“The moon had been observing the earth close-up longer than anyone. It must have witnessed all of the phenomena occurring – and all of the acts carried out – on this earth. But the moon remained silent; it told no stories.” – Haruki Murakami1
The possibility of separatism and hybridity existing simultaneously is often not discussed. Hybridity emphasizes a shared history of objects in an interconnected network and the unified making of history.2 At the same time, separatism exists based on the unique spatial and temporal history of specific objects. Although nodes in a network may share connections, each node has its own unique place and time within the network; each node has its story that it witnesses from its own position. It is possible to trace simultaneous histories of the earth and moon that reveal both an intrinsic connectedness, but also uniqueness in difference. Two seemingly opposed ideas – hybridity and separatism (the dissolution of borders and the emphasis of borders) – can exist at once.
A current theory of the origin of the moon is that a collision caused the moon to split from the earth which explains similar trace elements in the moon’s composition.3 A shared history of interconnections means the moon is highly present on earth. Our response to the moon in the sky, our response to ocean tides, and perhaps our internal biological responses to the moon’s influence on reproduction, mood, or sleep demonstrate that the moon is embodied in us. Embodiment can entail both intuitive responses to the environment and phenomenological experience, which can extend to the act of viewing the moon.4 The moon undoubtedly affects the functioning of this world, as well as the biological responses we have to our external environment. No clear distinction can be made between the invisible pull of celestial bodies affecting us and our own bodies.
Perhaps the most known earth-moon connection is how the moon’s gravity is influential on earth, particularly in its creation of high and low tides. Sea creatures are biologically attuned to respond to tides, meaning the moon influences entire ecosystems. Its subtle effects expand exponentially on a micro and macro level. Coral have been shown to spawn in coordination with lunar cycles and the full moon.5 On land, it is thought that periodic exposure of flora to moonlight could be necessary for plant growth, and many flowers bloom only at night such as the moonflower.6 Some nocturnal and underwater animals use moonlight to see and hunt.7
Culturally, Western calendar months roughly coincide with a 28 day lunar cycle. Agriculture has a historical precedent of being timed with the moon. This is exemplified by publications such as the Farmer’s Almanac which advises on harvesting and planting days coinciding with moon phases and Stella Natura, a biodynamic planting calendar in accordance with cosmic rhythms. Night canoe rides and Halloween parties, among other things, are also arguably better during a full moon.
Humans have regularly attributed each full moon its own name highlighting the interconnection of natural processes. The moon can be many different moons depending on when it’s observed and by whom. The multitude of possibilities paints a picture of a moon that changes as earth changes and humans change.
Wolf Moon, Old Moon, Snow Moon, Hunger Moon, Worm Moon,
Sap Moon, Sugar Moon, Pink Moon, Egg Moon, Flower Moon, Milk Moon,
Honey Moon, Thunder Moon, Hay Moon, Green Corn Moon,
Dying Grass Moon, Mourning Moon, Oak Moon
Cold Moon, Blue Moon, Black Moon
The moon demonstrates alternate conceptions of temporality. It is thought to be approximately 4.53 billion years old. Our human-oriented perception of time cannot experientially comprehend the meaning of that duration. That’s enough time to live approximately 57 million human lifetimes. The moon reveals how earth-centric and human-centric our perception of time is by challenging us with the possibility of a “day” that could last for 28 days rather than 24 hours. With the human body moving at an average of 3 miles per hour, it would take 9.5 years to walk to the moon (or 124 moon days). To swim there would take slightly longer at 186 moon days. Our existence on earth influences our temporal perception, much like our spatial positioning on earth biases our ideas about the moon as a distant satellite in space.
Ingold discussed a merging of spatiality and temporality into a “dwelling perspective” which can be used to re-orient ourselves to the moon.8 A “dwelling perspective” of the moon relies heavily on our human temporal and spatial positioning, but it can be shifted through imagination when viewing a photograph of the moon landing. Seeing someone walk on the moon illustrates an alternative to our common way of existing on earth, raising the question of how our ideas about existence and life can be reframed based on landscape. With the planned 2027 opening of Voyager Station, the first space hotel, a dwelling perspective of the moon is becoming increasingly realistic.9
In the past when travel did not include cars, the distance to the moon from the earth probably seemed much greater. If one could not travel to the next town easily and quickly, travelling to the moon must have seemed completely unthinkable. Or, it is possible that in the past, in a time of darker nights and different cosmologies, the moon felt closer because it was a vital and noticeable entity configured prominently in everyday life. In either case, the imagination of the moon played a large part in the human relationship with it, where it functioned as a place with symbolic and metaphorical meaning. Even as we gained technology but had not gone into space, the moon still retained its status as somewhere one could occupy only in the mind. An abstract space rather than a concrete place. The first photograph of the moon from space illustrates a shift to recording the moon to understand it beyond the limits of the human eye.
The progression of technological advancement, by contrast, constructed an idea of the moon, not as a mysterious or opposite celestial body from earth, but instead as a potentially useful second earth. As space travel and astronomical technology advanced, humans hoped to find water on the moon or proof of life as an attempt to find, what a hierarchical system defines as, superior life-sustaining conditions due to their importance on earth. Because we live on earth, we are limited to understanding the moon, at present, only from a distance. Our inability to fully and completely study the spaces we cannot inhabit could allow us to learn something about the limits of human knowledge, which are restricted by our biological bodies and how they frame our perception of the world.
