A truncated schedule this week as I attend to a pressing project that needs all my attention. So no post today or Wednesday, but back Thursday with a look at the Alpha Centauri planet hunt and the still-unresolved question of Centauri Bb. For the short interval, I’ll leave you with this quote from Lee Billings on the nature of deep time and genuine perspective.
Deep time is something that even geologists and their generalist peers, the earth and planetary scientists, can never fully grow accustomed to. The sight of a fossilized form, perhaps the outline of a trilobite, a leaf, or a saurian footfall can still send a shiver through their bones, or excavate a trembling hollow in the chest that breath cannot fill. They can measure celestial motions and list Earth’s lithic annals, and they can map that arcane knowledge onto familiar scales, but the humblest do not pretend that minds summoned from and returned to dust in a century’s span can truly comprehend the solemn eons in their passage. Instead, they must in a way learn to stand outside of time, to become momentarily eternal. Their world acquires dual, overlapping dimensions— one ephemeral and obvious, the other enduring and hidden in plain view. A planet becomes a vast machine, or an organism, pursuing some impenetrable purpose through its continental collisions and volcanic outpourings. A man becomes a protein-sheathed splash of ocean raised from rock to breathe the sky, an eater of sun whose atoms were forged on an anvil of stars. Beholding the long evolutionary succession of Earthly empires that have come and gone, capped by a sliver of human existence that seems so easily shaved away, they perceive the breathtaking speed with which our species has stormed the world. Humanity’s ascent is a sudden explosion, kindled in some sapient spark of self-reflection, bursting forth from savannah and cave to blaze through the biosphere and scatter technological shrapnel across the planet, then the solar system, bound for parts unknown. From the giant leap of consciousness alongside some melting glacier, it proved only a small step to human footprints on the Moon. The modern era, luminous and fleeting, flashes like lightning above the dark, abyssal eons of the abiding Earth. Immersed in a culture unaware of its own transience, students of geologic time see all this and wonder whether the human race will somehow abide, too.
Lee Billings, from Five Billion Years of Solitude (2013), p. 145.
Image: The Cliff, Etretat, Sunset, by Claude Monet, a work that has always somehow transcended time for me and inspired thoughts on Billings’ ‘abiding Earth.’