The Epistemology of Large-Scale Distances

Astronomical distances are unfathomable—literally, inconceivable—so much so that we need ultra-instrumentation to calculate them, which in turn dump their data streams into analog displays for these distances can be “visualized.” Imagine yourself traveling through space. Scary, isn’t it? There’s a reason why some of the more accurate depictions of life in space in science fiction media have the protagonist going a little bit crazy…or anything going crazy. Something has to get its wires crossed. Insanity is imbued with the rebellious act of exo-propulsion, away from Earth. But this protag…he has no sense of movement at all, but the instruments of travel constantly blinking their garbage at him are telling him the current events are just the opposite. How can he cope with the discrepancy between his sense of inertia and parallax, and the intake of math? Either by going into cryo-sleep until the destination is reached, or by killing the rest of the crew members in increasingly gruesome ways. Or by getting killed. I can’t see how a creature with biomechanical firmware oriented towards coping with horizon distances at the most, could end up any other way.

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2 thoughts on “The Epistemology of Large-Scale Distances”

  1. Ed Hurst

    I seem to recall an SF book from my youth where the spaceship featured a screen like the one on the bridge of the original Star Trek series. It was described as offering an artificially enhanced sense of motion to keep people from going nuts.


    1. Jay Post author

      Maybe it was Star Trek itself, too, that does it? I don’t know the workings of their bridge viewscreen, but if those stars zipping by as they travel aren’t a simulation, the writers got reality wrong. Stars wouldn’t be moving past you like that, they’d pretty much stay in place (I’m assuming no warp speed here).


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