The tiny Earth

One of the greatest things about astronomy is that it makes us feel small.

Imagine this: you’re sitting underneath the evening’s glorious dome, mind halfway to Neptune, pondering about the constellations out there, then retreating to the constellations within. Infinity can make any heart skips a beat.

The universe is 13.7 billion light years and the Earth is just a speck of dust; insignificant, easily swept by a meteor swinging our way. We are, in many ways, a cosmic accident, chance and choice conspire in their grandest way to create us, the portal back to the universe. And we happen to live in the most insignificant neighborhood, around an ordinary star, in the outer age arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Continue reading “The tiny Earth”

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Is it Orion or Waluku?

“I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.” – Wisława Szymborska

In 1856, Sultan Pakubhuwana VII from Java, created an agricultural calendar using the conspicuous hunter figure in the sky, Orion.

In the northern hemisphere, Orion is a broad-shouldered hunter who is ready to take down his prey. Betelgeuse, one of the brightest, matured red star is the hinge in the shoulder; the source of power, and the three equally sparse stars are his belt where Orion keeps his weapon and also, a pocketful of nebulae. Orion is a remarkably noticeable constellation from anywhere in the world throughout the year, hence it’s often the starting point for newbies to browse through the sky.

But in Indonesia, Orion lays down, resting above the lush tropical forest with his back facing the sky. The Javanese didn’t see it as a man ready to hunt, but a farmer’s plow, a traditional tool that finances and supports their livelihood. Now laying and facing down, his body is the body of the plow and his leg is the handle.

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Carl Sagan’s Romantic Prose to Evening Sky

I always find the Moon to be a poetic piece in the sky. Its origin and reality is quite an anomaly. As a satellite, it’s a giant. When other satellites are only 0.04% the size of its planet, our Moon’s size is a quarter of the Earth’s.

The Moon doesn’t have atmosphere, and one time, it was reverberating as if it’s a hollow rock. Its oddity has tempted some people to assume it’s an alien space ship. But even with all these eccentric characteristics, the Moon gives us a familiar radiance in the sky, a soft gaze that has illuminated millions of humans, from the Homo Erectus to us, for millions of years. It’s the steady boat against the infinite sea of time, and it gives us a tremendous sense of calm. Because, unlike the Earth, the Moon is patiently and generously remain the same for millions of years, giving us a common language to the past and to the future. And isn’t that romantic?

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Who’s technology and what’s us?

As we expand our technological capabilities, our spiritual and creative beings are expanded and stretched, too. When years ago we could trace our influences to the immediate surroundings, now we are shaped and molded by bits and code sent from a great distance on the Internet. When decades ago we define our identity mainly through our racial backgrounds, now we define our identities through quirky likings and interests we pick up from various digital niches. The internet has elevated us on to a new experience where the physical bodies couldn’t possibly reach. Instead of having a physical travel, we travel in our minds, diving into the rabbit hole, to the depths of the internet that illuminates unknown corners within ourselves. And this is the intimate marriage we have with technology: a relationship of comfort, domestication, and tyranny.

We drool over the technologies that smoothen edges in our life, which becomes an easy commoditizing motive for any entrepreneurial moves. Technology that makes our life easier is a good start, but is deeply misleading. Whenever we see a chic advertisement of the latest tech product, we’re persuaded that what’s useful is fashionable, and what’s fashionable is useful. But I personally believe that there’s a great spiritual potential in technology that goes beyond the promise of ease and efficiency.

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How to Raise Scientists

What’s life without the world within us, a perpetually unfolding space that is the kaleidoscope to our reality? Children, being so free from the constraints of adulthood, roam in and out of this space without care, bringing traces from one world to another. These are the years of soft imaginings; of observing the world like a sponge which takes in all that it can take, without the pretense of an intellectual or the fear of being wrong.

At the same time, we are taught that these meanderings are nothing but child-like tendencies to understand the world. As we step into adulthood, we are transforming our minds to be computation tools to synthesize information, leaving the imaginations behind and forgetting that these kinds of meanderings, too, still remain to be the most fertile space to understand the world.

Scientists too are vivid imaginators. From Carl Sagan to Albert Einstein, the greatest scientists agree on a crucial thing – the role of imaginations to create space for theories and calculations. Carl Sagan lamented the ways parents dismissed children’s quirky questions, while Einstein had understood for a long time that “creativity is intelligence at play.” So what’s a better way to learn about this fluid spectrum of creativity and intelligence than to peek into some of the greatest scientists’ early beginnings; their first steps of fascination towards the worlds of invisible matters.

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Democritus

AND THE RETHINKING OF HISTORY

Democritus, or fondly called the Laughing Professor, was the first person to theorize the existence of atoms 400 years before Jesus Christ and a millennia before the invention of algebra:

Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.

A thousand years before the invention of telescope and microscope, Democritus vividly imagined that all things are composed of tiny matters that are indivisible and indestructible. These atoms, in Democritus’ mind, are pointy and sharp if it is salty, slippery if it’s liquid, airy and whirling if it’s air atoms, and have hooks and barbs that govern the interaction between each atom.

Democritus’ line of thought was ‘easy’ (too easy, even), clear, reasonable and practical (to the point that, in some sense, humorous), without spiritual fringes akin to Plato’s line of thought who believes that the physical world mirrors the godly world. It’s no wonder that Plato hated Democritus’ ideas so much that he required the burning of all his books. And perhaps hence, the beginning of our dismissal to Democritus’ sensibilities in thinking.

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When Carl searches for gods

I’m constantly perplexed by the science versus religion debates that seek differences and separations rather than symmetry, which is an attempt that feels more political than for humanity.

To many people, these dramatized scenes are mere entertainments. But to some people, the questioning of gods and religion is really a perpetual existential question. Whether that’s through historical records, the arts, the sciences, to search for god is to ultimately return to the question that nudges our very own meaning and existence. Because even with waves of solid scientific data, these numbers and fact can’t settle many uneasy hearts. Hence; the role of religion, stories, or even just imaginations, which is to reconcile with the unknown.

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