Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps

by Kees Boeke (1957)

We all, children and grownups alike, are inclined to live in our own little world, in our immediate surroundings, or at any rate with our attention concentrated on those things with which we are directly in touch. We tend to forget how vast are the ranges of existing reality which our eyes cannot directly see, and our attitudes may become narrow and provincial. We need to develop a wider outlook, to see ourselves in our relative position in the great and mysterious universe in which we have been born and live.

At school we are introduced to many different spheres of existence, but they are often not connected with each other, so that we are in danger of collecting a large number of images without realizing that they all join together in one great whole. It is therefore important in our education to find the means of developing a wider and more connected view of our world and a truly cosmic view of the universe and our place in it.

This book presents a series of forty pictures composed so that they may help to develop this wider view. They really give a series of views as seen during an imaginary and fantastic journey through space - a journey in one direction, straight upward from the place where it begins. Although these views are as true to reality as they can be made with our present knowledge, they portray a wonderland as full of marvels as that which Alice saw in her dreams.

The pictures originated in a school in the Netherlands, the Werkplaats Children's Community at Bilthoven, where a group of children under my guidance drew the first versions of them. I began the project because of the importance of developing a sense of scale, and I therefore proposed to draw the same objects in different scales. In doing this I took advantage of the metric system, which logically corresponds with our numerical system, and made each successive scale one-tenth of the one before. When we do this we seem to go right up into the sky, so that we see objects from ever increasing heights, and at the same time see a constantly increasing field around them. We also notice that each imaginary jump we make to move from one scale to another one ten times smaller must be ten times greater than the previous jump. That is, if we start at, say, five meters from an object and we first move to a distance of 50 meters in order to see it at one-tenth scale, we have moved 45 meters; if we then move again, to a distance of 500 meters, to reduce the scale again to one-tenth the previous scale, we will have moved 450 meters, or ten times the length of our first jump. The next jump would be 4,500 meters, to a distance of 5,000 meters, etc. We soon find that we have started on a tremendous journey of exploration, and we begin to wonder what we shall discover if we continue in the same way.

The first 26 pictures of this book are the record of such an imaginary journey.

When we undertook our plan, we saw that we must first decide on the date and the time of day of the journey, for we must know where the sun would be at that moment. So we assumed that the moment of observation in each case would be and would remain December 21st at noon. We knew that the sun would then be at the winter solstice and that it would stand in the south. As an "object" to start with, we chose a child sitting in a deck chair in the courtyard of the school building, facing toward the south. As we raised our point of observation we saw first the school itself, then our village: Bilthoven near the town of Utrecht in the center of the Netherlands. Next our view included the whole central part of that country. Going still higher, we saw the western part of Europe, and then the whole earth. Soon the moon came into view, then the nearer planets and the sun. The size of the whole solar system diminished with an astonishing rapidity as the height of our viewpoint increased, tenfold each time.

As we continue in this way, our nearest neighbor stars are drawn into the picture, and before we know it we have passed right out of the Milky Way, our galaxy, and see it from the outside. As we go on in ever more stupendous jumps our whole galaxy in turn shrinks and shrinks, until finally it becomes a small spot, and we gaze through the numberless universes which are beyond and which look like a cloud of tiny specks of light.

The question then arises: What should we see if, instead of decreasing the scale, we should increase it tenfold each time? To find this out, we first go back to the original picture of the little girl sitting in front of the school, and then we begin a second journey of exploration, which proves to be as full of marvels as the first, and which will be shown in the second half of this picture story. travel up / travel down

This content is from Kees Boeke's book, Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps. It has been placed online without permission.
© Copyright 1957 by Kees Boeke.