Monday, April 21, 2014

On Scale

The theme that returns to me often when considering human life and the cosmos is scale. I have always felt an affinity to the very very small, often attempting to visualize my point of view wading through molecules. The vast empty space said to make up most of the atom, too, is inspiring to me. And one can't just isolate one atom with it's empty space. One needs to consider the whole array of atoms around us for starters. The very small isn't something 'over there'. It's simultaneous with here. It's everywhere.
    My fascination with the very small stems from being a kid and looking at things up close. We don't really do that much as adults. As kids we lay on the floor, our faces close to the tile, the wood grain, the rug. We look at things. We shrink ourselves down and push through the stalks making up the carpet pile, wondering what creatures we may meet. Those marvelous microscopes have shown us that dust mites do indeed live at the micro level along side a variety of creatures whose scale keeps them from freaking us out. The same goes for most things. Sparrows the size of dogs and there wouldn't be human civilization. Squirrels the size of houses, ditto.
    Once upon a time the earth was populated by giants. I don't know what accounted for the great size of the prehistoric beasts, but such things make children marvel. The very small, conversely, is made up of worlds within worlds. There are creatures negotiating our eye-lashes and our pores. There are creatures feeding off the flakes of dead skin we shed. The world has a very good resolution. If your eyes were good enough, you would just keep on seeing. The breakdown might occur at the atomic scale where abstraction may ensue.
    Moving on up, we scurry about the surface of this planet. Solar systems make up galaxies, Galaxy clusters make up super clusters. There is no telling what the final bird's eye view will yield. Too much science fiction has zoomed out to reveal the entire universe is a speck on the rim of some incalculably vast martini glass. And so on. Of course cosmologists have their own ideas and rightfully so. It's delicious, the thought of how the cosmos continues or doesn't, how it swings around and meets itself or how it doesn't. All I know is that considering the human situation without considering our minuscule aspect in relation to the greater world is as short sighted as considering our situation without looking at our relationship to the tiny.
    We flail in some middle. Our notion of middle is predicated on being able to perceive the smaller than us and the greater than us. We fail when we think we can raze the smaller, dismissing something as inconsequential because of it's small stature. Bacteria can bite us in the ass, wipe us out. Our superiority complex is selective. Again with the large, we think we rule the roost, that we are meant to suck dry the planetary resources we can scavenge. Some think that our industrial activities will render this planet lifeless, that we have the power to make a dent. We have a lot of power indeed and we are ravaging this world. Let us hope that our earth doesn't shrug or shiver, sending us back to the stone age way before we figure out how to reduce our carbon footprint.
    We are small, we are big, we are medium. We move up and down the scale depending on our instruments of perception and our imaginations. Our vision of the worlds 'next door' informs our stance. The more we encourage the view of life on other scales the sooner we'll dump our hubris. We'll see the continuum and our place sliding along it.
    Children are small. They see the world of the big as foreign. We've all been children. We've all had big folks push us around. Some of us can't wait to grow up and do our own pushing. Others grow up and swear they'll do no such thing. There is always someone smaller and someone bigger than us. Time to tip the scales.