Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

13 February 2010

paradigmatic shift

The arrow on this image is pointing to Earth.  
I was made aware of this image the other day, when I was listening to the radio, my favorite medium. (NPR to be exact; I got the picture at their article.  Thanks)
There's something wonderful about a medium where only voices live; where the body isn't the thing by which we are judged.  I actually wrote an entire dissertation about that.  That may be the crowning work of this lifetime for me.  But no one wanted to publish it, though a few people published chapters from it.  Radio is the perfect medium for women.  So is the internet.  Radio, and the internet, are like wearing a burka.  No one judges you based on your body, or your face.  If they want to get to know you, they have to look into your mind.

But I digress

This picture was taken by the NASA Voyager 1 spacecraft, and there was some debate over whether or not it should be taken.  Ultimately, Carl Sagan (remember that voice?) and a few others lobbied that the cameras on Voyager be "turned back towards earth"  And this was the image they got, on February 13, 1990.   There's a wonderful quote from Sagan both on NPR's site that features the above image, and on the radio story itself - it goes like this -

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.  (from a book called Pale Blue Dot, but I took the quote from NPR)

What a shocking, stunning change in perspective.  We weren't ready for it in the 1990's; but we need to be ready for it now.

Just the fact we can look at it signifies to me that we truly are entering a new era, and much of the turmoil we've experienced over the past 20 - 30 years is in part due to the fact that science itself has forced us to reevaluate our place and importance in the universe.  Getting used to what it means to be a "Pale Blue Dot," as Sagan called it has at least, if not more, of the ramifications that this shift in perspective had:

as found on wikipedia

I don't really want to try to explain the details of the Geocentric Model; follow they link; they're described on wikipedia pretty well.  However, the thing to note as that the earth is in the center of this universe.  This model was replaced by 


Copernicus' Heliocentrism 

(Again, the link brings you to the wikipedia entrance on heliocentrism, which places the sun rather firmly in the center of our galaxy, at least.  That's where I go the picture, too.)

Now, some of the repercussions of this change in perspective happened early in my lifetime (Remember, I was born in 1585!)  Copernicus died in 1543.  His treatise was published just before his death, and Galileo was doing his work during the early 1600's, so some of my earliest political memories are of the anger, fear and suspicion that occured around this idea that we were not, after all, at the center of the universe.  

What people from this age know is what the history books tell us.  What I remember is how this set with the common population.  The common man clung to the old view - it was so much easier to deal with.  But the younger generation, and I was part of that generation, was ready to rebel about a lot of things, and one of them was this.  I mean, after all, Ptolemy's system was a bit like the tyrannus system of our families,  and those of us who felt a need to rebel loved the idea that the earth, like our parents, was not the center of the universe!  But in general, it felt like the ground was shifting under our feet.  And then along came Descartes and his ideas about the human mind, and, well, every man became an island.  A few women, too, like me.  Being an opera singer made me suspect from the start, so I had nothing to lose - one of my lovers taught me how to read, and I began spouting my opinions regularly.  Of course, he dumped me then, and I was pregnant.  Made the best of it; I read Shakespeare and Marlowe and Johnson with my daughter.

And for awhile, life, the world, everything, seemed stable and knowable.  And grand!  Kings took the name of the Sun; and we were able to convince ourselves that Earth was somewhat favored in the whole scheme of things because we were the third planet away, and had this very special position that allowed for life.

But today we have THIS image.  We don't think about it often, but I found it so interesting that this radio program talked about it, called our attention to it.  The change in perception that this image requires us to make is a radical one, and I think humanity is finally at a point where it can actually make it.  So the image returns.

I feel it again, that incredible instability of humanity's perception of itself shifting.  They call it a paradigm shift. 

We're in it; wonder what it will look like on the other side.

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