Sunday, 21 May 2017

A new existentialism

Images returned to Earth by the Saturn probe Cassini have been reminding people, before they scroll on to the next tweet, how amazing our universe is.

Saturn amazes us because of its beautiful rings, its size relative to us and its distance from us. But Saturn isn't even all that special: there are billions upon billions of other planets out there. It's the infrequency with which we think about Saturn, and the universe in general, that makes it amazing to us.

Things we encounter every day don't amaze us. Apples, for example, don't amaze us. Why? Their colours are beautiful, their shapes pleasing, their structure in some respects more interesting than a planet's, and their origins and functions certainly so.

Apples don't amaze us because we encounter them all the time: they "grow on trees" as the English phrase for something common and largely worthless goes. "Familiarity breeds contempt", as another saying puts it.

Fruits' sizes are less worthy of note to us, but that's only because fruits co-evolved with the animals that ate them (and thereby helped to spread their seeds): to something the size of a bacterium, an apple is as vast and unfathomable as Saturn is for us. An electron micrograph of an apple's surface is every bit as contoured, ridged and fascinating as a satellite image of a planet's surface:

For further inspiration, I've written before about how Tom Walker's Still Life With Exploding Glass takes a collection of familiar still-life objects, including an apple, and transforms them into something celestial:

Mall Galleries

My point of course has nothing to do with apples. It's that the existence of anything at all is amazing, but we forget because we're too busy trying to pay rent, get laid and stuff experiences into our mouths and eyes.

Well, we're in need of an ideology powerful and convincing enough to stop us trashing the planet, killing each other and ourselves, and going crazy with boredom once we've covered our basic needs to feed and fuck. Maybe wide-eyed awe at sheer existence would be a good one?

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