

Sure, I can try to clarify the article for you. The article is about how the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which was launched in December 2021 and started sending back images in July 2022, will change our understanding of the universe and ourselves. The author argues that the JWST will show us new and amazing things about the cosmos that will challenge our moral and philosophical views, just like previous discoveries by astronomers such as Copernicus and Kant did. The author gives some examples of what the JWST might reveal, such as:

* The first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang

* The atmospheres and surfaces of planets around other stars

* The origins of life and its possible diversity in the universe

* The nature of dark matter and dark energy

The author also discusses how these discoveries will affect our sense of wonder, awe, curiosity, responsibility and identity as human beings living on a small planet in a vast cosmos. The author suggests that we need to be open-minded and humble when we encounter new cosmic realities that might challenge our existing beliefs and values. The author concludes by saying that the JWST will not only expand our vision of the external world, but also our interior lives. I hope this summary helps you understand the main points of the article.

mongol7 hours ago

Not honest enough. Would have preferred if it said "yes I hallucinated it"

detrites5 hours ago

> As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to open links or browse the internet.

And yet, almost everything you are comes from there. Would it be closer if adding "anymore"?

flangola77 hours ago

My sides are like the James Webb Space Telescope:

In space

codeflo8 hours ago

I'll try: New scientific discoveries also shift our perception of ourselves.

jschveibinz2 hours ago

Yes, this is a good point. You get my vote.

nikanj6 hours ago

It’s as if someone asked AI to wac poetic about the human condition and space, for 43 pages

barrysteve3 hours ago

This article sets Kant up for a failing. It compares Kant's spiritual description of the 'classes of creatures on Jupiter and Mars' and their behavior, with NASA's earnest scientific attempt to find extraterrestrial life. It's an apples to oranges comparison.

The "balloon being filled" metaphor for collecting knowledge (data in this case), as a replacement for Kant's linear study across time, does not work with the author's intent. Studying and gaining knowledge is limited by the human lifetime, there's no two ways about it.

For example; An army of sensors could collect all the data (filling the balloon) from extra-solar planets and an interpretation algorithm could crunch down exabytes of data into a human readable format. But in the end, a human has to read it and understand it. And the most the human could read and know, is limited by time.

This article really does not plausibly discuss Kant.