Marginalia, no.36

If the earth must perish, then astronomy is our only consolation.

~ Joseph Joubert

It sounds like a Hawking-esque call to colonize the galaxy, until you remember that Joubert wrote this in 1784.  Astronomy here stands for the knowledge of (supposedly) eternal principles.  A twenty-first century nihilist will ask what good any knowledge doomed to extinction can be.  And yet we naturally prefer that each comet, each supernova, each exotic body orbiting an alien sun, at least fall under the passing gaze of someone.   Possessed by one, the knowledge of a thing belongs to all.  It becomes one step more in the project of humanizing the cosmos.  Knowledge for its own sake sometimes gets a bad rap (trivia needn’t be trivial), but in a world under death sentence the thirst for knowledge is always at bottom a thirst for immortality.


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