As the year draws to a close, and with the new year looming before us, it's a time to try to gain a little perspective on ourselves and our place in the world.  I've always been interested in issues of scale and how to better understand (and communicate) these ideas.  Things like the classic Charles and Ray Eames movie "Powers of Ten" which portrayed the sense of scale from human to the universe and then back down to the microscopic in jumps of powers of ten (at 10 to the 24th meters- 100 million light years across- "this emptiness is normal, the richness of our own neighborhood is the exception"), and "The Paper Clips Project" which was a middle school project which sought to collect six million paper clips to give a sense of the scale of what it meant when one said the abstract words "six million Jews died in the Holocaust", have fascinated me.  Of course, I was one of those kids who believed that when you rode "Adventure Through Inner Space" in Tomorrowland at Disneyland, you really shrank! - well, at least until my brother reached out and touched the giant "snowflake" and said "It's not even cold!".

I found a couple of things more recently that give some interesting bases for scale that might offer some slightly different perspectives than we usually consider around this time.

"If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel" is a fascinating webpage that has the solar system to a "tediously accurate scale" with the Moon being = 1 pixel.  Worth remembering that our solar system is actually a fairly dense space relative to interstellar space (which is the majority of the universe).  Don't cheat and use the planet shortcut at the top of the page- scroll manually or you'll miss some amusing commentary and more importantly, the fuller experience of scrolling your way through the vast spaces between the brief encounters with something in our solar system.

"10,000 Year Clock" is the website for an interesting Earth art project that has set out to reframe time a bit to something outside the normal human scale.  I think this project is fascinating, and not least because I think if we had a better feel for the length of time it really takes for things to change, we'd learn to not worry so much about radical change in the short term, and focus on the smaller changes we can more effectively do ourselves in the time and space local to our lives.

So here's to a year past, hopefully one of growth- and to a year ahead- one of promise and opportunity.  May we see our place and make the most of it while we are there.


Ymarsakar said...

The real Operation Paperclip was a very interesting look at untold American history post WW2.

Gringo said...

The Paper Clips Project" which was a middle school project which sought to collect six million paper clips to give a sense of the scale of what it meant when one said the abstract words "six million Jews died in the Holocaust", have fascinated me.

Ironically the once-secret operation to bring German scientists and engineers to the US after WW2 was called.Operation Paperclip.

Grim said...

Excellent post, Douglas. This is a topic I find fascinating, this idea of scale.

douglas said...

Thanks, Grim. To some extent, I think it's an impenetrable thing. I also believe though, that we can improve, however meagerly, our sense of the scale of things.

Ymarsakar said...

It wasn't officially called Operation paperclip, that was its nickname based on how operatives used paperclips to illegally smuggle in German migrants using a paperclip on their files to bypass immigration and Presidential authorization. Truman had an operation to take in German boys and girls, but he wanted them de Nazified first. That NEVER HAPPENED due to operation paperclip, lol, which was a deeper layer of the actual German loot project. Germans had higher tech than Americans.

As for the moon, the theory of gravity doesn't even have a working model of the Earth-Sun-Moon system using physical models. None of it works. Solar, lunar, eclipses. None of it works. Orbital mechanics, none of it works. Mathematically, the equation doesn't parse. It's almost as bad as the Dark Matter patch.