A Three Pound Brain, Contemplating Galaxies
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
[Online editor’s note: For a better, more immersive experience, I recommend filling the screen by clicking the outward-facing arrows icon in the lower-right hand of the video. And, for good measure, put on a set of headphones.]
Science was never my best subject in school, but as an adult I’ve become a total science geek. And our recent program with novelist Mary Doria Russell was full of topics, from Neanderthals to alien communication, that got my geek juices flowing. I especially loved what she said about looking at a recent diagram of the universe, showing how it might expand and contract over time.
I thought, “It’s the breath of God.” That God breathes in and God breathes out. And when he breathes in, the universe is contracting, and when he breathes out, the universe is expanding. And I immediately was charmed by the metaphor…. God is the largest, most complex, most inclusive, most explanatory idea that human beings are capable of imagining. Now, that said, we’re primates and our brains are like two and a half to three pounds. You know, we’re doing the best we can. But I would hate to say that we’ve got a lock on the universe and deity at this point.
I was reminded of an interview with astrophysicist Howard Smith that we’ve had on the shelf since the summer of 2008. Our production schedule is such that we’re sometimes unable to use every interview that we do. But there were parts of Howard Smith’s interview have stayed in my mind for months. He is a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the author of Let There Be Light: Modern Cosmology and Kabbalah, a New Conversation Between Science and Religion. I loved how he described what it’s like for him to stare into the heart of a galaxy and discover something that no one else knows. That moment, he says, is a spiritual moment.
I wanted to see Howard Smith doing that work, peering out at the universe through the tiny window that is his computer screen, using his three pound brain as best he can to understand what he sees. So with help from Howard Smith, NASA, and Flickr, my colleagues and I gathered images to create this slideshow, exploring how we can find spiritual meaning in the stars.