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    Finding the Meaning


    2011 - 01.25

    So there’s going to be a new series of posts on here called “Finding the Meaning”.  This whole idea originally got started when I was talking with my wonderful girlfriend about a poem on here.  In my spare time I’ve been reading a small chapbook of poems by the author Heather Sellers, and although it does have some nice little gems in it, I am constantly frustrated by the inaccessible nature of her writing.  Sure, maybe I’m just too dense, too much of a dolt to “get it” but then, I write poetry myself, and I’d like to think I’m at least somewhat “hip” and/or “with it” enough to grasp the meanings of some cryptic poetry–at a certain point, unless you want to explain the art (at least a little bit), it’s just meaningless to the majority of your audience.  And that sorta sucks!

    My girl and I were chatting about the poem “Fine Paisley Like Mandelbrot” and I sort of realized that I had fallen into the same trap–too much ambiguity.

    Also, another thing that had been on my mind was the recollection of an awesome article on the video games blog Kotaku, where people were discussing their favorite memories and “experiences” playing Grand Theft Auto.  I really got into that discussion, to the point where I read through hundreds of comments.  And it got me thinking: I enjoy listening to people discuss the reasons why they like things.

    So in that spirit I smash the proverbial champagne bottle over the hull of this new ship, christened, “Finding the Meaning”

    Putting things in perspective: Neat!


    2011 - 01.24

    So I was flipping through the “Cosmos: A Field Guide” book tonight and decided to stop on the comets page while I ate my dinner.  I read over the text and checked out the photos, saving the captions for last.  There’s a large (read: 17″x14″) full page image of a comet that is quite a nice shot, which I admired it for a while as I finished up my sandwich.  I read over the captions for the other 5 comets pictured, which had orbital periods ranging from 5.5 years (Comet Tempel, the target of the Deep Impact Spacecraft) up to 76 years (Halley’s Comet).  Cool.  Then moved over to read the caption for the full page image.  It’s name (awesomely) is Comet “Neat”! Hah!  Here is the photo:

    Then I read the caption.  Orbital period for this comet?  THIRTY-SEVEN-THOUSAND YEARS.  I had to double check the number–did that really say 37,000 years?… oh.  I guess that’s right.

    That’s wild.   The last time this thing plunged into the inner solar system, mankind had just migrated to Australia and Europe for the first time.  And we were at the Cro-Magnon stage in our evolution.  The next time this comet will return to our inner solar system?  Humans will have long ago evolved into something new.  Thirty Seven Thousand is such a bafflingly large timescale.

    How many historical figures can you name from over a thousand years ago?   Three thousand?  Five?  Fifteen?  In 37,000 years, us, and everyone we ever met will be completely forgotten about, and the particles which made up our bodies will long ago have decayed and been recycled into Earth, possibly even having been incorporated into several new organisms by then.  If there are some descendants of today’s homo sapiens that have survived, they wont’ call it the year 39,xxx AD–today’s popular mythologies will all have died out long ago.  Just like today’s date is not measured in years related to Zeus, Odin, or Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun god.  I wonder what gods the Cro-Magnons worshiped?

    Check out NASA’s site with this cool interactive ‘orbit diagram’ that shows the positions all the planets and the comet as it traveled through space.  If you line up the solar system on it’s axis and hit play to watch the comet slide by, you’ll notice that it doesn’t even pass through the orbits of any planet.  In it’s moment closest to the sun it picks up a lot of speed for a brief moment too.  We should’ve gone all ‘deep-impact’ and launched a satellite to travel to the comet… it could have landed and rode along for the ride out to the oort cloud.  What a journey?!

    Wave goodbye kids!

    tastemaking in our little corner of the galaxy


    2011 - 01.04

    This quote from the beginning of Cosmos; I’ve been thinking about it often.  I completed watching the series some months ago now, and boy how I wish there were more.  Now all that remains is to go back and rewatch the episodes, a ritual that certainly gleans satisfaction, if lacking a bit in that smack across the face of resounding freshness that accompanies the first viewing.  Seeing it again, there are little hidden facets which reveal themselves, a secret kept from the new inductees.

