Our outgoing news columnist reflects on the past year
By Harmesh Bhambra ‘16
If there is anything that can give us perspective it is that morass of the cosmos. And if any of us has forgotten about that huge unknown out there, we were reminded last week when gravitational waves were observed, heralding a new era for physics.
A century ago the coruscating mind of Einstein produced ten equations on relativity that are still obscure, but over time tests and data have proved many of his conclusions to be valid; the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) test on gravitational waves is just the latest. As we think about what next will be discovered, maybe, one day, our daily conversations will be about “what planet?” or “what galaxy?” rather than “what city?” or “what country?”. We are so small.
Over the past year I have covered a range of stories from Booth and across the world, some as important as the recent discovery. Unfortunately, global news events have had a tendency to be negative. But the latest discovery has shown the unique capacity of humans to yearn, to learn, to understand, to innovate. It was Einstein who said that “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.”
Progress of history
Over the past year we have witnessed several international agreements, such as on climate change and the Iran nuclear program. These show that cross-religious and cross-ideological agreements are still possible. The Iran deal seemed unthinkable a decade ago, so can this give us hope for the future?
On the other hand two centuries ago, Georg Hegel, the German philosopher, established the idea that history progresses with pendulum swings. There is a “thesis” (an existing idea, political movement or discourse). Then there is an “antithesis” (a reaction to the norm). Finally, and hopefully, there is a “synthesis” (a resolution or a new agreement). With terrorist attacks and continuing civil war in many parts of the world we may be seeing an antithesis -- a reaction to the messy international consensus formed after the end of the Cold War. Disturbingly, if we take this theory as true, how intense should this antithesis be -- more violent, more widespread to achieve a synthesis?
The rhythm of Booth
At Booth the output of news follows a certain rhythm. New art is placed in the Harper Center every quarter -- often unnoticed. Professors continue to entertain (keep your quotes coming!). NVC is kicking off -- with no doubt many tales of success and sorrow to follow. This past year we have been fortunate to celebrate the 125th anniversary of UChicago, with special events abound across the university. We have seen faculty members leave and arrive -- shaping and keeping an eye on these trends will be important for the future of the school. There is a regular flow of great speakers who come to Booth, such as Lawrence Summers on Feb 18 2016, that we can almost take their presence for granted. We have seen more to Booth than meets the eye -- marathon participation, sports tournaments, cooking groups. The creation of a gender-neutral bathroom at Booth and the ROMBA conference in Chicago, partially organized by Boothies to great success, emphasize how much we have progressed with rights for the LGBT community over the past year. At a national level the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in June 2015 and the majority opinion will stir the blood for generations:
“...It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Over the next year we will see the wind of change continue to blow through the Harper Center and across the world; we will see how much is out of our control; we are so small. This should give us perspective about our time at Booth; and how important it is to remember it.
Harmesh is heading into the sunset. It has been great. Thanks for your input, feedback and time.