from Definitions of Time and Space

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1 Journey of Speculation into the Basis - from Definitions of Time and Space Jin Choi [Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute / Doctoral Program] Where are we from and where are we headed? The question above is somewhat tricky to answer simply using philosophy or science. It may be considered very deep, but if you look around, it is a question that we always ask and repetitively answer. The Encyclopedia of Absolute and Relative Knowledge series, which gained popularity in Korea a few years back, sparked strong interest among the public even from its title. It is true: we are spending our time in relative definitions raised by absolute needs. Science and humanities are interlinked with each other in many aspects, and concepts in physics, for instance, can be understood more easily when a person has a multiangular perspective and tries to see things from another person s point of view, rather than simply trying to understand for understanding s sake. Based on this, the answer to the question above from a student studying science should involve definitions of time and space. Or from my perspective in life, it can be an interpretation of my past and the countless choices ahead of me. I had an opportunity to think over a lot of aspects through one lecture and a series of events that took place during the winter term last year. The lecture s title was Fundamental Astronomy. In the concept of position in 12

2 astronomy, which deals with the entire universe, the earth and its surroundings are interlocked with time from the beginning. This is not a very strange assertion considering that the age of the universe must be explained with the size of the universe that we can see, and that the unit of time itself is associated with the earth s movement. Even before the eras of industry and science, humankind identified the positions of the heavenly bodies using various methods, and from this identification, they defined time. Almost all celestial bodies including the sun, the moon, planets, asteroids, and stars were observed, and their respective movements were understood based on our time paradigm. Our understanding has been demonstrated through countless repetition of prediction and validation. More recently, efforts are being continuously made to define time and to identify positions of the objects in the sky ranging from the stars farthest away to the stars that human beings launched up in the sky known as satellites. This task has been originally performed on the ground, but over time, people have come to realize from such efforts that they are neither the center of the universe nor the center of the solar system, and that even on earth, they are merely existing on the surface. Moreover, the celestial bodies have diverse movements from large tendencies to smaller and more subtle vibrations. Recently, 13

3 there have been serious discussions on whether the leap second concept should be eliminated in order to have a more absolute standard for finer movements. The absolute flow is a mirror that is essential in describing relative changes. In the end, changes in time and space are described from the limited perspectives of human beings, and other solutions can be obtained if people see things from others perspectives. Therefore, one can say that predetermination of one s objective position on a certain matter is an absolute condition to seek an answer to the matter and to move forward. That particular winter term, unlike the previous summer and winter semesters, presented quite a challenge to me with three major events happening all at once. First, the re-entry of a Russian satellite, COSMOS 1484, prompted me and my professor to be stationed at the emergency situation room, making it impossible for us to carry on with the regular class schedule. Then, towards the end of the term, I got married. Lectures took place whenever possible early in the morning or very late at night in our effort to stay on schedule. I had to study whenever I could, in addition to all sorts of program coding and computation work required at the situation room. I also had to find time somehow to prepare for my upcoming wedding. Because the lectures were given one on one, my professor and I coordinated closely with each other to schedule them. Even at the situation room, I had to consider various positions of different parties that I dealt with, ranging from on-site military personnel to members of the PR department. On top of this, I had a wedding to plan for. I dealt with many various people and encountered many unforeseen situations. I did not even have a moment of respite and my leisurely lifestyle before seemed like a distant past I merely went with the flow and tried to survive the period. I even neglected some matters in which I took a central role, and this resulted in complex situations at times. However, I could put myself together by handling small and large matters that required me to take a firm position and to put myself in others shoes. Classes came and went very fast, and my wedding, which was one of the biggest events in my life, came and went without 14

