Hubble and the Meaning of the Human

Posted May 13th, 2009 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Eagle Nebula - Hubble photo

Eagle Nebula - Hubble photo

We are immersed in mystery.  We live in mystery.  Something inside of us wants to pierce the mystery, peer into it, experience wonder.  Something inside of us wants to know what is ‘out there,’ what we are part of, even if the discoveries can make us feel small and insignificant, even if they seem to displace us, rip up our moorings, make us a bit dizzy and off balance, even if the discoveries challenge our gods.

Today I watched with wonder and awe as the space shuttle Atlantis approached the Hubble Space Telescope.  Today I watched on my computer via NASA TV as we humans maneuvered toward this set of eyes peering into the cosmos, this instrument considered to be perhaps the greatest scientific achievement in human history.

The astronauts first saw it in the distance as a tiny beam of light.  Reporting his first view of it, Cdr. Scott Altman described it as, “A bright star off to the east…”  Bright indeed, this instrument which has mesmerized us for nearly two decades with its images of our universe, changing forever how we experience ourselves within it.

First camera view of Hubble from Atlantis - NASA TV

First camera view of Hubble from Atlantis - NASA TV

Sometime later as the shuttle drew near, it switched from radar to visual camera and this image appeared – the Hubble backlit by the sun, this magnificent telescope that has given so much to our human quest for knowledge and wonder, our sense of place within the great cosmic mystery.  And it looked so beautiful!

First time humans have seen it since March 2002. I just marvel at the feat — going up there to capture it, repair it, clean it up a bit, put newer, finer, wider sets of eyes into it, and empower it for several more years of incredible discoveries.  One last visit to this masterpiece of scientific exploration.  I wish I was one of the astronauts.

As the two floated together in space, we watched sunrise and sunset  in the background; we saw the Earth’s atmosphere, the clouds and oceans, the precious blue planet that is our home.  We watched the sun and shadows capture Hubble, now berthed in Atlantis’ cargo bay, being brilliantly illuminated then thrust again into darkness.

That’s us out there, folks.  That’s our species still evolving, using these instruments as extensions of ourselves, expanding our consciousness, opening up to an ever-deepening, ever-widening sense of the mystery within which we dwell.

Our gods have become too small.  It is time to open up to the greater sense of the divine and the sacred embedded within all of this.

I write of this today for this reason: We humans are facing this dreadful ecological mess we have made of our planet.

Even now, we continue to believe that our meaning, our economic, social and personal frameworks of meaning, reside in an ever-growing capitalist economy in which we spend, acquire, and consume, and in order to do so extract, produce and waste.  Even as we explore the vast mystery, beauty and creative fury of our cosmos, we destroy beauty and undermine real meaning by trashing the planet, overusing its gifts, ripping up its ecosystems, and spreading our waste into its waters, soils and air.

And I believe that part of what can cure us is Hubble, and the other amazing instruments by which we are exploring the cosmos.  If instead of wasting our brains on ‘American Idol’  (really, who cares, and is this how you want to spend your precious time on this planet?), what if we gathered our families together to watch this Hubble mission, to visit the Hubble website and explore the photos and what they tell us about the ongoing act of creation?

A couple of my neighbors - photo: Margaret Swedish

A couple of my neighbors - photo: Margaret Swedish

What if, in my neighborhood for example, we went out in the dusk of evening to visit the nearby fox dens and our little neighbors who take shelter there now?

What if we stopped being consumers of stuff, thereby bringing a crisis to the global economy and quickly forcing the issue of how to recover the real meaning of life and to restore life in the communities and bioregions of our world?  What if salvaging the goodness of the Earth, its vibrancy and resilience, its beauty (for its own sake) and inherent wisdom, what if restoring life in the wholeness of which we are all a part, became our project, the human meaning that unites us across all our angry divisions and fears — what if these became our reasons for getting out of bed in the morning?

How about turning off our TVs and other screens at night to take a little time to peer into the night sky, with a little nod of gratitude towards Hubble (and Voyager, and Cassini Huygens, and Herschel/Planck…) and those who created them, with an appreciation for this amazing human work along with the humility of spiritual seekers who know we will never understand it all, who know that we can peer into mystery but never grasp it.

Regular visitors to this site know that I believe we will have a hard time facing the unprecedented challenges of our ecological crises without a strong core of meaning at our center, and that to be able to do that we must seek, articulate, and begin to live a spirituality that is up to those challenges, one that can see us through these next generations of tumultuous transition on this planet.  Maybe part of that spirituality has at its service an instrument now latched into the cargo bay of the shuttle Atlantis, getting ready to be  untethered one more time to reveal things we have never known before, to tell us more about ourselves and our universe, to make us gasp in awe.



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One Response

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    If we do not have broad and open discussions like this one regarding the human population and what it means to be human, how on Earth are we going to avoid a distinct possibility: that humans seem destined, despite our intelligence, to play out a scenario of reproduction that is much like that of other species. We know better.

    It appears that humans not only know better, we will not have the chance to do what we know if leaders in my not-so-great generation of elders continue to treat certain vital topics as a taboo.

    We have many leaders with ubiquitous opportunities to speak what is true to them, whatever that may be, regardless of what is politically convenient, economic expedient, social agreeable, religiously tolerable and, therefore, in one way or another culturally prescibed. The leaders of recent years have been doing as they have because they have not possessed a fundamental appreciation for mystery, intellectual honesty or scientific facts.

    In science, there is no place for people who pose as hysterically blind or willfully deaf; posture as if electively mute; discredit or misrepresent good evidence; create the illusion of serious debate; manufacture controversy; and spread uncertainty where none would otherwise exist. Science is an honest and straightforward presentation of carefully and skillfully obtained evidence using scientific principles and methods and nothing more.

    Scientific research of the kind practiced by Hubble’s human associates/scientists is supposed to be done independent from political, legal, economic, social and religious considerations. All of these “considerations” can give rise, either singularly or in combination, to what is called “cultural bias” in science. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of cultural bias that has led many of our brothers and sisters inside and outside the community of scientists to extensively research, widely share and consensually validate factoids based upon faulty reasoning, contrived logic, inadequate theory and mountains of unsufficiently understood data.

    Scientific facts need to be adequately and more accurately distinguished from politically convenient and economically expedient, preternatural factoids.