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They say I made the Moon. (13)
Nowhere, Somewhere
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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    ^ "Question 2010" by Katinka Mason

    ({ 172 Responses })


    The most interesting trend in the development of the Internet is not how it is changing people's ways of thinking but how it is adapting to the way that people think.

    - Steven Pinker

    + +

    Hypertext as the death of arcana, or how the click killed curiosity. The depth of the internet is, of course, limitless, a bottomless pit of html that can take us off and away on any number of unexpected byways and diversions. Yet is this expectation of diversion flattening out our experience of the physical world? The days of an internet where every stumble was a moment of true discovery are gone forever, perhaps, as curatorial zeal fast overtakes quiet collectomania as the principle online activity.

    ~ things~

    ^ "History of the Internet" (02009) by Melih Bilgil

    ^ "The Machine is Us/ing Us" by Michael Wesch

    ^ "Internet" by Jordan Clarke

    ^ "Trillions" by MAYA Design

    ^ "The State of The Internet" by JESS3

    ^ "How Green Is Your Internet?" by Patrick Clair

    ({ A People's History of the Internet, (ISOC) Histories of the Internet, Map of the Internet })

    + +

    Jonathan Zittrain: Minds For Sale (1, 2)

    Excerpt: Mechanical Turk and the Danger of Digital Sweatshops

    + +

    The internet is awash with corpses. One of the earliest uses of the website seems to have been as a memorial, whether for people or pets. There are numerous online memorials, from eGraves to do-it-yourself concepts like My Last Email. Even if we suppose that a small percentage of these sites continue to be maintained (just like graves in the real world), the internet will slowly and inexorably become a vast digital mausoleum, littered with husks of memory. Sites like YouTube and MySpace will be awash with dead users.

    ~ more things~
    ~ Millenium People ~

    There are somewhere in the order of 4.2 billion unique Internet addresses (IPs), housed on 44 million servers. These consume about 5% of all the world’s electricity and produce about 2% of all carbon dioxide emissions. This amounts to roughly 80 megatons a year and is similar in output to the emissions of Argentina or the Netherlands.

    It is comprised of about 40 million gigabytes of information, which, in its simplest form, would weigh something in the order of fifty-six millionths of a gram.

    Here the contradiction: the Internet might, theoretically, occupy less space than a single grain of sand, and yet its contribution to global warming is equal to a small country. It is both an immense geographical entity and a miniscule atomic whisper. It exists in a time and place, and yet transcends that to become timeless and aspatial.

    It is an emergent system, where a highly-engineered, yet simple, set of rules has allowed for the creation of a massive network sprawling across the planet. The structure of the Internet is a hub and spoke system, in which information is hoarded at central servers and trickled down to individual IPs, making it, in technological terms, far from democratic.

    + +

    ({ Evan Roth, F.A.T. })

    + +

    Sat, Jan 30, 2010  Permanent link
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    The basics.

    Jerry Coyne's blog
    Wed, Nov 4, 2009  Permanent link
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    Human society needs to aspire to an integration of its material, spiritual and ecological elements. Current technologies, processes and means tend to separate these facets rather than connect them. Nature uses the sun's energy to create interdependent systems in which complexity and diversity imply sustainability. In contrast, industrialized society extracts energy for systems designed to reduce natural complexity. The challenge for humanity is to develop human design processes which enable us to remain in the natural context. Almost every phase of the design, manufacturing, and construction processes requires reconsideration. Linear systems of thought, or short-term programs which justify ignorant, indifferent, or arrogant means are not farsighted enough to serve the future of the interaction between humanity and nature. We must employ both current knowledge and ancient wisdom in our efforts to conceive and realize the physical transformation, care and maintenance of the Earth.

