Under The Milky Way Tonight

How much context is necessary in a particular situation to make something clear?  There are some people, indeed, many people, who want no more context or background than is necessary to address with reality as it presently is.  On the opposite extreme, there are people who appreciate context so much that they tend to deny the reality of change, seeing people always in the future as they have been in the past, or seeing present and future generations as being entirely determined by the past.  Yet context is neither irrelevant filler nor is it a determination.  Rather, context is background and terrain, something that we operate in and something that influences us.  Context is like a massive object in our area that influences us in the way gravity does, by shaping us, yet allowing us to escape its pull if we are able to marshal other more positive influences or engage in heroic effort.  To be sure, neither of those outcomes is likely or the most common, but they are both possible.

Understanding context as influence helps us to understand the importance of recognizing those who have influence in different areas of life.  Halls of Fame [1] are made in order to honor people who have had influence in different areas.  Did someone play the game of football so well that the game itself adapted to their play through mimicry or through rules that were designed to prevent others from doing as they did, like the Hines Ward rule punishing blocking receivers?  Then their career is worthy of the hall of fame.  Did a particular band or artist shape music so much that they shaped the world in which others created art?  The same is true.  Influence is often seen as a vague term, but it has some rather clear parameters.  For one, it bears close resemblance to magnetism, which similarly has a bipolar nature that can both attract and repel.  Where influence repels us, something is influential in that we are so horrified by what someone else has done that we are motivated to move even more strongly in a direction than we would have done otherwise.  We may even be motivated, if we set any kind of rules, to prevent anyone else from doing such things again.  More happily, influence that is attractive leads us to move in a particular direction as a result of wanting to copy someone else.  Did the success of the Beatles encourage a lot of other British lads to join together to write and perform songs with guitars and drums?  Absolutely.  Does what wins awards and earns gold and platinum discs influence others as to the sort of music they should make.  Yes.  Do the sorts of plays that earn one a place on SportsCenter countdowns become the sort of plays that others wish to learn and master?  Oh yes.  This is influence.

It is perhaps a good thing that there is so much space between solar systems in our universe.  The distances from star to star, and the time it would take to travel, are truly immense, but given that the preservation of life depends on keeping within fairly narrow bounds [2], it is good that our own solar system is a place of a great deal of quiet.  Perhaps we might find the state of our solar system to be a bit boring, seeing as we are a somewhat smallish planet that surrounds an average-sized star in a backwoods area of the galaxy, but it certainly makes life a lot simpler by remaining within a tolerable and narrow range of temperature conditions for us, and that makes life a lot more pleasant.  What does this have to do with influence?  Plenty, if one conceives of influence in terms of the shaping of space and time by the massive bodies of planets and stars that shape the space that smaller bodies must navigate.  Small bodies like the probes we send out to explore the universe around us [3] can hitch a ride from the massive bodies around us, but it requires great skill in timing and a certain knowledge of how those bodies operate.  Larger bodies like planets and moons, and even more so stars, shape the behavior of other bodies, determining how much escape velocity is needed for something to get out of the gravitational pull of a given body.

Yet it is a true, and an unfortunate one, that all too often in our lives we can look at the planets and stars in the night sky and know so much more about the rules that govern them than we can about the shape of the lives that we live as human beings.  People often complain that mathematics is hard, but the level of mathematics that is necessary to understand geometry, algebra, or even path integrals, as we try to understand the shape of our universe, which is by no means trivial, is far less difficult than the sort of mathematical complexity that it would take to understand humanity.  To be sure, most of the time we are only looking for a vague understanding of humanity, and so we are often comfortable with intuition and vague guesses and surmises and inaccurate heuristics and the illusion of knowledge in absence of firm understanding.  It is only when we try to nail down our understanding of human factors and turn our vague surmises into rigorous paradigms about human behavior that we realizes the extent that our knowledge is lacking.  And yet we stare at the stars and wonder if the vast gulf we see between the planets and stars in the sky is anything like the vast gulf we find between ourselves and those around us.

[1] See, for example:




[2] See, for example:


[3] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings, Sports and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Under The Milky Way Tonight

  1. Pingback: Another Dumb Blonde | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Living In A Box | Edge Induced Cohesion

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