Monday, May 24, 2010

Genesis of the Makers: The Astrophysics of Hope and Despair

Making Monday

Many people like to divide the world into two camps: white and black, us and them, good and bad. I find it more useful to understand the world in terms of spectrums or ranges--the extremes might look like the two camps, but most everyone and everything falls somewhere in between where things are more complex--and more interesting.

One of the few grand dichotomies I accept is that people's motivations tend to be driven, at a fundamental level, by either hope or despair.

This is something deeper, more subtle, and more pervasive than optimism and pessimism. A life built on a foundation of hope is open to the idea of a greater good. A life founded on despair admits no greater good than self. Making is an expression of hope*. Using is an expression of despair.

There's a striking analogy in astrophysics: stars, like beacons of hope, radiate matter and energy to warm the worlds around them; black holes suck matter and energy into themselves.

As I played with this analogy, I realized that the power of the makers arose from a universe where hope and despair were part of its physics. The pattern repeats at different scales, leading to entire ecosystems shaped by hope and despair.

* Why bother to make something if you believe everything is pointless because it's all going to fall apart sooner or later?

 Image: Bill Longshaw /

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