I recommend reading Truth, love, beauty before reading this article.
Some theories and concepts of science seem to transcend the physical world to become universal and spiritual. Science and religion have been fighting for a long time, but it’s time to make peace. Cutting edge science is showing us that they have more in common than previously thought. Religion’s fear of science is unwarranted; if anything, science heightens your sense of wonder and spirituality when properly studied.
The Big Bang – Most astronomers believe that our universe began with a Big Bang. All matter was contained in an area no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence, and it exploded to become everything in our universe. No one knows what existed before the Big Bang. Maybe we are only one in an infinite series of universes – a previous universe collapsed in “the Big Crunch,” resulting in the period. Maybe there was nothing before, and there will be nothing afterwards. This universe is all that exists.
Magic numbers – Many people believe that certain numbers are special. For example, unlucky 13, 7 deadly sins, and 3 laws of thermodynamic and motion. There are also some special numbers in astrophysics; if you change any one of them, human life would not be possible. If you are interest in this subject, check out Rees, Martin, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe, 2001.
The incredible “design” of the universe – Our universe seems to be predisposed to or “designed” for life. This may be a hindsight optical illusion (our universe must be conducive to life; otherwise we wouldn’t exist), but it’s still amazing. NASA’s WMAP mission created a “snapshot” of the early universe by measuring cosmic background radiation – the echoes of the Big Bang. The findings were astounding – just moments after the Big Bang (in cosmologic sense), matter was already coalescing into the systems we know of today! It’s as if everything was pre-planned or guided by an invisible hand. Speaking of invisible hand, WMAP also revealed that 96% of the universe is “dark energy or matter” – things that we do not know very little about. It’s very humbling to know that the atoms we have been studying all this time only comprise 4% of the universe!
“We are star stuff” – As Carl Sagan famously said. The early universe only contained the very basic elements such as hydrogen and helium. The rest of the elements in the periodic table were born inside the blazing furnaces of the stars and spread throughout the universe by the spectacular explosive deaths of stars. Quite literally, we carbon-based life forms are children of the stars.
Duality – Two well known examples. First, light is consider both a wave and a particle. Seem impossible, but scientists have shown light can act like either one, depending on the experiment! Second, energy is mass, and mass is energy. Albert Einstein neatly summed this up in his famous equation: E=mc2. In nuclear fission, you split an atom to release enormous amounts of energy. Conversely, if you trap energy, it exhibits mass.
It all starts and ends with light – As I touched on in Light is life. Light emanated from that spectacular beginning, the Big Bang. Light is heat and energy – enough to create and fuel the stars. Stars then created all the higher elements in their blazing furnace and spread them throughout the galaxy. The sun was formed and then the earth. Sunlight feeds the plants; animals eat plants; and we eat both. Billions of years from now, the sun will die in a brilliant explosion, and our atoms will be launched into the cosmos to help create new stars, planets, and maybe even life.
Opposites attract, likes repel – Just like magnets; opposite personalities seem to attract. And just like magnets, their union can greatly benefit them if they work out their differences to form a greater whole. Like minded people often seem to repel, probably because they have the same virtues and faults. For example, two dominating personalities cannot be on the same team. They would step on each other’s toes.
Gravity – What goes up, must come down – This applies to our personal lives just as much as it applies to the physical world. It’s often a struggle to rise above our circumstances to achieve something greater, and you cannot rest at the top too long. How many successful people fell back down because they stopped trying? We must constantly exert effort to maintain excellence in whatever we choose to do.
Inertia and conservation of momentum – Whatever is in motion tends to stay in motion; whatever is at rest tends to stay at rest – Ever feel like you are in a rut and can’t get out, no matter how hard you try? Anyone who has recovered from depression can tell you all about this. These people need an initial boost to overcome inertia; heroes can help with this. Also, some people are “on a roll,” and everything seems to fall into place for them. A lot of hard work goes into building this momentum, and then people often jump on the bandwagon when it looks like you’ll succeed. Oh yeah, a couple of lucky breaks here and there also helps.
Everything is probability – Speaking of luck, quantum physics suggests that everything is about probability. Translation to the human world: there are no guarantees in life. Live life to the best of your ability every day because you never know what will happen the next day. There is room for hope because technically nothing is impossible, only highly improbable. Crazy things can and do happen at the quantum level.
Everything is relative – Of course, this is not exactly what Einstein said or meant by General and Special Relativity, but it has some profound implications. Many people misunderstand it to mean that there is no ultimate Truth – it simply means that our perception of Truth depends greatly on our particular point of view. The classic example has Person A on a moving train and Person B on the station platform. Person A believes he is standing still, and he thinks Person B is moving backward. Person B thinks it’s the exact opposite. How can we apply this principle in our lives? Instead of arguing with others about absolute “right and wrong,” we can more correctly see it as a difference of opinions and perspectives. If people could see it this way, there would be less arguing and more peaceful discussions and exchanging of ideas.
Rhythms of life/reoccurring cycles – Life-death-rebirth, creation and destruction, carbon cycle, seasons, sunrise-sunset, tides, rise and fall of populations, food chain, animal migration patterns
Everything is relative – The day depends on the Earth’s axial rotation relative to the sun. Seasons depend on Earth’s orbital position relative to the sun. The year is the time it takes Earth to make one full orbital revolution around the sun. The tides depend on the moon’s position relative to Earth. In evolution, “progress” is when a trait improves a specie’s chance of survival compared to the previous generation.
Everything interconnected – The earth is one giant, complex system. If we change any one variable, the whole system changes. For example, global warming is not just about temperature. An increase of a few degrees might not seem like much, but it changes the temperature of the water, which changes the currents, which affects wind patterns and the formation of storms. Perhaps one day, more people will understand this.
Everything is probability – Life likes diversity because it increases the survival rate of species. That’s why conception is so random – everyone gets 1 set of genes from both mother and father, and there are millions of possible combinations. Life likes large numbers for the same reason. Plants release tons of pollen, and rabbits breed like crazy. Many people dislike the idea of evolution because it’s “all chance.” Random dart throwing is uninspiring to them. They prefer believing everything is the result of a plan, but to me, evolution as inspiring as any religion’s creation story. Humans are the product of billions of years of evolution. Out of the millions of possibilities, humans are the only life forms that we know of who are both intelligent and self-aware. If we were to run the tape of the universe again, there is virtually no chance this would happen again. We are truly special – grand prize winners of the ultimate lottery.
Info is everything – If you want to boil it down, you could say life is all about information. Genetic information is passed on from generation to generation. You can read a person’s DNA like a historical book. If you could index the DNA of all the people on the planet, you would have created the Encyclopedia Humania. In fact, something similar to this is in progress as we speak. The Genographic Project seeks to trace back our ancestry by sampling the genes of many groups of people worldwide. Many animal teach their young survival techniques. We humans are unique in that we also have rich oral and written traditions of passing down both family and world history.
Religion’s grains of truth
Sagan, Carl, Cosmos, 1980 – A classic. A number of the ideas expressed in this article originated from Cosmos.