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SUNDAY READING

The View From on High

January 26, 1986

The first U.S. satellite was launched Jan. 31, 1958. This piece by novelist William Golding is selected from "A Moving Target." 1982 by William Golding. Published by arrangement with Farrar, Strauss , Giroux.

Allied to photography, the experience of the stratosphere became accessible to everyone. If the whole round of earth did not appear, still great cantles of it, whole countries and whole shapes not to be inspected before now except on maps became visible. This might have made some change in general sensibility. To know intellectually that the Mediterranean lies to the south of England and on the other side of France is not the same thing as seeing the dark line of water beyond Marseilles in a photograph taken over Hampshire. But the possible change in sensibility was to be overwhelmed by the last and greatest expansion of the human "point of view." . . .

Our growing knowledge of both the microscopic and the macroscopic nature of the earth is not just a satisfaction to a handful of scientists. In both directions it is bringing about a change in sensibility. It is an enhancement to life. We can see crystals in smears of mud at one end of the scale and glimpse the subterranean birth of oceans at the other. Those who think of the world as a lifeless lump would do well to watch out. Only the other day something must have irritated her, and with a moue , it may be, she wrecked cities from China to the Philippines and blew out the side of a huge mountain in Ecuador. She must be obeyed. Her mind must reside, I think, in those networks of white fire among the clouds. For if we find electrical discharges coexistent with consciousness, why should we not find consciousness coexistent with electrical discharges? If we ourselves experience a spark of awareness as we cook puddings in our skulls, what are we to make of auroras or tropical storms? Dare we guess at the mind that may be staring out at us from the unimaginable violence of the sun, and so on out to the glitter of the farthest star? As children sense first a breast, then an eye, then a face, a whole person, a whole family, so we may be growing up out of our lonely egotism. We can see our mother. Beyond the eye level the next order of significance, of acquaintance, is seen not from the jet plane or the balloon but from the satellite. It is from pictures taken out there in a side-stepping of gravity that we may sense the pathos that surely is not fallacious. Since the demise of the tetrahedral theory no one has been able to conceive a pattern in the distribution of hydrosphere and lithosphere, and now we might well guess that the very patternlessness is the signature of life and individuality. Arabia and the Horn of Africa are seen to be thrust apart as by striving hands.

Surely, eyes more capable than ours of receiving the range of universal radiation may well see her, this creature of argent and azure, to have robes of green and gold streamed a million miles from her by the solar wind as she dances round Helios in the joy of light.

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