Sunday, January 4, 2015

Exploring the All-There-Is

I've received a present that's far too good to keep to myself . . . may I share it with you?

It's 'The Edge of the Sky', the recently-published book by the  award-winning astrophysicist, Roberto Trotta.
'Reading it,' declared the BBC's 'Sky At Night' programme, 'makes you feel good'.
A sentiment with which I whole-heartedly agree.

Roberto Trotta takes the complex subject of cosmology and, by means of a vocabulary limited to the one thousand most commonly used English words, turns his chosen subject into poetry.

You think that's unlikely?  Then, let me give you a flavour . . . when the Milky Way becomes the White Road, a telescope is a Far-Seer, the Universe is known as the All-There-Is, and scientists are student-people, how do you start to describe our galaxy and all that lies beyond?

Roberto Trotta will explain:

"The White Road is made of many, many stars, most of which are too small to be seen with a Far-Seer.  It's hard to imagine how many stars are in the White Road.
If you tried to number them, and you could get a hundred done every second, it would still take you a hundred years to go through them all!
So the question that many student-people were asking was whether the White Road was all there is in the All-There-Is.  And if it wasn't, what was further out, where the White Road stopped?  Was it black, empty space going on without end, or was there something else?"

 And, page by engrossing page, with the use of arresting, basic language the reader travels out into space with the student-people.

Would I have tackled a treatise on the history of space had it been written in accepted, scientific language?
It's highly unlikely.
But, once aboard this deceptively simple spaceship, the beguiled reader is transported on an illuminating journey.

It would be foolish to claim that, by the end, I'd gained a scientific understanding of an enormously complex subject.  But, far more importantly, the book had imbued me with a sense of wonder and opened my mind to previously unconsidered questions.

Through the magic of 'The Edge Of The Sky', I, too, had become a student-person.

"Student-people," Trotta tells his readers, "are different from other people.  They spend their entire life asking questions, and as soon as they have found out the answers, they start all over again with new, harder questions  . . . The best questions for student-people are the ones that begin with Why?  These questions are also the hardest."

Questions and wonder . . . it's what our forebears had in abundance.
They marvelled at the discovery that the Earth was round . . . enthused over the steam-engine . . . listened in awe to the crackling whispers of the first radio . . . watched in incredulity when man took to the air . . . and gazed spellbound at their black-and-white television screens to witness the first moon landing.

But we, in the twenty-first century are not so easily seduced.  We're worldly and sophisticated.  We've seen it all.  We take it for granted.
Or do we?  Or should we?

In this wonderful, lyrical book the reader is given back a lost sense of wonder.  Could there be a more precious gift?

Not only that, for a self-obsessed generation, an age preoccupied with ourselves, our achievements,  and our capabilities, it's both humbling and liberating to travel out into the All-There-Is.  To reach out beyond our normal sight-line and acknowledge this far greater living space, a region in which our Home-World forms but an infinitesimal segment.

As student-people we are part of it . . . wonder at it . . . marvel at what we can scarcely comprehend . . .  and discover, to our surprise, that we're not all that matters in the All-There-Is.
What a relief!