Powers of Ten (Reckoner Redux)

I was a child in the early 80s when I first saw Powers of Ten. It melted my tiny little brain. I was on a grade school field trip to a science museum, and they had it playing on a continuous loop at one of the exhibits. My friends couldn’t drag me away. I stood there and watched it over and over again, totally enraptured. It’s the first time I can remember ever having had such a profound experience, and I’ll never forget that warm, dizzy feeling of wonder mixed with existential terror.

If you haven’t seen the original, I highly recommend it. Of course, astro and quantum physics have come a long way since 1977. So has computer animation. Parts of the film don’t stand the test of time, but there’s also something enduring about it. There’s a certain kind of poetry embedded in the concept, and that poetry is enhanced when you strip away the original soundtrack.

That’s why I made a redux version. I prefer it that way — just the visuals and the synchronicity of Radiohead’s Reckoner. Without all that noodling music and educational voiceover it becomes an emotional journey rather than a science lesson, and that’s so much more powerful.

Every once in a while, I like to watch it again and catch that terrifying jolt of my cosmic unimportance. It lubricates my sense of scale. It keeps me grounded. It reminds me that humanity is a fleeting and fragile experiment, the sum total of which won’t even register in the grand scheme of all that unimaginable vastness.

I consider it a mindfulness exercise. Watching Powers of Ten has the effect of mediation. I walk away buzzing ever so slightly, awakened to experience, in a state of open attention to the present moment. It leaves me keenly aware of my place in the world — that I am at once the center of my own universe and at the same time utterly insignificant — and for some reason, I find great freedom in that.

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