Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Monday 11 October 2010

WHY ?!?!

This is a question I increasingly ask myself every day. Why in all kinds of hells am I leaving to a remote island thousands of miles from proper civilisation* to study gas in galaxies so far away they will never, ever affect us, ever ? What could possibly motivate a stability freak like me to fly into a self-imposed exile ? Other people might call it exciting, but these people can go and boil their stupid fat heads. For me, it's Stress Factor 12,000, which is a lot like Stress Factor 11,000 but much worse.

*Definition : A place so unnecessarily sophisticated that it sells coaster holders and those little dishes only big enough to hold your spoon so it doesn't drip tea everywhere.

Some of you may balk at the very concept. Lots of people seem to have odd notions about the Caribbean. Unfortunately, it is neither full of pirates nor monkeys, not even pirate monkeys. It does have a tropical climate, but I find this quite distasteful. A constant 25-35 degree heat with a humidity level too high to be measured by human instruments is not my idea of pleasant. And since there's no relief come nightfall, it's a bit like living in a giant, moist oven. I'm failing to see the appeal of this.

No pirate monkeys for me. But there is rum...
So it certainly isn't the tropical climate that motivates me. Perhaps it's the thrill of starting a new life in a new, exotic land, full of strange people and a whole other culture waiting to be explored, with a wonderful new language to learn and a completely new way of looking at the world. Bugger that. I've said it before and I'll say it again : I'd rather stay home and play computer games.

Meh. At least Pac Mac is something I can actually do.
Perhaps, then, I go for the greater good of Science. Maybe the need to determine whether or not those "dark galaxies" really exist is so overwhelming that I'm prepared to leave my friends and family (be sure to read that link, it's genius) and live on an overheated island. Or perhaps, is it because I'm so obsessed with the gas content of early-type galaxies  that I'm prepared to confront my long-term fear of driving ? Well, is it ? No, it damn well isn't.

Galaxies are pretty.
 Not to say that there isn't a scientific motivation for going. There most certainly is. I spent 3 years studying this bloomin' gas and I'd really like to know what it all means. However, I can live quite happily in my own house not knowing the secrets of the Universe, but I'm not sure the opposite is true. To put it another way, if every telescope on Earth where to explode tomorrow in an fiery orgy of scientific Armageddon, I'd be a great deal happier than if it was my house that exploded.

Could be worse...
Another possibility is that I'm a money-grabbing bastard who'll trample on principles at the merest hint of funding. Possible, but while money might motivate me to confront fear, it doesn't alleviate it in the slightest. And because I'm a natural-born coward without any immediate possibility of financial destitution, well, I'd rather stay home and play computer games.

At least opting for the game means I'm not a capitalist. That's a happy thought.
What, then, could possibly cause such uncharacteristic behaviour ? Despite everything, it's more or less all of the above. The key factor is cowardice. I simply do not have the audacity to turn down $56,000 to live on a tropical island using the world's largest radio telescope for a job I can do. But sometimes I wish I did.

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