4 The lectures on fundamental astronomy, made me realize the importance of putting myself in someone else s shoes in life. a problem, just one day before the satellite finally fell. At the end of that brief winter by far the busiest period in my life I had another opportunity to put things in perspective. I was invited to speak to students at another school about my research. My task was to explain what I had learned from the lectures within a short time so my presentation had to be concise and to the point, and above all, I had to prepare for this presentation not as a student but as a teacher. This was an opportunity for me to see other aspects which I had failed to notice during my studies, and the level of my understanding deepened dramatically thanks to this experience. Yet for all my preparation, I found out on the day of the scheduled lecture upon arriving at the venue that the students were still on their winter break. Clearly there was some miscommunication, but I considered it as another lesson for me: that all things in life work only when you put yourself in others shoes. Various concepts defined in the field of fundamental astronomy often indicate what they are in essence, even in their nomenclature such as earth centered earth fixed (ECEF) and international celestial reference frame (ICRF). This is because it is another person or oneself seen through someone else s eyes, and is a fact agreed on by all of us and to be shared with yet others. Cooperation and co-existence are as important as individual capabilities in our transformation from aspiring scientists in our dreams into realistic researchers. An individual can begin to understand himself or herself from how he or she sees others, and can maintain smooth interpersonal relationship with others by clearly and consistently expressing his or her position. For as long as I exist 15

5 vividly in others memories, whether it is in the form of continuously dynamic and complex energy or in the form of consistent investigation into small details, we should be able to maintain co-existence for a long time. To that end, I need to understand myself and the state I am in before anything else, and it is my obligation to make others see it clearly as well. As for understanding others, maintaining relationships based on their consistent tendencies would help ensure more positive relationships. The question of where I am from is to know who I am and to characterize myself, and the question of where I am headed is to set a course in which I should move forward and to consider the ripple effect my movement will cause in my surroundings. As the number of choices and reactions resulting from the choices I make increases, I learn how important it is to have a clear self and how valuable it is to understand others positions and cope with them accordingly. The lectures on fundamental astronomy, due to the very nature of the academic field it represents, made me realize the importance of putting myself in someone else s shoes in life. How I perceived UST from an ordinary graduate school and how I perceive it now are completely different. Unlike the familiar atmosphere surrounding senior students or ordinary labs, one must interact with staff members at a research institute and adapt to how things are done at relevant departments. The class size is very small with only a few students, who are more like apprentices learning from a master. Hands-on learning goes beyond simple performance of experiments, and students are often anticipated to come up with professional-level results and outcomes. These differences are clearly what sets UST apart, but students at UST still need to lead the future of science along with students from other schools with their own respective strong points. I cannot help but think that understanding and maximizing our advantages and strengths while understanding others advantages and strengths to move forward together is a virtue that can describe the essence of UST students. In closing, I hope that each and every one of us will serve as essential pillars in an era that calls for convergence and co-existence. 16

6 Professor Jung Hyun Jo 1. Features of lectures at UST in your opinion Most of all, due the fact that the lectures are given to the students by researchers from government funded research institutes, one of the pillars of Korean R&D, there are lots of opportunities for the students to become familiar with the latest and ongoing research, which may be unavailable elsewhere. However, because of the small size of the classes, there are some concerns about the creativity of students being suppressed due to hierarchical pressure being stronger 17

7 than peer pressure. On the other hand, students at UST are in an environment that allows them to use and develop large and/or state-of-the-art research equipment, making it appealing for ambitious students. 2. Your thoughts on what makes a good lecture I believe that good lectures should go further than just transferring one s knowledge to the students, and should motivate them enough that they can break away from the structure of the lecture itself. 3. Your own know-how during or in preparation of the lecture I endlessly question the students and myself on how a definition or an equation was derived and what its implications are. 18

8 4. A memorable episode or a student in a lecture The two people that come to mind is the late Doctor Jeongho, Baek (UST) and the awardee of the prize, Jin Choi. I recall having a beer with Doctor Baek and him being ecstatic over how an estimation theory lecture allowed him to understand something that he could not understand when he was processing data for his master s thesis. While Choi was taking two lectures he was put in charge of the satellite deorbit control center and its data processing; on top of this he was set to get married during the estimated satellite crash time period. Although he had to set the date of his wedding to avoid the time of the actual crash, the satellite ended up crashing later than the estimated time. Jin ended up going back home and getting married while he was still running the control center and only those who were off duty were able to attend. 19

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