For me, intimacy means possessing accurate, particular, and meaningful knowledge, and necessarily implies the vulnerability we feel, for example, when sharing our dreams and fears with each other, or telling a lover how we like and don’t like to be touched.

In this sense, intimacy can be, but is not necessarily, a good thing, since it also includes the vulnerability we would feel if an enemy knew our location and weaknesses in our defenses, or knew what we care most about and how to access and damage it.

Also in this sense, we can be more or less intimate with ourselves: how extensively and well do we know the particulars of our physical, emotional, and cognitive selves? Over how wide a range of circumstances do we know how the arrangement of atoms that is us will behave? When on an exposed ridge with a storm moving in, do I freak out, or do I become focused and resourceful? When offered a meaningful gift, do I rejoice or run away? When I feel a particular fogginess, do I know whether I should sleep, drink water, eat food, or go for a walk? When I discover behaviors I don’t like about myself, do I know how to go about making effective changes? Do I want to make changes?

Intimacy, I argue, is not casual, but a source of either ecstasy or terror. The wonder of love making, the devastation of rape. The delight of knowing where to find a good fruit tree, the fear of a seeing pair of mountain lion eyes focused on me at close range. The satisfaction of creating an advertising campaign that results in many people buying. The defeat of realizing that we have been duped by a scam.

And it defines “science” as I think of the word: the application of sound reasoning to unbiased observations of the world around us to increase the extent and accuracy of our models of reality as measured by the accuracy of our predictions. Because it is unimaginably hard, successfully harpooning a comet implies extremely accurate models the Universe including the comet’s location, the physics of getting there, of radio communications, of the materials and practices that allow a thing to survive and function in space, and so much more. The joy we feel upon such a success is more than the culmination of effort, but the unequivocal, undeniable certainty that we know true things: that we are deeply intimate with the Universe.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on March 14, 2015; ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on March 14, 2015; ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM


UPDATE: It turns out that Philae’s harpoons didn’t manage to make a secure connection.