98 Horton’s Cosmic Zoom Room (EF, JP)

Today we welcome Zachary Horton, Associate Professor of Literature  and director of the Vibrant Media Lab at University of Pittsburgh; game designer, filmmaker and camera designer. Out of all these endeavors, he came to talk about his book  The Cosmic Zoom Scale, Knowledge, and Mediation .

This dizzying book begins with a bravura description of a movie we both loved as kids:  The Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames. It’s a view of two people enjoying a picnic zooms up and away to show their surroundings, all the way up into space then zooms back in for a close-up of the hand of the picnicker, ending top at the atomic level . The book, uses the cosmic zoom as a starting point to develop a cross-disciplinary theory of scale as mediated difference.


Zach shares his worries about scale literacy, and what happens when we diverge from the “meso-scale of the human sensorium.” John approaches scale by way of Naturalism and SF in the late 19th century, both of which refuse the meso-scale aesthetic realism of their day  in order to anchor it at a different scale.  Elizabeth asks about temporal scales and geology’s activation of human sense of humans’ scalar insignificance.

Mentioned in this episode:

Italo Calvino The Complete Cosmicomics

The Holy Bible

Kees Boeke, Cosmic View: the Universe in 40 Jumps

PBS, The Bigger Picture

Voltaire, Micromegas

Mark Twain, 3000 Years Among the Microbes

Listen to the episode here.

Read transcript here.

Sketch by Sir James Hall of Siccar Point, site of the the geological unconformity on the basis of which geologist 18th century geologist James Hutton built his theory of uniformitarianism. On the experience of seeing Siccar Point, John Playfair wrote, “The mind seemed to go giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.” Reprinted by permission of Sir John Clark, Bart. of Penicuik.

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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