When I was 7, my teacher Mrs Cole explained the concept of atoms to me. Sometime that week, mulling it over as I was falling asleep, I fell into a dozey state where I had this vision roll out in my mind’s eye.
I am floating in space, looking at a galaxy swirling through the void. I can see that it is made of stars and planets.1 I realize that most of those planets are teeming with life, and all those people seem so small from this perspective, but I know they loom large in their own lives, just like I do in mine. What must be large worlds to them are not even spots I can see from here. But if I could zoom in, like with my microscope,2 I could see it all.
Then my camera-eye-view starts to pull back. The galaxy gets smaller. Other galaxies come into view. Then more, and more. I realize I’m in a stream of swirling globs of stars, the galaxies looking more and more like specks. It’s like they floating around, in motion, all flowing somewhere. Then I realize they ARE flowing somewhere. They are cells, and I am looking at a vacuous bloodstream, as it were, in some giant body.
I came completely awake then, kind of amazed at what I’d just experienced. Without articulating the thought, that vision gave me to understand there is a macrocosm in the microcosm, and likewise the reverse.3 Not the usual fare of childish insights, I know. I realized that at the time, just as I realized I’d grasped something unusual that would alter my perspective on things just a little. (Or maybe more than a little…)
So. This brings me to this FANTABULOUS set of photos. One is a network of neurons from a mouse brain. The other is an image from a computer simulation by astrophysicists of how the universe evolved.
I can’t really see much difference – but then, according to my 7-year-old self, there isn’t any. That the universe looks like a neural network makes perfect sense to me. And that a neural network looks like the universe – ditto.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s just way cool.
1. You are shocked, I’m sure, to learn that I was a geek from early on. I was already mistress of my own telescope, since my birthday a few months before the conversation with Mrs Cole. The scope was a present from my brother Don, who promptly set it up in the driveway at night and showed me how to see the moon in it. He always gave me presents that stretched my brain. And taught me chess when I was small, too.
2, The microscope came the year before the telescope. I spent hours looking at the cooties in dirty water with horrified fascination. Yech. I was much happier with the chemistry set that came when I was 8.
3. It also caused me to question what we perceive as reality, as did another vision around that same age frame. But that is a discussion for later.