Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The limits of your language are the limits of your world


Here is a recent APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day). The title on the APOD site is "Globules in the Running Chicken Nebula."

Something about the incongruity of the prosaic "Why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-road?" title and the awesomeness of the image rendered me speechless. Talk about bringing heaven down to earth!

The Running Chicken Nebula takes its name from its perceived shape (although I don't see it). The nebula spans dozens of light-years in the Milky Way Galaxy, about 6000 light-years from the Solar System. The dark globules floating at the center of the image might be other star systems in the making.

Language is not adequate to describe the universe visible to our telescopes. Awesome? These days a selfie is "awesome." Mind-blowing? Last weekend's movie was "mind-blowing."

No, really. You can search the dictionary and not find sufficiently capacious language to describe what we see. Which means we cannot fully intellectually grasp what we are looking at.

Make the image of the Running Chicken Nebula as large as you can. Fill your screen with it. Then, unless you are a Dante Alighieri, be silent.