So One Hologram Says to the Other….

My son Stephen is home for the Thanksgiving weekend, and last night the three of us watched one of the shows in Nova’s “Fabric of the Cosmos” series. This one explored the nature of space–which is not “nothingness” as we might imagine.

These Nova productions do a great job of simplifying complex science, drawing analogies to things we understand. That said, by the time the show concluded, my head hurt.

I had no idea that black holes–in addition to squashing everything that has the misfortune to get swept up within their immense density–keep copies of what they crush on their “outside.” (Whatever the outside of a black hole is.) Nor had I encountered the theory that our world might consist of holographic images of those images.

Does your head hurt yet?

I may not have learned much about physics from this particular explanation, but it did illustrate, once again, the immense gulf between what I know and what science has discovered. And that makes me wonder–again–about the processes we use to make policy in this country.

If I were a lawmaker, and I was being asked to vote upon a measure to fund a particular scientific inquiry, how would I evaluate the merits of the project? What if I was being asked to ban a certain line of experimentation? And even if I had access to excellent advice, how would I justify my vote–whatever it was–to those who elected me?

When Texas was a potential site for the Hadron Collider, there was a frenzy of fear that it would create a black hole that would swallow the Earth. It was subsequently built in Switzerland, began operations recently, and thus far, at least, we’re still here. Or at least our holographic images…

I really don’t want to turn policymaking over to the technocrats and nerds, but I also don’t think Joe and Jane Sixpack and I are equipped to make a lot of the decisions that we collectively need to make.

As the world gets more and more complicated, we need to think carefully about the level of knowledge we need to make good policy, and how we might keep decision-making both democratic and informed.

Unfortunately, this hologram has no idea how to do that.