I became entangled in a discussion - well, OK, argument - in another blog's comment section a few years ago, and the person I was having it out with said something that stopped my fingers cold right on the keyboard. I'm not sure any more how this came up - probably something Platonist about whether physical laws were discovered, or invented - but the comment was made that well, of course these things had to be invented, because "there's only people, and what they do".
I felt as if I had encountered alien life. It would be hard to find a statement further away from what I believe, and I'm pretty sure that being a scientist has something to do with that. I mentioned in that Nature blog interview that when I was a boy I used to spend a lot of time with the microscope and telescope: well, through both of those instruments you can observe a lot of things that have nothing to do with humans at all. It's a useful perspective, and how my sparring partner could have missed experiencing it, I just can't imagine.
I mention this because I've had both instruments out recently. The past few days I've been showing a lot of microscopic life forms to my kids (and using the same microscope I used 35 years ago to do it - it's an old, rock-solid Bausch & Lomb). The rotifers and Vorticella look exactly the way they did when I was ten years old; they've been at it all this time with no help from me. (And does that stream across the road have a lot of Synura in it, or what?)
And at night, I've been taking advantage of some clear skies and lack of moonlight over the last week or ten days, hunting through the shoals of spring galaxies in Virgo and Coma Berenices. They look the same way they did when I was ten, too; nothing less likely to be disturbed by human activity comes to my mind just now.
All this is one of the things I like about science. So much of what we see and study is indifferent to human concerns. In the chemistry lab, I can (and will) do what I can to get a reaction to work, but in the end, the molecules are going to do what they do and they're not going to consult me. That goes at least double for later in the game when compounds are tried out in mice and rats. The moving finger (moving paw?) writes at that point, and there's nothing you can do about it if the experiment was the correct one, done correctly.
All this takes you down a peg, which isn't a bad thing. People get rather inflated views of themselves, their ideas, and the importance of both. M100 and the rotifers don't care. (And to show this whole post can be served up in light verse, let me recommend "Canopus"!)