Some Thoughts on Cosmology and Where We Are

My summer reading pile is about 18″ high, primarily poetry collections, so that’s about 25 books or so, I’d guess. I haven’t actually counted. And I know there are more that somehow wound up actually on my bookshelf. And I definitely know there are more sitting on my Amazon wishlist (don’t get mad, they make it easy).

– Sidenote here: One benefit, I’ve just realized, of physical books over, say, the Kindle or something, is that you get the sense of accomplishment by shrinking the aforementioned pile as books are read. Awesome sauce –

The first book I picked up, however, is an essay collection: The Measured Word: On Poetry and Science edited by Kurt Brown and published in 2001 by U. Georgia P. I’ve read two essays in it so far, and it is fantastic. I think I underlined about half of the first essay, “Twentieth-Century Cosmology and the Soul’s Habitation” by Pattiann Rogers. Some choice tidbits and thoughts follow:

I’m going to define cosmology as the story of the universe, the explanation of the origin and history and processes of the universe, an explanation that creates the structure upon which we locate ourselves and define ourselves in relation to the objects we observe around us, and by which we also address our own origins and our nature. Rogers, 2

She takes the idea of the study of the universe – cosmology – and turns it into the mythology we tell ourselves to understand the universe. A little farther down the same page, she writes:

The cosmology of mythology constructed a universe in which the spirits of magic retreated and became remote gods… pictur[ing] human beings at the center of the universe, above the beasts, occupying a place of importance, next to the angels, possessing the attention of the creator of all things. Rogers, 2

That mythology, of course, refers to religion. But the important thing I take from this is that this cosmology (in her sense) is based on the idea that we individual beings are more important than anything else. In the whole universe / multiverse / existence. It is not far removed from the fascist nationalism, earth-centrism, or even helio-centrism, that ruled human concepts of the real throughout the dark and middle ages, and even through the enlightenment for most of humanity. Contemporary American society is still split between this cosmology and the cosmology that science describes to us – that we are not the center of everything.

But Rogers does go further into this new cosmology by writing that

This is a very strange and unique facet of [the new] cosmology, that it instructs us not to allow ourselves to fully believe it as it is told today. Rogers, 6

Or, in other words, we are continually discovering new things about our world, our solar system, our galaxy, the universe; that science demands flexibility in that if new information overrides old, then the old be replaced; that we remain continually open to reinterpreting everything we understand. She states this by writing that

Science is not rigid. Dogmas are rigid. Rogers, 7

and I think that speaks a lot to the social upheaval we are now experiencing in America, and it is driven by dogmas, and all sorts of dogmas.

More to come on this later, but there is a very interesting section related to what I’ve recently written about Wallace Stevens, and I intend to explore that further as well.