Some of the recent political turmoil in Britain and Europe and America has been so unusual, lurching from one unprecedented development to another, that it could portend worrying developments for the future stability of societies.
But yesterday there was a reminder of the progress that humans are still making in our understanding of life and the universe.
The Juno space probe has arrived in orbit around Jupiter.
That any device can travel with any accuracy a distance of 1.8 billion miles over a five-year period is itself a miracle of science and technology.
There are so many challenges facing the probe in what is said to be one of the solar system’s harshest environments that it would be understandable if no nation or organisation had ever bothered to invest in such a $1.1 billion craft in the first place.
But our optimism and sense of the importance of progress is such that it did get built and the Nasa mission did get approved.
Or, more accurately, it is America’s sense of optimism and America’s commitment to technological advance that has enabled this project.
The United States is often criticised, or even hated, for being an empire or a bullying superpower. In truth it is a society that almost every other country on earth in some respects tries to emulate or follow.
It was the driving force behind almost all of the big scientific advances of the 20th century, and also behind the technology of the 21st that is now used around the planet, even in very poor countries.
It is staggering to think what this solar-powered probe Juno has already achieved.
With good fortune, it will survive to enhance our understanding of the composition and environment of the gas planet Jupiter and so our understanding of the galaxy.