    ~ William McDonough [x], The Hanover Principles ~

    Michael Wolf - Hong Kong: The Front Door/The Back Door Image #6

    Over the past few years, many wonderful projects have emerged from talented individuals with a healthy interest in the relationships between humanity, nature, and technology, and ultimately, their implications for the future of this world. People from all aspects of society are becoming increasingly involved in the struggle against global desolation/devastation. Using photography as their primary medium, Chris Jordan, Michael Wolf, and Edward Burtynsky have created works which have left me with a mixture of fascination and concern, awe and disgust. I have attempted to use common threads between their works to illustrate a story about sustainability, consumerism, and civilization, with the United States and China as its main characters.

    I must briefly mention that I was surprised to find that Burtynsky's work has only recently surfaced here, and not in member posts, but in our gallery. I implore those unfamiliar with him to watch Manufactured Landscapes, a wonderful cinematic exploration of his work (and another essential documentary). He is also on the board of directors over at WorldChanging (to which Régine Debatty contributes!) and recently spoke at the Long Now Foundation, proposing a 10,000 year gallery.

    In order to keep my page from becoming more cluttered than it already is, I've decided to separate the rest of this post from my Personal Cargo. Furthermore, I've split what was previously one giant post into a series of posts. Click any of the following links to continue...

    I. Refreshments - The story of stuff
    II. Take - Manufacturing Landscapes
    III. Make - Where does it come from?
    IV. Waste - Where does it go?
    V. Overpopulate - Hong Kong shows us the future
    VI. Build To Destroy - Three Gorges Dam
    VII. Grave & Cradle - What next?
    Sat, Sep 13, 2008  Permanent link
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    BACKSTORY: It all started with this film “17 things i made.” At the end of the film, viewers were invited to come make a cool 18th thing with me here in Chicago (at Millennium Park) on 8/8/08 at 8:08 pm.

    { Who Is Amy }
    Mon, Sep 8, 2008  Permanent link
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    I'd now like to take the time to bring to your attention two deeply moving and intellectually stimulating documentaries which deserve far more exposure. Although the films deal with very different subjects, I would recommend both as absolutely essential viewing for all.

    First is a film which I had the opportunity to see during its theatrical release in Canada, nearly a year before its shockingly limited play in US theatres (despite winning numerous international film awards). I watch a lot of documentaries, but its rare that I come across one which presents information and ideas which truly challenge my mentality. The director (and first-time filmmaker), Rob Stewart, opened my eyes to a refreshingly different view not only of sharks, but of sustainability as a whole. We all need to be more aware of the impact humans are having on the environment. Sharkwater is a milestone effort in raising this awareness.'

    For filmmaker Rob Stewart, exploring sharks began as an underwater adventure. What it turned into was a beautiful and dangerous life journey into the balance of life on earth.

    Driven by passion fed from a lifelong fascination with sharks, Stewart debunks historical stereotypes and media depictions of sharks as bloodthirsty, man-eating monsters and reveals the reality of sharks as pillars in the evolution of the seas.

    Why save sharks? What makes them so important?

    Species evolving in the oceans over the last 400 million years, have been shaped by their
    predators, the sharks, giving rise to schooling behavior, camouflage, speed, size and
    communication. They have survived five major extinctions and now they are being fished
    Many countries have no sharks left because they are being illegally harvested for
    their fins and poachers are now fishing sharks from other countries, countries that depend
    on sharks for food. But no one wants to save sharks, people are afraid of them.

    Do specials proclaiming it the “summer of the shark” because of attacks and the
    JAWS perception upset you?

    It really pisses me off. You understand where they’re coming from because a dangerous
    shark makes money and sells papers. If they tell you a shark is beautiful and perfect and
    wonderful and won’t attack you that’s only going to make news once. But if they tell you
    “Shark attack. Shark attack.” That’s news every time.
    It’s ridiculous, but you know they
    are doing it just to play off people’s fears. The reality is totally different. Half the time it
    is a small shark that accidentally bites someone’s foot. You could have gotten the same
    injury from stepping on a piece of glass. It’s crazy how the media approaches it and
    they’ve given sharks such a bad rap. It’s ludicrous because so few people get bit.

    interview with Rob Stewart (PDF)

