Living in space

By | August 22, 2019


By Paul Woodward

To see things clearly, we often need to break the patterns of habit.

The Earth, physically and metaphorically — the ground of human experience — is the stationary foundation that forms the background of movement: our movement across its surface; the terra firma against which the oceans wash and above which birds fly; the horizon that the Sun rises above and then falls beneath.

Intellectually, as basic science, most people understand that it is the Earth that moves around the Sun in a solar system that rotates our galaxy, as the Milky Way itself moves away from the beginning of time. But those are facts that generally elude perception.

The video above provides a way to correct our perceptions and for this purpose a small additional viewing technique may help.

Fix your gaze on a star, all the better to see the movement of the Earth.

There are other ways of cultivating the same sensibility without the aid of time-lapse photography or YouTube.

I was 20 before I really saw the Milky Way for the first time.

Even though I had grown up in a rural location where artificial lights did not obscure the night sky, a combination of air pollution and low altitude meant the atmosphere obscured millions of stars.

In 1978, however, when crossing Turkey on my way to India, I slept rough in high desert under the stars. Through the crisp, clear air, the Milky Way stood out as dazzling speckles of light daubed across the sky revealing our place in this galaxy and its place in the Universe.

Sleeping outside under the stars offered an additional way of changing the slant in my perspective as I realized that it made as much if not more sense to look out instead of up.

Picture oneself on the side of a sphere instead of its top, and it becomes more natural to sense that the sphere is floating in space.

From that perspective it’s then possible to form a more intuitive understanding that Earth and space are not the opposites of above and below but that this marbled globe we inhabit is surrounded by and lost within the unimaginable vastness of the Universe.

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