    And there’s the pleasure of watching Mr. Sagan in action.  Through this series, I have arrived at a state of unmitigated admiration for this man.  Carl’s magnetically eloquent language, masterful comprehension of science, and retainment of such rapturous wonder at the beauty which surrounds us are a model to aspire toward.  There is something about his persona, the emphasis in his oratory, which imbues him with the overwhelming zest of a virtuoso at the peak of their form.  I would say that Carl is to the scientific world what the Beatles were to the music world.  Both were tastemakers who popularized complex ideas, making them accessible to people who might not otherwise enjoy 7/8 time, traditional Indian music, abstract lyricism, unconventional chord changes and recording methods.  Or in Carl’s case, the concept that heavy elements (and the ones that we are made of!) come from the insides of stars, the sheer vastness of the universe we exist within, and the towering influence of our understanding of the cosmos upon our ultimate fate.  And in both cases, these people were admired not just by outsiders who had only rudimentary grasps of their work, but rather they were both looked up to by generation after generation of experts and even geniuses within their respective fields.  In the recent NASA press conference concerning the arsenic-based bacteria, they invoked Carl three times (along with Stephen Hawking once, and Neil deGrasse Tyson once, to put it in perspective).

    At the same time that Carl is an archetype, he is very much a man, somewhat laughable in his dryness, but adorable in his sincerity.  Clad in his favorite orange coat, sitting in this overly-ornamental fake time machine, he looks a bit ridiculous, and I can’t help but giggle a bit.  But I love him for ‘going for it’ so unabashedly.

    I sort of wonder when I watch Cosmos, if they recorded the very beginning of it last, after the whole of the series was done.  When Carl gives that opening oratory, it feels to me as if it is the conclusion, the glorious end-result of his wanderings, disguised as the beginning.

    All Your Aliens Are LAME.


    2011 - 01.03

    My biggest beef with almost all the science fiction out there: the unimaginative portrayal of alien life.  And I’ll be especially harsh on Star Trek here–for being the series that is lauded as one of the more “realistic” (ie. it tries to obey physics), all the aliens (Klingons, Vulcans, borg, etc) all look an awful lot like Homo Sapiens.  I think the Cantina scene in the original Star Wars comes a lot closer to imagining what breadth of life must be out there.

    Given a completely different set of circumstances, the process of evolution will take a completely different path.  This recent NASA study which, essentially through forced evolution, bred a bacteria that eats arsenic and uses it in place of phosphorus as the backbone of its DNA structure, is a breakthrough.  It changes the parameter of where we should be searching for life.  And more importantly, it expands the boundaries of where life might arise.  That’s huge.

    I would also posit that this discovery is only one of many discoveries to come that will expand our narrow thinking on the possibilities of life.  I would bet anything that there are chemistries which proliferate life with far more exotic elements than the replacement of a single building block using the Earth-life formula.  The study of extremophiles here on Earth is important work to understand life.  Earth, after all, is just one set of pressure, temperature, gravity, atmosphere, and soil that’s out there.

    It really bothers me how human-centric alien life is always portrayed.  If an organism grew on a completely different world, with a different set of parameters as listed above, it would probably be absolutely nothing like us.  Two eyes, a nose, and a mouth?  Probably not.  This is how our evolutionary tree began, millennia ago, and because of those early parameters, nearly all the life around us follows the formula.  Who’s to say that on different planets, starting from scratch, life wouldn’t evolve with ears on the back of their knees? Or eyes that perceived with radio waves, or infrared.  Their “eyes” probably wouldn’t even look like what we call “eyes”.  Maybe these creatures would evolve to be able to emit and manipulate electromagnetic waves–that ability would have many advantages…

    Other structures that we completely take for granted might not be present whatsoever.  A leg, for example.  Of course, legs are a good solution to the problem of how to get around, but why not rolling wheels or something similar to treads, or why not glide around on a layer of slippery goo like a snail?  Maybe alien life would hop from place to place like on pogo sticks?  In low gravity environments, that would be a very efficient way to travel.  Why walk and get bogged down in all that expenditure of energy with friction against the ground when you can just bounce gracefully across it all?  Boom, you just got beaten in the evolutionary contest, alien with legs! As much as I strain my mind to come up with oddities which might arise, I feel limited by my Earthbound bias.  What if alien life is REEEEEEALY different?  There must be creatures and civilizations out there that have endured for billions of years.  Their evolution probably started like ours as a chemical process driven by the right building blocks and the infusion of electromagnetism.  These creatures evolved to intelligence, built a society, discovered science and technology, began to guide their own evolution.

