Centers and Peripheries

How do you define something? A few weeks ago I was reading about how the Voyager 2 was at the outer boundry of the heliosphere, or our solar system. There were quite a few articles talking about the sun’s movement relative to the center of the galaxy, the force of the sun’s energy on the interstellar medium, and so forth.

But, it made me think of a comment from Larry Wall, the creator of the programming language called Perl, that communities are defined by their centers, not their peripheries.

It occurred to me that there is a pattern. In the case of Perl, it is one language in a galaxy of other programming languages. The interstellar medium could be analogous to the problems programming languages address. You could probably extend the analogy of solar systems and programming languages and their communities in other ways.

But, I start thinking about how this pattern applies more generally to definitions. All of these relationships between sun and galaxy, interstellar medium, planets, Earth all help to define the sun and it’s behavior. However, context matters. The role of gravitational forces from the galaxy is not typically a useful distinction when discussing the sun’s impact on Earth.

Which brings me to a larger point about how we define things, their relationships, what we know and what we don’t. Every light casts a shadow. And what can shadow know of light or light know of shadow? One only exists where the other is not, yet it is also true that we all live in the penumbra, a place of both shadow and light, but a place, arguably, that knows both, yet doesn’t know either.

Everything we know, we know only in part. There’s always something missing. But, like the galaxy’s pull on the sun, in many instances, what we don’t know has little impact on our lived experience.