As you all know, I have been mostly on my own for a fairly long time. In this time, I have had much time to gather my thoughts. Something about having a full day of unbroken thought gives you tremendous clarity. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the books I read over the past year, and the things I’ve learned. I realized I’d really developed a new picture of reality for myself. Since I have so much spare time for the next little while, I decided to write it all down, and then read it back to myself to kind of bookmark what I had learned over the past year or so. Here goes nothing:
It is now known that the Earth is not the center of everything. It is now believed that the Earth is only one infinitesimally small and insignificant dot in an enormous cosmic wasteland called The Universe. How are we to make sense of the impossible dimensions of space, and the ultimate question of universal creation?
Much like the creation of life, the creation of the Universe is hotly debated. Science, unfortunately, is much farther from answering this question than people would like to think – and yet, we still know a bit. The so-called “Big-Bang Theory” is all too often dismissed as being a lousy answer to it all. In fact, the Big-Bang is not meant to answer WHY the universe was created, but it does in fact give us a great insight into HOW. Big-Bang is not a theory – it HAD TO have happened. There is sufficient proof.
You might wonder how scientists have come up with the Big-Bang. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually based on hard science, and is as irrefutable as evolution. It is actually very easy to prove that the entire universe was, at some point, all in the same exact spot. I’ll try to explain as best I can my understanding of this.
Most of you have heard of the Doppler effect. When an ambulance drives past you, the sound of its sirens change their tone to a lower frequency as it passes. This is because the sound waves become relatively decompressed the further away the ambulance travels. Now take that principle, and apply it to LIGHT waves instead of sound waves. Scientists can look at a star, and if it’s moving away from us, its light will do the same thing – only instead of SOUNDING different, it LOOKS different. If something is moving towards us, it will appear slightly more blue (this is called Blue Shifted). If something is moving away from us it will appear more red (this is called Red Shifted). Using this very simple method, astronomers can tell which direction the stars are moving, and roughly what velocity. Well, if you measure the positions and directions of all the stars in our sky, lo and behold, they are all moving away from a single point in space. Isn’t that interesting?
That’s what is meant by the “expanding universe” – the discovery that everything in space is moving away from everything else. Big Bang theory is actually far more complicated than this, and few people on Earth truly understand it (or at least… claim to). This is because EVERYTHING was created in the Big-Bang, including matter, light, energy, the dimensions of space, and even time itself. So when people ask you “What came BEFORE the Big-Bang?” they have yet to grasp the basic propositions of the theory. There WAS no “before.”
Of course, it is impossible for our minds to conceive of a Universe beyond our own dimensions and our linear sense of time, and so the concept of “no time” is possible only the theoretical mathematics (it’s called t=0). And yet, we can take a leap of faith here and accept that there just might be phenomena in the Universe that are simply beyond human comprehension.
But you know, there is still so much to learn about the physical Universe. For example, you have heard that Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity. When people hear this term, they often think “Ah yes, the force that pulls us towards the Earth.” While this is true, it is half of it. We pull the Earth towards us as well. Everything that has mass has gravity. You have gravity, I have gravity, and every particle in the Universe has gravity. In fact, you are exerting gravitational force on the planet Neptune right now, pulling it towards you as we speak. It’s how our planets stay in orbit.
So everything that exists pulls itself towards everything else. Gravity is the great unifying force of the Universe. Funny thing is, beyond being able to measure it, nobody really has any idea what gravity IS, or why its there at all. Some people have argued that gravity is there to make sure that the universe will stop expanding at some point – that stars and galaxies will eventually slow down and then stop, and be pulled back in by the gravity in the Universe. What ensues is called “The Big Crunch” – the opposite of the Big Bang – where everything in the Universe collapses back down to what it was. In fact, it just might collapse back EXACTLY how it was. And then, of course, start over again exactly as it did before (ad infinitum). I find this to be a fascinating theory – but still based on speculation. Scientists are still debating how much gravity is out there in the Universe.
