The Hubble team knows that, and has scientists like Zolt Levay working in the gap between the purely factual and the meaningfully human. Levay uses his computers to translate that raw pulp of information that the telescope feeds to him into images that will register not just visually but cognitively, and perhaps even emotionally. His team will make composites of different informational images, adding at their discretion various amounts and shades of color not only to describe objective criteria like changes in energy over the area of a quasar, but also to give the image a deeper resonance. It’s easy to dismiss that human intervention in an otherwise mechanical affair as prettifying the information, or even outright propaganda. Levay himself doesn’t deny that conundrum: “Many of the images are a representation of reality rather than absolute reality, but then any photographic reproduction can only be a representation of reality, no? Some are closer to our way of seeing than others.” But reservations of that sort really miss the larger point. Mechanical methods have always offered the best insight to human knowledge not through the perfectability of their information, but through their rendering of the fractured nature of that data as something that is both compelling and inherently unknowable.
It’s in this way that the Hubble team reveals its most profound connection with the likes of Vermeer: not only in the scope of its ambition to create a distinct visual language, but in its much deeper understanding of what those creations mean in terms of the human experience. The search itself is what is so completely human; it certifies our lives, and so returns us from the infinite back to ourselves.
© Copyright Gil Blank