Space and Self

Part 1

I cannot help but compare the human search for identity occurring in wild ways right now with the human exploration of space. I read a few essays this past week by philosophers and astrophysicists about space exploration, and I think it is a fascinating thing to address. The similarities between the search for the meaning and possession of the universe parallels the search for the meaning and possession of ourselves.

We don’t want to accept ourselves and the mystery of life and jump into it, we’d rather struggle against the nature of reality and try and flee ourselves of limitations and boundaries. Our desires for infinity are good. But this world is finite. The struggle is inconvenient and uncomfortable, yes. But that doesn’t mean it is meaningless. We set out to explore identities. Are we supposed to be comfortable in our own skin? The tension between my desires for beauty, truth, and goodness and the imperfect reality that I am placed in stirs up existential anxieties and confusion within me. I don’t think proper response is to blame this or that. Maybe this is just part of being human. Maybe this is a large part of being human. We can run from it, or step in to it.

We desire the freedom from restraints and limitations, but perhaps these are necessary. Not oppressive, but necessary. How could one make sense of the universe if they float throughout space? You lose all ties with concrete reality to filter your human experience through in order to make sense of the universe. The only way to view the universe and begin to make sense of it is by standing firmly on the solid ground of Earth. Not lost in middle of the ocean, prisoner to the winds and the waves. But viewing the vast expanse of space from the shore of the cosmic ocean.

Yet, we struggle tirelessly to find the Archimedean point. The vantage point by which we view the totality of the object in all its dimensions, thus being able to know it completely. The space exploration centers itself upon the quest for this point. However, we seem like wanderers in the desert chasing the promise of an oasis we see on the horizon. Only to discover more sand when we get there, as another mirage of water appears in the distance. I bet if this person stopped where they were and dug deep enough they would find water exactly where they were standing. The water would be dirty and not ideal, but it would exist. The self identity exploration centers itself upon reality as its object. Working towards the promise of a better vantage point that will reveal reality in more dimensions to them. Only to find out that this Archimedean point they desire is only somewhere else just beyond their grasp. These explorations are focused on shedding all senses of belonging, of being. We do this to gain everything, but we end up losing everything.

This quote is from a 1963 essay addressing the space exploration by German philosopher Hannah Arendt. Brilliant, brilliant woman.

For the conquest of space, the search for a point outside the earth from which it would be possible to move, to unhinge, as it were, the planet itself, is no accidental result of the modern age’s science. This was from its very beginnings not a “natural” but a universal science, it was not a physics but an astrophysics which looked upon the earth from a point in the universe. In terms of this development, the attempt to conquer space means that man hopes he will be able to journey to the Archimedean point which he anticipated by sheer force of abstraction and imagination. However, in doing so, he will necessarily lose his advantage. All he can find is the Archimedean point with respect to the earth, but once arrived there and having acquired this absolute power over his earthly habitat, he would need a new Archimedean point, and so ad infinitum. In other words, man can only get lost in the immensity of the universe, for the only true Archimedean point would be the absolute void behind the universe.”

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