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How We Killed the Universe | Collin Ferry

How We Killed the Universe


One summer a few years ago I found myself on a Colorado bluff
with an elevation of about 11,000 feet. As blue skies turned to gold, my companions and I built a fire, cooked ramen noodles, and pulled the cork from a bottle of red wine. We passed the bottle around as the Earth turned its back on the Sun, pulling us into shadows.

One can face east at sunset and watch darkness rise. The darkness climbed higher and soon specks of light began popping out for us from across the oceans of time. The Milky Way hung above us and we became very, very small. Our pasts and our futures seemed to shrink before us and vanish with a wink.

It is a powerful tool to be able to zoom out so far that one’s entire life simply vanishes. If any one experience can be said to put life in perspective, it is most certainly gazing at the starscape above us. I have come to realize the unfortunate truth that many of us are not often afforded this lens. The advent of electricity brought light pollution and in the span of a few generations we have mortally wounded the night sky and with it our window to the universe.

There was a time when every human was given a nightly reminder of their own smallness. For city dwellers, which now make up around 80% of the population for most developed countries¹ (and probably 99% of the world’s decision makers), it has become all too easy to forget that we are just the inhabitants of a living rock orbiting a star in a universe we barely understand.

Also, it has been discovered that thinking about distant things makes humans more creative. It seems like a safe bet that gazing at the stars would fall under this category. As we pile into cities under a cozy blanket of light are we reducing some of our original, internal illumination?

I’ve become curious as to the psychological effect of our new bright nights. We have made some wonderful advancements as a species but I fear that conquering the night has left us with some unintended consequences.

 

Losing the beauty of darkness has been a subtle but strong ally in a disturbing perspective shift. A shift inward. We are beginning to lose nature’s cadenced transition between night and day. The metronome is developing an arrhythmia and as fewer naked-eye astronomers look up and ponder the cosmos, fewer still will question our place in it.

Have you ever experienced an emotional or intellectual breakthrough when gazing up at a star-filled night sky?

Further Reading:
Check out the International Dark-Sky Association

Images courtesy of Hubble and c@rljones via photopin cc
¹ Population data from World Resources Institute

About Collin

Collin runs this place and writes everything you find here. He likes to interact with people - so if you talk to him he'll probably talk back.

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4 Responses to “How We Killed the Universe”

  1. D-Love April 17, 2012 at 12:54 pm # Reply

    Good thoughts man, something that has crossed my mind as well. I think that may be why some of us strive to go to those places most untouched by humans, to get that experience once again.

  2. Lil April 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm # Reply

    Really interesting thoughts. I agree with you, and I feel the same way about not just light pollution, but also “visual” pollution. For example, when I studied in Segovia, we visited the local castle. It’s hard not to be impressed standing in a space that was built by hand hundreds of years prior, where generations of people and cultures came and went. You’re just struck by how short one life–your life–really is. I remember looking out into the distance from the tallest tower, thinking, “Wow. Hundreds of years ago, all you could see for miles and miles was just landscape. Desert, trees, grasslands, forests. Now there are cars, roads, power lines, and modern buildings.”

    I HATE that, that slow disappearance of green and landscape. It’s part of the reason I want an eco-friendly hobbit house that blends in with the environment, that works in harmony with its surroundings, and that isn’t connected to any grid. I can’t wait until I have the money to invest in such a home.

    On a related note, some neighborhood/town in some country in Europe (Sweden? Norway? Can’t remember) started a scheme where all the street lights are, by default, off, but they can be turned on by citizens who need them (walking a dog, walking to the car, etc.) via smartphone. Such a great idea.

    • Karen J July 30, 2012 at 11:00 am # Reply

      “Street lights off by default, but you can turn them on by cell phone” ~ I really like the concept, Lil.

      I went digging for more info, and came up with “Dorentrup, Germany” ~ you can read the (short) article here: http://www.exptheexp.com/2009/10/heat-sensitive-street-lights.html

      Collin ~ I just followed you home from raptitude.com, but I will be back! Your journey is inspiring, your images are beautiful, and your words make me think from a new direction.

      Bright Blessings ~

  3. Alexandra October 17, 2012 at 11:14 am # Reply

    I love your writing by the way, this post was exsquisite! I have looked up at the night sky too many times(I live in Costa Mesa CA) and realized how dim the lights and pollution together make the stars-I can barely see them. Sometimes, if it is a clear night, I love to stand on my back porch and just stare at the sky for 20 minutes at least. Every time I do it I can’t look away… I just feel an emotional attachment or some deep, inner curiosity drawing me to the little lights, like “woah! those are stars and galaxies and other worlds.” as a resolution I would like to do this every night for 20 minutes.

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