Monday, June 18, 2007

My introduction to the cosmos

I have to say, I think my brother-in-law is more fun than most. When I was growing up, whenever I would think to the future, I always feared that if I ever got married my brother-in-law would be the typical every man. I dreaded the day that I would be forced to watch football games or NASCAR races in an attempt to bond with my then-hypothetical wife's brother.

But last night, my wife, my aforementioned brother-in-law, and I went out stargazing.

When I was younger, I did spend some nights just lying in the grass, staring up at the stars in amazement. But last night was the first time I'd ever seen anything magnified that wasn't an image on NASA's website or similar.

As you can tell, David has some experience here, so he was our tour guide to the stars. I saw the moon magnified to the point of actually seeing detail, instead of just yellowish and brownish splotches. I saw the rings of Saturn, four moons of Jupiter, a binary star (I believe it was Albireo, David will have to correct me if I'm wrong), and the Dumbbell Nebula, however faint it might have been.

Before last night, I saw the night sky as a bunch of tiny lights. I always knew that they were stars, planets, galaxies, clusters, and nebulas. But it really set in last night. In the grand scheme of things, we live on what amounts to a speck of dust, which makes us even smaller. It really puts you in your place!

As enormous as the universe is, I can't understand how anyone could possibly conceive of an entity creating it all, much less for the use of the beings on one planet. If this was true, what a waste of space the universe is!

I take comfort in knowing how insignificant we really are. That may sound depressing, but I think it's exhilarating! We can be significant to thousands, maybe even millions of people if we're important to the planet, but we can't affect the cosmos. We could blow up the Earth and the vast universe would continue on without skipping a beat.

Think of how significant our insignificance really is: the universe formed over billions of years, gradually morphing from basic elements into stars and galaxies, planets and moons. Approximately 3.8 billion years ago, the earliest life forms appear, gradually evolving until 200 million years ago, when the first mammals appeared. Then, 600,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens evolve, and over time develop culture. Countless languages are formed, enabling us to study the earth and the universe, develop mathematics and science, philosophy and religion. Over 600,000 years we've evolved, and today we have the technology that enables me to write this blog entry that you're reading right now.

That's what I call significant! It is truly significance through insignificance.

Now the question is, why would you want to ruin that glorious process of the evolution of all things by saying that someone did it?! How does your life have more meaning when you think someone created you to do his bidding? How could you find any glory in being a pawn? Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but the point still stands.

I'm rambling a bit, I'll admit. Back to the point:

I've been a walking zombie all day because of lack of sleep (but it was worth it). Still, all day I haven't been able to get the rings of Saturn out of my head. I saw that, with my own eyes. Very obviously a planet, with definite pronounced rings. After what I've seen, and taken time to appreciate, I will most definitely never be the same.

I now understand the human desire to explore the universe. I understand why people, almost since the beginning of recorded history, have mapped out the stars and tried to make sense of it all. It's the great unknown, and it's intriguing! Do religious people feel this way? Do they have that sense of the great unknown? I don't know if I would want to live without it.

The great thing is, I never have to.


tina said...

I love space, I have wanted to get a telescope for a long time now.

The Anonymous Atheist said...

I hear you should start with some high-powered binoculars. They're way cheaper than a good telescope. That's what I was using, and while it's not the best view you could have, it's still spectacular.