    My greatest environmental fear is that the oceans will continue to be ignored until it’s too late. There are 2.5 billion years of evolution in the oceans, and a mere 500 million or so on land. When life evolved in the ocean, the atmosphere was very hot, full of carbon dioxide. Plants in the ocean evolved, and started sequestering carbon, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, releasing oxygen, and the planet began to cool. Over hundreds of millions of years, much of the carbon that was removed from the atmosphere was stored as oil and natural gas reserves in the Earth’s crust. Now we’re bringing that carbon out again and releasing it back into the atmosphere. We have made great jumps in our awareness regarding global warming, but we haven’t acknowledged the ocean’s role in global climate. The oceans are the greatest regulators of climate on the earth. Phytoplankton (tiny plants) in the oceans provide 70 percent of the oxygen in our atmosphere, and are the greatest sink for carbon dioxide on earth. We’re now destroying the oceans, removing apex predators such as sharks, dredging the oceans; without considering that this atmosphere, our precious oxygen, and our hospitable planet, is all made possible because of life in the ocean that is part of a food chain. Food chains are sensitive, haven taken hundreds of millions or billions of years to form, and we’re destroying it.

    another interview

    The film was shot in high-definition, bringing gorgeous underwater footage of both sharks and their neighbours.

    { Official site, blog, trailer and other media, Saving Sharks }

    ~ ~

    This next film is one I discovered only through the recommendation of a friend which, after having seen it, makes me all the more determined to promote it. Like Sharkwater, it deals with the atrocious behaviour of humanity and its continued disregard for long-term, conscientious thinking. However, rather than bringing to attention our destructive impact on the natural environment, we are reminded of a chapter of human history which is all too often neglected even though it defined one of the most pressing issues we face today and for the foreseeable future. Steven Okazaki's documentary about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only teaches what school history books generally skim over (and often distort) but, through the words of survivors (and pilots), gives a true glimpse of what it was like to experience the events first-hand, to survive, and to continue struggling 60 years afterwards. Set to one of the best soundtracks I've come across, White Light/Black Rain is heart-wrenching, intellectually provocative, and relevant to many of today's most important debates concerning the likes of technology, morality, and war.

    As global tensions rise, the unthinkable now seems possible. The threat of nuclear "weapons of mass destruction" has become real and frightening. White Light/Black Rain, an extraordinary new film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki, presents a deeply moving look at the painful legacy of the first — and hopefully last — uses of nuclear weapons in war.

    Even after 60 years, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to inspire argument, denial and myth. Surprisingly, most people know very little about what happened on August 6 and 9, 1945, two days that changed the world. This is a comprehensive, straightforward, moving account of the bombings from the point of view of the people who were there.

    Like most American, public-school educated kids, I had no background on the subject at all. I knew that bombs were dropped on Hiroshima-Nagasaki and then the war ended. But that really was about it. I think the concept of their being survivors hadn't occurred to me. But here in this room were housewives and shopkeepers, and I just thought, well, this would be a less threatening way to tell the story...

    Some people are surprised by the reserve of the survivors. But you have to remember that culturally, for Japanese to just talk about themselves in any way that might elicit sympathy or pity is something that Japanese just don't do. When the survivors speak out publicly, they often face criticism and prejudice from their neighbors and the public. People tell them to be quiet, to forget the past, not to stir up old emotions, not to remind people of the war. So it's a difficult thing to do...

    Many people in the film are still dealing with survivor guilt but somehow have found reasons to live. One of the survivors talks about looking for her mother, and seeing what she thinks is her mother because she finds a burned corpse with a gold tooth that looks like her mother, and she reaches out to touch the body and it turns to ashes before her finger reaches it. And then her sister gets radiation sickness, her hair starts falling out, and the kids at school are taunting her sister because she's bald, and the sister steps in front of a train and kills herself. This woman says that there are two kinds of courage—the courage to die, and the courage to live. And she says she decided she wanted to live, despite her having lost everybody...

