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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

With-It




Over this essay is a wonderful instrumental provided to YouTube by some kindly person. I suggest you listen --hopefully a little as I did when I first heard it on the radio so long ago-- as an announcement of something magical. A communications satellite was built by Bell Laboratories and launched over the planet. Its purpose was to reflect and direct telephone messages, television broadcasts and the futuristic novelty of faxes across distances previously served by submarine cables ruining in salt. Telstar was the apex of early 1960s technology, but it was only a beginning. Other end of the project is us communicating away 50 years later. The Ventures' recording was familiar to those who were "with-it", as is the digital resource of YouTube old stuff to those who are with-it now.

Certainly those of us who have always spent greater energy upon not being "without-it" find being "with-it" is a most perplexing social enigma. We learned the useful virtue of making do with a well-used minimum. Few things were thrown out. Nothing was discarded while it still served. There was even great public outcry against the idea of disposable ballpoint pens replacing lovely, ubiquitous and unpredictable Shaeffer fountain pens --same pen featured on the reverse of the two-dollar bill, upon which the founding fathers are shown signing the Ten Commandments-- and I remember it. You see, I was not always the silly man I am now; I was once a silly child. But let us digress into outer space.

Precisely 50 years ago I got my first telescope, a little 40x refractor, for my 12th birthday and it was enough to fill me with permanent awe. I had no schooling in astronomy but access to an old planisphere and a couple good books. My favorite one --which I still have, and consult-- is a 1953 paperback of George Gamow's "One Two Three...Infinity". It revised and intensified my childhood idea of outer space by presenting the universe as a coordinate system. In his second chapter, "Unusual Properties Of Space", Gamow furnished some simple mathematical devices by which the cosmos could be imagined. It wasn't long before I understood the universe employed the same geometry to imagine me.

When Edgar Mitchell returned from the moon, convinced the universe was a coordinate system possessed of intelligence, I was in my mid-twenties and glad someone else had noticed. What remained was learning what language the thing spoke --studying nature and interconnected arts. I'm not saying everybody would be awed or narrow-mindedness cured by teaching astronomy in k-12 schools, but it would get telescopes where kids could use them. Telescope sightings are nowhere near as impressive as big pictures on the Internet or in books; what they do is give the observer a sense of motion. You see things move across your field of view, feel yourself moving too. It was the motion of what I saw that got to me.

I no longer use my Shaeffer but, by typing here, tickle electrons into cyberspace. I believe this satisfies an important part of the five components of biological life, irritability, or response to stimuli. The other four are composition of basic units (cells or quanta), organization, metabolism or use of energy for growth and reproduction, finally homeostasis --a balance between maintaining stable conditions without sacrifice of adaptability. By the same criteria with which we identify life on earth, we must conclude the universe itself is alive.

Best definition I ever heard of being with-it: Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, whatever you got on, put your chin up, show a half-smile, raise one eyebrow and act like THAT'S the PLACE to BE! Forget where I heard this but assume the universe meant it to stick in mind. Should add, it's a good idea to have a lot of two-dollar bills and higher denominations in one's wallet --mainly for emphasis-- but, if these are in short supply, a slight shrug suffices to complete the effect. Try this at home in front of a mirror, in front of the universe, and you'll see I'm correct.

10 comments:

  1. Kids should have telescopes, if for nothing else, to see how small we are. In fact, I'm thinking a telescope is the perfect kid Christmas gift. Which is probably why I've given so many. ;)

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  2. Indeed a thoughtful gift, Austan. I always thought Galileo invented the telescope but just looked it up and learned Hans Lippershey built one in 1608. However, in 1611, Galileo improved the instrument by "taking the lens-cap off".

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  3. Telescopes are good! My dad owns one. I agree that sometimes it's nice to use simplier 'less hip' methods to come to grips with the world around us...like being outdoors looking at the sky instead of on a computer (as valuable as that is).

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  4. Thank you, Lizzy. From reading your two admirable blogs I'm not surprised you grew up with a family enthusiasm for seeing farther. I hope your dad enjoys astronomy as much as I do!

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  5. Well Harry, it was a popular tune --even with you youngsters. You have a super weekend too, and thanks for commenting!

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  6. All blog posts should have a musical accompaniment! That was good. We have a very basic telescope, but fun all the same.

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  7. Basic is good, CarrieBoo. They all help align two big shows --one in outer space, the other in kids' heads.

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  8. Space music, like space travel, never takes a breath. It doesn't stop for gas or lunch.

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  9. Wouldn't lunch and gas get more complicated in a space suit?

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