The Cosmic Minimalism of Piero Angela

by Adriano Autino

The TV programmes of RAI 1 were a really great start to the New Year thanks overall to the broadcast of Piero Angela, which keeps all the proponents of spaceflight and of human space development glued to the TV set on Fridays.

Moreover the splendid synthetic images show us how far, not only in the laboratories of Steven Spielberg, the technology of the computerized simulation has come. We must spend some words of praise also for the choice of themes a result of consultation with Piero Bianucci. A peaceful journalist who, without rows and without sprinkling his presence around like parsley in the various soap-talk-shows, succeeds in placing some important themes of reflection in first-evening transmissions. A model of seriousness and scientific rigor for the ones who, often as volunteers and without sponsors, try to deepen philosophical and scientific themes and to propose them to the public reflection and discussion.

Even if obliquely, “Voyage in the Cosmos” touched all the themes that today are at the center of discussion, if not of the projects, of the Space Agencies: the exploration of the Sun System and potential exploitation of its enormous resources; from orbiting cities (clearly inspired to The High Frontier - Human Colonies in Space, a book written, in 1976, by Gerard ONeill), to the Energy from Satellites; the building of a Lunar Colony; the experimentation of artificial ecosystems of Biosphere 2. It was not possible to expect that an emission of popular character, even of great value, enter directly in the political, social and philosophical problems that the theme raiss, even if some signs came from the, very educated, questions of the Florentine students.

The surprising thing is that Angela wanted to keep a very low profile (or too high, if you prefer) on the general philosophical themes of the human development. Thus the generous Tuscan smile of Margherita Hack was wasted -- she is a lady that is able to communicate the most fascinating scientifical concepts as she was indicating the best fruits to the housewifes on the market desks -- to answer that “the Pure Research goes where she wants, and sooner or later we will see the fall-out even in the daily life”. This answer was given to the classical and expected question (I should had found strange if this question was not posed): “Why should we spend money in space, instead of improving the life on the Earth?” I dare say that the answer finds me in agreement: they will never defend enough the Pure Research against the ones that want to see it competing on the market. A good subject for another TV broadcast could be a review of the history of some fall-outs, that the Humanity would never have had if a fine number of minds didn’t “throw their money” in the Pure Research. I too had given that answer, but not for the first, and surely not without other answers. How to be silent at all on the need of a new development paradigma, seen that the old one of the development without limits in a closed world system finally showed its insufficiency (economical, ecological, social and political)? How it is possible to let the people think that the knowledge of the Universe was -- all considered -- nothing more than a fancy, not urgent nor needed for our daylife? Was it maybe secundary when Galileo stated that our Earth is rotating around the Sun, and not viceversa? By the way, if many shortsighted people go round with glasses on their noses, it is thanks to the visionary -- and for his times delirious -- ideas of Galileo Galilei. And today, how is it possible to think that was not absolutely vital to know that our Sun is not the center of the Universe, and to know, even in a rough way, what is our position in a greater context? And, overall, to know what is the possibility, technological and cultural, for us to make a step suitable to our powers, reaching out to a wider courtyard for our home?

Instead we saw a shy evasion of Angela and his court. Margherita Hack was restless on her chair, like Pierino when he wanted to say his unseemly sentence, but could not because the teacher was frowning at him. Some ASIs representatives were presented as the ones calling for money from the taxpayers, but with no-one knowing exactly why. In fact Angela was saying, more or less: “Since the beginning Humanity makes things without knowing why, but it always was so; thus we will go into space, too....” No, I wasn’t quite expecting such a poor standard. Mostly because the reasons (or rationales, according to the Agencies slang) to go into the space have been for many years theme of discussion, even if only in the narrow clubs of the so called Space Community, it is true. They are great themes and great choices, that can frighten the people, and surely sound discordant and in contradiction to the soft new-age atmosphere - a product of little, weak, minds, only aimed at an holistic, contemplative, representation of reality, and which accurately avoids suggesting concepts and clear political positions. But it is my strong convinction that, this time, Humanity can save itself and continue its development only if it will know very well what it is doing and why. The space development will not happen by itself, like a spontaneous plant, but only following strong choices, discussed and shared by large majorities. Nor is there so much time. A modern, not minimalist, journalism should know how to finally bring this discussion into society, because all the people are involved

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