It is perhaps the most bizarre feature in the Earth’s landscape. A straight line out in the far distance, which almost looks like the edge of a Hollywood set. It is where the props have probably ran out, and all that you see is the line where the wall meets the floor. We call it the horizon.
Despite all the hopes and expectations it raises, the horizon always leaves much to be desired. Its enigmatic minimalism leaves it looking as empty as a blank line on an author’s notebook, waiting to be written. It is where the Earth has ran out of things to say. It would make sense after all that the world, as we know it, would end somewhere, sometime.
In fact this was what I thought as a child. Growing up in a seaside town it was impossible to ignore the big mysterious horizontal line in the distance. It was always there beyond the bay, staring back at me. I always thought that beyond it there was just emptiness. I sometimes felt I was living at the very edge of the world, the last town on Earth, much like the Ancient Greeks for whom anything beyond the Mediterranean was their equivalent to our Outer Space. Or humans as recently as a few hundred years ago who imagined huge waterfalls just beyond the horizon, which was where the flat Earth obviously ended.
But myths, fears and enigmas about the horizon soon gave way to bold ambition and exploration, as humans realised that the big straight line was not an infinity trap or an end, but a gateway to other lands. Colonialism became not only a socioeconomic phenomenon, but a dogma of infinite economic growth and exploitation. To the colonialists and conquistadors, the horizon was in fact endless, giving them the illusion that Earth’s resources are endless as well.
It turns out, as we know, that they were just going around in endless circles across the Seven Seas. The horizon does give the illusion of infinity, when you are sailing on a convex ocean. The Earth looks vast when you can only see a few miles ahead of you, shrouded in a fog of ignorance and denial. The unknown can be reassuringly delusional, delusionally reassuring.
So we’ve gone from original fear of the horizon to colonialist excitement, to today’s realisation that the Earth is in fact finite, that we are indeed all living in a tiny Hollywood set. Throughout our history we have been quick to make stories about the unknown, and ignoring the known, ignoring the science. Ignoring that this is a tiny planet. That someone has pissed on the corner of the cardboard Hollywood set. And that this sitcom is approaching its finale.
(From the book Photographic Heart)
George is a chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , join his mailing list, or read his books:
3 thoughts on “Reassuringly Delusional”
When you reflect back to early horizons from childhood and the concept of object permanence which an infant explores, there are moments in life as an adult, when yo escape a known boundaried space to explore new horizons. Mine was flying out of New Zealand to Hawaii. I looked out of the plane window and felt myself leaving my childhood, early formative memories and felt exhilaration,
Thank you for bringing those early memories back to me fiftyfive years later!
Glad I did that!
I like how this piece makes a complete circle by including all facets, particularly the importance of science.
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