Why are we here, where do we come from? Have you ever wondered about the one way arrow of time? How long have humans been around, compared to life on earth, or to earth itself? How long does it take for our solar system to go around the center of the Milky Way? Why it is that everything we do seems to proceed from order to disorder? Where do the atoms you consist of come from? Where the universe is headed in the long haul? What is so special about consciousness in the whole shebang?
If you haven't pondered such things, no need to read further. Otherwise, I confess up front that this essay is something of an advertisement (for a one week "free, intelligent Netflix" program), yet also a door to finding out these answers with a few clicks of the mouse. [Note: As I go to post this, I find the first video actually free online, which you can watch for yourself as linked to above. But I am recommending this as one reason that you should give Curiosity Stream at least a one week free trial; it's $5 a month should you wish to continue with it. For the record, I get zero commission.]
Briefly put, my background is in science and education, along with environmental interests and inventing. I was born in 1947, steeped in science, and now convinced beyond doubt that we are deep in abrupt climate change and near term extinction for most or all of life on earth. From that perspective especially, I have great interest in "the larger picture," including the questions above, and new developments in our understanding of the world and universe around us.
Thus it is that when my wife turned me on to the program "Curiosity Stream" about two years ago, I largely curtailed my reading of books and shifted gears to watching the most educational videos around.
In this manner I learned more than I did in seven years of college, watching absolutely captivating videos on my cell phone, typically lying in bed with headphones, so my wife could continue reading her countless books without my disturbing her.
This is one scientist in particular, one among many, who has absolutely fascinated and educated me. You may have heard of Professor Brian Cox, from England, who in my humble opinion surpasses most or all science educators, past and present, including such luminaries as Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Jay Gould, Jim Al-Khalili, or Richard Dawkins, to cite a few. David Attenborough once said to Brian that if he had a torch to pass along, he would pass it to Brian. David has long been a major hero of mine, though I could easily add many others to the list I've learned from.
But it is Brian's series, "Wonders of the Universe," put out by the BBC--which spares no expense in its science productions--that I am talking about here.
Why? I believe any thinking person knows we are hovering on the edge of extinction, even though that is not specifically what Professor Cox discusses in this captivating four part series. But Wonders of the Universe is about the larger picture of our place in deep time and space, with its broad yet specific strokes covering the history of life on earth, that is inescapable from the second law of thermodynamics, namely entropy, an inevitable progression from order to disorder, that both got us here and will ultimately take us out of here, on an individual, species, planetary, and cosmic level.
At the same time, Brian approaches this from what I have to call a deeply spiritual approach--take that as you may after seeing the series--and shows us our connection to the universe and intimate place in it, vividly demonstrating that we are an infinitesimal yet also integral "part of the whole." Indeed, we are the eyes of the universe looking in at itself. It is that spirit of connection, demonstrated in the most concrete terms, that so interests and inspires me. Particularly as we see the deterioration of the world around us, environmentally, politically, socially, financially, and pretty much any way you look at it.
Let me toss out a few ideas that Brian so aptly describes. Our entire solar system takes about 250 million years to rotate around our galaxy, one of hundreds of billions of galaxies, and last I heard trillions of galaxies in the known universe, with billions of stars in each, about 400 billion in our own local hangout (the series is a few years old and I toss in a few items and numbers I've come across since), namely the Milky Way. With similar amounts of stars in all the other galaxies we have studied, via astounding new telescopes.
The entire lifespan of Homo sapiens, one species of about 20 hominoids (last I heard), took a mere 1/10th of one percent of that trip around the center of the Milky Way!
That blink of the cosmic eye, if it can even be called that, is an even smaller fraction of the 13.7 billion years (that's 13.7 with eight zeros) that the universe has been around, starting with the Big Bang, that (again last I heard), was one one trillionth of the size of a proton, aka 1/1,000,000,000,000, or in terms we can understand, pretty much nothing! Not to mention that the atom itself is made of pretty much nothing, clearly explained in one of the four videos in the series. Meaning of course that you yourself are essentially made of nothing!
I will not even mention the conceivable infinite number of other universes that string theory strongly suggests, which this series does not delve into.
I am reminded of "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas click here, but can only conclude that that is a mighty generous view of our place in "real time and space."
Brian jumps around the planet like a grasshopper, or more precisely like David Attenborough, travelling to some of the most fascinating places on earth. Sit with turtles that were around with or before the dinosaurs, for a few hundred or more million years, laying eggs once a year in the same manner for that entire time. Visit the "Gates of Hell" near Portugal, where thousands of ships were wrecked over the ages, and where the survivors shortly ended their days (specifically the Edward Boing, that went down on Sept 5, 1909). Visit that and other places with Brian, and watch one phase of that ship's gradual dissolution in the ever blowing desert sands. Learn about the formation of the 92 elements that make up yourself, your loved ones, myself, all life on earth, earth itself, and in fact the entire universe, formed most literally by the life and death of stars. Learn with amazing clarity that we are all, in truth, "children of the stars."
Witness the eminently sane Hindu belief in reincarnation, but from a perspective of the actual recycling of our molecules and atoms. Learn about the various kinds of stars and how different ones produced different elements, and about the fate of our own particular sun, along with the oldest known human measuring of our sun's cycles, an estimated 2,500 years ago, in a remote site in Peru. Understand how our distant ancestors watched it and undoubtedly revered it.