Today’s Shared Post-Link…
Published Date: 05.02.2017
A project for Self-Searching Blog Posts in Blog Sphere…
“We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”
“It was this edict issued by the Catholic Church that condemned Italian astronomer and polymath Galileo Galilee to house arrest on the 12th of April, 1633, until his death in 1642, for daring to question the church’s assertions of a geocentric (earth-centred) universe, and proposing a heliocentric (sun-centred) model due to his own observations in 1609. It took more than 300 years before the church would amend its views and clear Galileo’s name of religious heresy.
As time has passed and our perception has widened due to science, our place in the universe seems to have left us more displaced and relegated to insignificance than we ever knew or could be comfortable with. We now observe that our solar system sits on a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy; 27,000 light years from the centre, and the same distance from its edge. The solar system we seem no longer to be in the centre of, sitting within our galaxy of inconsequential position, is a single member of the 36 galaxies that make up the “Local Group”, with one neighbour being the Andromeda galaxy of 2.5 million light years distance away, twice the size and four times the mass.
Our place in the universe can be further elucidated through the use of the Cosmic Calendar, a form of visualisation that condenses the 13.8 billion years of the universe’s existence into a single calendar year, starting with the Big Bang being represented as the beginning of January 1st at exactly midnight, and our current time being the last second of December 31st at midnight.
At such a scale, 437.5 years are represented every second, 1.6 million years for every hour, 37.8 million years for every day. Homo sapiens, with our ~200,000 years of existence amongst the ~8.7 million species estimated to have lived on this planet up until now, come into all of this action as late as 10:30 pm on December 31st, with our actual recorded history starting at 11:59 pm. A single human life on this scale lasts around 0.15 seconds.
When it comes to existence, we are within the corner of a blinking eye. There and then gone in its flicker are our structures, our language, our songs, our prayers, our noise, our violence, our love, our hatred, our death.”
… … ….
What is the meaning of all of this then? What of worth can we extract from these intimidating reflections? Are such questions even worth asking under the circumstances? Alas, the compulsion to ask seems irresistible, as such discomfort seems to sit like a formless spectre within the shadow of the human condition, ever advancing upon our heels as we navigate by the trembling candlelight of progress, mortal and ever-vulnerable to the whims of Nature. The anxiety we feel in these moments should however serve to be instructive, as they provide an empirical standard to measure the depths to which we often delve to support self-important, egocentric delusions of self that can cause more harm and alienation than the superficial comforts they provide. Embracing a standard of our collective position in the history of life and the universe may allow us a marker by which we can rectify the distortions and exaggerations that cause us suffering and misunderstanding in our personal lives.
“You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.” —David Foster Wallace
Consider the above quote. As simple as it is, it too has that ability to rankle the nerves; to violate some fundamental foothold on the assurance of centrality in our human experience. We naturally conflate being thought about as being cared about, as easily as the Catholic church conflated being at the centre of the physical universe as being at the centre of spiritual consideration and its moral imperatives. The above statement feels like both a demotion and a rejection that could only set us up for alienation; abandonment to the periphery of attention, love, consideration and concern. Even though it generalizes in reference to all of us, it just seems so unacceptable. Our parents said we mattered, our friends seek our approval, the advert says you matter, and that what you want, right now, is paramount, on credit or otherwise. It could be argued that to be thought of regularly is almost a requirement for any language-capable adaptive species, and that this quote is merely the dejected sigh of a depressive that would utterly flat-line our survival instincts if taken seriously. In the contemporary fair-weather Lifestyle trends and bourgeois realms of self-improvement via self-love and self-affirmation, such an outlook could be seen as a kind of religious heresy itself.
But we should focus on what this statement actually says, rather than the defensive reactions it may initially inspire. The emphasis really should be on the start of the sentence: “you’ll worry less about what people think”. At first, it’s probably not instinctive to hone in on this part, as the idea that people seldom think about us (compared with our own assessments of how much they do) seems the stronger, more salient claim, almost neutralising the sensibility of the first half of the statement. Clearly the point of the comment is to jostle us out of the complacency of a self-centred perspective on life (what DFW has elsewhere called our “default setting”) in the hope that we might be able to alleviate some of the anxieties and dysphorias that come with living at such a disorienting angle and artificially elevated height. The irony of throwing our lot in with being at the center of all experience and concern is that it is a hell of a lot to live up to, and therefore it can foreshadow a burdensome and sometimes frightening level of anxiety, especially in our weakest moments.