    They eliminated genetic flaws, squashed weaknesses to disease, augmented their intelligence and information storage.  At a certain point, their technology and their physical beings became indistinguishable.  They learned how to preserve their minds indefinitely and how to network them for instantaneous telepathy.  For some, physical existence became more like an afterthought.  For others, connection with the collective muted the possibility of discovery out in the wilds of the cosmos.

    They developed means to travel the galaxy, cataloging other life in the pursuit of advancing their own.  The optimum way to do this probably involved zero interference with these other, less advanced lifeforms.  Studying their natural growth patterns was more fruitful than attempting to conquer, plunder, or exploit–irrelevant, pointless ideas when much larger questions and goals awaited.  Perhaps these creatures developed ways to transport their consciousness via electromagnetic waves, reconstituting physical forms at will, only for sporadic observation where things got interesting.  By this point, a physical appearance would be whatever manifestation would best suit the situation.

    What would such a highly developed species choose to look like?  I find it fascinating to think about.  What would their goals become?

    What would their leisure pursuits be? In the “Cosmos: A Field Guide” book I read the fact that there are more galaxies in the universe than there are stars in the Milky Way.  This is an astounding, stupefying fact that I will probably repeat later, for the sheer difficultly of being able to wrap one’s head around it.

    To me, the most thought-provoking aspect of it is that where the probability of life is simply anything other than zero, the vastness of this universe implies an explosively bountiful cornucopia of every imaginable tree-branch of life, including the existence of such ancient and advanced races as we theorized about above.

    Riffin on the Ice Cube / Space books


    2011 - 01.02

    I was at half price books about a month ago and I found this eye-popping hardcover book called “Superstructures In Space” for just $10.  It’s chock full of gorgeous photos taken by spacecraft and of spacecraft, detailing all the major human forays into space.  I’ve learned a lot reading it.  Chiefly that there are way more space missions going on than I realized.  There’s a probe on it’s way to Pluto (it’ll get there in 2015!), and another one inserting into orbit around Mercury in March of next year.  The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is an ongoing mission that has returned 3 times more data than the last 5 missions to mars COMBINED.  It’s mapped mars with a greater resolution than available on Google Earth.  The Deep Impact spacecraft was a super sweet mission in which they shot this projectile into an asteroid to observe what kinds of elements would be present in the resulting debris.  There’s just a ton of amazing things going on in space that I wasn’t even aware of.

    Just as I thought my interest/obsession was plateauing, for Christmas my girl gave me an even more gigantic book (see comparison below; literally GIGANTIC at 17×14 inches!) by called “Cosmos: A Field Guide”.  It’s not related to Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” in the literal sense (although they do invoke “star stuff”, a well-worn Saganism), but it goes through everything we’ve observed in the universe, from satellites looking at Earth, all the other planets, the outer solar system, Oort Cloud and Kupier Belt, the Milky Way, other galaxies, and the boundaries of what we can see in our universe.  The book is pure space porn, filled with breathtaking pictures of every type of celestial body imaginable.  The one shown here is the remnants of a supernova.  There aren’t really words that convey the size or the grandeur of what’s been discovered out beyond our planet.  I’m totally enraptured by these ideas at this moment in life…

    So against that backdrop I was reading about the neutrino observatory at the South Pole.  As silly as it may sound, the fact that we got a dude down there at the coldest place on the planet, measuring and counting neutrinos hoping to figure out some piece of our universe–it gives me hope that humans might be able to make it.  These are the biggest questions for us to answer: what is the universe made of, how did it form, can we trace its lineage?  In the words of Carl:

    What he’s getting at is the fact that these questions go beyond nations, races, generations, or any other divisions among us.  And our quest to answer them is tied inseparably to technology that will allow human civilization to make an ultimately essential leap–spreading to other worlds.  The universe is unfathomably vast and we humans, despite all our progress, are still at a most infantile age.  Whether we end up destroyed by nuclear weapons, avian flu, asteroids, or the greenhouse effect, one way or another Earth isn’t going to be safe forever.  Our ability to get out there (and get out there fast!), I believe is going to be THE pivot point on whether the genus “homo” ends with “sapiens”, or lives on to continue further.

