“And Yet it Moves”: Galileo’s echo, 400 years later
06.04.2018, 9:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

image by Copernicus, Library of Congress

We are 14 days into our Turning into the Night project and it already feels like we are engaged in a life and perspective-altering project.  Here are a few zuihitsu-like musings from within the process.

It has been relatively easy to conform the structure of our lives to the form of the project. We have left evening events early, in order to be away from artificial lights by the time the sun “sets.”

Each evening, we have closely observed the transition into darkness. So far, we’ve been up at or before dawn every day. Our particular Earth-location’s transitions from night to day and day to night has quickly and easily captured our interest and imaginations. They are now events that we look forward to twice a day. These transitions have started to register for us less “times” of day and more a the literal, ongoing movement of the planet. Pausing to observe them is restful. And it’s becoming easier to sense and experience the Earth’s spin in real time than to try to imagine it or analyze it cognitively. And we’re gaining an increasing, background awareness (and sensation) of Earthly movement throughout the day.

This has lead us to wonder to what degree most educated people alive today know in/through their bodies what Copernicus, so controversially concluded in 1543? The Copernican Revolution placed the sun, rather than the Earth, at the centre of our solar system. But how did this change public imagination? Was everyone suddenly dreaming at night of Earth moving around the sun? What real, embodied meaning did this scientific reality hold for the public? It seems to be a reasonable question to ask today, given how humans presently inhabit the planet, and given the quickening pace of the Anthropocene?  

In 1610, Western-encultured minds had a second chance to reorient themselves in relation to the cosmos. This is the year Galileo published findings that described his telescope observations. This time, it wasn’t just Copernicus’ math that proved we Earthlings were not the center of the Universe. It was empirical observation that anyone with sight could see. Many Western cultures were still not quite ready to look through the telescope. Thinking at cosmic scales of time and space quickly bleeds into matters of spirit, and Galileo was subjected to the Roman inquisition because of his work. Heliocentrism contradicted Holy Scripture (i.e. Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that “And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place”). Galileo was found guilty of heresy and placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life (see Losey’s film version of Bertolt Brecht’s play Galileo). Even after Galileo was arrested, he still could not help but utter the poetic words, “And yet it moves.”

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that, for thousands of years by this time, numerous ancient cultures (see the Tibetan Kalachakra, Australian Aboriginals, Anasazi, Hopewell cultureDaoists and more…) had been closely observing stars and movements of celestial bodies without the theological struggle. Without the mind/body split so deeply embedded in many Western ways of thinking and perceiving, many ancient cultures based their ways of knowing on embodied practices, and they built physical sites that materialized their embodied cognitions and observations of the cosmos in architecture and sculpture, and in their daily life on Earth. This wasn’t just science, it was life. And for many humans, it still is today.

It took nearly 100 years and the work of Newton before Copernicus’s conclusion about Earth’s place in the solar system to become broadly accepted in the West. In 1924 Hubble helped Western minds to project imaginations even further — proving that even the Milky Way is not the center of the Universe. And more recently, theories of the multiverse ask us to stretch imaginations even further.

Over the past 14 days, we have realized the degree to which technology and media have been directly inhibiting our abilities to pay attention to and note planetary change and movement. It’s becoming clear to us that media devices and their illuminated screens truly block our attunements to, and curiosities for, attending to the world and ourselves in it. The devices offer up infinite amounts of distraction from the fact of the embodied world that shapes us and that we shape in turn. A few weeks ago we might have asked, why sit and pay attention to the movement of the planet when we “know” it moves already? Now we ask, what kind of knowing do many of us alive today actually have about the fact that the ground of our lives spins?

Werner Herzog’s recent film, Lo and Behold, explores the effects of the internet on human interaction in modern society. In the film, Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss hesitates to make predictions about the future, but aptly states, “becoming your own filter will be the challenge of the future, because the filter isn’t provided … the internet is going to propagate out of control and people will have to be their own controls.” In many ways, we feel that Turning into the Night is turning us into our own filters. In doing so, perhaps previously obstructed Earthly/Cosmic signals that we suspect could be vitally inspiring and practically useful within the Anthropocene will make their ways into our awareness.

Also during this past week, we realized that about two months ago, we missed an important date. On March 11, 2013 we wrote a post entitled, The Next Five Years, Passing ThroughIn it, we speculated on what might be arriving in the coming five years. We were ready to reorient our practice in order to pay attention to and note the anticipated, but as yet unknown changes that we felt were afoot, and we announced that we would be “enacting an updated frame” for our work. We were motivated in part by our sense that, between 2013 and 2018, humans would, grasp the speed, scale, and material realities of planetary change events more concretely.  Arguably, thoughts, dreams, actions and creative gestures that we humans make in response to our first inklings and shared experiences of Anthropocene events will set the stage for their potential consequences.”

Five years later, we feel that this has indeed become the case. In ways that were not yet concretely real in 2013, there is now widespread awareness of global-environmental change, even though the “potential consequences” that will result from this change remain far from certain.

In late April we were guest presenters at a symposia at Hunter College Art Galleries, held in honor of the environmental artist Juan Downey. At the conclusion of our conversation, a member of the audience asked us about the ethics of our commitment to thinking at a planetary scale. Couldn’t such thinking remove us from urgent, local realities? So much work needs to be done right here on the ground, in the human-social world.

We answered this question with an anecdote from a residency we had in Wendover, UT. Despite the seeming indifference of geologic to the social and political issues of humans, over the past 13 years of our practice, we have found the geologic has offered us useful and relevant ethical perspectives. Perhaps these perspectives are something similar to what humans were offered (and were so afraid of) in Copernicus’ and Galileo’s geo-cosmological observations. When we think at/within large planetary scales of time and change, we open ourselves to learning about and from our deep embeddedness within the world/planet that we humans share with living and non-living beings. And one of the most consequential things we learn is, the world/planet is more than just we humans.

The morning after the symposium, an additional but important response to this question occurred to us, one that has emerged from our work over the last five years. The process of our art practice requires us to take the time to sit with and attempt to feel for ourselves the vast time, change, and movements of geologic and cosmic materials and forces. Doing so, we’ve come to realize that the “indifference” of the geologic “to us humans” is, in fact, inextricable from how very well the geologic “takes care” of us. We are the cosmic and the geologic. What else are these lungs breathing oxygen? These retinas receiving photons from the sun? This iron composing our blood, and this calcium of our bones There is no separation between we humans and the cosmic mystery that we exquisitely evolved with. Humans are showered with geo-cosmological affordances with each breath.

The planet has readily supplied these affordances but it’s up to us to actually acknowledge them and scale our actions as a species in response. Perceiving our drinkable (to us) water, breathable air, living soil through the lenses of vast geo/cosmo timeframes, we quickly see our species’ existence on Earth as the rare exception it is. By failing to have an embodied awareness of how the local links to the geo/cosmo in our daily lives, we miss opportunities to engage such deeply meaningful material realities. Humanity’s distractions from those realities could be one of the biggest challenges to finding social-political means for navigating the Anthropocene.


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