By LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS - SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
Added: Fri, 19 Nov 2010 14:09:31 UTC
Thanks to Neil5150 for the link
The new Doc NYC documentary film festival just ended and it began last week with a bang, featuring distinguished filmmaker Werner Herzog’s new "3D film Cave of Forgotten Dreams." The haunting and remarkable 32,000-year-old drawings filmed deep in a cave that remained undisturbed for tens of thousands of years and in which, since its discovery less than a decade ago, fewer people have walked than have walked on the moon, call out across the eons to us. They challenge our modern sensibilities, and our very notion of what it means to be human.
These are treasures of antiquity that celebrate the long and circuitous development of our modern human spirit from early stirrings in primitive hominids. All of us should celebrate these revelations, so it is disquieting to ponder amidst the cultural delights New York was home to over recent days that instead of basking in the beauty and wonder that these stories unveil, the majority of Americans instead would prefer to believe that none of this rich tapestry ever actually happened.
Rendered in charcoal in ancient times when an Ice Age permeated all of what is now Europe and Neanderthals still walked the earth, the paintings are at the same time remarkably modern, reminiscent of Picasso or Weber. Another fact staggers the imagination. Dating of the charcoal suggests that the paintings were added to over a period of 5,000 years-far exceeding the span between the age of the ancient Greeks and Roman civilizations and the modern era, in fact over a period whose length coincides with what many people choose to believe is the age of the universe.
In poll after poll, concentrations ranging from 30 percent to 60 percent of Americans continue to believe that humans have existed in their present form unchanged, as created by God less than 10,000 years ago.
Richard Dawkins has noted that confusing 10,000 years with the actual age of the Universe (13.7 billion years) is like confusing the distance across the United States with the distance spanned by a meter stick. Such colossal innumeracy and scientific illiteracy is indeed worrisome, but I would argue that the saddest aspect of such scientific ignorance is that it demeans the human sense of wonder that thinking about the universe should provoke.
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