Friday, February 29, 2008

The Laboratory

Every day when I pass the Frontier Building on A Street going to and from work, it reminds me of the images of galaxies taken by the Hubble Telescope.

Specifically, I imagine the millions of galaxies stuffed inside of a single glass building, which in turn reminds me of the recurring theory of a Hollow Earth, where certain astronomers, starting with Edmund Halley, wondered if the entire universe existed inside the Earth, rather than outside it.

Imagine Earth as a racquetball, with a hollow interior. The entire universe we see above us — the stars, the moon, the sun and the planets — all exists inside this hollowed out space.

We’re in there, too, because the curved surface of the Earth isn’t the outer curve of this ball, but the inner curve. In this theory, if one could fly, this traveler would be able to fly through the entire universe and land on the other side of the Earth, if that makes sense.

Outside the ball is nothing, I suppose. Or God, maybe.

This all in turn reminds me of the atomic nucleus. And then of The Powers of Ten. And then of "The Laboratory," by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska.

The Laboratory

Did it all
happen in the laboratory?
Beneath one lamp by day
and billions by night?

Are we a trial generation?
Poured from one beaker to another,
shaken in retorts,
observed by something more than an eye,
each one individually
taken by forceps?

Or maybe otherwise:
no interventions.
The transformations occur on their own
in accordance with a plan.
The needle draws
the expected zigzags.

Maybe until now there was nothing interesting in us.
The control monitors are seldom switched on,
except when there's a war, and a rather big one at that,
several flights over the lump of clay called Earth,
or significant movements from point A to point B.

Or perhaps thus:
they only have a taste for episodes.
Look! a little girl on a big screen
is sewing a button to her sleeve.

The monitors begin to shriek,
personnel comes running in.
Oh, what sort of tiny creature
with a little heart beating on the inside!
What graceful dignity
in the way she draws the thread!
Someone calls out in rapture:
Tell the Boss,
and let him come see for himself!

I first read that poem in this book. Weschler connects it to this painting, but the poem reminds me of this movie, released 10 years ago this summer.

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