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The universe is wider than the World Wide Web

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For those who find themselves wide-eyed and open-mouthed before an endless sky, struck by constellations twinkling some distant lullaby, outer space can seem more than a pretty display. It's a frame so evocative it prompts the most profound questions about life.

We must not stifle that natural fascination, insists Paul Levinson in his latest book, "Realspace." "If humans do not continue to search in the physical, real space of the universe, and instead continue to explore solely in the cyber, cerebral, virtual world of the Web, or video games, or the cinema, they might strangle the spark that is the core of happiness - even survival."

But since its inception, the space program has done little more than sputter along. The problem, insists the Fordham University professor, who spoke with the Monitor by telephone, is that the space program has been spun as a way for the US to flex its military muscle.

"If the goal was to get to the moon before the Soviets and establish ascendancy in space, the motive no longer exists," he says. "What's missing is a forthright connection to the deepest philosophical and spiritual reasons for going into space. That motivation has been the bedrock of religions - and even science - for thousands of years. That's what the movement of space must be tied to."

As a media communications professor and the author of "Digital McLuhan," Dr. Levinson may seem an unlikely candidate for a book on intergalactic travel. But he points to a natural connection: technology. "You can't study communications media and the impact of technology without looking at technology as the embodiment of human ideas," he says. "That's what space travel is - an embodiment of our desire to get off this planet."

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