    A thought that keeps running through my mind is “we live in a primitive time”.  I imagine a far away age where our distant descendants roam the galaxy in search of resources to mine, lifeforms to chronicle and trade with, picturesque worlds to settle upon, and maybe sightseeing by watching stars being born in nearby nebula.  These are the actions of an advanced civilization.  By comparison, we are living in far more primitive times than the stone age!  We still use rockets to launch spacecraft.  Rockets!  How un-elegant.  The knowledge that there are other galaxies besides our own is less than a century old.  That fact astounds me.  What utter ignorance we have begun to climb from.  The idea of an earth-centric universe seems embarrassingly laughable.  Like a little kid who thinks he knows how babies are made; “when the man pees inside the woman”.  Hahahaha, how naïve and clueless we were!

    I suspect that even such ideas as popular today as “dark matter” will one day be as antiquated as the concepts of ether or the crystalline spheres of the geocentric model.  Our galaxy-traversing descendants will look back through the history books and chuckle about what ideas once passed as science.  But that is the beauty of science–it is always refining itself, self-correcting, and disowning the baggage that no longer applies.  The neutrino observatory is an awesome step in refining our search for matter, understanding cosmic ray sources, and general surveying of the universe.  No doubt it will place us one step closer to the answers to those ‘big questions’.  How big of a step, only time can tell!

    the pursuit of doing something relevant


    2010 - 12.30

    In several posts on here I’ve discussed how much I enjoy the series Cosmos. As much wild enthusiasm as I feel for it right now, in a sense it’s also kind of daunting to watch Cosmos. The same way it’s daunting to listen to the Beatles: after you’ve basked in the splendor of it, and you return to your own pursuits, there is a sudden sense that no matter how hard you concentrate, or how long you remain focused, the sum of your lifetime’s accomplishments shall never amount to a total half as impressive as the works these iconic masters have authored.

    I have to remind myself that Cosmos itself IS the sum total of many, many years of writing and refining from Carl, one of the brightest minds of his time. Like an aspiring painter, standing in the Museum of Van Gogh, or Dali, it can feel humbling down to the point of utter futility in even trying. It is here that you’ve got to remind yourself of the words of Van Gogh:

    Even the masters themselves felt moments of crushing impossibility in the pursuit of doing something relevant. I saw that quote written on the wall in gigantic letters at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I remember climbing up a staircase to see it revealed at the top. At the time I had not read Vincent’s biography or known about his long battle with chronic depression, and the words deeply shocked me. I stood there for a moment, stunned. How could someone who now seems like an untouchable pillar, far ahead of everyone, have such profound self-doubt?

    I suppose that says something about the nature of creating things. It is really only in retrospect that we can analyze the value of a contribution. This idea gives me ambition to continue writing, taking pictures, making music, and all else that I do, in the hope that the sum total, someday, will amount to more than the pieces.

    I wish I had taken a photo of that quote, emblazoned across a long, empty wall inside his own museum. If nothing else, to serve as a reminder to myself that in the heat of the moment, even a masterpiece can seem like a mere drop in the bucket.

    What’s cooler than cool? Ice Cold, I mean Cube!


    2010 - 12.27

    Last week I read about a wholly impressive undertaking which I was previously oblivious to, and now very interested in hearing more about: the Icecube Neutrino Observatory, at the South Pole. Yes, that South Pole. Basically they drilled a bunch of loooooooong holes, filled em up with detectors, and now they’re going to “listen” for neutrinos, of which they can measure power and direction, thanks to the size of the array of detectors. One cool detail is that the detector will be better at seeing neutrinos that come from the northern hemisphere. As in, neutrinos that have passed THROUGH the ENTIRE Earth before reaching the array. It’s better at seeing those.

    Wait, wait, did you just say “passed through the entire Earth”?

