Cycles. They are the one thing all human beings believe in.
I happened on the idea of the essential cycle in searching imaginatively for common ground among humanoids. Perhaps such would forestall the need eventually to evacuate earth, as in the new movie “Interstellar.”
When you think about it, the evidence of cycles is everywhere. To name just a few, there are first and foremost the life cycles in nature; then the circle, the spiral, and the wheel in art and engineering; expressions like “What goes around comes around;” and the concepts of karma, reincarnation, rebirth, and resurrection in our mythologies. One could invest decades in research on the subject of cycles.
So what does this have to do with evacuating the earth? The idea of colonizing another planet excites scientists and makes fun movie material, but I wonder if the human mind and spirit could survive the loss of our earthly home. What are the odds of duplicating anywhere in outer space the cycle-creating, three-way partnership among earth, the sun, and the moon that have made life and evolution possible for us?
We take so much for granted as earthlings, and I was reminded of this last week. Awakened by the brightness of the full moon, I got up and walked to a south-facing window to look at it. The familiar, brilliant face beamed down on the open land in front of my home, and I felt a sudden rush of gratitude for its companionship and all the memories and the stories in which it has starred. For a brief moment, I was also in touch with the devastation its disappearance would cause. Wouldn’t we subtly and very soon begin to be disoriented? Wouldn’t a terrifying sense of disorder and loss swiftly move into terror? Has anybody ever written a science fiction book about the moon disappearing?
Even better, however, is a book about the history of our engagement with the moon: The Moon, Myth and Image, by Jules Cashford. He writes about how our primitive ancestors left behind crude records on stone of their early fascination with the moon’s phases. But what about the nights when there was nothing but darkness? Cashford deduces that the wondering and imagining in the void, so to speak, laid the groundwork for the development of abstract thought.
Cashford made a second deduction that especially pleased me, being female: “: . . .it is most likely that women, calculating the timing of their menstrual cycles from Moon to Moon, made the first reckoning of time.” Another male writer challenged this theory, pointing out that lunar cycles are actually 29.5 days. So, OK. Women were the first to learn how to round off.
But you can see where this is going. Human life has always been paced and informed by the cycles of the moon and the seasons. Every step of the way there was the going and the return. Early people must have waited with bated breath for the sight of the bright crescent of the moon after a pitch-black night. Often there must also have been the fear that spring would never come. With the repeat of the cycles, however, eventually the mind grasped the concept of eternity as well as time, and then came hope through the belief in the “eternal return.”
Cycles figured not only in our planning, as in the planting of crops, but also in the construction of our mythologies. The only challenge to the reassuring pattern of cycles occurs in our grappling with death. Do we come back in some way? All the spirals and circles and cycles in life suggest that we would, but we haven’t figured out how in a way that satisfies everyone.
But back to space travel. The exact alignment of our planetary threesome would be impossible to duplicate, I should think. We would need a sun, first and foremost, but what if we couldn’t find a planet paired also with a moon?
I ran across a thought-provoking science blog on “The Top 5 Things We’d Miss If We didn’t Have a Moon” by an interesting-looking guy named Ethan Siegel. There’s no way for me to assess the validity of his essay, but he wrote that the gravitational pull of the moon has over millions of years slowed down the rotation of the earth to give us our current, 24-hour day. In its absence, our days would be 6-8 hours long. Brother, talk about stress and sleeplessness! Another theory is that the moon stabilizes our axial tilt; and in its absence we would suffer catastrophic shifts, sometimes “rotating on our side like a barrel, having the most extreme seasons imaginable!”
Someone who is an astrophysicist might want to comment, but this certainly provides food for imaginative thought. My mind goes to the mundane, however. Would women transplanted to another planet, even living in a dome perfectly engineered for survival, continue to have cycles? Would their bodies in the absence of lunar cycles keep to a nine-month gestation? Would male and female begin to lose their bearings psychically and sense the breakdown of the humanity that had developed in the moon’s companionable presence? Would being alive eventually cease to matter if we lost our place in that powerful triad of sun, earth, and moon?
I don’t know. Maybe humans are changing more than I realized, but I certainly wouldn’t want to load up into a shining ship and head into deep, dark space for a destination light years away from our two bright buddies. I love it here. I think we should learn how to get along and fix things up so we can stay.