Posts tagged ‘distance’

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

The distance of time

It shocked me last week when historical footage of Sept. 11, 2001, suddenly looked, well, historical.

Eleven years ago, I thought that day never would age, that the film wouldn’t turn grainy and reflective of a decade’s worth of technological improvements in clarity, color and sound.

Yet, as I watched History Channel documentaries on the eleventh anniversary, the archived media reports seemed, all at once, from a different time.

Has it really been 11 years?

What surprised me even more, however, was having a conversation about 9/11 with my almost 12-year-old son, Ford, who had been just a baby when the World Trade Center collapsed…

I reflected on this with him while I drove him to school last Wednesday. He told me that he had gotten up at 5:00 a.m. and watched a documentary about 9/11 on television. My first thought: Who gets up at 5:00 a.m.? My second thought: My kid is old enough to watch the History Channel … voluntarily?

“And what did you think?” I asked him.

“It’s weird that all of it happened when I was a baby,” he said.

via 9/11 documentaries and a new generation — Living — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine.

October 26, 2012

Will Eno’s one man show is a comic tale of ordinary existence – Fulham Chronicle


“There are some kinds of people for whom there should be a newspaper in which every day the headline would be ‘there’s a world and it’s part of a solar system floating somewhere in the universe, and we have consciousness and life’.

“I’d like that kind of newspaper,” says Eno.

via Will Eno’s one man show is a comic tale of ordinary existence – Fulham Chronicle.

October 26, 2012

9/11 on TV: A Visual Essay

An interesting commentary on qualities of the TV footage that shaped peoples’ perceptions of  9/11.

The attack was designed to be telegenic, marked by visual and sonic spectacle. Yet much of the horror unfolded off-screen: inside the planes and buildings, on the ground immediately below the towers, and in desperate phone calls to loved ones and 911 operators.

For more: On suffering and human eloquence: commemorating 9/11, televised U.S. coverage in 2011 by Isabel Pinedo.

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.]

October 13, 2012

BBC News – The tsunami debris washed from Japan to Oregon

“A 66ft (20m) concrete dock, kept buoyant by polystyrene, arrived intact in June.”

BBC News - The tsunami debris washed from Japan to Oregon


“Many of them just walked up and touched it – without saying a word they were making contact with it… and after we confirmed it was from Japan the attitudes deepened. People were making this emotional connection with this horrible tragedy.

BBC News – The tsunami debris washed from Japan to Oregon.

September 23, 2012

September 11th from space – Rebecca J. Rosen – The Atlantic

“When astronauts describe the feeling of sailing around space, looking at our planet from hundreds of miles above, they often invoke the phrase “orbital perspective,” a shorthand for the emotional, psychological, and intellectual effects of seeing “the Earth hanging in the blackness of space.”

Over the course of [Sept 11th] and into the following few days, Culbertson wrote a letter to those at home, and his words echo that orbital perspective…”It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point,” he wrote. “The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche.”

The Story of the Only American Not on Earth on September 11th – Rebecca J. Rosen – The Atlantic.

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September 16, 2012

VS Ramachandran: The neurons that shaped civilization | Video on

“There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.”

via VS Ramachandran: The neurons that shaped civilization | Video on

July 8, 2012

George Orwell on Distance

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle” — George Orwell