    Yep. Neutrinos can do that because neutrinos don’t ordinarily interact with matter. In fact, when they detect them, what they’re detecting is not even the neutrino directly! Here, this amazing video will enlighten us all. Dim the lights and get some popcorn:

    Oh man, how cool is that. Studying cosmic rays… In my most jealous voice I cry “Lucky!” This is a powerful new tool to study one of the influencing factors in our evolution. Take it away, Carl:

    “Think of it: A star blows up, thousands of light years away in space and produces cosmic rays which spiral through the Milky Way galaxy for millions of years until quite by accident some of them strike the Earth… and us. The evolution of life on Earth is driven in part through mutations, by the deaths of distant stars. We are, in a very deep sense, tied to the cosmos.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos

    Cicadas in the forest of the universe


    2010 - 12.23

    I remember as a child someone once telling me about a type of cicada that sleeps underground for years.  There are a great number of them hibernating in the dirt, and somehow, on a special day, all of them emerge at once. They climb out of the soil and up the trees, where they shed their exoskeleton and take flight to find their mate.  Once they’ve reproduced, the eggs are laid and the cicadas die.  These eggs hatch on tree branches and the larva fall to the ground, where they dig into the dirt and the cycle begins anew.  They too will spend years asleep underground, and emerge for a few frantic hours to proliferate themselves.  Depending on how quick it all goes down, they may live as a flying insect for a few days at most, and just a single night at the least.

    A recollection returned to me of digging in the sandbox and finding the empty shell of a cicada.  It was kind of gross, but I couldn’t help but study it, scooped up in my orange plastic shovel.  Suddenly that empty shell had taken on a new meaning.  It was the spectre of a creature who had lived, maybe only a few short hours.  Even to the perspective of a human child, probably six or seven years old, only having a few hours to live your whole life seemed like something of a sad story.  One night only.  Just a single sunset in the breadth of your whole being.

    Our existences are brief.  There is an expression, “we are not long for this world.”  How true it is.

    If you could live a thousand years, would life get boring?  What if you could live a hundred thousand years?  What would the meaning of life be, to someone who lived for so long?  Would it be different than a human who lived a normal 80 years?  What would the highlight be?

    Given a different set of parameters, ambitions change.  If a doctor told you tomorrow that you had one day left to live, you’d probably do something relaxing and introspective.  If he told you three months, you’d probably book some flights, see the MVPs of your life, and maybe check out the Mediterranean like you always wished you had.  If the doctor said you had 50 years left, well, you’d probably say, “thank you captain obvious,” and keep going in to work every Monday.  But what if you had 500 years?  You might start making some different plans.

    “What is the meaning of life?” is a question somewhat like “what is your favorite color?” in that everyone will have their own answer, and there are certainly popular replies.  “Blue” for instance, would be a lot more common than, say, “chartreuse”.  Of course there’s no wrong answer, but I wonder what it says about our priorities when we compare what our objectives might look like, given a much longer time span to execute.  I’ve been wondering to myself what my own ambitions would look like if I thought I had an extra century to get there.  What does it say about the merits of my current goals?

    At half-price books a few weekends ago I picked up a ten dollar hardcover entitled “Superstructures in Space” which contains boatloads of pictures illustrating the various craft we’ve sent out into the sky.  Everything from the Hubble Telescope to Voyager to the Deep Impact spacecraft.  A full-page image, taken by the Hubble, caught my attention.  This photo shows a nebulous stellar nursery, where stars are born.  A stunning sight, which explodes the boundaries of the mind.

    What amazements could possibly await those who will someday voyage there?  We think of our own planet as endless, and our lives as eternities, but compared to merely this one section of the cosmos, as captured by Hubble, they pale in size.  More than tiny.  Beyond minuscule.  Like cicadas in the vast forest of space, our minds cannot grasp the richness, complexity, and subtle beauty of our surroundings.  We are filled up with preoccupations of digging out of the dirt, and finding a partner, just in the nick of time before we all expire.  We may be lucky enough to soar over the treetops for our own brief instant, but a towering pine in the distance, a mountain upon the horizon, and that great unknown beyond it remains hidden to us.  Our time is too short to visit there.  Our time is too short to even figure out what may lie there.  Nevermind the world beyond that, and the world beyond that.

    “What is a drop of rain, compared to the storm?
    What is a thought, compared to the mind?
    Our unity is full of wonder which your tiny individualism cannot even conceive.”
    -System Shock, 1994

    In his book Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan discusses the composition of Neptune’s moon Triton, which is covered in layers of frozen nitrogen snow.  He says, “In some places the surface is as bright and white as freshly fallen Antarctic snows (and may offer a skiing experience unrivaled in all the Solar System).”  Skiing on a moon of Neptune.  Think about that one for a minute.