It gets murkier. Stephen Hawking has made some interesting proposals too. For example, if you travel across the Universe in a straight line for an infinite amount of time, you well come back to where you started. This is impossible to do of course, and yet he insists that the fact remains. Furthermore, many science-fiction writers have proposed that if you could somehow zoom into an object that is infinitely small, you will eventually zoom in on yourself within that tiny world. I like this theory, because it demonstrates how the Universe ought to be thought of – not as a place that is subject to our Earthly physical limitations – rather, as a kind of existence that is impossibly curved, and reacts on a plane of existence beyond the three dimensions that WE experience.
I support this theory because of atoms. The atomic world is very strange. The laws of atoms, neutrons, and electrons do not follow the laws of physics in the macro-universe. In theoretical physics today, there are two COMPLETELY OPPOSING schools of thought about how the physical world operates. One for the world we can manipulate and see, and one for the world of atoms. Einstein and other renowned physicists have struggled desperately to bridge the two schools of thought, trying to produce the Holy Grail of science: the Unified Theory of Physics. We are not there yet. Science is still utterly perplexed by the behaviour of electrons. This is because they exist in several places at once.
Thus, rules that were thought to be totally immutable are proven not to be so. The science of Quantam Physics is strange and scary. In the atomic world, things are not so much “there” as they are an expression of the “potential” to be there, depending on whether or not they are observed. This opens a whole new page of science. In this new branch of physics, reality is not objective, and science fiction becomes reality. Did you know, that atoms are mostly empty? The nucleus of an atom (the only part with solid matter) is extremely small. In effect, the solid matter around you is not solid at all, it only appears that way. In fact, when you touch something, your atoms do not touch the other atoms – the illusion of touch is created by electrons repelling away from each other. If there were no electrons, you could quite literally walk through walls. Even this diagram isn’t even NEAR to the correct scale; atoms are much emptier than this.
But then, electrons are even smaller… and they are not actually there until you observe them. What are we to conclude from all of this? It’s all too much to grasp really. Perhaps thought is the only thing that has any physical bearing on reality, and the entire Universe is within ourselves and within everything else at all times. Some people have gone so far as to argue that the Universe ITSELF could be considered, in some stretch of imagination, a sentient form of life.
Universe did not always exist, but it may have existed an infinite number of times before. Space, time, and dimensions are curved in ways that fold back on themselves, though our minds have difficulty projecting this. Without something in the Universe to observe it, the Universe might not be. And so, we need life.
Life. It is nothing more than a concept. Like all other concepts, it is an idea that helps us to make sense of reality. In this section, I will explore the concept of “life” and its importance to our understanding of the Universe.
In the world today, there are two general categories of belief concerning the origin of life on this Earth. The first (and by far the oldest) is the belief that life on Earth was an endowment from a divine creator being, such as the Sun or a God. The second belief is a result of a recent scientific proposal that life has gradually changed in complexity over time, and become what is now familiar to us today. The first belief is called Creationism. The Second belief is called Evolution. If you want to see what evolution probably looked like, watch this video.
There is a great deal of debate among these competing schools of thought. Both seem to lack explanations for certain phenomenon, and so the debate will likely never be resolved completely. However, those who denounce evolution are in fact sorely misguided if they attempt to employ rationality to argue evolution– in fact, many people are so utterly unfamiliar with the basic principals of evolution that debating is effectively pointless. One of the most striking ironies of the debate is the fact that many Christians try to argue against evolution WITHIN the realm of science. As I will explain, this is an utterly impossible position to take, as anybody with even a remote sense of logic will agree that evolution must be fact.
I have had many discussions with Christians who claim that they do not believe in evolution. They believe that God created life, and no more explanation is necessary. That in itself does not sound so bad, nor is it in any way hypocritical. However, the problem is this: in accepting Creationism, you absolutely MUST deny evolution, and so they do. BUT, if you deny evolution, there is unfortunately a great many more fundamental scientific facts that you must ALSO deny by association.
Evolution is simply NOT debated within the realm of science, quite simply because it is readily OBSERVABLE. That is to say, it can be seen and experienced today. Yes, evolution is a long slow process… but only on a macroscopic scale (the things we can see with our naked eyes). However, evolution happens much faster in the microscopic world. If you have ever heard of ‘mutation’ then you know what I’m talking about. It is the idea that microscopic organisms change the structure of their DNA based on random chaotic events. Here’s the kicker: “mutation” and “evolution” are essentially different words for the same process.
