My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Papayas. That specific phrase was taught to me by my science teacher in grade school to memorize the nine planets of the Solar System. I hear that in other schools, the last word isn’t always papayas: Pasta? Peanuts? Pomegranates? Of course it’s now a moot point since as of August 24, 2006, there are only eight planets in our Solar System. Anyone up for a new slogan to help remember all eight planets?
Pluto’s demotion (and the promotion of certain heavenly bodies) is perhaps one of the biggest paradigm shifts I’ve encountered so far. Well, to my peers if not to me. I mean if you studied the history of the discovery of the various planets (and not just their name), humanity’s awareness of Pluto has only been recent, and its classification has always been ambiguous. It doesn’t really matter to me but I’m sure the change gave people pause and perhaps shock, not because it has a big impact on their personal lives (in the way 9/11 changed the paradigm of Americans, or the first EDSA Revolution for Filipinos), but because it’s something they remember being taught to them at school, etched as a fact in their text books not so long ago.
Unfortunately (for us), knowledge is seldom static. As new discoveries are made, old beliefs need to be disregarded and what used to be a fact is now simply considered historical. If that weren’t so, humans would still think that they live on a flat planet, or that the Earth is the center of the universe. Still, Pluto is far from the only outdated model we have of the world, much less the universe (or should I say multiverse?). I was taught that atoms and sub-atomic particles (protons, neutrons, electrons) were the smallest forms of matter but guess what, there’s quarks and I’m sure in the future, there’ll be something smaller than that. A friend also pointed out that Newtonian Physics isn’t exactly the most accurate, but is the simplest way (because we honestly don’t need to know the complicated stuff to move on with our lives) to describe the laws of Physics.
Of course the latest ruckus over Pluto (at least its name is still the same) also shows us that politics will always be present in every human endeavor, even in something as empirical as science. What was supposed to re-affirm Pluto’s status into a planet did the opposite when public opinion went against it. I’m sure there was lots of debate, cajoling, and coercion on both sides. And human nature being fickle as it is, the decision might be reversed in the future, or it might not. But the fact of the matter is that people decided whether Pluto was to be a planet or not, and people took sides. It’s based on scientific information, but there’s really nothing scientific about persuading others to agree with you, or to rally against those whose beliefs you distrust.
In the end, the issue really isn’t about Pluto. It’s about our concept of the world, and how we react when new ideas are put forth. Some will act as the vanguard of old ideas (and sometimes rightly so, because just because something is new doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always right), while others are willing to try out new ideas. We’re the same species, after all, that condemned Galileo, tried to appease Hitler, and voted for our politicians.