A song from Jupiter

It’s been a couple weeks since last blogging. The truth is, my creative blog juices had completely stalled, in large part because I found myself going down an intellectual/spiritual rabbit hole in Alice’s Wonderland and just couldn’t make sense of what I believe anymore. But a high school friend of mine sent me a message earlier this week which broke that inertia. She sent me a RadioTimes link to some recordings from the Voyager space probe, and suggested I crank them up on a good sound system.

Which I did. And was blown away. Just sitting back and listening to these sounds from the cosmos unleashed a train of introspective thoughts. But before sharing those, let me explain what’s going on in those sound tracks. And as you continue to read, can I suggest that you too connect to the link given above, and turn up the sound? Give these thoughts of mine a bit of ambience?

Obviously, in space you can’t hear anything. Hearing involves your ear-drums vibrating back and forth at different frequencies, and something has to make them vibrate. Normally, that something is the air all around us, but it can also be water (cue the classic submarine ‘pings’ and whale songs) or even solid stuff (earthquake victims in the recent Nepal earthquake have been located by making tapping sounds on the broken walls and pipes). But there’s not enough ‘stuff’ in space to carry any sound. (Contrary to what most people think, space is not a perfect vacuum … it’s got a few hydrogen atoms per cubic meter on average, and you’ll find an occasional other kind of atom if you scoop out a big enough volume of it.)

But what these astrophysicists did was record the electromagnetic radiation … vibrations in space … coming from the planets in our solar system by a satellite probe we’d lobbed out there 35 years ago, and then play those recordings back at a slower speed so we could hear them.

It’s an amazing experience. Sounds very much like the eerie background sounds in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, or a bit like what you might hear in a Buddhist temple. I’d blogged previously about a different set of ‘sounds’ coming from a comet on which we humans clumsily landed a space probe.

Once again, as I listened to these ‘sounds’ recorded by NASA’s Voyager probe as it zipped past Jupiter, Earth, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, I can hear the words of the Psalmist:

            “The heavens declare the glory of God;
             the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
             Day after day they pour forth speech;
             night after night they reveal knowledge.
             They have no speech, they use no words;
             no sound is heard from them.
             Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
             their words to the ends of the world.”

Listening to those recordings just brought home to me so strongly the point that there’s so much going on around us about which we’re unaware because we’re so limited. Those planets have been ‘singing’ away for millennia, and we’ve been completely deaf to it, and would continue to be so if some smart Homo sapiens hadn’t developed a hearing aid for the rest of us.

In what way(s) did this get me thinking about our human limitations?

Our ears hear only a fraction of the frequencies that make up sound. Apparently women can hear slightly higher frequencies than men, but dogs hear frequencies far beyond even them. In fact, ten times higher! And even a dog’s ability is dwarfed by that of dolphins. In the other direction, elephants can hear frequencies far lower than we can, and do so through their feet! Peacocks make a sound with their tail feathers which is too low for us to hear, and they channel that sound like a spotlight by cupping their tail feathers into the shape of a satellite dish.

The same for our sense of vision. We see only a tiny fraction of the colors of “light” … the ones in a typical rainbow. Once again, animals can sense colors far above and below our range of perception. But even they can’t sense the full breadth of the electromagnetic rainbow, which includes gamma rays and X-rays on the one end, and microwaves and radio waves on the other end.

The exact same things could be said about our sense of taste and smell (they’re really the same thing), and I could use examples like blood hounds, drug-sniffer dogs and shark’s ability to taste blood in water.

Sense of touch: ditto.

And it isn’t just those classic five senses of ours which are so limited. Most of us can only conceive of four dimensions (three in space, one in time), and a minority of us (myself not included) might claim an understanding of certain other dimensions, but only in a mathematical sense. As I said in my last blog, I can’t find a definitive answer on how many dimensions there are, but the numbers range up to 18!

And then there’s our lifespan in the context of the great scheme of things. Despite our best efforts at keeping healthy, we last ‘just a blink of an eye’.

We are just so puny and limited.

And this recalled to me another introspection from the Psalmist

            “When I consider your heavens,
             the work of your fingers,
             the moon and the stars,
             which you have set in place,
             what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
             human beings that you care for them?”

If you do believe that God exists, and that he’s actually stopped in his tracks and turned his head down at us, you’ve just got to ask: “Why? Why would he bother?”

If you discount the existence of God, I have to ask you: “How can you be so sure?” We are so limited. We perceive so little of what’s going on all around us, and what has been going on for millennia. Our brains are incapable of containing a full understanding of the universe, and our feeble attempts at trying to do so are merely scratching the surface. Don’t be so sure of what you can’t know.

“I’m telling you, Larry, no Amoeba in the entire history of bacteriadom has ever found positive proof for humans. We’ve been to every corner of the pond. Put out our hairy feelers and chemical sensors, and not a single bug can ever point a pseudopod and say ‘There! There they are!’ Well, OK, every now and then some crackpot bug will claim to have encountered one. But really, get a grip. No one really believes them. There’s just no such thing as humans.”

Seriously: how would a bacterium ever try to prove our existence, or claim to have a relationship with one of us? Even the brightest among them, using the most advanced technologies available to them, would be completely unable to reveal our existence, but would instead be totally at the mercy of us humans to reveal ourselves to them.

Finally, I have to ask again the question I posed in my last blog: “what would the relationship between a 4-dimensional being (Homo sapiens) and a 10-dimensional Being look like?”

I hope you too are trying to find answers to questions like these.

Let me know if you come up with any insights.


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2 thoughts on “A song from Jupiter

  1. 🙂 Interesting piece. I am really enjoying those recordings… I think this might be my new go-to sounds to help me fall asleep when I am having insomnia. I agree with you that human perception is quite limited. I have no way of knowing whether or not there is a god out there anymore than an amoeba could be sure that humans exist. However, if humans wanted to try to reveal themselves to amoeba, they could devise ways to do so. This is why I assume that, if god/gods do exist, they are not particularly interested in us. If they were, surely they could find a way to actually interact with us less ambiguously than what we’ve seen so far. What do you think?


  2. The short answer is: I agree with you that sometimes it seems it would be a good thing if God interacted with us less ambiguously. But then again, think about what happens when people claim to have actually heard God’s voice or saw him … we write them off as crazy. Personally, I don’t think our 4-dimensional existence was ever meant to include our interacting with him as if he were just another good buddy. On the other hand, there’s a mystery in trying to find God, and understand him. Like that magical period in many developing love relationships when you’re trying to catch their eye and to get to know everything about them. The uncertainty, and the hopefulness. I’m becoming more comfortable with the mystery. And to enjoy it. Allow it to push me to try to try harder, rather than to give up.


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