I used to be easily enchanted by science programs, especially about space. But then I got older, increased stress and responsibilities made nature seem less and less relevant to me. Who cares about stars and supernova and a extrasolar planets when you have a meeting at work tomorrow? And stupid politicians ruining the country? Besides, how depressing is the vast emptiness and occasional violence of space? Maybe I just can’t deal with that right now.
The stars are beautiful when you go out to look at night, but outer space is mostly dark void which is utterly hostile to life. Science programs about space frequently talk about things like how our galaxy, the Milky Way, is on a collision course with our neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. Sure, it’s not going to happen for a billion years or so, but it’s still likely to happen. And what about the time in the deep past that a stray comet slammed into the Earth and brought on mass extinction? And the possibility that it could happen again? Not to mention climate change and the sixth extinction. As much as I love science and science programming, there is a lot there that can make you feel small and helpless.
It doesn’t have to be that way. What a person sees when they look out at nature depends a lot on their personal and cultural viewpoint and what they focus on. When you look at a forest, for example, do you see competition and scarcity? ‘Survival of the fittest?’ An exploitable resource? Or an ecosystem that thrives on balance and cooperation? I’ve had the tendency to look at a forest and say how all the different species there were ‘trying to make a living.’ Just getting by and surviving and trying to hog up all the sunlight and choke out the completion. Something I learned about forest ecology in the past year challenged my view. As it turns out, trees communicate with each other — including other species — and share resources amongst each other and other plants. There is a lot more to a forest than I ever imagined.
Here are a couple of links for more information, and a quick Google search brings up many more.
In the collision of two black holes there is destruction and violence, but there is also beauty and a chance to learn new things about how the universe works. Just within the last couple of years, scientists were able to detect gravitational waves from the collision of two distant black holes. The existence of gravitational waves was theorized by Einstein back in 1916 before he had any way to test the idea. But now this discovery may allow us to look back closer to the beginning of the universe than we have ever been able to see before.
I’ve found that looking at nature this way helps to pull me out of my everyday practical concerns and helps me see a bigger picture. In a real sense, the universe speaks to us, though gravitational waves and the cooperation networks of forests. Hearing the message over the constant din of our cultures calls to produce! perform! buy! spend! compete! just means taking time to slow down and listen and learn and be enchanted.