    Then consider the fact that as wildly fantastical as skiing on Triton may sound, winter sports in our outer solar system is only one adventure, out of the innumerable adventures offered by our universe, on innumerable worlds, most of which are, in all likelihood, unimaginably different than Earth.  By the time we get to Triton, the sport of skiing may be as ancient as games once played by the Mayan tribes, or the Incas.  Humans will have since moved on to other snow sports, probably using technology not even conceived of yet.  Something even more outlandish than Marty McFly’s hoverboard.  By the time we make it to the stars captured in the Hubble image, homo sapiens will have long ago have evolved into creatures different than we now know ourselves.  Maybe some elegant, drastically improved humanoid who evolved through cosmic radiation and scientific enhancement, devoid of the flaws of tissue degeneration, memory loss, and tendencies toward aggression, thoughtlessness.

    These intrepid adventurers will set foot upon worlds we visited only in the ships of our imaginations, confined to the ground as we were.  We may smile, thinking of our own yearning to travel to such exotic places fulfilled vicariously by our descendants, a way of reaching past the limits of our own single evening as a cicada in the forest of our universe, and fulfilling a goal too vast for the blips of our lifetimes; to see, to know the universe.  To permeate it, populate it, celebrate it, to play a long, graceful part in it.

    Recycling–now you can be OCD about it too!


    2010 - 12.22

    Mindfulness– it’s half the battle

    I’d like to take a minute to articulate something my inner monologue spends a lot of time debating.  Recycling.  Today I was walking toward the garbage can with a small piece of plastic in my hand, about to toss it out.  Unfailingly, every time I find myself in this situation, there are two thoughts that go through my mind.  The first one is something along the lines of, “well, this piece of plastic is pretty small.  In the end, how significant is it?  I mean, the trash bag itself is made out of plastic, right?”  And then the second thought kicks in, often in a harsh, reprimanding tone; “man, what the fuck are you thinking?  You know that plastic is going to sit in a landfill for at least 500 years before it even STARTS decomposing.  Is that the legacy you want to leave behind?”

    Some sources say it takes 1,000 years before the decomposition of plastic begins.  There’s tons of other things in our lives that take long timescales to recede into the natural environment as well.  Disposable diapers take 550 years, aluminum cans 200-500 years, cigarette butts probably one to five years, and newspapers just two to four weeks.  Styrofoam, that notorious offender, seems to vary wildly in the estimated lifespans I find online.  Anything from a decade to 5,000 years. (Or more!)

    Yet there are other substances with even longer lives than my dreaded tiny plastic wrapper.  Trying to find an answer for how long glass takes to biodegrade is difficult.  Some people place the number at around a million years.  A million years!  That’s just… stupefying.  Suddenly the pressure is really on to enjoy this bottle of Snapple.  Made from the best stuff on Earth–silica and oxygen.  Sand grains.  How long does it take for a beach to biodegrade?

    I remember back home when I was a child, digging in the backyard and finding plenty of pieces of glass in the dirt.  Our house was built way back in the time when people used to bury their own trash in their backyards.  What a crazy idea that seems like today.  There’s so many ways it wouldn’t work–you’d run out of space in no time flat, you’d be worried about polluting the water table from the esoteric materials commonly used today, and it would just be a lot of work!  All that digging.  You’d need to be making some serious holes to dispose of just your kitchen trash alone.  Think of what you’d be doing differently.

    Of course there’d be a flip side: I don’t know about you, but my house is already cluttered with purposeless knick-knacks, and nostalgic mementos that really are just a waste of space.  At some point, I’ll wade through the junk and in a fit of cleansing say, ugh, just throw all this away.  And thusly some antique glass milk bottle that I had been saving for who knows why ends up in the landfill, sandwiched and smooshed under piles of other people’s stuff.  Maybe with the right items surrounding it, the milk bottle lives for a thousand, thousand years.  It’s a sobering thought.  Epochs away and eons from now, when the legacy of anything I ever did, and everyone I ever knew has been long since forgotten, this milk bottle will probably have outlasted it all, preserved underground for millenia, now an ancient artifact for future archeologists, paleontologists, anthropologists to scrutinize and ponder, now why do you think its owner had thrown this away?

