We are stardust, we are golden

The C19 pandemic is affecting many areas of our lives and yet we will probably not know the full extent of its long tumbling domino reach for many years.

One clear effect however, is that nature, and this was noticed during the very early weeks of C19, was the first ‘system’ to react positively to a reduction in human activity. Animals ventured into now quiet town centres, the canals of Venice (plus most natural waterways) became limpid and urban skies without airplanes’ vapour trails turned a bluer blue.

As if we needed reminding, planet Earth seems to be seriously better off without human intervention. And yet, this new found appreciation of what benefits the natural world leads to a paradox:

As the planet reclaims its’ inherent qualities of freshness and rawness, this very beauty attracts and pulls human beings towards it. We edge or way out of lockdown, begin our hitherto normal activities and our de facto abuse of the planet starts again. The return to normality is epitomised by ugly sounds and visions of freight clattering its hot smoky routes across the world and people yearning to press carbonic footprints in pursuit of leisure. The re-found polluting circle closes with a vengeance and the gears of self-destruct shift up towards maximum. 

This is obviously disappointing and causes me to wonder ‘Why on earth does humanity fit in so badly with everything else on earth?

Vintage Railway Travel Poster - Gloucestershire - UK - by Claude Muncaster (1903–1974).

After all, our planet is a hermetically sealed unit. Bar the odd asteroid, meteor and sundry items of returning space junk, the only thing that enters our atmosphere is sunlight. The human species has evolved alongside other primates via stages of being fish, flying things and more recently small furry mammals. The point being, that all organic creatures with the help of the sun and that ol’ H2O shapeshifter (water/ice) have thrived in tandem with planet Earth. Human arrival it seems, has bucked the trend and appears, from an objective outer space viewing bridge, to be troublesome.

The notion that we are incompatible with the planet has triggered much debate. In the 1970’s, the Super Swiss Erich Von Daeniken wrote about Ancient Astronauts and professed, along with some nice pictures (but not evidence) that we were put here by extra-terrestrials. Despite him having done no viable academic research or due diligence regarding his sources, he tapped into a concept that sold many books and got the mass market wondering about us not being fully ‘of’ the earth.

Ancient Alien Artifact? - Bath Spa, UK | Okay "Ancient Astro… | Flickr

Elon Musk has recently rekindled another old idea; that we are actually part of a fictional game developed by other life forms. Some of us will recognise this as a version of The Sims, others will look back to the late ’70’s and remember us as an experiment devised by mice.

Religious people will likely baulk at these claims and retort with a selection of theologies in important books about humans inheriting the earth, being masters/mistresses of all creatures and that the invisible force, no matter how many natural disasters occur, still loves us and will see us through, come what may (insert rolling eyes emoji, Ed).  

As a sceptic however, I suspect that the main underlying energy is that of chaos. I’m not venturing into Chaos Theory because the idea of applying a scientific structure to concepts beyond structure feels like a road to nowhere (but a nice PhD if you can get the grant).

Instead, let’s buy into Chaos in the manner of the Stoics and hope for the good bits of the mess to rise to the surface and if they don’t, well, we tried our best anyway.

Remember the cream rises to the top unless you turn the plate downside up.

Renato Fantoni 2020

Failing Freedom of Outer Space= Losing the Plot on Planet Earth.

I think this ‘thing‘ is a bit like being in outer space.

Despite the fact that I can escape my house quite often, I always make the same return journey and come back home as if on a powerful elastic umbilical cord.

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey to Screen in IMAX
https://cdn1-www.comingsoon.net/assets/uploads/2018/08/2001two.jpg

Although I’m fortunate to have people around me, the reduction in social interaction is reducing me. Conversations are snippets rather than true exchanges and when I find myself talking with somebody or rather, at them, it all gushes out in a stream of mad subconscious breadcrumbs. Having honed my listening skills over many years I was really good at paying attention and excelled in giving the opposite of a poker face. I now fear it’s slipping away. When Mandy and I go for a walk, I try to give good ear but am dreadful at it. If there’s a gap of silence I feel a need to fill it up as if it were a pothole that needs padding out with whatever comes to hand; mud, horse manure and dead hair for making up underwear; all this to avoid my mental wheel (which already has a rocky axle) from falling in to it.

Talking of vehicles, let’s launch…

I think that being in space is like this: 

You’re belted into a very small capsule and you can’t move. Even if you need to empty your bladder, you cannot ‘go’, you simply release.

There’s a round double-double glazed window and everything you can see looks like the 1960’s because that’s when space was invented. The sky, which is really just a lot of tiny zeros, is thoroughly black. Not even navy blue. Not even MIDNIGHT Black/Blue, it’s dead-panned black. And it’s not even the sky because it’s not above you like the real sky is. This thing is underneath you too and it’s around the invisible corners. If you’re lucky enough to be in a space station you have more windows but to be frank, the non-sky, which is the floor, the walls and by now, the inside of your mouth too, is still matt black. A forever deep blackness that knows no time lines or boundaries and ceratinly has no truck with doughnuts or tulips. Loads of sticky stars have been thrown at it and they conspire to give a false sense of comfort to suggest that we aren’t alone. But we are. Alone.

