Comprehending the Vastness of our Planetary Home

What’s in a metaphor?

Planet EartEarth from Space wwwh is huge. So huge we can’t really comprehend it. I can’t comprehend myself as a being in comparison to the entirety of the Earth. The image of the Earth from space is deeply moving. There is something pricelessly beautiful about the white on blue that seems to glow from within. I can see continents through that swirl of white, but I can’t really picture myself in relation to a whole continent, either.

When I think of myself, I picture myself in relation to things I can comprehend: my home or my car or maybe the town I live in. I picture my friends or my job or activities I like to do. Maybe, in my mind’s eye, I’m reading a book. Where’s the planet in that image? Who knows!

In reality, the planet is everywhere in that image. It’s the air I’m sitting in, the chair I’m sitting on, and it’s me AND the book. Everything in that image is part of Planet Earth. When you think about it, it’s kind of “doh!” but we don’t think about it much, do we? It’s hard to imagine ourselves in relation to the planet we’re on (and, actually, we’re more like “in” the planet, than “on” it–we’re swathed deep inside the planet’s atmosphere, otherwise we wouldn’t be breathing!).

So that’s were “as if” comes in. We can imagine our relationship to the planet “as if” it were something smaller and more easy to comprehend. Like a metaphor. We do this all the time. Language itself is a kind of metaphor. In fact, we use a kind of metaphor every time we say “head of the committee” (we’re saying it’s “as if” a committee were a body, with the chairperson being like the “head” or brain of that body) or even “student body” or “body politic”.

Comprehending the Incomprehensible

We use many metaphors for what the planet is and our relationship to it: Mother Earth, Spaceship Earth, “The Big Blue Marble” are a few that we use frequently. Each yields insights and each has limitations that will be discussed in later blog entries. We also use (and misuse!) the metaphor of the body frequently. Our bodies are familiar to us, since they are part of everything we do, and we have at least some idea of how they work and what they are like. So we frequently think of groups of humans “as if” they are a single “body”. This helps us comprehend how the group or organization can work together to achieve a common goal.

But in many ways, this way of thinking is misleading. For one thing, my body is made up of many different kinds of cells. The cells in my brain, for example, are much more different from a cell in my stomach than I am from any other human. The limitations of the use of this metaphor will also be the subject of a longer blog post.path through ancient redwoods

For now, I just want to point out that in order to comprehend the vastness of the planet we live on and our relationship to it, we need to use a metaphor. We need to compare ourselves and the planet to something smaller that we can comprehend.

The metaphor that I’ve found to make more sense is that of the planet being like a single body in function, and we being like cells that make up that body: a MegaBody, if you will. Microorganisms are those which we need a microscope to see. Macroorganisms are like us, made of microscopic cells. Megaorganisms are made of macroorganisms: the way a forest is made of trees, the planet is made of plants and animals that work together to make up the whole of the living planet.

It’s a new way of looking at Planet Earth: the living portion of the planet (the biosphere) acting like a single, giant living being–one made up of all the animals, plants and microscopic organisms that participate in the living dance that allows Life on Earth to exist and persist.

That’s what this blog is about. Seeing ourselves in Earth and seeing how we participate–willingly or not–in the creation and persistence of Life on this Planet. Our Planetary MegaBody. The only one we have.

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