Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Adjacent Universes

A couple of weeks ago, on a mission to hit over 10,000 steps on a normally inert Sunday, I went downtown to explore one of my favorite museums, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). It's one museum past the arguably more popular National Air and Space Museum as you head in the direction of the U.S. Capitol.

I also got to try out the camera on my new phone. Not bad, once imported into editing software.

Anyway, in addition to the dancing in the Potomac Atrium, which is always colorful and fun, my favorite space in NMAI is the Universe gallery, a place to explore the relationship between humanity and our environment in a mystical and emotional way. As you wander under the starlit ceiling, you're invited to stop at video monitors, sit on a quiet bench built for maybe three or four folks, and watch a little animated story about how the elements of the universe came to be. There are jealous sisters who choose between two stars to be their husbands, and there is a raven who stole the sun away from the greedy chief who kept it for himself.

Connection to the stars and the earth must be somewhere in our DNA. We anthropomorphize as we gaze at stars and see hunters, bears, ships, all elements of our human stories. This connection is comforting even in its lack of scientific reason.

I didn't give myself a lot of time on that hot Sunday afternoon, but I had enough energy to go next door to see what Air and Space had to say about the universe, as the gallery is conveniently located on the first floor.

As you enter the gallery, chaotic with crowds gathering around various universe-exploring instruments and tributes to the inventors who invented them, you are encouraged to take out your smartphone and download an app to listen to the audio tour (I didn't; I'm new to smartphoning and don't trust apps - but that's another blog). As an alternative, you could bend down and read very long text captions accompanying the exhibits. No place to sit, and too many people trying to engage at the same time.

I thought as long as I was there I'd look for the astronomer I've lately been obsessed with, thanks to Timeless, the TV series that recently besmirched the good name of David Rittenhouse, but unfortunately he was absent from the exhibit. I visit his portrait whenever I go to the Smithsonian's Portrait Gallery.

David Rittenhouse, by Charles Willson Peale

Anyway, I was just struck by how different these experiences were, not just of our conception of the universe but also of our communication of it. Both human-centered, but in different ways. A&S celebrates our intellectual accomplishments in reaching for the stars while distancing us from the experience. Meanwhile, NMAI celebrates our connection to nature and the spirituality of that connection.

Maybe we all are inspired differently We all see something different when we look up. But the point is, as Neil deGrasse Tyson advised, Look up.


love, hosaa
looking up, where there be inspiration

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