    I think what we want to do with the film is not make particular political points, but just the point that the bombs affected the lives of real people, and so let's hear what they have to say. No matter how important your message is, if the film is boring, no one will hear it. And my feeling is, this is an incredibly dramatic, amazing story, and if we just let the people tell their stories, that in itself is a political act, of sorts, and that people can find their own messages.

    Steven Okazaki interview

    It's sixty-two years since the bombing and it's still a really political topic. It's still a topic that makes people uncomfortable. I developed an insecurity complex while I was making the film. Early on, I was at a party and people would ask what I'm working on and I'd say a Hiroshima/Nagasaki film, and I swear, 80 percent of the people either went, "Oh. I'm going to go get a drink" or they'd change the subject. Or they start arguing.... People have really strong feelings, but they really know nothing about the subject. I think it's natural to have a block because the images and stories are so disturbing. But I think it's surprising — people really don't know anything about it.

    another interview: transcript, video

    { Official site, Steven Okazaki, survivor artwork, IAEA }
    Tue, May 13, 2008  Permanent link
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    Long ago...
    No one tore the ground with ploughshares
    or parcelled out the land
    or swept the sea with dipping oars —
    the shore was the world's end.
    Clever human nature, victim of your inventions,
    disastrously creative,
    why cordon cities with towering walls?
    Why arm for war?

    - Publius Ovidius Naso, Amores, Book 3

    This verse by Roman poet, Ovid, serves as the prelude to Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress, a book which explores the consequences of civilization and short-term thinking. Highest recommendation!

    Each time history repeats itself, so it's said, the price goes up. The twentieth century was a time of runaway growth in human population, consumption, and technology, placing a colossal load on all natural systems, especially earth, air, and water—the very elements of life. The great question of the twenty-first century is how, or whether, this can go on.

    A Short History of Progress Ronald Wright argues that our modern predicament is as old as civilization, a 10,000-year experiment we have participated in but seldom controlled. Only by understanding the patterns of triumph and disaster that humanity has repeated around the world since the Stone Age, can we recognize the experiment’s inherent dangers, and, with luck and wisdom, shape its outcome.

    Civilization is an experiment, a very recent way of life in the human career, and it has a habit of walking into what I am calling progress traps. A small village on good land beside a river is a good idea; but when the village grows into a city and paves over the good land, it becomes a bad idea. While prevention might have been easy, a cure may be impossible: a city isn't easily moved. This human inability to foresee—or watch out for—long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by millions of years when we lived from hand to mouth by hunting and gathering. It may also be little more than a mix of inertia, greed, and foolishness encouraged by the shape of the social pyramid. The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general populace begins to suffer.

    - Ronald Wright, A Short History Of Progress, pages 108-109

    At CBC Radio's Massey Lectures in 2004, Wright spoke about the ideas he presents in his book. However, only the first part of the lecture is freely available online. CDs of the complete broadcast lectures can be purchased from the House of Anansi Press.

    D'Où Venons Nous? Que Sommes Nous? Où Allons Nous?
    Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

    + +

    Ronald Wright interviewed on The Current (November 24, 02004)
    "Homo sapiens has the information to know itself for what it is: an Ice Age hunter only half-evolved towards intelligence; clever but seldom wise."

    * * *

    Additional recommendations: Jared Diamond, The Long Now Foundation
    Mon, Jan 7, 2008  Permanent link
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    02009 Update: World of Change
    Tue, Dec 18, 2007  Permanent link
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    When deciding what first to post here, there were only a few moments of mental debate before the following essay by Neil deGrasse Tyson set itself apart from all other considerations.
    I believe Tyson's ideas fit beautifully alongside the great minds already represented by this wondrous Space Collective. The Cosmic Perspective delivers a message which I sincerely hope will vibrate around the world before it's too late.

    Saturn eclipsing the Sun; "left, just above the bright main rings, is the almost ignorable pale blue dot of Earth."