So basically, we can see microbes evolving or “mutating” under a microscope. It does not require a great stretch of imagination to project these ostensible biological processes onto creatures of larger scale. Humans are simply bigger, and differ in biological complexity. So then, when I ask Christians if they believe in the flu, their answer is most commonly “Yes, of course.” The important thing to retain is that the influenza virus’ “mutation” is, in other words, an evolved adaptation to a new environment – evolution in fast-forward – but evolution nonetheless. To deny evolution, one must shut their eyes to this glaring fact of modern medicine.
The point is this: if you are going to claim that evolution is nothing more than a “theory,” then I’m afraid by association you must also deny the entire theoretical foundations of modern biology and medicine. You must deny the existence of the flu and common cold. You must even deny the existence of cancer. They are all, in some ways, visible products of the process we call “evolution” and they are anything but theories. Thus, the so-called “debate” of Creationism versus Evolution is, sadly, not a debate at all – only the result of sheer ignorance on the part of Creationists.
The next question then becomes: how did it all START? Evolution, after all, does not explain the ORIGINS of life on Earth, it only explains how life has increased in complexity over the aeons.
Again, in order to answer this question, one must shed a few conceptual assumptions about what is “life” and what is just a bunch of chemicals. From the point-of-view of mankind, the conceptual border between “living” and “non-living” seems fairly self-evident; creatures that can move, or show some sign of sentience are alive. In fact, man has developed a detailed taxonomy of life on Earth, separating creatures based on biological characteristics (eg. Vertebrates, Invertebrates, Amphibians, Mammals, Avians, etc). Something like moss, for example, is considered to be ALIVE in that it has an ostensible “life-cycle”: it requires resources to sustain its being, and it eventually dies. A rock, for example, is obviously not considered a living thing in itself because its existence is static and visibly non-organic.
Again, we must peer deep into the microscopic Universe to gain a better perspective. There are some organisms that are so incredibly small that ten billion of them can live in a single gram of soil. They are called bacteria, and they are the most successful species on earth. Stephen Jay Gould posits that they will eventually outlive every creature on Earth. You may think we know a lot about these little micro-organisms, but estimates suggest that only 1% of the microbes in any environment have actually been discovered. In other words, every cell in your body is teeming with unknown life-forms. Bizarre isn’t it? But entirely true. YOU are, in fact, only a very complex composite of billions upon billions of living creatures, each acting with its own unique sense of self-purpose, much like you act with a sense of purpose within society (more on this later).
These little creatures live and interact in a way that can appear to be predictable; their behaviour is characterized by patterns. There is a pattern of decreasing complexity as life gets smaller, until there is eventually very little difference between what is called a “living organism” and what is called a “reactive chemical.” Amino acids are thought to have been the first compounds to grow and reform into the kind of chemical complexity that might qualify as what we call “life.” We might never know exactly how it happened. But, needless to say it is not unimaginable that during the chemical entropy resulting from Earths chaotic birth could have catalysed such a fortunate chemical reaction.
Personally, I don’t believe there was a specific moment when inanimate chemicals “became” life. Rather, it is better to think of it as a gradual trend towards increasing chemical complexity, the result of which is… YOU – a very complex chemical machine. Is that not what you are? Is that not, by all modern scientific definitions… life? “Life,” thus, is just a concept like any other – one that helps us to explain and understand our situation… but tragically inhibits our ability to see beyond it. At the risk of sounding bleak, one could say that life is nothing more than a very complicated chemical reaction.
For my final point, I’ll illustrate the major error Creationists make in their assumptions about the “theory” of evolution. The so-called “Intelligent Design” theory states that: “Anything of such incredibly intricate design MUST have had, in some sense, a designer to conceive it.” They believe that evolution is proposed to be a gradual ascent from a POOR species to a BETTER species, and that man is so perfectly attuned to his environment, that there is no way it could have been a result of random natural selection. Things are, in other words, “Too good to be random.” This sounds plausible at first. But it is not.
This is actually an utterly foolish interpretation of evolution, and is loaded with the kind of human arrogance that makes a scientists stomach turn. What Darwin was REALLY saying was in fact the complete opposite… not that species evolve in some perfect symmetry with their changing environment – rather, that changes in the Earths environment can favour some species, while causing MASS EXTINCTION in others! Man is not (as the Creationists claim) a perfect suitor for planet Earth because he was designed to be so… Man is only here today because BILLIONS UPON BILLIONS of creatures have gone extinct before us. We are not the result of some divine cocktail, we are simply the surviving experimentation among an innumerable list of FAILED species, such as Neanderthal man.
