"The world—whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering—of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we've just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead?—we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world—it is astonishing."

~ Wisława Szymborska, from "The Poet and the World," Nobel Lecture, December 7, 1996

Yosemite HD II from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.

See also: McPherson, A. (2014, March 9). Stunning time-lapse video shows rare views of Yosemite. National Geographic Society

The Preparation for Those Moments is Your Life

"If you view crossing the finish line as the measure of your life, you’re setting yourself up for a personal disaster. There are very very very few people who win gold at the Olympics. And if you say, ‘if I don’t win gold then I’m a failure or I’ve let somebody down or something...’

What if you win a silver? What if you win a bronze? What if you come fourth? What if your binding comes apart?

What if all of those millions of things that happen in life happen...

Only a few people that go there are going to win gold. And it’s the same in some degree I think in commanding a spaceship or doing a spacewalk it is a very rare, singular moment-in-time event in the continuum of life.

And you need to honour the highs and the peaks in the moments — you need to prepare your life for them — but recognize the fact that the preparation for those moments is your life and, in fact, that’s the richness of your life...

The challenge that we set for each other, and the way that we shape ourselves to rise to that challenge, is life."

~ Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut 

See also: 

  • Hadfield, C. (2013). An astronaut's guide to life on Earth.
  • Adams, S. (2013). How to fail at almost everything and still win big: Kind of the story of my life. (systems over goals)

The Universe is in Us

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked in an interview with TIME magazine, "What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?" This is his answer.

Made In Its Image

Ampersand,  Wednesday Wolf

Ampersand, Wednesday Wolf

"Genesis Revised"
by Reed Whitmore, from Fifty Poems Fifty (1970)The Past, the Future, the Present: Poems Selected and New (1990)

In my opinion this concept of the interval, detached as it is from the selection of any special body to occupy it, is the starting point of the whole concept of space.

~ Albert Einstein

Think of an "and" alone,
Nothing before, nothing after, 
Nothing and nothing. 
The "and" proposes a structure, and by the proposing
Is. And makes.
For nothing is nothing, but nothing and nothing
Are spatial, temporal; the structure does it,
A nothing there and here, a nothing then and now,
To and fro in the space-time.

But in grammar we cannot think of this. The
     "and" comes second.
We need something, then "and." 
Or if we are willing to grant, without understanding,
     a precedent "and,"
We still ask to know where it came from.
Grammar, logic, math work in the matrix
Of the space-time. "And" is the space-time. We
     in its matrix
Know what we do in it, where we are in it,
But not it.

This that we don't know we call soul, spirit.
More of it every day is found in the physics lab,
By omission.  
It is what we tend to describe by what it is not.
It is not logical, it is not metrical; it is not
     (as I now propose) grammatical.

Yet it is with us. Our minds seem made in its image,
Each a space-time kit for making a world up.
We cannot conceive of that spirit (the "and")
     a father,
Yet we cannot conceive of it otherwise. In
     Eddington's words,
The breach of causality keeps breaking the chain of
     inference. Sense leads to nonsense.

In the beginning, then, was nonsense? So every
     beginning. So far.
We cannot conceive of a nothing that makes something.
The "and" we say must be physical. Or electrical.
Yet the something is nothing. Nonsense.
We have no grammar for nonsense; we cannot posit
A nothing-something moving between nothings.
Yet I repeat:
Think of an "and" alone,
Nothing before, nothing after,
Nothing and nothing, thereby making

The first day.  

A State of Flux

View from the ISS at Night from Knate Myers on Vimeo.

Marcelo Gleiser, from "The Mystery We Are," On Being, November 9, 2012: 

The way we understand the world is very much based on what we can see of the world. Science is based on measurements and observations. And the notion that we can actually come up and have a theory that explains everything assumes that we can know everything — that we can go out and measure everything there is to measure about nature and come up with this beautiful Theory of Everything. And since we cannot measure all there is to measure, since our tools have limitations, we are definitely limited in how much we can know of the world.

So you can even build a theory that would explain everything that we know now. But then two weeks from now, someone else will come and find something new that does not fit in your theory. And that's not a Theory of Everything anymore because it doesn't include everything that can be included.

When you look out into nature, everything is in transformation at all times. And we see this at the very small and we see this at the very large [scale]. When we look at the whole universe, it is expanding, it's growing, it's changing in time. And so I look at things much more as a state of flux, of becoming, of transformation, as something that has some static truth behind it. So the notion that we as humans could come up with a final answer to the mystery of nature it's pushing things a little too far for our capabilities.

See also:

The Most Powerful Integrators of Information

"Because the data volumes that we get from space now are astronomical, the only way that we can really handle this anymore is to visualize it. And no matter what computers we may build, the human mind and the human eye [are] still the most powerful integrators of information."

