New ideas get stuck in loops in my brain. I learn about a cool science story and want to overshare at dinner parties. Alas, the same happens with the daily political news.
My job as a writer in these challenging times is to synthesize, to respond. But I get dragged down by Donald Trump’s rants and tweets, by the scheming and lying described in the Mueller report. All that distress and dismay, day after day, brings me to a state of stupefaction.
Writer Hampton Sides has discovered the mood-altering brain chemical responsible for my incapacitation. It’s “re-activated each time we turn on the news or consult our iPhones.” He’s named this powerful substance “Trumpamine.”
The tumult of headlines releases this chemical flood. So I go looking for antidotes, where I find science cranking out discoveries that make the president’s ghastly behavior seem less consequential.
Consider the cover story in the March 2019 National Geographic describing our search for intelligent aliens. The startling line I can’t get out of my head comes from Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center. He’s concluded that technological civilization is part of the “cosmic landscape.” Life may simply exist as “a property of the universe.”
People of faith won’t be surprised by this. But as a secular guy used to thinking about the long odds of evolution, I’m thrilled with the calm certainty of Siemion’s absolute. Is there life “out there?” Unequivocally.
Trump dismisses scientific research as an inconvenient impediment to making more money. He generally looks no farther ahead or behind than today’s programming on Fox News. His longest-term vision spans the interval between the election he won in 2016 and the election he hopes to win in 2020. The landmarks of his world are golf courses and branded gold towers. His horizon is as narrow as his vocabulary.
Move beyond the small mind of the president and you find paleontologist Robert dePalma, who blows away the toxins of Trumpamine with a dazzling discovery.
DePalma has discovered a site in stark North Dakota badlands that documents the impact of the famous asteroid that blasted into the Yucatan and terminated the Age of Dinosaurs. He has not only found fossils of animals killed by floods triggered by the seismic wave of the asteroid’s impact. He’s got a record of the exact moment when glassy bits of rock vitrified by the Chicxulub asteroid fell from the sky, creating small craters in the mud.
DePalma brings to life one of the most momentous changes in earth history with a minute-to-minute timeline of a cataclysm that happened 66 million years ago.
In the face of Trump’s anti-fact, anti-learning and anti-teamwork rhetoric, science continues to churn out these insights and discoveries that remind me to take the long view.
For the longest view of all, now we have a picture of a black hole 500 million trillion kilometers away. That phrase, as I write it, seems impossible. But with breathtaking work by a team of 200 scientists, “we have seen what we thought was unseeable,” as Shep Doeleman, the Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer who led the effort puts it.
We inevitably move forward. But along the way, researchers around the world will remind us of the wonders of the cosmos, the miracles of life, and the thrill of discovery.
We’ll have to decide whether to impeach the president for his clearly impeachable behavior. We’ll have to decide who to run against him to restore the rule of law and the morality of our leadership. We’ll have to find ways to fortify climate resiliency and attend to environmental justice.
Meanwhile, scientists will give us nuggets of new understanding that will spark through our brains without reference to a single Trumpian thug. They will quell the tides of Trumpamine with an equal measure of endorphins.
I can hardly wait for the next scientific astonishment to counterbalance the Mueller report in my whirling brain.
Writer Stephen Trimble, unapologetic science nerd and political junkie, votes in Torrey, Utah. His latest book, “The Capitol Reef Reader,” will be published this spring.