Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Scale and Time On My Mind

I imagine many readers are already familiar with "The Powers of Ten," the simple, but profound short film produced by Charles and Ray Eames, of Eames design fame.

A few weeks ago, I posted "Vultures," a poem by Mary Oliver. As a throw away lead-in, I suggested that the poem could effectively replace my artist statement, communicating the ideas that I always write around. The subject of "Vultures," like so much of Oliver's work, is the rather messy process of "resurrection" via recycling (or what I prefer to term "reconstitution"). I die today to sustain that which will be tomorrow.

I've long been fascinated by death, compost, and their associated sauces. Much of my writing reflects this interest, but only rarely have I written about issues of scale. Initially scale and resurrection may seem disparate matters, but I believe that infinite regression, or travel within, leads to infinite progression, or travel without. Similarly, the reduction (or the extinguishing) of one life leads to another, new one (or many). With this in mind, "The Powers of Ten" is powerfully resonant.

Riffing on this idea, I recommend a listen to a recent episode of RadioLab. In it, co-host Jad Abumrad interviews Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow and, along with him, one of the creators of the Voyager golden record, which I wrote about at some length here.

If you have some time to kill, watch "The Powers of Ten," and then listen to the RadioLab episode. They make for an exciting combo, and the Radiolab episode reaffirmed my belief that the golden record is "the culmination of modern art." What an arrogant, absurd, beautiful gesture?!


Mikhail Capone said...

Thanks for pointing out the Druyan interview!

The power of ten video is indeed quite cool, and your mention of Carl Sagan reminds me of certain pictures in Pale Blue Dot (awesome book, if you haven't read it yet) where you can see clusters of galaxies, each containing billions of stars. Looking at those is a very humbling experience; it's one thing to know the numbers, but it's another to actually see what it looks like.

Recon said...

chris that video was so cool

Michael McDevitt said...

On a similar note, I have been plotting a long trip using Google Earth, and the effect is similar. Although the degree of change is different, it has the advantage of showing actual places... I found a boat on which I used to work... tied to the dock and cearly visible. I found my current job, and could see the umbrellas on the patio. Of course I found my house... and the ZOOOM... it all shrinks away to nothing... kind of humbling and a little disconcerting.

Anonymous said...

but I believe that infinite regression - or travel within - leads to infinite progression - or travel without.

Please explain.

Hungry Hyaena said...


I haven't seen Pale Blue Dot but I'll look out for it. It sounds good.


Oh, yeah...


Yeah, Google Earth is a lot of fun. You can make a playlist of sorts and just sit back and watch the world bounce by. Out and in, then back and up and so on. It's amazingly disconcerting. I made one play list of all apartments/houses I've lived in, even if only for a couple of months. Then I hit play and followed my moves from Virginia to Massachusetts to West Virginia to Delaware, back to Virginia and then on up to New York. Once in the city, the camera stayed in close, but bounced from borough to borough. Next, I tracked my international travels. Oh, Google Earth, how I get a kick out of thee.


It's a little irrational perhaps, and certainly holistic, but I believe that travel infinitely within the human body - from skin to cell to atom and so on - will lead one into the farthest reaches of the universe. Sounds ridiculous perhaps, but it is borne of a little science and a lot of absurdist, contrarian philosophy. The Zeno Paradoxes are fascinating to me, particularly the dichotomy paradox, which essentially states that time and space are infinitely divisible, always capable of futher breakdown. As for the science, much of what physicists know of the greater universe suggests that our linear, algebraic brains are not equipped to comprehend the growth and shape of space time. We must apply words like growth - as I've just done - to the overwhelming mess, if only to maintain the illusion of universal logic or empirical reality. Increasingly, physicists suggest that the universe is growing outward from the center, though this doesn't quite align with what we know of expansion here on Earth. And why should it? If dark matter and dark energy, as yet unquantified substances, together comprise nearly 96% of the universe, how can we begin to explain universal growth? Little wonder physicists turn to the Ouroboros for an easy answer to an impossible question. I suppose I do, too.

I'm not sure if this rambling helps explain my belief. Like Zeno, however, I'm prone to proof via contradiction, because, ultimately, I believe in no proof at all. Although this could be deemed a sort of nihilism, it leads, in this case, to a more integrated, moral universe.

Oh, whatever...it's all a lot of nonsense, really! ;)