You might say “The odds of us being the chosen species is too big for it to be random.” But people win the lottery every day. Thus evolution is just another example of the human trend towards picking the hits, and forgetting the misses. I suggest if you don’t “believe” in evolution, you actually go and learn what it is before you make up your mind. And that doesn’t mean you have to denounce your religion – Pope John Paul II believed absolutely in Darwinism. All you are admitting is that MAYBE some of the clerics and scribes who assembled the bible between the 3rd to 15th century simply didn’t have a reasonable explanation for life on Earth, so they made up a story. It’s really not such a bad thing after all, just uninformed. The creationism story was probably good for humanity at the time. But it’s totally unnecessary now, and it should not be taught in schools.
So now that life has been created, what keeps it going? Why do we reproduce at all? In order to answer the question “What is the meaning of life?”… I’ll ask you another question first: Do cats feel jealousy?
I can say, personally I have always considered cats among the most jealous creatures in the world. They are so jealous, in fact, that if two male cats meet, they will immediately do battle in order to establish territorial boundaries. I have witnessed such battles in my front yard on several occasions, and I assure you they are ferocious. Many other animals do the same thing. Humans are really no different. We feel jealousy just the same as cats do, and we establish territory just the same, albeit through more subtle methods. The point here is that emotions – ALL emotions in fact – are ultimately only chemical mechanisms for ensuring our replication and survival as a species. Allow me to demonstrate how some of the more prevalent human emotions serve the purposes of reproduction and rearing of successful offspring:
LOVE: Induces members of opposite gender to feel attraction sufficient enough to produce the sexual relationship from which offspring is produced.
JEALOUSY: Helps to abate polygamy, and ensures monogamy. Monogamy is essential to the creation of a family unit. The family unit is necessary for the upbringing of human children, because they do not mature into self-sufficient adults until late-puberty.
ANGER: If a person feels that they or their territory is in some way threatened (however indirectly), they must respond with aggression in order to protect their mate, or their family unit. Anger is there to ensure self-preservation.
SADNESS: If man did not feel sad at the loss of a mate, child, or member of the family unit, there would be no motivation to procreate, and no reason to live. People do not feel sad for people who are NOT in their family, or in their tribe. People typically only feel genuine sadness if they transpose the pain of loss onto someone they know. In this regard man does not feel sadness at the death of an unknown member of the species.
INSECURITY: Because self-presentation is essential to the courting process, a recognition of flaws and imperfection on one’s body will incur deep personal resentment, and thus a strong desire for physical self-improvement. Though this can seem detrimental to the individual, it is ultimately better for the species in general.
LUST: Man is naturally attracted to members of the opposite sex who appear more capable of creating and supporting a family unit. Men look for the physical characteristics of healthy child-baring. Women are more careful in their choice of a mate, and look for anything that contributes to their ability to provide for a family, which also includes physical prowess and ability. It is ultimately up to the female gender whether or not the mating process transpires because she puts her body at far greater risk, and could potentially be incapacitated for months during pregnancy.
GREED: Typically associated with men. This is because men must make sexual displays in order to be chosen by a female. Men are thus naturally predisposed towards gathering and displaying things. Greed is quite simply a socially-evolved concept for the will, among men, to showboat their ability to provide, much like the male peacock shows off its flashy plumes. This is the foundation of our entire society/economy (more on this later).
So, if one were to remove any of these emotions from the human experience, we would likely cease to produce subsequent generations of people. Coincidence you think? Or could it be that emotions are effective chemical mechanisms for ensuring survival? Of course, we don’t think of them that way, and yet we recognize that these emotions occupy our entire consciousness, and vary depending on our age and level of sexual maturity. Did you know that it has been scientifically proven that a baby’s cry is the most painful sound in nature that the human brain can possibly hear? This is a good analogy. Everything about our instincts suggests that we live only to mate and raise a family. We find ways around it of course, because nowadays it is not acceptable to mate with just anybody – and you can’t just beat your rivals to death with a bone if you feel threatened. Today, we live in a “society.”