So, I’m strapped in this very confined metaphor, struggling to make it work and outside it is just this corner-less plate of zeros. Except, as I said, the stick-on stars but, and I don’t say this lightly, they’re nobody’s friend. Certainly neither yours nor mine. And let me tell you something else, all this stuff about them twinkling is a lie. The stars are actually a combination of shoddy time lapsed recordings of rude, hot and very loud implosions and explosions. Their only mission is to fry you if you come within a light year. Sparkling, cocky bastards; nothing more. Not your friends.

So, communication from/to this tin can is via a radio or perhaps nowadays, a video link like in The Big Bang Theory when Howard ‘Fruit Loops’, has his moment up yonder but like my walk in the park, it’s no walk in the park. Just crackles, beeps and sounds that remind us of dial-up internet or even…the Fax machine. Communication has been redacted and if only we could read under the blacked out lines, maybe we’d connect properly, like they did in the old days. Freedom to communicate has become a frozen FaceTime image. Over.

TV Classic The Big Bang Theory Howard Wolowitz Fruit Loops custom tee Big Bang Theory Shirts, Big Bang Theory Funny, The Big Bang Therory, The Big Theory, Simon Helberg, Howard Wolowitz, Froot Loops, Favorite Tv Shows, My Favorite Things

I read that Einstein said gravity bends space and because very large objects such as solar systems contain a lot of gravity (suns, planets, aliens etc) they wrap large hunks of it around themselves. I think this includes time too.

This makes me picture a journey that ends at the beginning, just like 2001 Space Odyssey.

So, when flying in my Covid capsule I can see space bending and mashing the freedom of being up and out there – with no obvious obstacles (other than Elon Musk’s growing pile of space debris) with the warm urine dampened space suit of my rocket confined prison. To hammer home the point, if I can leave the capsule to pursue the infinite freedom the lack of long term air suggests that freedom is neither attainable nor desirable.

So, back to earth and shut my mouth. 

I thought I’d do what my then children did some years ago and make a word cloud. The idea was to mix up 4 rock tracks about space to see what the consensus was. The result is quite interesting but not as I grand as I had hoped. When I listen to these tracks, which are all the same theme of being lost in space, I get a large hit of nostalgia. Consider these words by Matt Bellamy (MUSE)

Let’s conspire to ignite / All the souls that would die just to feel alive / Now I’ll never let you go If you promised not to fade away

How, I wonder can nostalgia be triggered for something one never experienced? How do words and music do this?

I can only guess that CoronavirusC19 has triggered a sense of yearning and the mind turns it into a deep space exile. There is something about this present crisis that feels like being jettisoned into the nothing. We shall return, but it will be different but quite how different…

For what it’s worth:

My word cloud throws out: away, never, feels , arms, spaced, time, life, unreal which kind of creates the feeling but as random experiment is nothing insightful.

It includes lyrics from Muse: Starlight, Aerosmith: Spaced (2nd album dummy; Get Your Wings), Radiohead: Subterranean homesick alien and Mott The Hoople: Sea Diver. Obviously I could have used tons of Bowie lyrics (which I did twice in the body) and those who know me will appreciate I left out The Beatles’ Across the Universe and Elton John because I don’t like moist music. Purely my prejudices, nothing more.

The Overview Effect, (the manifesto anteprima*)

Ever heard of Spacex?

NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise

I hadn’t until I was recently struck by an audio bolt from the radio blue and learnt from the excellent presenter@NickyAACampbell that it is a private company at the vanguard of commercialising space travel. It aims to launch, literally, within months. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTIYPzfThps&feature=youtu.be

The radio discussion then morphed onto the Overview Effect which seemed so interesting…I had to learn more.

The Overview Effect appears to be a new(ish) awareness. It is a combination of thoughts and feelings around looking at Earth from space and realising:

  • Our planet is so small, it is probably only significant to the organisms that live here.
  • The only divisions on the globe are the ones of physical geography e.g. mountain ranges and water (lakes, oceans, rivers). Any political or national or human interventions are false constructs that despite the best efforts of ancient China or Hadrian are basically meaningless.
  • The human species’ desire to build fences and stake out ownership of land walks hand -in-hand with our communal actions of abusing land by chopping down oxygen giving greenery, melting polar ice caps, exploding/testing nuclear warheads and challenging animal species to cope with whatever we feel can be thrown at them.

The effect can probably be summed up; the planet in space is fragile and beautiful and perhaps godly. Yet ‘we’ prioritise other things and take it all for granted, probably because there is no such thing as ‘we’, just me plus me plus me…

This blog however is not a pro-eco clarion call. You can read that kind of thing anywhere (although if you want to cut out the chaff go straight to http://www.monbiot.com/

What I’m writing about is more akin to the exclamation (though neither the film nor its sci-fi context; “In SpaceNo One Can Hear You Scream.” (Alien dir. Ridley Scott 1979 sci-fi) and how, in effect, Space is the last quiet place. Alien

Some of my blogs over the last year have dealt with my Silence Project. It is something I find myself constructing piecemeal and it’s like building a jigsaw puzzle with no guarantee that the all the pieces are present and the box top picture is almost certainly a different scene from the one I am making.

