Scholars knew that the earth was round. Yet the maps from that time didn’t show it. Even though they were often circular, there was no suggestion that you could venture to edge on the east and reappear in the west. Sometimes the world would be displayed as a continent surrounded by water on all sides. In these cases the intention might be that you could sail around, but the border of the map would be dotted with sea-monsters, suggesting the edge of the world.
As stated earlier, fundamental to the perspective is the vanishing point. Sitting infinitely far away, the vanishing point defines the position of the horizon. Due to the curvature of the earth, we are unable to see further much further than 5 kilometres until the Earth curves beneath our view. Little thought was dedicated to what was beyond the horizon until the so called Age of Exploration which coincided with the invention of the perspective. The fact that no one knew how much of the earth was left unexplored, gave rise to the idea of an infinite world.
In 1972, the crew of Apollo 17 photographed the earth from outer space. The image, called The Blue Marble is the first picture that shows the earth as a whole. This was at the height of the Cold War, a war between two nations on different continents where whole world was a potential battlefield. This image showed the Earth as an island where all of humanity was trapped.
This unifying motif set global crisis’s on the agenda. There is a finite amount of space on the planet, which we are increasingly becoming aware of in the face of climate change and population growth.
By now the whole surface of the earth is photographed so there are no mysteries beyond the horizon anymore. Hence we see the world as a finite body. Yet there is a dimension we have yet to explore: Scale.
The satellite photographs have a resolution where one pixel corresponds to half a square meter. While this is an impressive feat, it is far from the end goal. The satellites will get better cameras, but what is really needed is to bridge the gap between the perspectival imagery from the ground and the orthophotos taken by the satellites. Scientists photographed a single hydrogen atom in 2013. Will we ever reach that resolution?
At the same pace, we are zooming out. We have sent men to the moon and Elon Musk promises to put a man on Mars by 2024 . Our understanding of space is that of an infinite black void. Yet it actually has a finite size. Right now, it is estimated to be about 46 billion light years across. It’s constantly increasing however as light keeps travelling outwards. It actually expands faster than the speed of light as space itself expands resulting in an exponential increase.