Light Pollution Clouds the Night Sky
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Credit: Photograph by Brad Goldpaint

Out on the catwalk, Wren says he's grateful for the mountains ringing the observatory. Without them, he notes, we'd be staring at a sea of headlights from a hundred miles away. As we chat, a car makes a wrong turn as it exits the star-party parking lot and starts coming up the hill in our direction, its single pair of headlights washing over us like we're escaped convicts lambing it over a prison wall. Wren nods at a distant cluster of hills where a group of local survivalists has established an outpost. "Good lighting, though!" he murmurs. "They just have this one security light that bothers the hell out of me. ...

"Most people will say looking up at the Milky Way makes them feel so insignificant," Wren goes on. "You know, 'I feel so small and tiny.' Well, there's that. But there's also: Look at what you're connected to! I mean, we're part of something really grand, and for me, that kind of evens things out.

"One of the things I was interested in when I studied educational psychology is how we acquire different cognitive skills, like the ability to abstract – to imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, as opposed to just your own view," he continues. "To imagine a world beyond your horizon. And there are different theories of cognitive development, but most of them follow along the lines of Piaget, where you move from infancy into concrete operational thought, which is very black-and-white, letter-of-the-law, and then onto formal operational thought, where you're able to abstract and imagine other points of view. And depending on who you believe, about half of the population never obtains any level of formal operational thought."

Why is that? I wonder.

"That's a good question," Wren says. "I'm wondering if losing touch with the sky has anything to do with it."