Once humans traveled to the moon the famous Earthrise photograph, showing the earth as seen from the moon’s surface, was influential on a shift in perception. The Earthrise photograph has been noted by psychologists as producing the “overview effect” due to the alienating feeling of seeing Earth as a whole from space, which had never been shown to mass audiences before.10 This perspective is significant in that it shows the dialectic relationship between the moon and earth quite clearly. From the earth we can study the moon from afar and from the moon we can study and see the earth from afar; our positioning is changeable. In a theoretical world composed of hybrids, how can we ever draw a border between ourselves and the moon if we are intertwined within complex interwoven systems? Its presence can be seen in what we wonder about and think about when looking at the sky.
Tsing et al. assert that our current modes of academic inquiry necessitate recognition that the term earth is outdated because it is oversimplified and categorically limited.11 Now we must extend the idea of earth to include even things outside the territorial realm of the planet because of human influence even on space landscapes. By acknowledging that how we see the moon entails considering it to be like the earth in many regards, it is not surprising, as has historically happened with most (if not all) ecosystems on earth, that a shift is occurring towards viewing the moon as a resource.
An earth-moon hybrid clearly forms when the moon is no longer treated as separated from us. Or as Baudrillard claims, reality is broken once our territorial borders are annihilated by space travel:
“The conquest of space constitutes, in this sense, an irreversible threshold which effects the loss of terrestrial coordinates and referentiality. Reality, as an internally coherent and limited universe, begins to hemorrhage when its limits are stretched to infinity. The conquest of space, following the conquest of the planet, promotes either the de-realizing of human space, or the reversion of it into a simulated hyperreality.”12
Yet this shift to fully embracing hybridity, to allowing reality to become shattered by the elimination of any territorial borders, overlooks the very simple fact that the moon and earth are in fact different. While hybridity focuses on connections and a blurring of borders, it often overlooks the separate histories that make objects not two of the same, but situationally and temporally specific. The terms earth and moon are categorically limited, for good reason, when we are referring to a specific object in space and time. To consider them only as hybrids can be dangerous because their differences become obscured due to emphasis on relations rather than unique situation influenced in part by relations.
Contemporaneously to the creation of geological lunar maps in 1977, NASA completed a feasibility study on the possibility of sending nuclear waste to the moon. 13 (The results were that it is feasible to do so.) This study, which was only released in 2013, demonstrates an underlying political agenda which could easily be overlooked due to an initial romanticization of moon exploration. Histories of moon access perhaps tell us more about life on earth than about the moon.
In 1969, bacon squares were the first food eaten on the moon during the first moon landing.16
These activities illustrate the shifting of value systems and resource usage as a human construction. Where previously space travel was not possible, the moon as a resource was not a realistic consideration. But now the perception of the moon is that it could be accessible and the human construction of the landscape through disseminated reports and visuals means the moon is becoming increasingly defined as a relevant and important object to use for development, while still likely residing in the minds of most people as an untouchable natural wonder. What does the moon feel like when you touch it? The choices for finding the answer are: ask a scientist who has more information or imagine it yourself.
In considering the ideas of hybridity and dialectic relationships, the earth and the moon can be understood as part of a mutual relationship which entails a great deal of reciprocal influence. It is common to consider the earth as superior to the moon, situated in a mental, hierarchical position of favor. This is not surprising given the fact that the earth is our home, and it is the only place in the universe known to be able to support human life. The idea of earth as superior overlooks the complexity of interconnections as well as the distinct differences between the earth and moon. It also fails to address the limits to our human knowledge.
The concept of hybridity emphasizes how everything is interconnected, woven into a messy web of mutual influence – meaning that everything is a hybrid of everything. Paradoxically it also presents a need to draw boundaries around historical channels to account for situatedness and the uniqueness of beings. If hybridity is taken to its most extreme logical manifestation, everything that has ever affected anything is a hybrid. Meaning, the tomato soup I had for dinner can be seen as a Soup-Moon hybrid, among other things, if I draw the connections.
SOUP -> TOMATO -> NIGHTSHADE -> MOON
However, the historical trajectory and spatial situatedness of my soup and the moon differ. Although they may be conceptual hybrids affecting each other in a distanced but connected web, blurring together if I unfocus my gaze, they are still individually unique entities. Because the moon is in the sky and the soup is in my bowl – right now. And a series of happenings made it so.
A key characteristic of complex systems is their ability to unexpectedly change due to the nature of their complexity.26 The moon, as a unique individual entity, sits within a network with a multitude of observable connections (not to mention the ones we cannot see) mutually flowing and changing. The effects of a major shift in perception concerning the moon and action taken as a result, cannot be predicted. Due to the breadth of the web of the moon’s connections, it is evident the effects of further developing the moon as a resource would likely be on a larger scale than any other settlements and resource acquisitions humans have previously undertaken. Without really understanding it as different.
The moon is at once a celestial body, a helpful clock, an ocean motor, a good spot to store nuclear waste, and a magical soup influencer. But do we know anything beyond use and function? Do we know or can we know its meaning? It is likely that the answers to many of our human questions are beyond the scope of knowing for our human physiology. Moreover, perhaps the often unthinkable solution that two seemingly opposing, contradictory ideas could both be true is also a product of our inability to escape human ways of thinking. From my position, here on earth, looking up, removed from a moon I can touch, I wonder: How is the moon changing and how would I know? How will earth-moon histories continue to develop together? What even is the moon?
Royal Museum Greenwich. nd. What was the first animal sent into space? Royal Museums Greenwich, September 22, 2021, available at: https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/what-was-first-animal-space
Schulz, C. 2014. The First Meal Eaten on the Moon Was Bacon. Smithsonian Magazine, September 22, 2021, available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/first-meal-eaten-moon-was-bacon-180950457/
Ridler, K. 2020. US eyes building nuclear power plants for moon and Mars. Washington Post, September 16, 2021, available at: https://wapo.st/3ZRYOBw