And so, these emotional instincts underlie a far more complicated social reality. We are so immersed in the social processes of our world today that we take them utterly for granted. A good word would be “ritual.” Rituals are the specific processes by which myths are created. For example, taking your honey out for milkshakes back in the 1950s was a kind of American ritual – it ritualised the myth of middle-American courtship, and helped an entire generation of kids to create a kind of abstract playing-ground for performing the more INSTINCTUAL rituals, such as territorial marking, and sexual displaying (hand-holding and swing-dancing respectively). Kids during this time were, after all, just cavemen RAISED in suburbia. Society is, thus, the constant re-interpretation of instinctive impulses, expressed as something different – something more complicated – something that must be learned, and reinterpreted again and again. We call this “culture.”
In fact, it could logically be argued that economy, industry, and policy are just VERY complicated side-effects of the same old human instincts and urges. When it all comes together, you get war. You might ask “How does WAR help to ensure the survival of species?” This is a very legitimate question, but the answer is simple: war is a social mechanism through which dominant social groups devour or assimilate less successful social groups. In other words, war ensures the best are always on top. All of the great empires throughout history are stained with blood and have existed on the exploitation of the poor and the weak, including the Roman Empire, the British Empire, the Third Reich, and today’s American Empire. At the very root of every aggressive campaign against humanity, there have been the same driving forces at play: the acquisition of wealth, the establishment of territorial borders – all a result of individual motivations – greed, jealousy, anger, fear – the very same emotions that are meant to ensure survival. Though it seems inhuman to say so, war is in fact a necessary part of human development, and is entirely a natural process. You are only here today because of a long list of bloody victories throughout history.
When there is no need for us to fight, we do what we do best. We spread. That is, after all, why we are here. The larger our species gets, the more complex we become. Before, man lived in small pockets, or “tribes” that moved around nomadically. A pivotal moment in human development was agriculture, when we began to settle the Earth and grow outwardly. This spawned things like artisanship, architecture, language, and complex culture. As these grew, promulgated, and diffused throughout the Earth, man’s presence on Earth began to resemble something very… organic – in terms of scale, it’s almost as if WE were the bacteria and the EARTH was the host organism!
That brings us to today. However it may have happened, the Universe was created, chemicals reacted and got complex enough to become self-aware. Man built might empires and spread throughout the world in the most efficient way possible. And here we are. Lost in a world that is so utterly complicated that we don’t even TRY to make sense of it anymore!
A few things are clear. Now, for the first time ever, man has realized that the resources on this world are finite. If our emotional instincts are any indication of how we might react to this looming threat, then things look bleak for us. But in a way, we’ve already accepted our fate. The mighty empires of today have already begun waging their wars, and the instinctual priorities of the individual do not show any signs of change. We will continue to consume and consume, if not for the immediate sense of greed, then at long last for the survival of our families when the end draws nearer. At some point the species will inevitably collapse, and the billions of human corpses will rot away under the ground.
But it’s not bleak. In fact, it’s not bad at all. Ultimately, this should be viewed as a positive thing. You see, it only takes about 150 years for the atoms in the human body to diffuse throughout the entire Earth, so we won’t be underground for long. We will live on in some form or another, like some perverted kind of atomic re-incarnation, within the creatures that survive us on Earth – perhaps for billions of years yet to come.
Way down the line, the Earth will be consumed by our Sun, and our Sun will be consumed by another, until all that is left in the Universe is a few super-dense points of matter. Thanks of gravity, they will slowly draw closer and closer until they all collapse onto one another. All that has ever been and will ever be, trapped in a quantum singularity at the center of the Universe – exactly as it was in the beginning. Then it will all happen again exactly the same. For infinity.
If you just scrolled to the bottom and don’t like readin, just watch this video. It sums it all up quite nicely.
– Stephen Hawking: “A Brief History of Time”
– Charles Darwin: “On the Origin of Species”
– Stephen Jay Gould: “Full House”
– Bill Bryson: “A Short History of Nearly Everything”
– Stephen Johnson: “Mind Wide Open”
– Stephen Hawking: “The Universe in a Nutshell”
– Friya Hemmenway: “Divine Proportion”