    By Neil deGrasse Tyson
    From Natural History magazine, April 2007


    Of all the sciences cultivated by mankind, Astronomy is acknowledged to be, and undoubtedly is, the most sublime, the most interesting, and the most useful. For, by knowledge derived from this science, not only the bulk of the Earth is discovered . . . ; but our very faculties are enlarged with the grandeur of the ideas it conveys, our minds exalted above [ their ] low contracted prejudices.

    —James Ferguson, Astronomy Explained Upon Sir Isaac Newton's Principles, And Made Easy To Those Who Have Not Studied Mathematics (1757)

    Long before anyone knew that the universe had a beginning, before we knew that the nearest large galaxy lies two and a half million light-years from Earth, before we knew how stars work or whether atoms exist, James Ferguson's enthusiastic introduction to his favorite science rang true. Yet his words, apart from their eighteenth-century flourish, could have been written yesterday.

    But who gets to think that way? Who gets to celebrate this cosmic view of life? Not the migrant farmworker . Not the sweatshop worker. Certainly not the homeless person rummaging through the trash for food. You need the luxury of time not spent on mere survival. You need to live in a nation whose government values the search to understand humanity's place in the universe. You need a society in which intellectual pursuit can take you to the frontiers of discovery, and in which news of your discoveries can be routinely disseminated. By those measures, most citizens of industrialized nations do quite well.

    Yet the cosmic view comes with a hidden cost. When I travel thousands of miles to spend a few moments in the fast-moving shadow of the Moon during a total solar eclipse, sometimes I lose sight of Earth.

    When I pause and reflect on our expanding universe, with its galaxies hurtling away from one another, embedded within the ever-stretching, four-dimensional fabric of space and time, sometimes I forget that uncounted people walk this Earth without food or shelter, and that children are disproportionately represented among them.

    When I pore over the data that establish the mysterious presence of dark matter and dark energy throughout the universe, sometimes I forget that every day—every twenty-four-hour rotation of Earth—people kill and get killed in the name of someone else's conception of God, and that some people who do not kill in the name of God kill in the name of their nation's needs or wants.

    When I track the orbits of asteroids, comets, and planets, each one a pirouetting dancer in a cosmic ballet choreographed by the forces of gravity, sometimes I forget that too many people act in wanton disregard for the delicate interplay of Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and land, with consequences that our children and our children's children will witness and pay for with their health and well-being.

    And sometimes I forget that powerful people rarely do all they can to help those who cannot help themselves.

    I occasionally forget those things because, however big the world is—in our hearts, our minds, and our outsize atlases—the universe is even bigger. A depressing thought to some, but a liberating thought to me.

    Consider an adult who tends to the traumas of a child: a broken toy, a scraped knee, a schoolyard bully. Adults know that kids have no clue what constitutes a genuine problem, because inexperience greatly limits their childhood perspective.

    As grown-ups, dare we admit to ourselves that we, too, have a collective immaturity of view? Dare we admit that our thoughts and behaviors spring from a belief that the world revolves around us? Apparently not. And the evidence abounds. Part the curtains of society's racial, ethnic, religious, national, and cultural conflicts, and you find the human ego turning the knobs and pulling the levers.

    Now imagine a world in which everyone, but especially people with power and influence, holds an expanded view of our place in the cosmos. With that perspective, our problems would shrink—or never arise at all—and we could celebrate our earthly differences while shunning the behavior of our predecessors who slaughtered each other because of them.

    * * *

    Back in February 2000, the newly rebuilt Hayden Planetarium featured a space show called “Passport to the Universe,” which took visitors on a virtual zoom from New York City to the edge of the cosmos. En route the audience saw Earth, then the solar system, then the 100 billion stars of the Milky Way galaxy shrink to barely visible dots on the planetarium dome.

    Within a month of opening day, I received a letter from an Ivy League professor of psychology whose expertise was things that make people feel insignificant. I never knew one could specialize in such a field. The guy wanted to administer a before-and-after questionnaire to visitors, assessing the depth of their depression after viewing the show. “Passport to the Universe,” he wrote, elicited the most dramatic feelings of smallness he had ever experienced.

