Thursday, July 4, 2013

Travel tales: Natural History Museum and thinking deep thoughts

One of my "must do's" on this trip to New York was a visit to the Natural History Museum. Yes I've seen the movie, but what actually prompted me was the fact that I recently read the indecently good Aussie novel, "The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion. I won't say exactly what happens, because it's kind of spoiler material, but it left me with a keen desire to go explore the museum.

I especially loved all the space and pop-physics stuff. To be clear, I was pretty crap at physics in school. But there's nothing I love more than one of those "what is the universe really made of?" documentaries that pops up on SBS all the time. All that chaos theory, and butterfly wings beating, and dark matter, and quantum mechanics, and string theory, makes me wish my brain would work well enough to be able to really understand it all.

To make you feel either, a) part of an awesomely grand universe, or b) totally insignificant to the point of being completely irrelevant, the Natural History Museum has a "13 billion year journey" walk. It's a gently descending spiral where every metre you walk spans 147 million years in the universe's history, from the big bang to today.
As you walk along the path, major events in the universe's history are pointed out. There are even, in some spots, some meteor rocks and images from telescopes to illustrate the stars' activities at that time.

And then, when you get to the end, the present day, you see this:
Human beings? When did they emerge in this long walk through history? Not a metre. Not a step. Not even the length of my foot. No, in this scale, 30,000 years of human history is the width of a single human hair.

I did this walk first, before exploring the rest of the museum and it's diorama displays, and precious gems, and stuffed animals, and explanations of how volcanoes work. And you know what? The whole time, I was thinking -- "width of a human hair".

And I was also getting kind of angry. Because the more you find out about the universe (both the unimaginably huge universe out there and the unimaginably huge universe inside a single atom) the more you discover how little we really know. How we're on this little planet, around a middling sun, in a non-remarkable solar system in a galaxy that's just one of millions (billions) out there.

Why don't we know more?? I want to know more!

Scientists and astronomers and physicists really need to pull their collective fingers out. There's some important stuff we need to work out!

I can see only one solution. I must become the next companion to the new Doctor. I'm a visual/experiential learner, so clearly the best way for me to learn about the universe is to go there in the Tardis. Excellent.

Now that we've got that sorted, I'll go back to sorting out my photos from the trip. Hopefully the next blog post will make a little more sense and possibly include mention of food and drink...


  1. I love the History museum! You can spend the whole day there and feel like you've missed more than you've seen. I think all of New York City is like that. The more you see, the more you want to understand.

  2. I think that's a very insightful comment on lots of levels Julia! I have to say there was still plenty of things I didn't get to see while I was there. It's s big city!

  3. Love it! You managed to get a Dr Who reference in :-) Seriously, after reading The Rosie Project (about 2 weeks ago) I started to wonder what I'd missed in passing the Natural History Museum up in previous trips to NY. It sounds fabulous and I love those thought provoking installations. Looking forward to more posts on your trip :-)

    1. Thanks Louise. Yes, the museum hadn't really popped up on my radar as a "must do" until I read that book. It really was worth a visit -- next time!

  4. LOL! The Natural History Museum makes you want to be the Doctors next companion - maybe from now on you should choose your tourist estabishments carefully, just in case!
    Kez x