Saturday, September 20, 2014

Looking up at the universe

Been spending quite a bit of time over the last few days outside, trying to figure out the best way to take shots of that amazing view we get in the southern hemisphere of the galactic center riding high above at this time of the year.
Galactic Center (composite of ten images, Nikon D3200, 11mm wide-angle, f 4.0, ISO 3200, 25s)
Every exposure takes up to a minute (up to 30s/exposure + 30s/camera-noise-removal); and so there's plenty of time to just look up during those intervals between pushing the shutter-button and waiting for the process to finish and just be—well, I don't know what to call it. I guess it's a mix of amazement at what I see, an acute awareness of my size and utter physical insignificance, and an equal amazement at the sheer marvel of being alive and being able to experience whatever it is I'm experiencing. Plus all sorts of feelings I'm probably I'm not even conscious of.

I know, this all sounds like you've heard it all before; and it's obvious that my awe—I guess that's what it is—has probably been shared by millions of others at one time or other.

Something else is there, too, and oddly enough that is a measure of fear. Of what? I think it's mostly my utter helplessness when it comes to facing this cosmos and its power and utter indifference to what and who I am, or what I want or care about; about my utter inability to actually do anything that matters or protect those I care about, should this coldly indifferent universe unleash something lethal upon this tiny world of ours and snuff out our species and everything and everybody I hold dear.

But this fear is balanced by gratitude—to no one in particular; just 'existence' I guess—for all of these things that I am unable to protect; and which have been provided by that very same universe that might just wipe them out in a blink of an eyes. And I'd agree with those who  assert that even just a few fleeting moments of existence—or of the consciousness of existing!—are worth it, even if in those moments we may be forced into the awareness that it most certainly will end, and that we ultimately are powerless to prevent that.

I guess, looking out from the Earth like that is a bit like looking at it—like at Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot.

And, though it may seem...oh, I don't know... idealistic? unrealistic? just plain silly? ... it drives it home, at least to me, just how much people by and large have their priorities terribly, terribly wrong. Many of them of course have no choice about their priorities, but are forced by circumstances to focus on the basics of survival. But there are literally billions  who live in social and economic environments that do give them choices over what they consider important and how they choose to spend their money, what they require of their politicians, how invest their thinking time or treat their fellow humans, etc.

It is possible that we are the only form of "life' in the entire universe—at least as far as we can possibly understand it. Whatever else there is may be so different from us in form and context that contact, that is communication, with it may be utterly impossible. In that sense we, on our pale blue dot, may be completely alone among the billions and billions of galaxies in the universe—one of which we're partially seeing when we look up, like I do, when the skies are clear enough. I find that thought exhilarating and scary at the same time. And though we're just existing is less than a blink of time compared to the lifetime of the universe, that blink may indeed be the most miraculous instant in the entire history of this and any other cosmos.

Seriously, isn't it worth at least considering thinking about something else but—to name just a couple of random items from opposite ends of the human 'interest' spectrum—inane sports or plain-silly and utterly irrelevant philosophical or ideological disputes; and to focus our interest, attention and efforts on pursuits that will contribute to the goal of ensuring that we're not wiped out—just because, say, some big chunk of rock happens to be on a collision course with us or some virus has mutated into a deadly plague?

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