My Dad liked to look at the Big Picture. A born engineer, he looked to physical sciences to answer all of his questions about the meaning of Life- how did we get here, why are we here, and what happens after we go. I think he believed in the existence of God, but the details were fuzzy. He didn’t like fuzzy.
Towards the end I suspect Dad was mostly concerned with what would happen after death mainly because he wanted assurance that he would share eternal life in the company of Barbara- his wife and our mother. Of course he never had a chance to tell me whether he figured it out or was successful in his quest to meld his soul with hers. But if there was a Way, he had the Will. I have felt their presence and guidance so many times in the past two years that I can’t help but believe they found the answers.
I inherited Dad’s thirst for knowledge and passion to understand how the world came to be the way it is, along with a large collection of instructional DVDs on many subjects including geology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. Personally I’ve always leaned towards biological sciences rather than physics and chemistry, but they are all part of the Big Picture, and so I watch Dad’s DVDs and then I go outside to think about what it all means. And I take my camera, of course.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
1. The universe is 14 billion +/- years old all the matter and energy contained in it came out of the explosion of The Mother of all Super Novas and we call it the Big Bang. Black holes are somehow involved.
2. Matter and Energy are neither created nor destroyed, but are converted back and forth to each other (e=mc2)
3. If you compress all of Earth’s history into one year, life originated sometime in May and human beings appeared around New Year’s Eve, which makes my lifespan less than a milli-second on the cosmological time scale.
4. Our planet was formed by the coalescence of a swirling cloud of dust and debris originating from the explosion of an ancient long-gone star that exploded from a super nova and so on back ad- infinitum or at least until the above mentioned Big Bang event, which means that everything we see and everything we are literally came from the stars. We are made of stardust.
5. There is a lot of Dark Energy and Dark Matter in the Universe. Scientists have suspected its existence for a long time and recently seem to have confirmed it, but it is really hard to pin it down and get a good look at it, which leaves us lots of room for imagination and speculation.
6. We still don’t have any idea about what exactly makes a body animate or inanimate or where consciousness comes from or what it is, really.
As a biologist I know that there are a lot of cycles in the Natural World. There are water cycles, carbon cycles, reproductive cycles, and energy cycles. Molecules and atoms travel through different forms and phases- now a sunbeam, now a rock, now a plant, now a rabbit, now a tiger, and now the light in your best friend’s eyes. The molecules in our bodies are continually being replaced; every seven years or so we are born anew (although all the acquired lumps, scars, aches and pains may stay with us.)
Ok. Here’s where I try to connect the dots (buckle up): There’s a mysterious unexplained thing we associate with being alive variously referred to as the soul, the spark of life, or perhaps the Force, and somehow this imparts some degree of consciousness to an otherwise inanimate bag of organic molecules. It is as equally elusive to study as dark matter/energy. Whatever this Stuff is, it seems logical and reasonable to think that the law of conservation of energy applies to it. So the Stuff is essentially Eternal. Also it seems logical and reasonable to think that this Stuff is subject to re-cycling just like every other bit of matter or energy in our universe. Hopefully you see where I’m going with this: Eternal Life is a real thing. I don’t know whether Dad arrived here in quite the same fashion, but he was fond of opining that even if all of the answers are revealed to us at any point we certainly forget them in our current plane of existence.
That’s part of the cycle, I reckon.
Happy New Year, everyone.
“The Cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” -Carl Sagan