    Here’s a nice handy list of items to be neurotic about throwing away:

    * Aluminum Can  200-500 years
    * Batteries – 100 years
    * Cardboard Box- 4 weeks
    * Cigarette Butt up to 10 years
    * Cotton Rag- 1-5 months
    * Disposable Diapers- 500-600 years
    * Glass Bottle  1 Million years
    * Leather- up to 50 years
    * Lumber- 10-15 years
    * Monofilament Fishing Line- 800 years
    * Milk Cartons (plastic coated) 5 years
    * Nylon Fabric- 30-40 years
    * Orange Peel- 2-5 weeks
    * Paper-2-5 months
    * Plastic Film Container- 20-30 years
    * Painted Wooden Stake- 13 years
    * Plastic 6 pack cover- 450 years
    * Plastic Bag- up to 500 years
    * Plastic Coated Paper- 5 years
    * Plastic Soda Bottles- Forever
    * Rope- 3-14 months
    * Rubber Boot sole- 50-80 years
    * Sanitary Pads- 500-800 years
    * Styrofoam- More than 5,000 years
    * Tin Cans- 50-100 years
    * Wool Clothing- 1-5 years

    source links:
    http://www.greenecoservices.com/how-long-does-it-take-for-trash-to-biodegrade/
    http://www.ehow.com/how-does_4928812_does-plastic-container-start-decomposing.html

    One billion trans-cosmic years in love


    2010 - 12.08

    Recently I’ve been watching the series “Cosmos” co-written by Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan.  The fascinating concepts it conveys and thoughts it provokes are a whole wild series of tangets that I am not even going to be touching upon today.  Somehow I managed to avoid being exposed to Cosmos until I reached the age of 30.  In a way, I’m grateful for this circumstance; watching over the last months, Cosmos brought together all of these compartmentalized facts that I had already known into one coherent ‘big picture’, artfully told by a brilliant and inspiring man.  It’s intensely emotional and intellectual in the same breath.  Not having seen this series until my 30s, it has impacted me that much more dramatically.  Forcefully.  Profoundly.  I’m not certain there is a right word.  Let’s just say “Superlatively.”

    It is hard not to be swept up by Carl’s eloquence and enthusiasm, and the whole scope of Cosmos just feels so deeply meaningful.  Those words seem to fall short of conveying the emotions which this saga has elicited from within me.  It’s a bit like meeting a new person who you are so strikingly in agreement with that every syllable they speak just makes you want to say “Yes.  Yes; That.  Yes.”  You want them to keep going, and you concur so much that other words would just get in the way.

    After finishing the series, and wistfully wishing there were more, I went online and read about the stories of Ann and Carl, these fascinating new characters who’ve permeated my consciousness so resoundingly, as if they have always been a part but I had never known.  I was astonished to read the story on NPR of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project; particularly the portion of the story which explained how Ann had been involved in the creation of two gold records which were sent into space with the Voyager probes.  These records were meant to contain a representative sampling of the whole breadth of the human exerience.  The magnitude of this undertaking can scarcely be grasped.  The resultant records contained samples of music from many cultures, various spoken languages, greetings to potential space-faring civilizations who may someday intercept the probe, and perhaps most interestingly, a recording of brain waves.

    Ann Druyans’s brainwaves were recorded for the records, and what gives this whole story such an unbelievable spin is the context under which it happened.  In another interview recorded with Ann, she tells the story of how her and Carl fell in love.  Apparently the two had known each other and worked together professionally for some long time, but had been romantically involved with other people.  This pair harbored a deep admiration for one another and had what Ann describes as “wonderful, soaring conversations” but had never crossed the divide into romance.

    So much of love centers around timing.  Is this person available?  Are they emotionally available?  Do they have these big personal goals that are going to dominate their priorities and prevent a love from ever blooming?  Timing.  And one day toward the conclusion of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project, it sounds like the time alignment of Ann and Carl magically snapped into place, over a phone call of all things.  That in itself is a chronicle of how major life events can strike at any time, in the most unexpected of ways.

