Looking for Finding’s Sake

So Higgs happened. Kind of. In any case, progress was made. I’m still catching up via MinutePhysics, but I was thinking about science and things scientists find, and a book about Pluto I’ve been thinking about reading.

Theoretically, I’m a scientist. I don’t usually claim it, because Archaeology is considered, at best, a soft science in North American. But my degree is from the UK, where Archaeology is an Earth Science. In any case, I know very well what it is like to look for something you can’t see and then then find something else entirely. To be honest, it’s kind of fun (though it does lead to conversations like “Michael! Do you have any more tinfoil? I’ve found another skull!”), and it’s certainly part of what drew me to archaeology in the first place.

Sometimes, though, it backfires. Sometimes you dig up a grave and it’s empty. Sometimes there’s no wall underneath that perfect line of stones. Sometimes it backfires STUPENDOUSLY (see also: Troy, Mycaenae, Crete. Thanks for that, guys!). Sometimes you find a Higgs-like particle and it’s okay. You publish, you maybe tweak your specialty or call in someone who can deal with the information, and you move on.

But sometimes you fulfill a lifelong goal. You get your dream job. You make a huge, beautiful discovery. And then small children send you letters asking you why you killed Pluto.

When Mike Brown discovered Eris in 2005, it was big news. I remember thinking about it. “My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets” wasn’t going to work anymore*! There was a WHOLE OTHER PLANET! It was really, really cool.

And then, of course, everything was redefined and not only was Eris ruled to be Not A Planet, Pluto lost its status too. I like to imagine at that point every single astronomer who ever clung to epicycles sitting on a cloud somewhere KILLING THEMSELVES LAUGHING, while Gallelaio was all “Hey, at least you don’t have to worry about the FREAKING SPANISH INQUISITION!”**

My point is that change is the nature of science. Well, maybe not science, but our interpretation of it. We thought the site I work on in Jordan was going to be a village. Boy, were we wrong! The key is to be open to adaptation. Don’t be Heinrich Schliemann. He wanted Priam’s Troy so badly that he built it, all but destroying what was there in the process***.

Maybe it’s Higgs. Maybe it’s Higgs-like. Maybe Pluto is a planet. Maybe the definition of planet is too small to incorporate the universe. Maybe it’s the most we can understand. The important thing is that it’s there. And we found it. We are collecting the pieces of the universe, and they are beautiful and they are confusing, but they fit together.

And now we get to figure out what’s next.



*Incidentally, that was FINE with me, because my mother had taught me the planets with “Man Very Early Made Jars Stand Up Nearly Perpendicularly” which, despite it’s slightly sexist take on ceramic technology and the fact that it actually took us a while to get to jars,  you can at least add “, Even” to the end of the sentence and it still works.
**Or…maybe you do! I’ve heard no one ever except it. It just shows up.
***Not to mention stealing a crap tonne of artefacts from Turkey!


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