I’ve been fascinated by space since I was a kid – and I can prove it! I was proud owner of a giant encyclopedia called “Space,” a book entitled “Physics of The Cosmos,” and a picture laden hardback called “Our Solar System,” – yet that was just a few of them, and almost all of these were inherited from my Great Auntie Nora. I say inherited in the most liberal sense because what I really meant is that I robbed them from her house without permission. In actual fact I had received my “inheritance” before she died, she bought me a microscope; because she knew that small Olan at aged 8 had a penchant for science.
I wonder what she would think of me now on the way to starting a PhD? She loved science herself, taught maths, latin, Irish, English and science at a convent in Cork and before there’s any question of me being a victim of nostalgia I barely knew her beyond visiting her bedside in her very late years. Apparently she was a tyrant in both her profession and personal life – but she’s been the only tyrant in my life who has encouraged my interest in science and space, even if she never knew it.
Naturally then, you would assume that I was mesmerised by Interstellar? That’s true, but not for reasons you think. I saw it months ago now, and it still affects me – probably a lot more than it affects the average person. Sometimes I don’t think I’ll ever recover from it – because I’ve been agonising about my own place in the world and my contribution to it since then. Thinking about ones place in the world is hard enough, but having to think about your place in the universe is something altogether more distressing – you’re just a tiny blip in the lifetime of the world, and you probably don’t even register on the universe’s time clock, and if the world dies without us ever leaving it, everything will lay in ruins, no life, no language, no culture, all our collective efforts will to be forgotten, our pale blue dot in the universe will be extinguished.
What a heavy burden to bear. It’s this burden that I was reminded of when I sat through interstellar. That so many of our days are wasted in trivial activities of selfishness, the ultimate embodiment of individual organisms who have failed to master global altruism who could be capable of so much more but lack the social cohesion to achieve anything meaningful in the time needed.
That’s a heavy pill to swallow right? It haunts me – and is probably why I am essentially devoting my PhD to investigating the reasons our brain cannot deal with this responsibility, because some day I hope to remedy it. Are we biologically designed to consume, and if so, how do we try to reverse it? In typical philosophical fashion, I am asking a lot of questions and not providing many answers and I am sorry about that – but some day I hope to.
Interstellar reminded me, that there is something far beyond our own lives that is more important than anything else. We bear the cultural weight of previous generations and a responsibility to ensure that this culture persists – and with that, the reluctance to explore space further perplexes me. On a planet that is essentially being destroyed by pollution and overconsumption, how can we ever seriously hope to persist into the future?
What do we really mean when we speak about the future anyway? Our brains are hardwired into thinking that the future will always be, no matter what because based on our past experience it always has been so to suggest that our future could cease to exist is mind boggling right? But that’s exactly what I am suggesting.
I’m certainly not suggesting we blast the population of Earth into space – but I am suggesting we choose those few who’re willing to take the journey and do what we can to get them there.