Bound By Einstein


The Milky Way Galaxy as captured by the COBE satellite

Artists create, as Stephen Shore put it, “to communicate, in the medium’s language, a perception, an observation, an understanding,” (see yesterday’s post). I have been pondering my place (and by extension humankind’s) in this Universe. Science and Art have this in common, a search for an understanding of where we belong. This is the idea behind my, Navigation Without Numbers series. My pondering takes me to strange places. Einstein, in his Theory of Special Relativity stated that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. The Universe is so vast that it is measured in multiples of light year units (a parsec, the preferred scientific unit, is about 3.26 light years). A light y ear is the distance that light travels in (of course) a year. Light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second which adds up to 700 million miles per hour. In a year light travels 5,878,625 million miles!

Those are truly vast distances! What do these observations mean for mankind? What it means is that we our trapped in a very, very, minuscule area of the Universe! We are about 8 kiloparsecs (8,000 parsecs or 26,080 light years) away from the center of our own galaxy, The Milky Way. A very short hop on the scale of the Universe. But it would takes us, at speeds achievable today, more than 450,000,000 years to get there! And even if we could reach the speed of light, it would still take us 26,000 years!  And our galaxy is only one (although a very significant one to us humans) of an infinite number of galaxies! I feel like a snail that has a short life span and can travel only very slowly! How much do we miss out on because of our fragility? The Universe has sealed us off like a prisoner in solitary confinement with only a small window to look out on to the vastness of space and time.

An artists task then, my task, is to represent this understanding in the medium of photography. That ours is just a tiny sliver of a much larger assemblage.


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