Of the infinite points of interest the universe offers for our dazed consideration, one of my personal favorites is the vision of the furthest galaxies Hubble has shown us. I read that the most distant yet detected is some 13.3 billion light years away. The Webb telescope will also use gravitational lensing to see even farther, also use infrared light. It’s as though you had a way to look into your own past, to your childhood, your toddlerhood, your infancy.
Like everybody—well, maybe not everybody—I have soaked up and pondered these images, sending my little brain like a chihuahua into the cosmos. Compared to us, which everything to us is, it is all immense, and a sense of that immensity so recently in the evolution of human thought has been a game-changer. It has decisively changed the parameters of what and how we think. Because these galaxies are there, and so far away, it is no longer possible to think like a medieval person, or a person of the Enlightenment, or your grandparents. The first time—and I believe it’s not far off—that life or evidence of life is found anywhere beyond earth, in our own solar system maybe, in the cold dark oceans of exomoons perhaps, will be an even greater change and will irreversibly alter our relationship to meaning. People centuries hence will find it impossible to recreate our unknowing state of mind, just as we can only project our own mentality onto the victims of our historical fictions. Of that post-life-is-common state of mind I have a foretaste, but like many things not likely in my lifetime, that’s another story.
What’s fascinating to me is looking right at something and not seeing what it is. Alas, I think it is true for everything.
Of all things, time is most bewildering.
Things sprawl in space but also in time. We are seeing that young proto-galaxy as it looked 13.3 billion years ago, when the universe was in diapers. We can only imagine, literally only imagine, how it has evolved, grown, merged, collided, who knows? since that longago time. I get a rather euphoric feeling sometimes as I’m navigating this surreal world, as though I’m seeing what was as what is—seeing the seemingly current reality but aware of it as long past at the same time. I’ve been experiencing this sensation throughout my life, but these space-based telescopes have given me a new way of thinking of it. Yes—it is as though I’m seeing everything on earth through a scope billions of years away, where everything is happening and has happened at once. The inexplicable feeling is the closest thing to freedom I know.
I’m starting to feel everything’s like that.
In philosophy they talk about the problem of the one and the many—the ultimate reality claim-war between the generic idea of something and its many examples. They also talk about the “hard problem” of human consciousness. I think the two are interconnected. Consciousness isolates us from everything that is not us—in other words, creates “us.” From that fateful moment when we first suspect we are different from what we will later call “Mother,” until we lay our trophies down at the end, we’re on our own. We are all people, but what good is that in the dark night of the soul? Even the closest people to us are some distance away, and it is that lapse, when the perceived becomes the act of perception that permanently divides what we see from what’s there.
And the reason love, friendship, and peer review are so important.
November 21, 2018