Yearning for Sense Beyond the Earth

At the start of the day, I was almost sure I was going to write about how the world doesn’t seem like a place that I’m proud to be in.

Depressing Scene

The Indian Left wanted India to be Left behind. The Indian Right didn’t know what was Right anymore.

China, a communist nation, seeks to achieve a nuclear deal with Pakistan, a military dictatorship, which has a proven record of having proliferated nuclear weapons technology.

A group of eight Indian men were attacked violently in what appears to be a racist crime against Indians, not a common occurrence in recent times. But the media headlines in India and the Indian blogosphere continue to be obsessed with whether one Indian, once accused of a crime and now acquitted, gets a visa or not. Controversial racist slurs against Indian celebrities paid to act in shows abroad get wider attention in India than actual racist violence against innocent Indians in a foreign country.

It is at such times, that I feel the world is hopeless. It is not a place where I would be proud to be living. These are the times when I yearn for meaning; I’m yearning for sense, to make it all meaningful, somehow.

My mind becomes very unquiet. That’s when, like rays of sunlight in a darkened room, comes news like this.

NASA Audio Video History on the Web

I used to watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on Doordarshan during the 1980s. I read Cosmos and many other books that increased my fascination of astronomy. I constructed my own homemade telescope in my school days, getting Rs. 75 from my father, and using paper calendar rolls for the tubes. I used it to watch the craters on the Moon and the satellites of Saturn.

Orion_NebulaWith select friends, I used to marvel at the NASA Apollo and Russian Sputnik launches. It was not until 1997 however, that I was able to watch the real action. I used to monitor the Mars Pathfinder’s movement across the Martian landscape with bated breath and indescribable excitement. Every movement of the Pathfinder against a rock, crater, or soil sample was relayed by NASA over the web, and we were enthralled by it all.

For all such aficionados, there is great news. Decades of NASA photos and videos are coming to the web!

The space agency and the Internet Archive said Tuesday that they plan to scan and archive more than 12 million NASA photographs and 100,000 hours of film and video footage for free access online, under an exclusive five-year agreement. As part of the deal, the Internet Archive will host the media album on a new Web site,

Free Home Planetarium: Google Earth is now Google Universe!

This is absolutely wild. I used to have a DOS 3.1 based program in the late 1908s, that depicted the stars in the sky above your actual location, depending on your latitude and longitude. Now, it’s for free. Google Earth has now launched Google Sky! I think it puts the Earth in perspective!

How fascinating and unbelievably true?! Imagine, you can now traverse 100 million stars and 200 million galaxies from your desktop! I’ve spent numerous hours teaching friends, colleagues, and relatives, about the constellations and galaxies, and nebulae during cloudy skies. Imagine being able to do it using your net-connected-PC! Teach your children using Google Sky about astronomy. They might one day become Sunita Williams!

It’s often said that Google Earth and Google Maps took Cartography to the masses. TechCrunch says “Google Sky could well do the same for Astronomy.”Andromeda_Galaxy

I do not know if this is going to bring Astronomy to the masses. There was once a time, when it was also often said, that looking at the heavens brings mankind closer, as he realizes he’s just a speck of dust on an insignificant planet, on an ordinary sized star in one corner of not just his galaxy, but completely irrelevant as far as the universe is concerned. There was a time when this thought did bring men together, either in the spirit of fear, or in the spirit of science. I don’t know if this is going to mean anything at all in today’s world.

In fact, I’m inclined to think quite the opposite. Rather than studying the stars, mankind will be more interested in how the stars positions affect his or her chances of making it with that other person, how his or her chances with this particular career lie, and so on. Will astrologers use Google Earth to pinpoint horoscopes? Is this going to be the modern panchang or Vedic calendar?

Making Sense

I’m sorry this is a long post. My point is, when such news about such great initiatives by human beings come along, I feel hopeful about this world again. That there are some people who understand what it all means. And then I’m proud to be living in this world again! I’m not sure if anyone will understand what I mean, so I guess I may be writing just for myself.

Images Credit Myself (of objects seen by naked eye myself)

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16 thoughts on “Yearning for Sense Beyond the Earth

  1. There’s lots to hope about in the world Mahendra! I love this world, this beautiful fascinating thing called LIFE. The media does tend to focus on the negative…and the sensationally bad. You have heard of the saying, when a dog bites a man it isn’t news, but when a man bites a dog, it is. πŸ™‚
    The beautiful things of life to me are in the flowers, the sky, the mountains, in other words nature. The beautiful things of Life are also a good hot cup of tea in the morning, a quiet read of the newspaper, feeling the rustling paper between your fingers, curling up on the sofa with a good book, being with your family, being in love, well I could go on!But I won’t…I will leave you with your thoughts.

  2. Your post reminds me of my own post about admiring the robotic ingenuity of a grabage collection truck. I was standing on the balcony of my apartment in Chicago and watching the garbage collection truck gather trash bins neatly along the alley, all at the press of a button under the hands of a man. And I was awestruck by the whole system–the whole automatized process, the ingenuity of the invention, the brilliance of that mind who created it, and the level of hygenic convenience this invention brought about for men and neighborhoods. For me, this was beauty, and these are reasons for keeping the hope alive. πŸ™‚

  3. Hey Nita, thanks for commenting! And yes, I’d forgotten the man-bite saying…ha ha ha!

    There is a difference between beautiful and meaningful. I love nature too, but by itself, it is not meaningful. We humans give all these things meaning. (Ah, there goes the topic of what could’ve been one more post!).

