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“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh

First Sight
Sep 08, 2010

Over a century ago, doctors invented a procedure to remove cataracts from people’s eyes. Among their first patients were people who had been blind from birth. The surgery enabled them to see for the first time as though they were newborn. But unlike newborns, they had acquired language and so were able to tell the doctors what they were experiencing.

They didn’t see “things” that were “out there”; they saw meaningless moving patches of color. The patches were not just confusing in themselves, they caused confusion with other senses as well. The newly sighted persons’ understandings of the world were disrupted. They had to make sense of it all over again.

The patients had to learn how to interpret those color patches in ways that were compatible with their other sensations. This entailed developing new concepts of “things”—groups of sensations combined into a unitary concept—that could be interrelated in a concept of “space.” For the most part, they had no concept of space.

It also required “unlearning” many concepts of things and relationships that had been developed without visual sensations. The old concepts couldn’t accommodate the new visual sensations.
The task was difficult. Some patients gave up, closed their eyes, and returned to their old life in the home for the blind. The doctors were surprised to discover that seeing—the understanding of visual sensations as “things” in “space”—was something that had to be learned. By the time most of us can talk about it, we’ve taken it for granted. We take the metaphor literally: seeing is understanding, no interpretation or theory seems to be needed.

In the last few decades, astronomers have developed instruments that provide us with sensations never before experienced. Telescopes detect “light” from radio to gamma-ray frequencies. Space probes provide points of view far from the surface of the Earth.

The new instruments have removed the “cataracts” of our biological sensory limitations, and we perceive for the first time patches of new colors. We must learn again how to see new things in a new space. Not surprisingly, the experts in the old way of seeing are having a hard time learning, and many are taking refuge in the home of blind astronomy.

The more we look at the lights in the sky, the more we see that they are like the electric lights on Earth. But understanding what that means requires work: The full metaphor must be created. Nerves must combine sensations in new ways. The old dog must learn new tricks.
What will it mean to say “stars are electric lights”? We must first unlearn “stars are thermonuclear furnaces” and “stars are mass and gas.” We must figure out just how “stars are loads in a circuit” and “stars are charges in plasma.”

The space age has opened new eyes that are giving us the first sight of an Electric Universe. We must respond with a new insight.

Mel Acheson



"The Cosmic Thunderbolt"

YouTube video, first glimpses of Episode Two in the "Symbols of an Alien Sky" series.


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Authors David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill introduce the reader to an age of planetary instability and earthshaking electrical events in ancient times. If their hypothesis is correct, it could not fail to alter many paths of scientific investigation.
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