Is it possible to be surprised by a lunar eclipse?

Depends how intimate you are with your astronomical charts. Clearly, if you haven’t been expecting a lunar eclipse, and look up to see that the moon is slowly being eaten by darkness, you’re going to be surprised, at least for an instant.

But don’t blame the rotations of the universe. The ball is very much in your court on this one. The moon’s, the sun’s, and the earth’s circuits are all pretty well measured and predictable. They’ve been spinning like that for a tremendously long time. Probably a lot longer than you can possibly imagine. (Apparently, a billion seconds is over 31 years, so just imagine how long four and a half billion years is? Can you? No, you can’t. Your brain just broke, didn’t it. We’re not very good at actually conceptually processing numbers that big. It’s one of the concerning things about the fact that we talk about them all the time.

I can prove this. (Kind of). Follow this link and listen to the song. Bear in mind that each of those heart monitor bleeps represents a hundred people killed in the first few years of the Iraq War. It’s also the sound of the life support machine that kept the composer’s premature baby alive for the first few weeks. It’s an attempt to make the death statistic real, and even if each beep were one life, you’d get lost in the blur of loss. It made me cry. I don’t know about you.

Alternatively, try and get your head around the sums of money bouncing around the world.

The point, before I go sidetracked, is that the world has been around for longer than you can probably comprehend. It’s been following the same rules for all of that time, and so, we can pretty safely predict how it interacts with the other objects in our neighbourhood. We have one largely predictable solar system. You don’t even have to do the maths yourself. The maths have been done by various astronomical agencies and put into sometimes incomprehensible charts and explained by wikipedia. Add to that the network of media you consume, and depending on the particular cocktail, you’ll probably hear about it before it happens.

(If you need a tip, there’s a partial on the 4th June, but you are probably only going to see that if you’re in Australia or the South Pacific. The next total one is in 2014, on the 15th of April. There’s two every year, of various strengths.)

Anyway. It doesn’t matter how predictable something is. The truth is, that the human capacity for surprise is almost as unbounded as our inability to fully represent the arithmetic that currently makes our weird civilisation keep on bouncing. Those facts are connected, in fact.

In truth, people are pretty good at understanding the broad strokes of something enough to completely misrepresent the actuality. It’s probably a defence mechanism more than anything.

Our culture and our universe are far too big and weird to get intimate with.

Illustration by Helen

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About Alabaster Crippens

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
This entry was posted in Illustrations by Helen, Questions by Colewelle. Bookmark the permalink.

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