We can now provide an interesting colour and shade to these thoughts from the following excerpt from Marcel Proust’s first book in the “In Search of Lost Time” series:
“But even with respect to the most insignificant things in life, none of us constitutes a material whole, identical for everyone, which a person has only to go to look up as though we were a book of specifications or a last testament; our social personality is a creation of the minds of others. Even the very simple act that we call ‘seeing a person we know’ is in part an intellectual act. We fill the appearance of the individual we see with all the notions we have about him, and in the total picture that we form for ourselves, these notions certainly have the greater part. In the end they swell his cheeks so perfectly, follow the line of his nose in an adherence so exact, they do so well at nuancing the sonority of his voice as though the latter were only a transparent envelope that each time we see this face and hear this voice, it is these notions that we encounter again, that we hear.” — The Way By Swann’s (page 22–23)
Perhaps some further nuance should be added here by observing that our social personality is an interplay between what we intend to express and what is gained in reception, constantly changing through the dynamics of different people with their own unique personalities, our relationship to them and the level of familiarity we have to draw upon in regard to them. There is a more compelling point to be extracted from this passage though, as it can be noted that there are presentations of ourselves -ways we come across to others- that are completely out of our control, and may be beyond our ability to account for or even be aware of. If our presence alone summons up the ghosts of impressions dormant since our last encounter with a family member or stranger, friend or foe, then what knowledge or responsibility can we hold towards their ever-accumulating personal history of impressions about us? Or, in acknowledging the unpredictability of nature —where a butterfly’s wings could have been the perturbing influence of a tornado hundreds of miles away and several weeks later —how could we possibly know anything about the key influential or motivating factors that arise in a particular individual meeting our acquaintance? After all, the nature of such motivating factors may be hidden even to them, deep in the subconscious/unconscious areas of their own mind.
If we now combine these two passages we gain a new narrative of our place in the world where the burden of being at the center is shifted off and away from us; that is if we choose to look at this as an empowering perspective on life rather than a diminished one. If we are not obsessed over by others when we are away from them, as is probably accurate, and if we are limited and somewhat ignorant to the complex dynamics involved in what we convey when we are with others, which is also probably accurate, then what are our worries trying to control here? What exactly do we think we are micromanaging when we speculate on why someone hasn’t replied quickly enough on Facebook? Or take offence to an old friend’s apparent disinterest when we catch them off-guard at the park? These are the trivial day-to-day components of a displacing neurosis that can make up an elaborate egocentric tapestry of self that is almost identical in essence to the anthropocentric tapestry of the universe once defended by the Catholic church, and the wider consequences for our continued existence could be very severe indeed.
At the level of the individual, do we see ourselves as autonomous agents, “interacting” with others to validate our own worth, enhance our own position and seek approval firmly on our terms with the rest of society, even when their impressions frustrate in being wildly different from our intentions? Or should we instead see ourselves as individuals that engage with a vast and diverse constellation of human life, a single member meeting with the unique and mysterious personal histories of everyone we come into contact with? This, while knowing we share a complete and unified experience as a species, with the same objective form to enjoy alongside a seemingly limitless variety of intricate subjective impressions; a world of light and shade both appreciable to and beyond our “default mode” of perception. We can consider the aforementioned wider consequences in the same way:
• Do we consider our role in society to merely protect and provide for our own family exclusively, with the wider community receding to the periphery of our awareness and care? Or should we see ourselves as members of a wider family, a community that we should respect and extend care towards as we do with our own?
• Do we consider the country of our birth the centre of civilisation? The basis of our fundamental identity? Or is it instead merely the more familiar form of a vast array of cultures that we come into contact with? This need not pertain to pure relativism, as to respect such qualities one should understand their differences and similarities beyond superficial comparisons, in order for them to evolve together in an optimal way that minimises conflict and dominating tendencies.
• Do we consider the inhabitance of our species on earth the centre of the natural world? Do we exist in order to “tame it” or “harness” its resources? Or is the natural environment not only the cradle of our own existence, but an ongoing process in its own right, a responsibility that we should tend to for the enrichment of Nature herself, rather than the use-value we can impose upon the exchange?
It does not take long to figure out which path humanity has chosen up until now. The roots of that history are nourished with the fresh blood of these choices daily. It starts with us, with that fear of being a mere speck in the spectrum and our ever-yearning hunger to conquer these conditions and assert ourselves the victor. To be seen and acknowledged at all costs.
After inviting such speculation and drawing such dramatic and apocalyptic conclusions, I should probably concede with a little embarrassment that I have concealed a slight trick/twist in the tale in order to hold forth upon the soapbox in the way I just have without contradiction. But this is for good reason, because I offer these closing remarks as maybe something worthwhile for a reader to reflect upon in their own time, rather than under the continued stress of my pretentious assailing rant here, which has appropriately run its course.
For those who have been so far entertained enough to do so, I will leave the following quote from one of the source websites for this article as an invitation to a hopefully enlightening conclusion that loops back onto the age of the universe, and our place within it:
“So where are we? Where are you, and I and the Earth located in the entire Universe? The edge of the observable Universe is about 13.8 billion light years that way. But it’s also 13.8 billion light years that way. And that way, and that way.
And cosmologists think that if you travel in any direction long enough, you’ll return to your starting point, just like how you can travel in any one direction on the surface of the Earth and return right back at your starting point. In other words, the Earth is located at the very, very center of the Universe. Which sounds truly amazing.
What a strange coincidence for you and I to be located right here. Dead center. Smack dab right in the middle of the Universe. Certainly, makes us sound important, doesn’t it? But considering that every other spot in the Universe is also located at the center of the universe.
You heard me right. Every single spot that you can imagine inside the Universe is also the center of the Universe. That definitely complicates things in our plans for Universal relevance.” — Fraser Cain, Universe Today.”
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