Friday, September 5, 2014

Sanctuary: Cielo Stellato

Do you ever have weeks where you feel distracted and busy and unproductive, running about from task to task without ever getting the resolution you need, certain that you are just spinning your wheels?

And have you ever taken a break--a half-hour, an hour, more--to go someplace else, some hidden place just for you, and has that ever helped you come back with a fresh perspective and a new outlook?

My life is about to change, and get a whole lot harder. I don't know if I'll be able to "get away from it all" while I'm at school and need to be doing things. But one hears of people going to "their quiet place" and finding peace and solace between their ears, and building quiet places, sanctuaries, into one's head seems a worthy investment.

Of course the logical extension is to externalize what you've internalized, so that if your mind is too full of your worries, you can still access the things that will pull you back to the quiet place. Hence this post, which will be the first of many, if I can swing it. Let's see how this one works.

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Note on the title: I love Italian words.

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Hubble Deep Field

Every point of light in this image. Ever single speck of photon radiation you can see, everything in this image, is not a star, but a galaxy. All this from a single speck of blackness that, to the naked eye, looks to be completely and utterly empty. The Hubble Telescope stared at that speck of nothingness for four months, gathering all it could, grabbing every speck of light to pass its lens, until it came out with this amazing image.

Looking at this image makes me cry, every single time. It's like looking into some sort of primordial soup, like seeing the countless entities that swarm in a microscope slide. We're looking back in time, possibly to before the universe even existed. It takes light a long time to travel, as fast as it may be, simply because the void between galaxies, even between stars, is so incomprehensibly huge. By the time the light from these far off galaxies reaches us they're probably long gone. Nothing more than spectral after effects etched into out night sky, hanging forever in eternity. These are the most distant objects we've ever photographed, more than 13 billion light years away.

Utterly beautiful.


I read the above when it was posted over four years ago, and it still haunts me.

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Telescope - Starset

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"Is there any sort of science you do approve of?" said Harry. "Medicine, maybe?"

"Space travel," said Professor Quirrell. "But the Muggles seem to be dragging their feet on the one project which might have let wizardkind escape this planet before they blow it up."

Harry nodded. "I'm a big fan of the space program too. At least we have that much in common."

Professor Quirrell looked at Harry. Something flickered in the professor's eyes. "I will have your word, your promise and your oath never to speak of what follows."

"You have it," Harry said immediately.

"See to it that you keep your oath or you will not like the results," said Professor Quirrell. "I will now cast a rare and powerful spell, not on you, but on the classroom around us. Stand still, so that you do not touch the boundaries of the spell once it has been cast. You must not interact with the magic which I am maintaining. Look only. Otherwise I will end the spell." Professor Quirrell paused. "And try not to fall over."

Harry nodded, puzzled and anticipatory.

Professor Quirrell raised his wand and said something that Harry's ears and mind couldn't grasp at all, words that bypassed awareness and vanished into oblivion.

The marble in a short radius around Harry's feet stayed constant. All the other marble of the floor vanished, the walls and ceilings vanished.

Harry stood on a small circle of white marble in the midst of an endless field of stars, burning terribly bright and unwavering. There was no Earth, no Moon, no Sun that Harry recognized. Professor Quirrell stood in the same place as before, floating in the midst of the starfield. The Milky Way was already visible as a great wash of light and it grew brighter as Harry's vision adjusted to the darkness.

The sight wrenched at Harry's heart like nothing he had ever seen.

"Are we... in space...?"

"No," said Professor Quirrell. His voice was sad, and reverent. "But it is a true image."

Tears came into Harry's eyes. He wiped them away frantically, he would not miss this for some stupid water blurring his vision.

The stars were no longer tiny jewels set in a giant velvet dome, as they were in the night sky of Earth. Here there was no sky above, no surrounding sphere. Only points of perfect light against perfect blackness, an infinite and empty void with countless tiny holes through which shone the brilliance from some unimaginable realm beyond.

In space, the stars looked terribly, terribly, terribly far away.

Harry kept on wiping his eyes, over and over.

"Sometimes," Professor Quirrell said in a voice so quiet it almost wasn't there, "when this flawed world seems unusually hateful, I wonder whether there might be some other place, far away, where I should have been. I cannot seem to imagine what that place might be, and if I can't even imagine it then how can I believe it exists? And yet the universe is so very, very wide, and perhaps it might exist anyway? But the stars are so very, very far away. It would take a long, long time to get there, even if I knew the way. And I wonder what I would dream about, if I slept for a long, long time..."

Though it felt like sacrilege, Harry managed a whisper. "Please let me stay here awhile."

Professor Quirrell nodded, where he stood unsupported against the stars.

It was easy to forget the small circle of marble on which you stood, and your own body, and become a point of awareness which might have been still, or might have been moving. With all distances incalculable there was no way to tell.

There was a time of no time.

And then the stars vanished, and the classroom returned.
--Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, ch. 20, by Eliezer Yudkowsky



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Good night.

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See also: Hubble Picture Gallery.

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