Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!
For this session we close-read the an excerpt from “Bewilderment” by Richard Powers, posted below.
Our prompt for this session was: “Write about knowing that the world is alive.”
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Powers, Richard. Bewilderment. 2021. New York: W.W. Norton. [page 173]
Yet Kepler never saw a single planet straight on. It cast a wide net, watching for the faintest imaginable dimming of suns many parsecs away, and it gathered that light with a precision of a couple dozen parts per million. Infinitesimal dips in the brightness of stars betrayed invisible planets passing in front of them. It still stupefies me: like seeing a moth crawl across a streetlight from thirty thousand miles away.
But Kepler couldn’t give me what I wanted: to know, beyond all doubt, that one other world out there was alive. I don’t know why it meant so much to me, when it left so many people cold. Not even my wife really cared all that much one way or another. Robbie did.
To know for certain whether a planet breathed, we needed direct infrared images fine enough to yield detailed spectral fingerprints of their atmospheres. We had the power to get them. For longer than Robbie had been alive—longer than Aly and I were together—I’d been one of the researchers planning a space-based telescope that could populate my every model and decide forever whether the universe was barren or alive. The craft we were backing was a hundred times more powerful than Hubble. It made our best existing telescopes look like old men with dark glasses and service dogs.
It was also a wild fling of cash and effort that made no practical difference in the world. It wouldn’t enrich the future or cure a single disease or protect anyone from the rising flood of our craziness. It would simply answer the thing we humans had been asking since we came down from the trees: was the mind of God inclined toward life, or did we Earthlings have no business being here?