    She doesn’t elaborate much about what exactly was said in that fateful telephone conversation, and indeed I’m certain a large part of it was a blur as soon as the reciever returned to the hook.  But by the end of that phone call the two were engaged.  When she hung up the phone Ann says she literally screamed out loud, in what felt like, “this great eureka moment, it was just like scientific discovery.”  (The fact that she would equate the fireworks of such a moment to one of scientific discovery, I find quite humorous, and heartwarming from someone with a noteworthy nerd-streak of my own.)  Moments later Carl called back to ask, “just want to make sure, that *really* happened?”  Of course the answer was yes, and so began the love affair of Ann and Carl.

    So just two short days after this momentous, powerful occurence, Ann traveled to Bellvue Hospital in New York to have the sounds of her brain waves recorded for the golden records which were to be sent off into space.  While she meditated and the ECG machine recorded the electrical impulses firing in her mind, she says part of what she was thinking was “about the wonder of love, and of *being* in love…”  Certainly two days after not only professing your love to someone new for the first time, but simultaneously becoming engaged to be married, any person’s mind would be fully awash with an overpowering elixir from that puppy-dog variety of freshly bursting affection.  In the song “The Real Thing”, arist EMO muses “there’s nothing like the real thing, when love is increasing.  There’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to you”.  Undoubtedly, experiencing this feeling is one of the most uncontrollably thrilling and gloriously consequential moments of the human experience.  Ann adds, “and to know it’s on those two spacecraft!  Now, whenever I’m down, I’m thinking: And still they move.  Thirty five thousand miles an hour, leaving our solar system, for the great, wide open sea of interstellar space.”

    As a message in a bottle, floating in that sea of interstallar space, what a romantic and grandiose moment to encapsulate for discovery epochs and epochs later by who knows who.  It gives me great joy to know that these two people, who seem not only so exceptionally intelligent but also so gifted with the ability to masterfully communicate nuanced truths about our universe as we see it, are serving as the trans-galactic ambassadors to whomever recovers the Voyager message.

    Meanwhile back on Earth, we’ve had buffoons like George W. Bush leading the free world, the uncultured dreck of reality television beaming through our bodies at every moment, and the painful missteps of so many religions polluting our collective minds–Yet still!–a capsule floats, out through the great beyond, carrying a snapshot of thoughts from one of our most brilliant minds, upon the marvel of that which is best within us; our emotion of love.  Binding us together and inducing us to cherish the value of our mutual existences.

    It give me joy.  And hope that our most articulate, clairvoyant voices shall be the ones which rise to prominence.  When these two probes fly out to the vast unknown, it would be irresponsible to put anyone but our best representatives on duty to greet those who they encounter.

    Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan are on the case.

    And.  Rightly.  So.


    Epilogue

    While daydreaming about this all, I’ve been listening to the song “The Reason” by Soulstice.  This piece of music conveys, for me, what it’s like to be so deeply in love with someone.  “You’re the reason/So beautiful and full of bliss/my little piece of happiness/You’re the reason” More than the lyrics though, it’s a lovely track instrumentally, and an inspired vocal performance.  I tend to be a harsh critic of vocalists, prefering instrumental music on the whole, but this track really captures something.

    I enjoy thinking about the love between Carl and Ann.  Especially because their delight in one another is the interstellar sample of human affection, captured in Ann’s brainwaves on the Voyager spacecraft.  The shelf life of those gold records was designed to be one billion years.

    One billion years.

    That love will keep enduring for for a thousand, million years, out in the cold emptiness of space.  And in every second of that time it will be just as fresh as it was when it was two days young.  I hope that some intelligent species happens upon it, with the technology to decode Ann’s thoughts.  What will they think when they read her mind?  Maybe they will be moved to the extra-terrestrial equivalent of tears.  Maybe they will find it naive and judge our species ripe for subjugation.

    Or perhaps humankind will be long, long extinct, and that battered voyager spacecraft with its gold record will be the only remaining fraction of a fraction that’s left behind from our collective plight.  They’ll place it in a galactic museum with a set of headphones far better than humans ever built, for the citizens of future advanced civilizations to stop, stand, and spend a small moment listening to the love story of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan; two creatures from an obscure planet destroyed eons ago that somehow, by complex forces of nature or random happenstance, managed to transmit this poetic instant out across the cosmos; a beautiful ballad of love that defied the slow decay of millenia, and returned some miniscule portion of their beings to the stars for which they held such wonderment.  If this is all that remains behind when we’re gone, I think that’s a pretty good note to go out on.