By Bradley Harrington
“The difficult is that which can be done at once; the impossible is that which takes a little longer.” — Polar Explorer Fridtjof Nansen, “League of Nations Speech,” 1925 —
As a young boy I was a science freak, especially in regard to anything related to space. Consequently, astronomy, mathematics and physics were hobbies I pursued with a passionate interest.
You can thank the Apollo missions for that. So, when Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11 uttered his famous words back on July 20, 1969 (“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”), you can bet your sweet bippy that I was sitting in front of an old black-and-white Magnavox TV to hear it.
The next step was to finally go down to the local matinee and see “2001: A Space Odyssey” (released the year before) for a quarter, and those two occurrences pretty much sealed my fate. From that point forward, I started skipping my classes, which bored me to tears, to hang out in the library to read and read and read.
My elementary school at that time was physically attached as a separate wing to Lederle Junior High — so, when my teachers finally figured out that I’d been hiding out in the elementary library, I simply shifted my center of operations to the (bigger! better!) library a couple of hundred feet down the corridor. I became expert at falsifying the discarded library passes I’d find in the halls in order to get me through that door. (As science writer Grant Allen once observed back in 1894, I wasn’t about to “let my schooling interfere with my education.”)
It was science fiction that grabbed my interest the most, and I swallowed up volumes of stories by Robert Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt, E.E. “Doc” Smith and Isaac Asimov the way most kids were eating their lunches. Books were my window to the Universe, and the only limitations I faced were: How fast could I absorb the data?
Naturally, the upcoming Millennium was a big topic of interest in those days, thanks to “2001” — but shucks, that was still decades away! Heck, I’d be 42 by then… Which, to my teenage spirit, seemed like an eternity. I needed to learn NOW.
I’m trying to think of how I can communicate the love I had for that process of learning that gripped me — of the fascination I felt while the world was opening up before me, immense vistas in need of exploration.
I guess it’s the same thing Armstrong felt when his feet hit Luna’s deck, or when Newton cracked the gravity equation, or when Einstein penned the Special and General Theories of Relativity (with no presumptuousness of comparisons intended on my part). I can only describe it as the greatest, most intense, most incredible feeling in the world.
Well, Dear Readers, the Millennium has come and gone, and I’m now 57 years old — well past the distant “eternity” of 2001. Here, now, in the brand-new year of 2017, has my zeal for knowledge or the achievements of our imaginations suffered any kind of diminishment since I was 13 years old back in 1972?
Not on your life. Sure, my focus has altered considerably over the years; in my late teens I shifted away from the hard sciences and began studying politics, economics, philosophy and history — passions that consume me to this day.
While various particular targets of my emotional and intellectual frenzies have come and gone, however, one immutable property has always remained: A tremendous respect and adoration for the indomitable power of our minds.
Does this mean that we, as human beings on Planet Earth, practice that power as often as we should? I hardly think so; but Apollo 11 convinced me, back at 10 years old, of what is possible when we do — astounding feats of accomplishment tied directly to the employment of our rational faculties.
The more we use our minds, the better off we are; and the less, the worse. It’s really that simple.
As we now ponder the problems facing us in this New Year of 2017, it might sometimes seem as though the issues we face have grown to insurmountable proportions.
Sorry, but I beg to differ — for nothing is EVER “insurmountable”! It’s only a question of whether we choose to use our minds — in the same way, and for exactly the same reasons, as astrophysicists once calculated the mechanics of the Apollo 11 fuel thrusts.
That’s the trail, Dear Reader, the path we need to follow; and, when we decide to walk those unwalked roads, the sky — literally — is the limit. What will YOU be doing in 2017 to help bring it all about?
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the “Wyoming Tribune Eagle” on January 1, 2017. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.