Two weeks ago I went in search of silence in London. My plan was to visit an obvious silent place and then find a less obvious one in its shadow. I began at the British Library (my thoughts from there are at the foot of this page) and although I found a lovely art book on the topic (which I then bought online) my doubts about the existence of silence were confirmed as soon as I explained my project to a librarian called Ulmila. Her unprovoked reaction was something like ’Silence? In a library? You’re joking. This place is full of background sounds which are amplified by the voices of complaining people who want quiet.’

I left the magnificent building with every intention of going to at least one nearby park but my ardour was so dampened by the angular London rain, I returned to the Library and had Silence IMG_2387a coffee and high-sugar bun until I went home. It was in this café however that I had a mini revelation in the form of a flashback reverie.

I thought back to six days before when I had attended a wedding in a deconstructed brewery in the City of London. I recalled the moment my wife and I ambled towards the bar to say ‘hello’ to somebody and somebody. The bar was by the wall and the whole area was bathed in purple lights that jumped to this sick beat (so sue me Swift!) of the darkened vibrating room. The noise was nauseating and I didn’t hear a word that ‘we’ uttered to somebody and somebody, nor what somebody and somebody said back to ‘us’. Acting under previously dealt instructions not to abandon my spouse, I took a sidestep shuffle and propped up the once keg-lined wall. Seeing that somebody and somebody and my wife were merrily gesturing above the noise to each other I grabbed the moment by the ears, tipped my head forwards and shifted my gaze down at my non-dancing feet.

Aah…silence. Of sorts. In a room with 220 people competing with the pumping line of the hellish bass thumps I managed to crawl into the snail shell of my mind. I timed 26 seconds of respite. I snapped a mental photo of my shoes atop the light wood dance floor and although the music was present, I managed to subdue its relevance by allowing it to become wallpaper. Sure my ear drums were still being struck towards terminal deafness and no doubt any observer would have thought of me as a sad loner but I had stolen some hard-to-find thought time against the odds and in a throbbing environment to boot.

I have long argued that silence is more a state of mind than an absolute and now I have experienced it. I suppose my version of silence is a subjective truth rather than an unequivocal one but I am confident that with this rather muted revelation I have found a way forwards with the Silence Project.

Perhaps this is the birth of an Inner/Under View Effect or maybe it’s simply the overview as seen from inside. Either way, it’s no less valid.

True silence is impossible to find. Experts confirm this and add that even in a scientifically silent place you can hear your own blood careening through your system.

My staring point therefore is that silence is impossible. Extreme quiet however is possible and can bring about similar benefits. I’d actually go on to say that it’s preferable because it is natural and more comfortable for thinking beings to deal with.

Photos:

Earthrise; http://www.ecology.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise.jpg

Alien Poster: http://www.pxleyes.com/images/contests/movie-poster-recreation/fullsize/movie-poster-recreation-52953fe575c29.jpg

*anteprima=preview

15 / 02/ 2017 Rough notes

Facts: 11. Feb 2017 British Library, London 10.16 am. 22 degrees C Humanities 1. Thirty Two fellow readers, 65% female.

SOUND: A/C hum, padded footsteps on looped carpet. The soft slide of my borrowed pink pencil (TATE: [not sweet}). Low female voice with a non-local accent, brief punctuated coughing. Key board clicks. The low ecru suspended ceiling swallows bigger sounds and bounces them out through its holes.

SMELL: Cool tinge to a bookish musk

FEEL: Deep paged paper (this book!) smoothly springs up against my writing right hand. My own unshaven face.

SIGHT: Blanched people moving at slow pace and purpose. A woman breaks into a march and a bald male (professor?) follows suit. He slides to his chair, positions four books at jaunty angles (Blue one on the top) and flicker/reads the pages. Broad wide room, up lights shine up and move the white to grey.

Light wood modern desks consume the floor. A library, this one too, a centre of knowledge. These walls house data, opinion. Old news and accidental history (when I write now I’m not thinking of becoming the past).

My own concentration — as ever — is fragile and waning and the SILENCE is only a truth in outer space and earthling death.

Realising upon flickering and reading (flickerding?) that SILENCE (Kamps, Said Menil collections 2012) turns phrases of non-sound to pictorial art. Once concept represents another and my problem with (love of) art is that it borrows its stabilizers from philosophy and intellectual impulse. My project needs to come in at a non-intellectual level.

Person I met: Ulmila, female library assistant who once worked in ASDA and the library in Colindale and at once misses the buzz of retail yet appreciates the calm of the British Library. She also -now that she is older -likes the detail of handling book loans. She agrees that true silence is an unrealistic concept, even in the BL. People complain about human generated sounds, but it is futile.