The Thomas Theorem suggests the importance of perception. Because our perception is tied to the positions within which we find ourselves, one of the ways to see new things (leading to new actions) is to find ourselves in new positions. In other words, encounters with the new can lead us to new realities.

In an article appearing in the July/August 2007 issue of Orion Magazine, titled “Window of Possibility: Why the Hubble Ultra Deep Field is the most incredible photograph ever taken,” novelist Anthony Doerr suggests that an image from the Hubble Space Telescope has the potential for just such a paradigm shift. The picture is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, summarized in a press release this way:

Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute today unveiled the deepest portrait of the visible universe ever achieved by humankind. Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), the million-second-long exposure reveals the first galaxies to emerge from the so-called “dark ages”, the time shortly after the big bang when the first stars reheated the cold, dark universe. The new image should offer new insights into what types of objects reheated the universe long ago.

The image here provides a sense of what the photo seeks to represent.

Doerr suggests that what the image really does for us is provide a sense of scale for the universe and how small our place is in it.  He writes:

Let’s say there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy. And let’s say there are 100 billion galaxies in our universe. At any given moment, then, assuming ultra-massive and dwarf galaxies average each other out, there might be 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe.  That’s 1.0 X 10 to the twenty-second power.  That’s 10 sextillion.

Here’s a way of looking at it: there are enough stars in the universe that if everybody on Earth were charged with naming his or her share, we’d each get to name a trillion and a half of them.

The implication is that such awareness would provide us with a necessary sense of the “significance of place” in the universe. Doerr writes:

What the Ultra Deep Field image ultimately offers is a singular glimpse at ourselves. Like Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, it resets our understanding of who and what we are.

He goes on to suggest that the image (along with all the galaxies and stars it represents) is but one miniscule glimpse into one small segment of the universe. He is left with a sense of awe and perspective (which he implies, or at least seems to hope, will lead to new ways of acting and interacting). He writes:

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field image should be in every classroom in the world. It should be on the president’s desk. It should probably be in every church, too.

It is, I suppose, his hope that the iconic impact of this image can accomplish what some have claimed for the first images of earth from space (referenced, for example, in the film An Inconvenient Truth).

It does make me wonder about the ways in which our perspective shapes our understandings of who we are and what our (individual and collective) short- and long-term futures might hold. How might seeing differently, understanding things from alternative perspectives, lead us to new ways of being?