Of Telescopes and Microscopes

I remember the first time I looked through a microscope. It opened a new window not only to curiosity, but to understanding. By studying the smaller picture I understood the bigger picture much better….more accurately. A simple leaf whose primary attribute, in my mind, included being green became a work of living art….a biological imperative. A life sustaining miracle.

Likewise, the telescope. My first experience with binoculars was when I was a child. I remember the weight of those large black binoculars of the 60’s. There was the little dial in the middle you turned with your finger to adjust the focus….to bring distant things into focused view. Later there were back yard telescopes and the rings of Saturn and the craters of the moon. Eventually there was the Fuertes telescope at Cornell University’s Observatory. Celestial wonders could be see by looking through an eye piece and brought into focus in a way the human eye could never see unaided and the human mind could never imagine. Now we can look at the images from the Hubble Telescope and experience the magnificence of the cosmos in a way never possible before. We can see the birth place of stars…and understand they are “born”. We can almost touch the edge of the universe and become infinitesimally small against that backdrop. We know we are made of star dust.

Marcel Proust:
“The real voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes
but in having new eyes.”

Using a microscope and/or a telescope gives us “new eyes”. We can see things we could not see before. By seeing these things in perspective and in focus, perhaps we can better understand the whole picture.

Isn’t all of life like that? We are like a little piece of something placed on a slide under a microscope. We can see the magnified parts of our lives. There’s the physical body we take care of through food, exercise, clothing, medicine, etc. There are the organs that keep things moving. Our mind. Blood. Hair. Eyes. All that stuff. We tend to be very concerned with how things, events, circumstances, stories, emotions affect our body. Not only in a physical sense of being safe or nourished, but in the capacity to be happy, fulfilled, challenged, valuable.

When we put our eye to the telescope new worlds comes in to view. We use a new lens to see a different perspective. We see how we are only a very small part of a much bigger picture. The exploration of space has allowed us to view our literal Earth in a new context. There are no boundary lines. There is a sense of shared resources, of a shared life. A sense of belonging to the same family. Our home is a shared home. It not just our home alone, but one we share with billions of others. We have a responsibility of shared stewardship for the next billion people. Our planet is alive and can die.

The Hubble telescope has allowed us to see further into space than ever before. Opening our eyes to the unimaginable vastness of the the known universe. Seemingly unexplainable things seen, even if not understood. There. Real. And when we look back at Earth, we see it is one very, very small dot among billions, trillions…..

When we look through the microscope we can’t see that. We see the small picture. The facts that relate specifically to us as individuals and our smaller family units. Using that lens, having that perspective doesn’t mean that the reality we would see through the the lens of a telescope, the bigger picture that shows the connected-ness of mind boggling amounts of stuff, isn’t equally important.

We don’t think or forget, to change lenses. We don’t think or forget, to turn and rotate to see a different perspective. We don’t think or forget, to learn about things we never thought to learn about or understand. We don’t think of or forget, that our perspective can change. Our understanding can change. The reality and truth we hold on to can change because we can learn and discover new things that are true and factual. New understanding that means we have to adjust to bring things into the best possible, most clear focus.

We forget that because we see something one way and label it as true and unchanging, it does not mean it is ultimately true.  We see this in medicine, in science, in technology, in evolution, in energy, in space, in history, in beliefs, in going from Newton to Einstein to quantum physics, from Mendel’s study of peas to molecular biology, from fear of taking baths to the understanding of hygiene.

Our curiosity and ability to dream and  imagine has brought us great things that were deemed impossible or unrealistic 50 years ago. Who would have thought people would ever fly in something called and airplane? The Hindu epic the Ramayana (written in the 4-5th century BCE) included detailed information about flying in machines. Jules Verne wrote a fantasy stories of submarines and flying to the moon. Aldous Huxley wrote of anti-depressants. In 1911 Hugo Gernsback imagined a “video chat.”

In reading the book Octavia’s Brood, we enter into the writers imagined future.  Activist writers present stories of the future changes in society based on issues of social justice. The narratives hurl us into the “next phase of humanity.”    http://www.thenation.com/article/why-science-fiction-fabulous-tool-fight-social-justice/

Co-author Walidah Imarisha says: “Any time we try to envision a different world—without poverty, prisons, capitalism, war—we are engaging in science fiction. When we can dream those realities together, that’s when we can begin to build them right here and now.”

And isn’t that what dreaming and imagining is about? Isn’t that what looking through a microscope or telescope tells us? Dream, look harder. Discover. Learn.  Rotate and turn. Change lenses and perspective. Maybe the reality we have now in our world is not the final truth. Maybe we are capable of compassion, tolerance, community, shared resources, social justice, equality, peace.

We can ask “What do we want” and not “What is realistic.” If we choose to ask “What do we want?” we can choose to seek answers to the question. If we use the microscope to look at ourselves, what do we see? If we use the telescope to look up and out and broaden our range of seeing, what is there?

If we see in the small parts of our being the capacity for love, compassion, hope, tolerance, shared humanity, determination, how do we get others to see this is what they too possess?

If we look out beyond ourselves and “our world”, and see that there are other “real” things out there, unlike ours, perhaps difficult to understand, but nonetheless there and dancing with us, perhaps we can join hands and dance together in harmony.

dancing people(photo by me, Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh)


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