Thursday, March 4, 2010

Billions of Years in the Making

Having been rather depressed and stressed out lately, it is odd that I would actually be rather pleased to have woken up around four this morning and only dozed hear and there after. But I was stuck on a line of thought that rarely fails to excite and invigorate me - possibly why I managed little sleep. It is a thought that is so much more exciting to me than any of the religious and spiritual ideologies I explored over the years. It started small, in context to the relative scale of the whole - starting just before the dawn of modern man and moving backwards. Started in the context of what I am studying now and moving back to the beginning - or at least "a" beginning and then sling-shooting from there into the distant future.

Just considering the context of our human race, we are many, many thousands of years in the making - each and every one of us. We fought, we died - but some few of us lived, at some points the underdog of two legged mammals - our contemporaries often times far better adapted to the environment of a given time. They were too well adapted though and while many of our ancestors died in those harsh environments, when the environment changed again they were the one's left standing. We were the one's left standing, because through the eons, the genes of those ancestors are a part of who we are - right now - today.

I could move forward, but I think that most of us are at least somewhat familiar with what happened next. Through near extinction, to near extinction we evolved until we hit on a lush environment where we thrived and continued to adapt. Eventually we became very much like we are today. Having developed rudimentary language and culture, our brains became something very similar to the brains we have today - though there was considerable development as language evolved and culture evolved.

At some point I would love to write in considerably more detail about the terrible and wondrous story of human evolution, but for now we are going to go in the other direction - quite a distance through time and space, in the other direction. Because our story doesn't start there, where and when we stood up on two legs and walked. It doesn't start hundreds of millions of years earlier, when single celled organisms started to divide and evolve in that lush (for such organisms) primordial environment. It doesn't even start a few billion years before that, when this celestial body we call home was born of gravity and fire. These are mere historical footnotes in the chain of events that brought us to this time and place, where I am sitting here typing on an amazing device that totally blows those nifty digital watches out of the water.

Right now, I want to take us back further, because we are so very much older than less than a hand-count's billions of years. And it may well be that the molecules that make up our being are even older than the beginning at most of us consider it. But there is no question whatever, that every proton, neutron and electron that forms every atom that forms every molecule that forms every cell that forms us, has traveled billions of light years and billions of years to be here, today, making up every one of us. And because of the basic principle of matter, that matter can neither be created or destroyed, every bit of who we are is going to journey on, for billions of years and more when our neuropathways shut down and our last thoughts fade.

Whether the universe faces infinite expansion, or it will slowly draw in on itself until every bit of each of us, along with all other matter in the universe coalesces into an unbelievably dense bit of matter, reached critical mass and explodes - we will be there, every physical fragment that makes up our bodies, continuing on a grand adventure. Personally, I hope that the universe coalesces and explodes into a new universe. I love to think the fragments of everything and everybody that has existed or will exist in this vast, mindbogglingly huge universe will all be smashed together into a tiny ball of matter so dense that it's gravity is powerful enough to draw in and crush into itself, every bit of matter that exists in this universe.

The scale and scope the true story of human life and every other life in this universe, is enough to make a person weep at the inconceivable beauty of it. These remarkable minds we possess - minds that conceived of digital watches and computers the size of a trade paperback and so much more - they balk at even trying to comprehend the scale of our story - the story of everything around us. When you think about it, we, in this tiny fraction of time, on our tiny planet in a backwater galaxy - interstellar bumpkins really, we are truly remarkable creatures. Our existence - how we came into being, is at truly incredible story.

Not magically poofed into existence, not the result of some superbeing mucking about with our evolution - not even the result of some universal intelligence trying to experience physical substance...We, with our digital watches, computers, painfully slow space craft and sometimes wholly remarkable superstructures are the result of a far more amazing series of events. Following what the best evidence, best understanding we have of the universe around us, a story that defies imagination unfolds - so much greater than any magical explanation could ever be.

We truly are made of star stuff, the residue of an immeasurable (at least at the moment) explosion.* We, and every other sapient creature - every other life form - the placement of every bit of matter everywhere is there by chance. We just happened - through explosions and and a nearly infinite number of other chemical reactions. And here we are - quite likely others are as well, on other planets - in other galaxies and if certain theories of physicists hold out, in other universes as well.

If it is possible to consider this story, the story of us, without tears forming in your eyes, I would like to know how.**

*(bastardized in part, from a quote by Carl Sagan, Cosmos)
**(especially as I am finishing this up in the cafeteria at school)

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