Advertisements

Tag Archives: Universe

Why Am I Bothering To Learn Anything?

“No one here gets out alive.”
Jim Morrison

We are all the result of a long chain of possibilities that stretch back billions of years. We each are the progeny of a single sperm cell which, out of billions making the effort, fertilized a single egg out of thousands and brought us here; carriers of DNA that has been evolving for eons and eons. Such is life on this planet.

At the other end of the spectrum is death. Do you think about it much? I have thought about it my entire life. Not obsessively, and not morbidly, but I think it would be honest to say I do think about it often. Perhaps it was because a First Cousin of mine committed suicide when I was very young and I saw how devastated my father was at hearing the news. Perhaps it’s because we really are surrounded by it and we learn fairly early that it’s our final destination. Maybe everybody thinks about it frequently. I really don’t know because we don’t talk about it that much, except in literature, song, and the occasional self-help or personal awareness book.

In a previous post I wrote about the concept of an afterlife and my belief there’s no such thing. I’ve tried to imagine what such nothingness might be like and, for the life of me, I can’t. At least not in a way that leaves me satisfied I really understand what the total absence of experience might be like. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Mark Twain’s quote about death hints at what it might be like. He said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

After my father’s death in September of 1984, one the many thoughts his absence triggered was the realization virtually all the education, understanding, and wisdom we accumulate over the years almost completely disappears after death. To be sure, there are exceptions; memories, works of art, books and papers, social and philanthropic efforts, etc., but none of these will likely last more than a few millenia. Now, with the benefit of another thirty years of contemplation, I realize there’s a loss that’s at least as profound, and far more personal.

This is the thing that befuddles me the most. As I noted in the previous post I mentioned, above, if I am correct and there’s nothing after death, I have such a hard time contemplating what that means. I agree with Mark Twain’s quote and have used that very same reasoning. Nevertheless, that was before I experienced consciousness and, now that I have, I find it exceedingly difficult to imagine no longer having it. It’s not that I don’t accept it, even gain comfort from the knowledge it really won’t matter to me, as there will be no me to care. It’s just that I find myself trying to imagine that kind of nothingness (or everythingness?) and I fail in the attempt.

Here’s a somewhat silly thought experiment. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, there is such a thing as life after death. Let’s also say it’s possible to come up with a reasonably useful timeframe for the ultimate heat death (thermodynamic equilibrium) of the universe. Some suggest it will be in 10^100 years. That’s an awfully long time. Now, the following may seem a bit trivial, but please bear with me. In my mind, it points out the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife; at least anything that resembles the life we’re living here, on this planet Earth. Assume that, during this time period, I exist corporeally and continue shaving because I don’t care for beards, and once every trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000 or 10^12) years — because, although I’m bound to improve with time and practice, we all still lose focus now and again — I cut myself and, as a result, develop a tiny bit of scar tissue with each cut. By the demise of the universe I would have cut myself 10^88 times. I would think the resulting scar tissue would eventually make me unrecognizable.

Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride.

Advertisements

A Spiritual Experience

Total Eclipse of the Moon

Eclipse of The Moon on June 15, 2011

Who Needs Sleep!

For an atheist such as myself, the closest I come to having a religious experience is usually associated with some sort of spectacular natural event; something that makes it clear to me just how awesome the Universe is. This morning was one of those times. I got up at 4:45 am to watch the last total eclipse of the Moon until some time in 2014. It was well worth getting out of my warm bed to do so.

I took out a pair of low-power binoculars and two cameras. I hand-held my Canon EOS 10D and mounted my wife’s 50D on a tripod. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to learn how to set up the auto shutter release on her camera and, when the Moon entered totality there just wasn’t enough light to get a shot without using a long exposure. I got some decent pictures as the Earth’s penumbra slowly moved across the lunar surface and I’m hopeful they’re better than I expect. My eyesight is slowly dwindling and it’s difficult for me to tell if things are truly in proper focus. I’ll check them out later when I take the time to upload them from the card on which they now reside.

Cosmic Awesomeness

Nevertheless, as I watched our nearby satellite slowly fall behind our planet’s shadow, I was mesmerized by the thought of how enormous the three celestial bodies involved in this display are – compared to us – and how insignificant the whole show is in relationship to the rest of the Universe. I find these events incredibly awe-inspiring and am always humbled when I contemplate their scale. Think about it. The Moon is approximately two days away at the greatest speeds we’ve been able to achieve. It’s only about two light-seconds away. Our galaxy (The Milky Way) is approximately 100,000 light years in diameter and contains, perhaps, as many a 200 Billion stars. Current estimates put the number of Galaxies in the Universe at up to 500 Billion! That makes for an awful lot of stars.

The sure knowledge that I may be incredibly important to my wife and my children (not to mention me, myself, and I), but I really don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things is damn near paralyzing in its implications. Somehow, though, I have managed to meander fairly meaningfully through my life. I’m grateful for that!

The best views I got were with my small, 8-power binoculars I chose as a service award when I worked for The Boeing Company at what is now Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’ve had them quite some time and they do come in handy on occasion. I watched until the Moon was just about to disappear behind a tree, though distant, high, wispy clouds had pretty much obscured my view.

I also woke my 10-year-old, put my jacket on her, and carried her outside so she could see it. Last night she was anxious to view an eclipse of the Moon, but this morning was a slightly different story. So she got to see it, then got to go right back to sleep. Hope she remembers. I know I will.

Photo courtesy of The Sustainability Ninja


%d bloggers like this: