Tag Archives: you

Ever Wondered Who You Are? Stop Waiting And Find Out.

You are a human. One of billions alive today, and one of many more that have passed on. You are built of biological tissues that work harmoniously to stay alive, requiring energy to remain altogether, reproduce and, eventually, die. Given the apparent silence of the Universe (where are all the aliens?!) our type of ‘complex life’ seems very rare indeed. But who are you? Where did you come from? And where the hell is everyone else?

Genesis

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth – Genesis 1, The Holy Bible (New International Version.)

Whether you believe in God or not, the Universe had a beginning (or atleast a defined start to its current iteration.) Big Bang or Simulation, we are 13.8 billion years (or a few thousand if you are religious,) into its life. The Earth came into being around 4.5 billion years ago, likely due to the accumulation of interstellar particles under gravity. And this seems common, in the known universe planets number in the many trillions.

From this perspective, we are not that special. There are trillions of planets in a huge Universe (possibly one of many.) But, there is something that sets us apart (clue, its you.)

Molecules And Man

Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is’ – Albert Camus, Novelist, Playwright and Essayist

Over our relatively short stage-time (a tiny fraction of what the Universe will likely live before becoming an entropic, cold wasteland,) Earth has been home to something truly spectacular. Life. Whether it be the pet project of a deity (which Science would lead you to disregard,) or something to do with molecular replication, you cannot deny that it is special. Why? Because we haven’t seen it anywhere else (yet!)

Current theories propose that certain molecular configurations of highly reactive atoms (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen,) began to replicate due to their increased stability and preferential ability to induce change in free atoms floating near by. If you have studied biology, its a little like the ‘induced‘ reaction of enzymes. But on a simple level, becoming more complicated over time.

‘We are all survival machines, but ‘we’ does not mean just people’ – Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Chances are that this type of life is fairly common, as given the large numbers of planets out there, even with a tiny fraction of chance, some would have created the same tiny ‘creatures’ (if you will.) It may very well be that we spot such simple life on Saturn’s moon of Titan, or deep in Martian rock (and some suggest we already have!)

But when did these collections of molecules become more complex? And how? The symbiotic theory suggests that large molecules engulfed smaller to create the first eukaryotes (i.e. multicellular organisms,) which then coalesced to create those with different systems. These were ‘biological’, and relied on interactions between different parts to stay ‘alive’.

Evolution, the scientific theory that attempts to explain life, makes two strong points:

  1. Individual variation in a species will occur by chance (i.e when our genes replicate, they make mistakes, giving a different appearance, behaviour or some other trait.)
  2. If this individual variation is ‘adaptive’, i.e it means it will benefit the individual and species overall, it will likely become predominant in the species (sounds a bit like the molecules right?)

TLDR: Humans are just the current species specific iteration of a long chain or organisms. Cue the book burning.

Something Special (?)

Is mankind alone in the universe? Or are there somewhere other intelligent beings looking up into their night sky from very different worlds and asking the same kind of question? – Carl Sagan, Astrophysicist, Turtle-Neck Enthusiast.

So likelihood is we are the end result of endless generations of molecules, subject to evolutionary pressures and bound by the physical laws of the universe, slowly becoming more and more like us (and other creatures.) But this seems entirely natural, and almost inevitable.  But we don’t see it everywhere in the universe, and this is called the Fermi Paradox.

Actually, The Drake equation suggests that given even restrictive rules, there should be at least 100,000 to  15 million civilizations out there. Even with modifications, we should still see thousands.

SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence,) is a large array of radar dishes scanning the cosmos. It is pointed toward areas of interest, looking for radio waves from far-flung civilisations. These scientists look for certain signals, such as familiar universal numbers, primes, repeating patterns or something else irregular.) So far, aside from the WOW signal, nothing particularly special has turned up.

We seem to be alone.

But are we really? The Universe is very old, and the laws governing what we understand life needs aren’t very forgiving. We need a certain gravity, heat, energy and abundancy of atoms, time and space. The chances are that even with this caveat, life is out there. But we may never see it, and there are reasons why (stay tuned.)

Who Are You?

For now, when you ask yourself who you are, muse on our shared history. Don’t worry so much about social labels, age or race. If you dare, ignore species altogether. The answer is very humbling and can be expressed in one sentence.

You are a biomass of self-believing consciousness, built from familiar atoms under restrictive universal laws, tuned by selective environmental pressures, and just a small part of something much beyond your comprehension.

And that, for me at least, is pretty freeing.

