Concordia Base Log
By: Adrianos Golemis, ESA research MD
Time: L+308 (September 2014)
Temperature: -59 degrees C
Sunlight: 12 hours
Log Entry #17 – Enhanced Imagination
“He who has everything values nothing – and he who has nothing values everything”.
Perhaps surprisingly, this quotation does not stem from any grand historical study or religious treatise, but rather echoes from a book in Frank Herbert’s saga, Dune. It is a saying of the desert people who are deprived of many commodities in their everyday toil for survival and thus learn how to deeply appreciate every drop of bliss in their lifetime’s hourglass.
While it would be quite an exaggeration to imply that trapped in our desolation of ice we are bereft of as many luxuries in Antarctica, there is certainly some measure of comparison between the harsh life on the fictional planet of Arrakis and the lack of external stimulation at Concordia Station. So, it seems that like the desert people, we are learning slowly how to value more the tiny spices of life which together constitute the synthesis of our everyday routine.
I could argue vigorously that after ten months in Concordia, my imagination does really seem to have been enhanced. When I speak with my friends or family on the phone and they tend to describe a casual daily scene, my mind can unwittingly give birth to lush images or paint the ordinary details of a rainy street in the most extravagant of colours. Considering that we just went through what was summertime in Europe, every time I called my brother on a sunny Greek beach, a cataclysm of feelings burst inside my brain.
Just by hearing a simple statement such as “Hi, how are you? Me, I’m walking to work and it’s cloudy”, our intellect recreates the minutiae of the site, drawing from past memories and filling the gaps with imagination, in an almost artistic way. Many times I was taken aback by the wealth of simulated details that my mind renders to depict the background whenever I hear someone speak of the sea or of a mountain hike. It was particularly surprising to find myself subconsciously pondering about the tiniest filaments in the fabric of every scene that was communicated to me. In an enhanced way.
And again each time I hear a familiar song here at Concordia, my mind takes me back to where I first listened to it, reconstructing the fine points of the scene with accuracy, little things that I had never noticed at first and which could hint to the particularities of Proustian memory.
I can now picture the reflections of sunlight on the shimmering surface of cars as you hastingly stroll down the road on an early spring morning, so eager to catch the bus that you fail to notice the small droplets of humidity upon the leaves of trees. The smell of fresh bread coming from the open doors of bakeries when the weather is good and by contrast the odour of the wet soil when it rains. The contextual sounds of life in the city – not only the traffic, but also overhearing people who talk in the street below, briefly coming in and swiftly rushing out of your own continuum, as if in a Gus Van Sant movie. The hissing of the wind, the annoying horn of a truck and the ring of a bicycle. The golden shades of a summer afternoon and why is the sky so fundamentally different from a pinky-orange afternoon in the winter. Noise of insects (haven’t seen one of any kind for about a year now). The tactile impression of warm sand swishing through your fingers. The refreshing feeling that a cool cocktail endows upon your throat when it’s warm and the chill that inevitably crawls under your coat on an autumn day. These might be petty nuances of just another day for you, but they gradually begin to bear a startlingly profound importance to me.
At times I miss even unpleasant manifestations of stimulation, just because they complete the rich spectrum of what we can sense with every breath we draw. Things like the smell of garbage, the annoyance of sweat or the thundering rumble of a storm that prevents your sleep in the night. Above all, the hues of green have a staggering effect on me whenever I bump onto them, in photographs or other media. The real, natural green would be what I definitely miss the most here in the white continent – and not because it happens to be the colour of my favourite sports team. A trick to keep myself connected to the rest of the globe is watching films shot in lavish locations – from Iceland to India, the Pacific, China, and Turkey, observing and absorbing the canvas of each locality can rejuvenate your mood.
For my part, I anticipate that this experience at Concordia will be a didactic one, also from this viewpoint which was admittedly unforeseen in its intensity. Perhaps tasting again the abundance of reality after the end of our isolation will be a feeling similar to enjoying a grandiose meal after months of fasting. Treasuring each and every ingredient that builds up to our perception of the cosmos in the greatest and most insignificant moments. Incidentally, “cosmos” means “jewel” in my native tongue. Having now missed this cosmos substantially myself, it would be comforting to think that people deprived of their sight or hearing-impaired can also enjoy the world around us in part by depending on such a method of “enhanced imagination”. Or by translating what they cannot physically grasp with senses into forms and tones that they can apparently perceive in greater ways than most of us.
By the way, today’s Log Entry was willingly arranged to not include any pictures as the previous ones had. Not easy to read line after line without a break of colour and image, is it?! Yet now perhaps you can close your eyes and envision all that you have read about or all that is dear and holds meaning for you. Unlike a provided picture, it is much harder to engage continuously in this activity – but your interpretation of every scene will be unique and personalized. We could say that such is the difference between reading a book and watching a motion picture. Constructing your own reality instead of receiving one. After all, the great William Blake embraced imagination as “human existence itself”.
I hope you enjoyed this little exercise. Welcome to our world of Enhanced Imagination. ҉
Ϡ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMmTkKz60W8 : “Simple kind of man”, by Lynyrd Skynyrd.