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Citizen of the Galaxy: An Interview with Jon Lomberg

Time Peace

Somewhere around 224 million miles away from Earth at the time of this writing exists an asteroid near Mars that in 1998 was officially designated Asteroid Lomberg in recognition of Jon Lomberg's many achievements in the field of science communication. If you've seen the Emmy award winning TV show COSMOS or the Warner Brothers film CONTACT like us, you were probably familiar with his work long before you ever knew his name. Lomberg was Carl Sagan's principal artistic collaborator for more than twenty years from 1972-1996. And now, right on time for our 5 year anniversary, we had the privilege to interview the space artist after he contacted us because he felt the Time-Peace symbol was similar in spirit to some of his own art. (All art © Jon Lomberg www.jonlomberg.com)
 

1) You are recognized as the world's most experienced designer in creating messages for other times and other beings. Your cover of the Voyager Interstellar Records is predicted to last for over a thousand million years which could be the longest lived piece of human art ever made... So let's start with a simple question, what is time?

I imagine you have thought about that a lot. What do you think time is? Time is something you think you understand until you try to define it. OK, it is what keeps everything from happening simultaneously. A joke answer but a true one. Whatever time is, there is no time without consciousness to measure it. If gravity is caused by the geometry of space, maybe consciousness is caused by the geometry of time?

2) When you picture other forms of intelligence in the Universe how do you see a difference in terms of their perception of time. For example could you picture an alien species wearing some type of watch? What would it look like?

Not all humans experience time in the same way. If I say, tell me when ten seconds have elapsed, do you count up from one or down from ten? Westerners equate time with our perceptions: moving through time is like walking. Tomorrow is in front of us, yesterday behind us. Other cultures say we’re walking backwards, because we see the past but not the future. So tomorrow is behind us. Some Aborigines in Australia reckon time directionally, west is future, east is past, directly tying the sense of time to the cycle of the Sun’s apparent motion as the Earth spins. If we are supposed to meet next Wednesday, and I send you a text saying move the meeting up one day, do we meet on Tuesday or Thursday? Language makes either interpretation possible. Strangely, we see no paradox in living in cyclical /clock/rotational, seasonal time while also picturing history and causality as operating in linear time. There’s helical time too, when you come back around to the same place at a higher level, like rungs on a DNA strand. Check out Samuel Delany’s story “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-precious Stones” How ET might experience it…. Do crab aliens have sideways time? Is a sense of time inextricably bound to our own physiology, and thus extremely difficult to communicate? Or maybe the movement of shadow on a planet rotating under its Sun is a universal—and hence sundials are a common (and perhaps most commonly ancient) scientific instrument we share with ET. How about animation? We mimic the flow time by a sequence of images. Is it universal? Have you seen that 30,000 year old animation stone? On one side of a round flat stone is scratched a horse in full gallop legs out; on the other side full gallop legs in. Spin the stone on a string and see the horse gallop. Somebody in the Old Stone Age invented it. Does everybody figure this out so early in theirtechnology? That first picture I sent you is an attempt to portray cyclical time from a perspective where it all happens at once.

3) I discovered Carl Sagan as a sophomore in college watching COSMOS on my computer every night before I went to sleep. Then I read The Varieties of Scientific Experience and I can say that Carl Sagan had a huge influence in the development of the Time-Peace philosophy. Now on the eve of our 5 year anniversary, you reached out to us because the Time-Peace imagery reminded you of some of your own work. If there's one thing that's consistent with the success, creativity, and relationships that have come about because of Time-Peace, it's synchronicity. Do you find that synchronicity plays a big role in your own life and art? What do you think its purpose is for humanity?

I’ve thrown the yarrowstalks a few times myself in my youth, and sometimes do feel that events have a flow of their own. But plenty of times when I thought there was some auspicious synchronicity, it turned out to be a dud—nothing came of it. Naturally I was struck by the synchronicities that led somewhere. Every lottery winner feels there was some destiny at work—but of course somebody has to win even without the presence of any “unseen forces”, but to the winner his luck is fraught with meaning.. Prediction works best in hindsight. History is analytical, not predictive and it is very risky to base future actions on synchronicity, which is really the same as coincidence. Coincidences abound, and we notice the most interesting ones, but rarely say, “hey, I’ve gone two weeks without a remarkable coincidence.” They are bound to happen. Like when you play the card game war, what are the odds of you going through the whole deck without a single war? Life is a deck with a billion cards—what are the odds of going through that whole deck without some incredible strings of match-ups? I view coincidences as inevitable and fun without believing they have much significance except as poetic inflections in our musings about our lives.

 

4) You had the extraordinary opportunity to work with Carl for over 20 years. Is there any story or perhaps wisdom you could share with us from all that experience and collaboration with such a remarkable human being?

Carl and I clicked as a team because we shared a similar vision of what he called the Cosmic Perspective intended to change the terms under which humans view themselves and their world. He was science’s champion, a proud rationalist who was skeptical of the claims of mysticism, while still feeling its strange attraction. He believed that the infinite complexity, order, and beauty of reality was explained better by physics than by belief systems. My own reconciliation of the rational/mystical divide has always been that science is best for understanding what reality is; Mysticism is a good way to feel about it. And it was this stylistic approach that permeated COSMOS’s dandelion spaceship, etc.

5) Is there a purpose to humanity? If we weren't here, where else would we be? Which leads to finally, what are we? What is the Universe? Do you think the Universe is alive?

These two paintings say it better than I can with words.

6) Favorite ice cream?

7) Do you believe it's possible to contact extraterrestrials or visit other galaxies/dimensions through lucid dreaming, astral projection, deep meditation, or through the use of visionary plants/ psychedelic drugs? Have you done any of your own astronomical research or art through visions obtained through these means?

Actually, one of my paintings inspired a chapter in the Cosmic Connection. Carl’s interpretation of my cosmic seashell was that messages from the stars might come from channels we’d never expect, in this case the sound within a seashell.

Was psychedelic experience a possible channel? I myself found psychedelics very instrumental in the formation of my own artistic vision. I saw lots of planets, experienced a billion years of detailed subjective time, but in retrospect don't think I actually perceived anything outside of my own fertile brain. But the insight it gave me was worth the trip. Carl and his friend and psychedelics researcher Lester Grinspoon once had lunch at my place in Kona before they went to visit famed interior universe explorer Terrence McKenna at his psychedelic plant sanctuary. They decided it best not to eat or drink anything Terrence gave them, so they had lunch with me first. Carl was intrigued by Terrence’s own accounts of his trips, but did not find anything to suggest that Terrence’s extraterrestrial interpretation of his experience had anything to do with ETs. Carl and fellow SETI astronomer Frank Drake had also visited Tim Leary in Vacaville Penitentiary to discuss the same issues. But there was never impressed by any “evidence” to support the claim. Too bad. But the Universe is what it is, not what we want it to be.

 

8) What is the One Earth Message Project that you are the director for and how can we get involved?

Go to www.OneEarthMessage.org to sign up to participate.Then stay tuned.

 

(This is a bonus question from our friend Kenny at SpaceX)

9) Do you think humans will ever be able to figure out why the universe works. Who enforces math? Who enforces gravity? Why have humans been able to crack the codes that let us look at far away galaxies but we haven't been able to figure out fundamental questions of physics?

Good questions Kenny! I wish I had as good answers. I’m amazed that humans have discovered as much as we have.

To see more of Jon Lomberg's incredible art please visit www.jonlomberg.com