    How could that be? Every time I see the space show (and others we've produced), I feel alive and spirited and connected. I also feel large, knowing that the goings-on within the three-pound human brain are what enabled us to figure out our place in the universe.

    Allow me to suggest that it's the professor, not I, who has misread nature. His ego was too big to begin with, inflated by delusions of significance and fed by cultural assumptions that human beings are more important than everything else in the universe.

    In all fairness to the fellow, powerful forces in society leave most of us susceptible. As was I . . . until the day I learned in biology class that more bacteria live and work in one centimeter of my colon than the number of people who have ever existed in the world. That kind of information makes you think twice about who—or what—is actually in charge.

    From that day on, I began to think of people not as the masters of space and time but as participants in a great cosmic chain of being, with a direct genetic link across species both living and extinct, extending back nearly 4 billion years to the earliest single-celled organisms on Earth.

    * * *

    I know what you're thinking: we're smarter than bacteria.

    No doubt about it, we're smarter than every other living creature that ever walked, crawled, or slithered on Earth. But how smart is that? We cook our food. We compose poetry and music. We do art and science. We're good at math. Even if you're bad at math, you're probably much better at it than the smartest chimpanzee, whose genetic identity varies in only trifling ways from ours. Try as they might, primatologists will never get a chimpanzee to learn the multiplication table or do long division.

    If small genetic differences between us and our fellow apes account for our vast difference in intelligence, maybe that difference in intelligence is not so vast after all.

    Imagine a life-form whose brainpower is to ours as ours is to a chimpanzee's. To such a species our highest mental achievements would be trivial. Their toddlers, instead of learning their ABCs on Sesame Street, would learn multivariable calculus on Boolean Boulevard. Our most complex theorems, our deepest philosophies, the cherished works of our most creative artists, would be projects their schoolkids bring home for Mom and Dad to display on the refrigerator door. These creatures would study Stephen Hawking (who occupies the same endowed professorship once held by Newton at the University of Cambridge) because he's slightly more clever than other humans, owing to his ability to do theoretical astrophysics and other rudimentary calculations in his head.

    If a huge genetic gap separated us from our closest relative in the animal kingdom, we could justifiably celebrate our brilliance. We might be entitled to walk around thinking we're distant and distinct from our fellow creatures. But no such gap exists. Instead, we are one with the rest of nature, fitting neither above nor below, but within.

    * * *

    Need more ego softeners? Simple comparisons of quantity, size, and scale do the job well.

    Take water. It's simple, common, and vital. There are more molecules of water in an eight-ounce cup of the stuff than there are cups of water in all the world's oceans. Every cup that passes through a single person and eventually rejoins the world's water supply holds enough molecules to mix 1,500 of them into every other cup of water in the world. No way around it: some of the water you just drank passed through the kidneys of Socrates, Genghis Khan, and Joan of Arc.

    How about air? Also vital. A single breathful draws in more air molecules than there are breathfuls of air in Earth's entire atmosphere. That means some of the air you just breathed passed through the lungs of Napoleon, Beethoven, Lincoln, and Billy the Kid.

    Time to get cosmic. There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on any beach, more stars than seconds have passed since Earth formed, more stars than words and sounds ever uttered by all the humans who ever lived.

    Want a sweeping view of the past? Our unfolding cosmic perspective takes you there. Light takes time to reach Earth's observatories from the depths of space, and so you see objects and phenomena not as they are but as they once were. That means the universe acts like a giant time machine: the farther away you look, the further back in time you see—back almost to the beginning of time itself. Within that horizon of reckoning, cosmic evolution unfolds continuously, in full view.

    Want to know what we're made of? Again, the cosmic perspective offers a bigger answer than you might expect. The chemical elements of the universe are forged in the fires of high-mass stars that end their lives in stupendous explosions, enriching their host galaxies with the chemical arsenal of life as we know it. The result? The four most common chemically active elements in the universe—hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen—are the four most common elements of life on Earth. We are not simply in the universe. The universe is in us.