What’s Next?

  • Follow Ben on Twitter so you never miss an article.
  • Give this a share if you found it interesting.
  • Let me know what you think in the comments below or on social media.
  • Donate. Running this blog requires coffee.
  • Learn more about our history by reading Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything.’ (Seriously, do it!)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Image courtesy of Felix Jody Kirnawan

Sources

The sources above are true as of 17/3/18. Feel free to discredit them, it only brings us closer to the truth. My feelings won’t be hurt.

 

 

 

Do You Want To Understand The Universe? It Can Be As Simple As This. Inside; Become An Internet Explorer

The twilight hours are a funny place. Roald Dahl referred to them in his classic novel ‘The BFG’ as ‘The Witching Hours.’ And when the shadows grow long, and the night sky becomes lost to the horizon, the world can seem just that, bewitching. And at these times of magic I often find myself amongst the stars, or deep in our past, or between the very particles that made us. I am talking of learning, using the internet to discover the universe.

And it is the best decision that I have ever made. Becoming an #internetexplorer

Once we lose our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe which dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.” – Carl Sagan, Astrophysicist and Science Communicator

Committing to the Universe

As I write this blog I am also watching ‘Vsauce‘, a Youtube channel dedicated to educating on subjects ranging from physics to psychology. The host Michael Stevens is an enigma, seemingly a deft hand with everything and yet almost always entranced. Mathematics, physics, the human mind, he can dance between them seamlessly. And its with that dance that I find a clue to our universe, it is all interlinked.

‘Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known’ – Carl Sagan, Astronomer and Science Communicator*

As I sit here writing, Stevens is discussing his desk and how it reflects the inner workings of his mind. It is a mess. I can relate. But on it is a globe, little puzzles, endless notes and most importantly, a computer. Information, unrestricted and potentially near infinite. And though his channel Collins is able to inspire me.  By committing to learning, you begin to know the universe and your place in it.

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist and Science Communicator

Our pale blue dot as a bridge

Humans, as hailed as polymath Carl Sagan says, are ‘Johnny come-latelys’ to the universe. On our ‘pale blue dot‘, as he put its, we have acted out every good, bad and in-between of our history. And yet, this is a small time, a tiny snippet of the cosmic calendar. But, even in this sliver, we have learned more about our universe than anyone could have possibly imagined just 100 years ago.

The true virtue of human existence has always been wonder. When our distant ancestors glanced upward at the stars they saw great hunters, prey and predators cast amongst them. Little did they know that they were giving our meaning on giant balls of nuclear fusion so far away that the very light was older than they. They used tools, sharp stones, that would one day become surgical knives and the precursors to lasers that could split subatomic particles.

We tell stories of the universe, but the universe has infinitely more to tell us.

Our questions have always moved us forward. And our little blue dot, lost in a tiny corner of the cosmos, is our bridge to the universe. And you can cross it any time, all you need do is ask. And the solution is on Michaels desk, and yours, or in your hands, a computer (big or small.)

Become an explorer

Your brain, the centre of your universe, floats in a body of fluid called ‘Cerebrospinal Fluid.’ It is full of nutrients, and protects the brain from impacts as we go about our day to day. Without it, we would be in big trouble. But exploring is important, life is a necessity once born, but adventure a calling. It is using this brain we can truly venture forth.

If you want to truly know the universe it has never been easier. Simply by opening up a search bar,  you can learn about anything. But I am going to suggest another way. Begin an adventure. After spending a year travelling, I learned to follow my passions, and the path becomes unpredictable.

Chaos theory, the science of unpredictability, helps to model the interactions of the many on their outcome. When it comes to adventure this means that you may never know where you end up. So start here, and type in any word you want. I suggest ‘String Theory’. Then watch the first thing, then click on the next, follow your mind and keep going.

You have now become an #explorer of knowledge, and with it, the universe.

What’s next?

  • Read Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Sam Harris
  • Share YouTube videos that interest you and tell others why
  • Keep a ‘Learning Diary’ by noting new fascinating things

Image courtesy of Pixabay

*To label Carl Sagan, or his protégé Neil deGrasse Tyson, with such restrictive terms is somewhat painful. Both are more than scientists, storytellers or artists. They are something else, pioneers. In fact, Carls messages may be the first to be read in deep space by another species… but that’s for another day.

The views above represent those of Dr Ben Janaway and none of his affiliates. Please subscribe and follow him at @drjanawayHe is happy to discuss any work or commissions.