July 10, 2002

Middle Earth: Through a

Middle Earth: Through a Glass, Darkly

For much of my life, it has been the natural world that has been my succor and safe haven from civilization's disappointments and ugliness, and it is Nature in part that enlivens and comforts me now in this unsettled time.

I walk alone under the constellations of the night sky in my own fields. I wander unhurried in the woods down along the creek, stopping to search for salamanders, waterpennies, and mayflies under the rocks rounded by age and the etching of currents. Yet, I know there is more for me to both remember and to know anew of this rich garden than human vision, course and truncated, can show me.

Now I wish I had two tools to help me expand my view within the material world: a microscope, and a telescope. How I would love to see again the beauty of detail in the microcosm of a drop of pond water: rotifers and ostracods; Stentor, Paramecium, Volvox. And to find binary stars, nebulae and moons, catching ancient light from galaxies whose age and dimensions give perspective to this brief candle of flesh.

If I were king, it would be required that every schoolchild be able to identify the fifty most common small invertebrates and microscopic denizens who share their back yards; and to know the constellations, be able to explain the seasons, and have some understanding of the term lightyear as compared to the time between human birthdays. I can't help but believe that seeing and knowing these things would make us better citizens of this world. It may also point us toward the knowing of things not seen and vastly more eternal and worthy of our search.

The futility of our plight is articulated well by Blaise Pascal in his 'thought' entitled Man's Disproportion, excerpted here. I will let him say for me what I cannot say. It would be worth your time to follow the link and read it all.

...for who will not admire our body, which before was imperceptible within the universe, imperceptible itself within the bosom of nature, and which is now a colossus, a world, or rather a whole, in comparison to the nothing, the smallness, we can't arrive at?

Anyone who considers himself in this way will be seized with terror and, discovering that the mass nature has given him supports itself between two abysses of infinity and nothingness, he will tremble in the face of these marvels; and I believe that as his curiosity changes to admiration, he will be more disposed to contemplate them in silence than search them out with presumption.

For, finally, what is man in nature? He is nothing in comparison with the infinite, and everything in comparison with nothingness, a middle term between all and nothing. He is infinitely severed from comprehending the extremes; the end of things and their principle are for him invincibly hidden in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he arises and the infinity into which he is engulfed.

Posted by fred1st at July 10, 2002 02:23 PM
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