13.7 billion years ago, our universe began to expand. We know this because it is sung in the theme song of The Big Bang Theory, though they round up to 14. You and I began to evolve as the first hydrogen atoms were formed shortly after our Big Bang. Indeed it is probable that each of us has some of those original hydrogen atoms in our bodies.
Until about 400 years ago, we knew our place in our universe. At one time, we knew that the Earth was a flat plane surrounded above and below by water, the firmament was above us and contained everything we saw in the sky. Above that was the spiritual realm which had direct ties to Earth. For example, in Egypt, the River Nile flowed from the spiritual realm to the Earth.
The Greeks decided the Earth was round and that all the heavenly bodies existed in spheres above us. Above the heavenly spheres was the spiritual realm. Different story, but still, we were at the center; we were special.
400 years ago, science (Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler) burst our heavenly bubble. The Earth was ripped from its central spot, tucked lovingly under the stars and the heavens, and caste out into a vast, cold void. We now know that we live on a small planet, orbiting a medium sized star in a spiral galaxy in a universe so big, that we seem to be nothing.
Until scientists such as Henrietta Leavitt and Edwin Hubble did their work, we did not even know our address in that immense universe.
To a sentient-conscious life form, having a place has immense emotional significance. To a group of those life forms, shared meaning has immense social significance. We lost more than our place in the universe 400 years ago, we lost our sense of shared reality.
I would like to offer three ways that we humans are special in the universe and they are based, not on conjecture or wishful thinking, they are scientific reality.
We Are at the Center of the Universe
The largest object that could exist in our universe is the size of the known universe, about 1030 cm (90 billion light years). The smallest object that could exist is about 10-25 cm.
We humans are in the 102 cm range. I am about 175 cm tall. We exist at the center of the size spectrum in our universe. This is not an accident. We are at the sweet spot for sentient-conscious life. If we were much smaller, our nervous systems and brain could not be complex enough. If we were much bigger, our neural pathways would be too slow for complex thought.
We are at the center of the universe; though not in the spatial sense as our ancestors thought. Ironically, they had the right idea about themselves and the wrong science. We have the right science and the wrong idea.
We are made of Stardust
When stars die, they produce elements such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur, known as the building blocks of life. Most of what we are made came from these star deaths. The amazing thing is that these elements make up less than 1% of the mass of the universe. We are made from the rarest stuff that the universe has to offer.
We are the consciousness of the universe.
You can say we happened by accident or you can say there was an inevitable path that began 13.7 billion years ago and we are the current result of that path. Either way, we are special.
Shared meaning can create a sense of wonder and fuel our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to each other.
Achieving a Sense of Wonder
Go out on a night when the stars are bright. Lie down on the ground in a spread-eagle. Feel your connection to the Earth. Look up at the stars. Now imagine that you can feel the Earth turning and you are part of it. Imagine that you literally came from those stars.
If you are interested in more, see
A God that Could Be Real by Nancy Ellen Abrams
The New Universe and the Human Future by Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel R. Primack
License free images from
artist’s depiction of Milky way from http://www.nasa.gov