[FOUNTAIN]What we lose when the lights are on

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[FOUNTAIN]What we lose when the lights are on

Find some remote place at midnight, as far away from city lights as you can get. Bring a CD player and a recording of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation.” Spread out a blanket and lie down. Put your finger on the “play” button and close your eyes.
When you are completely relaxed, press “play.” When you open your eyes, with Haydn’s music playing fortissimo, you will be compelled by the explosive beauty before you.
The science writer Chet Raymo, author of the book “An Intimate Look at the Night Sky,” recommends this as “a way to experience the stars as you never have before ―and to come as close as you will ever get to the first moment of creation.”
Human beings evolved in a world without artificial lights. Darkness has contributed as much as light has to the shaping of our brains. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” said the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.
An ancient Irish school for aspiring poets used to assign students a theme and make them write poems all day long, in a small room with no light or windows.
Today, things are different. How many city children have seen the Milky Way?
Starlight is so dim that even a flashlight can make dozens of stars disappear. Mr. Raymo aptly notes that looking at the stars in a city, or even in a suburb, is not unlike listening to a string quartet in New York’s Times Square during rush hour.
In pictures of Earth at night taken from space, the planet seems lit up like a Christmas tree. The International Dark-Sky Association, whose Web site can be found at www.darksky.org, estimates that the cost of generating the light that’s wasted on the night sky is a billion dollars a year in the United States alone.
Astronomers call this “light pollution,” and to avoid it they seek out the few places left with truly dark skies.
Earlier this month, the city of Seoul announced that by 2007 it would install new, high-efficiency street lamps to make the streets twice as bright at night.
The reason for this is to save energy while making the streets safer and encouraging the city’s nightlife.
Personally, though, I cannot entirely welcome the idea of making the night streets of Seoul brighter.
I am afraid that these high-efficiency lamps will only make the night sky seem that much farther away, and will further diminish the dreams and the wisdom that it inspires.


by Lee Se-jung

The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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