Science discovers up and down -- Will politicians?
By Arianna Huffington
May 01, 1997
The news was on the front page of The New York Times: "Measurements by scientists have suggested for the first time that the universe has an 'up' and a 'down.'" This challenge to Einstein's theory of relativity has stunned the scientific world. But I come not to express an opinion on the speed of light, the uniformity of space or the symmetry of the Big Bang -- only on the profound effect that scientific breakthroughs have always had on contemporary culture and life.
Einstein's theory of relativity -- which decreed that reality changes according to how fast one moves -- shattered the stability of the Newtonian universe and the Victorian sensibility that complemented it. As historian Paul Johnson put it: "At the beginning of the 1920s, the belief began to circulate for the first time at the popular level that there were no longer any absolutes: of time, of space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly, but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism." By the time Einstein's complex scientific theory had percolated down to the man in the street, it was reduced to "all is relative" and "anything goes."
Science, art and modern life were unhinged. As Arthur Buller put it in a limerick: "There was a young lady named Bright, who traveled much faster than light. She started one day in the relative way, and returned on the previous night."
Situational ethics was born, and truth was assumed to be different for everybody -- depending on where you were and how fast you were going.
Now we are learning that the universe has a "roof" and a "floor" after all. Other scientists are challenging the theory, of course, but Dr. John Ralston and Dr. Borge Nodland are sticking by their discovery that an axis is running through space. Ralston described it as a "kind of cosmological north star that orients the universe."
Cultural conservatives should be dancing in the streets. After all, they have been saying all along that there is an "up" and a "down," that things are not arbitrary, that saying so doesn't make it so and that there are consequences to "doing your own thing."
Once this new scientific breakthrough trickles down, the cultural implications could be dramatic. We can never go back to the fixed laws governing the physical universe or to the world of moral absolutes unquestioningly accepted. But now, science is siding with those warning that on the journey from the Victorians to the "Me Generation," we turned down a blind alley. Alexander Solzhenitsyn summed it up: "The spiritual axis of life has grown dim."
Now that scientists have discerned for the first time a clear axis to the universe, will this make it easier to discover the personal axis -- a center from which it will be easier to bring an end to self-destructive "down" behaviors like drug abuse and teen-age pregnancy?
The fallout in the political world could be breathtaking. Spin doctors may have to find honest work as cobblers or mechanics. And our political leaders may come to certain painful new realizations. Perhaps President Clinton will accept that his fund-raising practices were plain wrong and not justified relative to the threat of Republicans "stealing" Medicare from the elderly. Bob Dole might recognize that he should not have abandoned lifelong principles just to please noisy constituencies and win his party's nomination. As for Al Gore, he may come to see that there is indeed a controlling authority in his life -- much higher than any attorney -- and that this authority doesn't appreciate the shaking down of Buddhist monks.
When Einstein's formula changed the notion of "objective" external reality, facts could be dependent on the speed of the mind hurtling through space and the speed of the mouth interpreting them. In that relative world, O.J. could get acquitted, Bill Clinton could make jokes about Chelsea's going to college freeing up one more bedroom, and Dick Morris -- disgraced only a relatively few months ago -- could practice his shuttle diplomacy between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.While the public is growing numb, science may be coming to the rescue. There may be black holes, star deaths and warped space time in the universe. But there is also a central axis running through it all.
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