The Sun Is A Miasma

They Might Be Giants’ new album Here Comes Science is all sorts of awesome. One of the things I like is the inclusion of both Why Does The Sun Shine? and a new song, Why Does the Sun Really Shine?.

The first one, a cover of Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans’s song, begins:

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees

The second, on the other hand, tells us:

The sun is a miasma
Of incandescent plasma
The sun’s not simply made out of gas
No, no, no

The sun is a quagmire
It’s not made of fire
Forget what you’ve been told in the past

Why Does the Sun Shine? is a catchy tune, with a sciency theme that deserves to be included on the album. It’s also nice that They decided to record an updated version of the song.

But more importantly, aside from telling kids what plasma is, Why Does the Sun Really Shine? says that science isn’t static. New things get discovered, old ideas get discarded. And the fact that the old song is on the album is similar to the way that science doesn’t purge old ideas: there’s no heresy police whose job it is to raid libraries and rip out the pages of books and journals that talk about Lamarckism or phlogiston.

Rather, old ideas in science are like that 8 Gb drive I still have in my closet for some reason: yes, I used to use it: at the time, it was the best thing I had available. Then something better came along, and I stopped using it. And once I get over any residual sentimental attachment, I’ll eventually toss it.

(Well, there’s also the fact that since Why Does the Sun Really Shine? also says to “Forget that song”. So “that song” had to be included on the album to let people know what to forget.)

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