~ Gene Feldman, Oceanographer at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, from "Creating Earth," Science Friday, Feb. 3, 2012

Even Empty Space Has a Kind of Structure

Cosmologist and astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees, in conversation with Krista Tippett, from "Cosmic Origami and What We Don't Know," On Being, June 2, 2011:

One of the things we've learned is that in the universe there's obviously stars and galaxies, which are made up of atoms, which as far as we know are just like the atoms we can study in lab. But there is also some stuff out there which is very important because it exerts a strong gravitational force, which is a kind of particle, which we don't know about and haven't yet discovered here on Earth.

So the nature of the so-called dark matter is a big issue for physics and for astronomy at the moment, but there is also another other deeper mystery, which is related to the nature of space itself. There's evidence, which has come about in the last ten years or so that even empty space, when you take away all the dark matter and all the atoms, still exerts a kind of force. It exerts a sort of push or tension on everything.

And this therefore means that even empty space has a kind of structure, and we don't understand that at all. In fact, most of us would guess that empty space does have a structure but on a tiny, tiny scale, a scale a billion, billion times smaller than an atomic nucleus.

And we would have to understand space on that tiny scale to understand its structure. One of the fascinating ideas is that if you could chop up space on a very tiny scale, you would find that what we think of as just a little point in space is actually a tightly wrapped origami of extra dimensions.

We're used to the idea of three dimensions of space, backwards and forwards, left and right, up and down. But if you look at space on a tiny scale, you would find evidence for extra dimensions.

See also: "Martin Rees asks: Is this our final century?" Ted Talks, July 2005

On and On

“There is a fundamental reason why we look at the sky with wonder and longing—for the same reason that we stand, hour after hour, gazing at the distant swell of the open ocean.

94 percent of the human body is made up of the key elements oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen.

There is something like an ancient wisdom, encoded and tucked away  in our DNA, that knows its point of origin as surely as a salmonid knows its creek.

Intellectually, we may not want to return there, but the genes know, and long for their origins—their home in the salty depths.

But if the seas are our immediate source, the penultimate source is certainly the heavens…

The spectacular truth is—and this is something that your DNA has known all along—the very atoms of your body—the iron, calcium, phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and on and on—were initially forged in long-dead stars.

This is why, when you stand outside under a moonless, country sky, you feel some ineffable tugging at your innards. We are star stuff. Keep looking up.”

~ Jerry Waxman

As If For The First Time

My Name
by Mark Strand, from New Selected Poems

Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.

Less and Less

by Emily Warn, from Shadow Architect

How do you remain faithful when boredom sets in? Sages
offer numerous rules of piety, precepts, commandments,
vows, proverbs, and aphorisms, all compiled after revelations
that shattered the structure of existence. The purpose of all
rules of piety is to extend revelation into ordinary life. They
are survival tactics that help us withstand tedium, our
disappointed expectations that something dramatic will
happen—the sky open, a pillar of fire light our way—if we
do this and that. For example, if you stand in a field in the
month of Elul when the red dwarf rises above the tree where
the shepherd has tethered his goats, you’ll see divine light.
Instead, you are preoccupied with stamping your feet in the
cold, with muttering and gossiping with friends. Without
knowing it, you’re storing a memory of being knit together
that will help you survive later. You’ll remember one friend
who rolls her eyes in mock disapproval at such religiosity;
another concentrates as hard as she can on what the sages
said would happen if you gathered in the fields during the
month of Elul. She focuses on waiting to see a flash. The
other observes what can be seen, the night sky, its billions of
unnamed stars, impossible to count, immeasurable depth,
formless space, black, blank; receding as she is, less and less
visible, less and less impatient at nothing much happening.
The other shouts, witnessing the birth of a star.

[Narrative’s Poem of the Week]

Pale Blue Dot

From The Writer's Almanac today:

It's the birthday of Carl Sagan, born in Brooklyn, New York (1934), who did more to promote space exploration than almost any other single person. He was a young astronomer advising NASA on a mission to send remote-controlled spacecrafts to Venus, when he learned that the spacecrafts would carry no cameras, because the other scientists considered cameras to be excess weight. Sagan couldn't believe they would give up the chance to see an alien planet up close. He lost the argument that time, but it's largely thanks to him that cameras were used on the Viking, Voyager, and Galileo missions, giving us the first real photographs of planets like Jupiter and Saturn and their moons.

Sagan also persuaded NASA engineers to turn the Voyager I spacecraft around on Valentine's Day in 1990, so that it could take a picture of Earth from the very edge of our solar system, about 4 billion miles away. In the photograph, Earth appears as a tiny bluish speck.

Sagan later wrote of the photograph, "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives... [on] a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

[Thanks Kit!]