No ado

eclipseIt is nice that Annie Dillard’s essay has gotten some new “airtime”:

“It began with no ado. It was odd that such a well advertised public event should have no starting gun, no overture, no introductory speaker. I should have known right then that I was out of my depth. Without pause or preamble, silent as orbits, a piece of the sun went away. We looked at it through welders’ goggles. A piece of the sun was missing; in its place we saw empty sky.”

Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse” The Atlantic (1982, republished 2017) [link].

Physics & empathy

Dark MatterDark matter’s existence perplexes people who find it implausible that the vast majority of matter in the universe would be undetectable by our senses and their technological extensions. Some even wonder if it’s a sort of mistake. To me it would be even more astonishing if the matter we can see with our eyes were all the matter there is. You might have thought such hubristic beliefs were upended by the Copernican Revolution. After all, the history of physics is the history of revealing how much is deceptive, or is hidden from view.

Most people mistake their own perspective, shaped by their subjective and limited perception, for the absolute reality of the external world. Questioning this assumption is what advanced our research on dark matter. It is also the only thing that has ever advanced human empathy.

Lisa Randall, “Seeing dark matter as the key to the universe — and human empathy,” Boston Globe (October 26, 2015) (

Lisa Randall is a physicist at Harvard University.  This article was brought to my attention by polymath professor Alan Jacobs of Baylor, at more than 95 theses. who queries “I wonder if Randall (professor of physics at Harvard) thinks that this insight should have any influence on how atheists treat theists?”