Photographs From the Beginning of Time

This 5TF is thinking about: distant galaxies, defunding psychiatry, generating joy, animals and tiny mics, and the legendary Briana Scurry.

Photographs From the Beginning of Time
image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
Welcome to this week’s edition of 5 Things Friday, a weekly roundup of random interesting things culled from the internet and my brain.

This week, I present to you...

5/ These gorgeous, groundbreaking images from a distant corner of our universe (and the beginning of time).

Images from the super powerful, newly constructed James Webb Space Telescope (a telescope that will be used to "probe the cosmos to uncover the history of the universe from the Big Bang to alien planet formation and beyond," according to Space dot com) are now gracing the internet.

Take a look:

image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

What exactly is this heavenly galactic cliff? As explained on the NASA website:

This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth.

Called the Cosmic Cliffs, Webb’s seemingly three-dimensional picture looks like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening. In reality, it is the edge of the giant, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, and the tallest “peaks” in this image are about 7 light-years high. The cavernous area has been carved from the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located in the center of the bubble, above the area shown in this image.

(Btw: "extremely massive, hot, young stars" is the name of my new band.)

As described in this piece, below is a cluster of five galaxies called "Stephan’s Quintet." Apparently, four of these galaxies "interact and stretch each other with their gravitational forces."

image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

And this guy down here is "a dying star expelling gas and dust, in orbit with a younger star."

image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

And what about this pic?

image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

NASA puts this image into perspective with a mind-blowing analogy that this NYT opinion piece elaborates on:

While there are a few interloper stars in the photo, nearly every dot in the image is a galaxy. For a sense of scale, if you could hold a grain of sand at arm’s length up to the sky, that speck is the size of the view. It is one minuscule sliver of our universe, filled with thousands of galaxies, each with billions or trillions of star systems and each of those with its own planets.

Not only is the size and scale trippy (this telescope allows us to see so much—dozens of galaxies!—and so little—just a sliver of the universe—at once), these photographs are also a trip back in time. Wayyyyy back in time. As Vox explains:

While it appears to us as a flat image, this image reveals the depths of the universe, and is a window through time. The very faintest, smallest blips of light in this photos are images of galaxies as they existed more than 13 billion years ago, near the very beginning of time (that light has been traveling through space ever since).


So, I'm pretty impressed, and I'm also holding this thought along with it: while this is cool and all, sometimes I wonder if we really need to spend billions and billions of dollars to ascertain whether extraterrestrial life exists when you could just ask a medium to talk to any friendly neighborhood aliens for you 🤷🏻‍♀️

Maybe we could spend those billions on more pressing solutions back home here on Earth? Idk.

4/ This call to "defund biological psychiatry in the United States."

In the Boston Review article "Mental Illness Is Not in Your Head," writer Marco Ramos (MD, PhD) critiques two books on the history of psychiatry.

It is an emotionally difficult read, recapping the violent and callous history of experimentation on disenfranchised people.

There is much more than I can summarize here, so I'll leave you with what I think is the most important takeaway.

In reviewing these two books, both of which focus on a privileged subset of the field, Ramos concludes:

If these histories of elite academic practitioners do not show us the whole problem, they are also not going to produce imaginative solutions. Searching for answers requires de-centering the academy and looking to narratives that have largely been neglected in standard histories of psychiatry. The historical work of disability activist and scholar Liat Ben-Moshe, for example, turns to Mad communities who have embraced neurodivergence not as a medical problem that needs to be fixed but as an identity that should be celebrated. Mad activists and professional allies in the 1970s, such as the antipsychiatrist Thomas Szasz, successfully demanded the abolition of violent psychiatric hospitals and carceral practices in American society. While this movement to deinstitutionalize psychiatry did not result in wholesale liberation of people with disabilities in the United States, Ben-Moshe argues that it offers important lessons about how communities can successfully resist the structures that repress them in the name of care.

Ben-Moshe’s work not only provides a means for critically examining the psychiatric violence of the past but also offers what she calls “genealogies” for thinking about futures that seem otherwise unimaginable. Genealogies of resistance conceptualize “health” not in terms of access to individualized treatment provided by academic physicians but rather in terms of collective liberation from the structural conditions that produce the vast extent of psychological suffering and trauma. These genealogies undergird the work of communities and professionals fighting today to abolish the carceral system and to imagine non-violent forms of care through peer support, soteria houses, and political protest. In Los Angeles last year, for example, a vocal coalition of community organizers, academics, and officials successfully stopped the construction of a “psychiatric jail” and advocated for the reinvestment of those funds into initiatives for community-based mental health care. “Care first, jails last,” they are demanding.

There are also unexpected lessons here for more privileged communities. Material wealth does not completely insulate people from the psychological damage of capitalism, of course. Burnout and depression are endemic among upper middle-class physicians and medical students, to name only one example. Over a third of students at Yale, many of whom come from privileged backgrounds, seek mental health services for psychic distress. As psychotherapist Gary Greenberg has bluntly put it, “The fact is, if we didn’t have such a fucked-up society, I’d be out of a job.” Psychological suffering in the upper crust of society is not only evidence that we need increased access to care, whether through pharmaceuticals or psychotherapy. It is also a call to mobilize against the pathogenic features of our local social climates, from toxic training programs and high-pressure university cultures to dehumanizing factory floors. As historian Joanna Radin encouraged me to discuss in my undergraduate course on the History of Drugs, the question is not only, What is the right drug for me?, but also: What would the world have to look like for me not to need drugs at all?

Harrington and Scull surely did not intend for their books to be read this way, but we might understand them as a call to defund biological psychiatry in the United States—to refuse yet another promise of a “revolution” or “renaissance” that would save an academic project that has done little to help and lots to harm. We do not need to be neuroscientists to know that psychological and emotional suffering is “real” or “legitimate,” and that a pill, however effective, cannot abolish the carceral and capitalist system that is the source of so much trauma. As these books teach us, psychiatric paradigms are fragile, and perhaps biology’s tenuous grip on the profession is finally easing under the strain of recent critiques. The future of our profession, if it has one, does not lie in tired promises of biological breakthroughs. It depends on unearthing and embracing neglected histories and genealogies of solidarity with the communities that academic psychiatry claims to serve.

3/ This "joy generator" from NPR.

I find it very funny that people feel the need to back up basic things about emotions with scientific studies in order to deem them worthy of attention. Almost as if emotions are too fluffy and ridiculous and frivolous to discuss.

NPR has a few "no-shit" moments in describing their Joy Generator, a website where you can swipe through little multimedia presentations that aim to fill you with the warm and fuzzies.

I was greeted with these factoids after I made it through a set on nostalgia:

"Scientists are learning that nostalgia can even help us all derive meaning from difficult experiences."
"Scientists are learning that our feelings aren’t hard-wired — emotions are created by our brains in response to what we’re experiencing now and what we’ve felt in the past."


Nevertheless, their joy machine is worth exploring. Try it out here.

2/ These animals who got interviewed with a tiny mic.

I think the title says it all.

1/ This documentary on the legendary Briana Scurry.

Even if you don't follow women's soccer, I highly recommend you check out the documentary "The Only" on Paramount+.

Briana Scurry is a Black, queer, groundbreaking goalkeeper who faced immense highs and lows, journeying from sky-high success to isolation and darkness, and all the way back again.

She is complex, resilient, vulnerable, and underappreciated, and her story deserves to be heard.

Wishing you a joyous weekend,