    * * *

    Yes, we are stardust. But we may not be of this Earth. Several separate lines of research, when considered together, have forced investigators to reassess who we think we are and where we think we came from.

    First, computer simulations show that when a large asteroid strikes a planet, the surrounding areas can recoil from the impact energy, catapulting rocks into space. From there, they can travel to—and land on—other planetary surfaces. Second, microorganisms can be hardy. Some survive the extremes of temperature, pressure, and radiation inherent in space travel. If the rocky flotsam from an impact hails from a planet with life, microscopic fauna could have stowed away in the rocks' nooks and crannies. Third, recent evidence suggests that shortly after the formation of our solar system, Mars was wet, and perhaps fertile, even before Earth was.

    Those findings mean it's conceivable that life began on Mars and later seeded life on Earth, a process known as panspermia . So all earthlings might—just might—be descendants of Martians.

    Again and again across the centuries, cosmic discoveries have demoted our self-image. Earth was once assumed to be astronomically unique, until astronomers learned that Earth is just another planet orbiting the Sun. Then we presumed the Sun was unique, until we learned that the countless stars of the night sky are suns themselves. Then we presumed our galaxy, the Milky Way, was the entire known universe, until we established that the countless fuzzy things in the sky are other galaxies, dotting the landscape of our known universe.

    Today, how easy it is to presume that one universe is all there is. Yet emerging theories of modern cosmology, as well as the continually reaffirmed improbability that anything is unique, require that we remain open to the latest assault on our plea for distinctiveness: multiple universes, otherwise known as the “ multiverse ,” in which ours is just one of countless bubbles bursting forth from the fabric of the cosmos.

    * * *

    The cosmic perspective flows from fundamental knowledge. But it's more than just what you know. It's also about having the wisdom and insight to apply that knowledge to assessing our place in the universe. And its attributes are clear:

    The cosmic perspective comes from the frontiers of science, yet it is not solely the provenance of the scientist. It belongs to everyone.

    The cosmic perspective is humble.

    The cosmic perspective is spiritual — even redemptive — but not religious.

    The cosmic perspective enables us to grasp, in the same thought, the large and the small.

    The cosmic perspective opens our minds to extraordinary ideas but does not leave them so open that our brains spill out, making us susceptible to believing anything we're told.

    The cosmic perspective opens our eyes to the universe, not as a benevolent cradle designed to nurture life but as a cold, lonely, hazardous place.

    The cosmic perspective shows Earth to be a mote, but a precious mote and, for the moment, the only home we have.

    The cosmic perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.

    The cosmic perspective enables us to see beyond our circumstances, allowing us to transcend the primal search for food, shelter, and sex.

    The cosmic perspective reminds us that in space, where there is no air, a flag will not wave—an indication that perhaps flag waving and space exploration do not mix.

    The cosmic perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth but also values our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself.

    * * *

    At least once a week, if not once a day, we might each ponder what cosmic truths lie undiscovered before us, perhaps awaiting the arrival of a clever thinker, an ingenious experiment, or an innovative space mission to reveal them. We might further ponder how those discoveries may one day transform life on Earth.

    Absent such curiosity, we are no different from the provincial farmer who expresses no need to venture beyond the county line, because his forty acres meet all his needs. Yet if all our predecessors had felt that way, the farmer would instead be a cave dweller, chasing down his dinner with a stick and a rock.

    During our brief stay on planet Earth, we owe ourselves and our descendants the opportunity to explore—in part because it's fun to do. But there's a far nobler reason. The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us. In that bleak world, arms-bearing, resource-hungry people and nations would be prone to act on their “low contracted prejudices.” And that would be the last gasp of human enlightenment—until the rise of a visionary new culture that could once again embrace the cosmic perspective.


    Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. His most recent book, Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (W.W. Norton, 2007), is a collection of his favorite Natural History essays from the past dozen years.

    { The Known Universe, Scale of the Universe, revtyson }
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