Posts tagged ‘cosmology’

January 15, 2013

The Overview Effect

Edgar Mitchell, who was in orbit with the Apollo 14 lunar module while his companions explored the lunar soil, describes how he saw Earth, Moon and Sun passing by every two minutes or so, and how the study of astronomy and cosmology, where he learned that all the matter in the solar system, including ours, “was prototyped in some ancient generations of stars,” that is, it originated from stars that exploded billions of years ago, gave him a profound sense of unity with the totality of the cosmos, a feeling that can only be described as awe. “One of those words that you have a better understanding of when you see it too,” said Nicole Stott.

Spaceship Earth: Who Is In Control? : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR.

October 27, 2012

Does your culture affect how you respond to trauma?

“The Western models have also been criticized for their strict consideration of the person as a self-contained unity, an individual completely independent of others (Bracken, Giller & Summerfield, 1995).

The author Ethan Watters is a popular author and his viewpoint includes how rational is to apply the Western based PTSD concepts in other cultures. Ethan Watters writes:

After the 2004 tsunami in Asia, many mental-health experts agreed that a ”second tsunami” of mental illness in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder would strike the region. Like doctors rushing to the outbreak of an epidemic, American counselors and trauma researchers soon arrived on the scene hoping to pass on useful knowledge about PTSD. A few years on, however, their efforts have raised a troublesome question: Were they bringing the wrong treatment to the wrong people?

At issue is not whether tragic events like the tsunami trigger debilitating psychological distress and even mental illness — everyone agrees that they can. The question is over the extent to which survivors’ cultural beliefs shape their symptoms. If culture has the impact that some researchers suggest, the PTSD diagnosis may be of little help (and even do potential harm) when applied wholesale in other countries. (The Way We Live Now: Idea Lab; Suffering Differently -Ethan Watters / New York Times. August 12, 2007 )”

via LankaWeb – The Cultural Perspectives on Psychological Trauma in Sri Lanka.

October 14, 2012

Jonathan Rosen on Milton’s Love, Loss, and Paradise Lost

In researching my latest show, I’ve read a lot about Galileo. His astronomical findings were key in demonstrating that the sun didn’t move around the earth, as had been thought for the past 1500 years. It took over 200 years to finally prove Galileo was right, but the shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric universe started with him.

I was surprised and please to discover that Galileo met John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, an epic poem in which Milton attempts to explain the cosmos via literature (and is the source for one of my favorite series, the His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman, the title of which is a reference to the poem.) Even better, this 2008 article about their meeting by Jonathan Rosen for the New Yorker, touches on all 3 of my show topics: cosmology, love, and disaster.

First, some background on their meeting:

Sometime in 1638, John Milton visited Galileo Galilei in Florence. The great astronomer was old and blind and under house arrest, confined by order of the Inquisition, which had forced him to recant his belief that the earth revolves around the sun, as formulated in his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.” Milton was thirty years old—his own blindness, his own arrest, and his own cosmological epic, “Paradise Lost,” all lay before him…

Beyond the sheer pleasure of picturing the encounter—it’s like those comic-book specials in which Superman meets Batman—there’s something strange about imagining these two figures inhabiting the same age. Though Milton was the much younger man, in some ways his world system seems curiously older than the astronomer’s empirical universe.

What struck me most was how much the article, and perhaps Paradise Lost,  touch on areas relevant to my show which focuses on models of the universe, both historical and personal, and how the latter, more individual cosmology is affected by love and disaster. Rosen suggests that Paradise Lost came out of Milton’s burning desire to address, “how things could have gone so wrong in human affairs”. These problems were both personal and national.
Through the preceding years [up to writing the poem], Milton had suffered a number of personal disasters: in 1652, his wife Mary died in childbirth, and a son died the following month. In 1658, his second wife, whom he had married two years before, died as well, followed a month after that by their daughter. Furthermore, in the year of Mary’s death Milton’s blindness became total, a fact that informs the tone and texture of “Paradise Lost,” as does the total collapse of his political-theological hopes. [Milton wrote in defense of the killing of King Charles I, was a key member of Cromwell’s interregnum government, and lived to see his political world crumble when Charles II returned the country to monarchy.]
Milton is, Rosen infers, attempting to create a cosmology in his poem to help him explain the problems he saw in his time, a creative impetus which gives the poem relevance to America and contemporary disasters:

In America, where God and the Devil live alongside Western rationalism, Milton seems right at home. After the attacks of September 11th, it was possible to find Milton invoked to remind us of the nature of absolute evil—his Satan really is a model terrorist, who, having abandoned hope of a happy home, devotes his energy to destroying the lives of others—and at the same time quoted to uphold the rights of individuals whose distasteful views might be curtailed during a time of war.

But the human element, particularly love, is also a central part of the poem. Rosen talk about his first introduction to Milton in a high school English class.
The teacher—a reserved young man who had been born in China—suddenly read aloud to us Adam’s words to Eve after he has made the decision to eat the apple and fall with her… Adam decides that he would rather die with her than live alone: “To lose thee were to lose myself.”… [The] teacher told us, in a voice thick with emotion, that he had just recited these words to his own bride:

How can I live without you, how forgo
Thy sweet converse and love so dearly joined,
To live again in these wild woods forlorn?
Should God create another Eve, and I
Another rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart.’

Adam is rescued from despair after the fall by his love for Eve and by her fortitude and love for him. In a sense, they rescue each other.

Galileo’s discovery of craters on the moon, sunspots, and the phases of Venus called into question geocentrism, for which he was censured by he church. But his discoveries began a slow yet inevitable shift to a cosmological model where earth was decentered, calling into question humankind’s place in the scheme of the universe . I find it compelling that at a time when the European scientific and religious community was debating the position of earth in the cosmos, and whether the earth was literally shifting underneath their feet, that Milton, in a personal yet epic way, was trying to reconcile his own changing universe. As Rosen says:

“Paradise Lost” is simultaneously personal, national, and universal, a poem that claims divine inspiration but is clearly made up, a poem with ancient origins and contemporary interpolations that confuses the very notion of old and new. A number of recent scholars who have focussed on Milton’s knowledge of Hebrew see echoes in his literary strategy of rabbinic Midrash, human stories that helped embody divine meaning and in the process became divine themselves.
Humankind has always used stories to understand it’s role in the universe, whether tribal people and their myths or our own personal narratives that we use to define our selves in relation to the world around us. Paradise Lost. born from disaster, grounded by love, and informed by Milton’s complicated Christian faith, seems to be a particularly epic example of this impulse. I look forward to reading it and to see how it relates to my show, in which I look at how people make sense of the world, especially in relationship to love and disaster.

[All quotes via Return to Paradise : The New Yorker.]