The most astounding fact

>> Friday, March 09, 2012

Via Forrest Wickman at Slate, we have a video to make you weep in awe. Max Schlickenmeyer brings us a wonderful mashup of science footage and Neil DeGrasse Tyson's response to a question asked by Time: "What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?"

DeGrasse's answer, similar to a classic Carl Sagan riff from the first episode of Cosmos, is gorgeous. The most astounding fact is that we are, to use Sagan's expression, made of star-stuff. All the elements in our bodies were made, as DeGrasse says, in the cores of stars in the early universe, the hydrogen (a single proton with zero or more neutrons) compressed at hardly-conceivable temperatures and pressures into every other element (composed of many protons) and ejected when those stellar cores became unstable and those stars died.

And every atom inside you will someday be recycled, will someday be a building block for something else.

There are people who think that supernaturally-premised religions are somehow necessary to scratch some sort of basic human itch, that a universe without spiritual entities is somehow devoid of awe and wonder and if you don't believe in that kind of thing you're somehow living a lesser life. And I have to say, really? Because I don't believe in spiritual entities and yet I find it an endless well of awe that I contain pieces of stars and shattered planets and dinosaurs and whales and someday in the future beetles and earthworms and hydras and amoebas will contain pieces of me. I don't say this to be provocative or to be rude to religiously-inclined friends and family, but because I really need to be honest here: when compared to this idea that I am part of this chain of recycled goods extending from moments after the beginning of the universe (however you want to define "beginning" in cosmological terms, Big Bang or steady-state or infinite cycle of Bangs and Crunches or whatever; for the purposes of this conversation it doesn't much matter exactly how the universe began or if it began) to the end of the universe (whatever that is)--compared to that, the idea of a personal god seems very small and silly and gratuitous to me; I'm sorry, but I won't lie to you about that. (And the idea of an impersonal god just seems unnecessary, an extra screw that doesn't really seem to go anywhere when you try to put everything together.)

Science doesn't take away a sense of awe or of the cosmic: it informs it. I am tiny and vast, a universe inside a universe made out of infinity's spare parts and salvageable for reusable isotopes for indefinite epochs to come....

"Astounding" isn't even adequate.


Konstantin Burlak Friday, March 9, 2012 at 7:33:00 PM EST  

Thank you, I like this, I truly do. I don't need a God to be a part of or believe in something bigger than me. I am made of the stuff of the Universe.

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