    //quiet read of the newspaper, the rustling paper between your fingers…good book…//
    Ah yes, these things are great for us today. I wonder about our family, our children, our next and future generations…will they be proud of us of the kind of world we left them? That is what sometimes makes me unquiet.

    But nevertheless, appreciate your inspiring comments in general about lots of things to hope for! One can’t live without hope, right? And don’t leave me with my thoughts, I wouldn’t have blogged if that was the goal! Just kidding! πŸ˜‰

  4. Ergo, yes, these are the moments that reaffirm the meaning of being man! Much like the fascination and awe that results from watching Rearden Steel’s furnace processing tons of melted steel. I like to call this the “Monadnock Moment”, like when a young man gained the courage to face a lifetime just by looking at what Roark created. (To the Objectively-uninitiated, these are references to Rand’s novels).

    I had exactly such a moment when I played with Google Sky. There are people who understand, even if you may sometimes think you’re alone and feel hopeless.

  5. // Indian celebrities paid to act in shows abroad get wider attention in India than actual racist violence against innocent Indians in a foreign country.//
    World media is covering it. I saw the news and the reaction of German govt on the BBC. The attackers It is believed, that the attackers are Neo Nazis.The Germans have promised to take action.As Nita said-‘There’s lots to hope about in the world Mahendra!’

  6. Prena: Thanks! I’ve lived with a Jew in Germany for a while. He wanted to go to Berlin’s sole synagogue, and we tried to find it for quite a while. Ultimately, we had to approach two armed guards with sten guns outside an official building and ask them. They said that itself was the synagogue and they were protecting it. That was in ’95, six years after the collapse of the Berlin wall.

    My Jewish friend had explained to me about the neo-Nazis. I thought it would be just a matter of time before such movements died. I hoped.

    Now, almost 12 years after that incident, I still read about Neo Nazis attacking not just Jews, but ordinary Indians. Well, I still hope, but sometimes it is difficult and I have doubts.

  7. Mahendra,
    You need to quieten your mind. I strongly recommend Macallan (18 years): 100 ml in a wide glass with 15 mL of tepid water.
    If you can be attended to by people who can kaam, sorry, calm you, it would blow your mind, and then some!

  8. Hey thanks for the advice, Rambodoc! I’m not much a fan of whisky, in this case I’ve the communist spirit!:-)

    But what about the cool astronomy stuff I’ve written about?! I don’t want my unquietness to overshadow that!

  9. hey – this google sky sounds like a cool thing to see on my mac at home! This astronomy post seems like a strange coincidence considering precisely 2 minutes ago I now mooched off an astronomy picture from nasa for my profile/avatar picture πŸ˜‰

    You unquietness – I can certainly understand. I feel the same way at times. But w.r.t to the natural expectation that humans generally have “everything must have a meaning, all this must have some higher purpose, one that I can live with“. It sounds so naturally true – but I wonder if it is really a ruse, a mirage. For one, isn’t it at the root of the need for religion and God πŸ˜‰ ?

  10. The universe well and truly does put things in perspective. I also listen to Yo Yo Ma’s cello after I read about something distressing.
    Google sky is awesome news. I used to borrow a friend’s Collins Gen guide to the night sky when I used to star gaze. Back in 1990, it was 90 bucks and I couldnt afford it.

  11. Whenever you get bogged by these global problems, think about me. All the problems will look small then and you ll be relieved… well relatively πŸ˜‰

  12. Hey Arun, nice avatar! You are right, the desire to search for meaning is at the root of all philosophy – religion is nothing but mankind’s early attempts at philosophy!

    Ashok: I joined an astronomy club at that time, so had access to plenty of books, charts, maps, and real 8″ to 12″ telescopes!

    Oemar: πŸ™‚

  13. I suspect meaning is something one has to make for oneself. Others might help us with that, as when we read or see or hear something illuminating. But ultimately it is up to us to each discover his or her own meaning in this life.

    By the way, a while back, I chanced to see a fighter jet performing some low altitude maneuvers less than a few hundred feet off the ground and close enough to see the wing markings. The pilot was really showing his stuff. As he put the jet through one impossibly tight maneuver after the other, I was overcome with the thought of what amazing expertise, will and excellence had gone into creating his machine. For a moment, I believed nothing, nothing at all was impossible for humanity.

  14. Prerna: One more thing I forgot to note in my response: does the fact that, the world media is paying more attention to racist attacks on innocent Indians in foreign countries than the Indian media, say something?

    Paul: You are absolutely right – it is up to each one of us! Thanks for sharing the experience about the fighter jet. Unlike most people, I get this same experience everytime I fly. Everytime.

    I just keep thinking about the Wright brothers, Leonardo Da Vinci’s visionary drawings, and so on. While I keep wondering how they were ridiculed in their time, and keep myself engrossed with these thoughts while observing the Quietness of the engines as I cruise at 30,000 feet above the ground, the other passengers are fidgeting and complaining about the bad service, food, and quality of in-flight entertainment!

    I think it is very unfortunate that we human beings take human achievement for granted in so many ways!

  15. Mahendra, I think humans have a long way to go — there is much work to be done, for instance, before our species figures out how to best live on this earth. Yet at the same time, our amazing ingenuity, among other traits of ours, gives me great hope that we will indeed survive and flourish in the long term.

  16. Paul: For some reason, your comment was identified as spam by WordPress, I don’t know why. Hence the late response.

    Yes, we do have a long way to go, but we have come a long way as well! And of course, I share your hope!

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