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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  • 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. 🙂
    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.

  • 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. 🙂

  • 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! 😉

  • 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.

  • // 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!’

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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 😉

    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 😉 ?

  • 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.

  • 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 😉

  • 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: 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!