The Informed

Literacy in Science: A Foundation for the Pursuit of Truth

Those who have taken it upon themselves to learn a thing or two about the fundamentals of science, and in particular cosmology, have not seen their time wasted in vain; they have come invariably to understand that there is a vast and unbelievably poignant universe out there, beyond our senses and our concept of time and space, utterly beyond anything we could ever imagine in our wildest dreams. 

Things unimaginably large and things unimaginably small. It is at once beautiful and destructive, explosive and yet fragile and subtle in its beautiful symmetry and ultimate perfection. Yet most of us take all of this beauty for granted or worse, are not even aware that this beauty exists to be beheld. To seek out and to know the truth of things, one must know a thing or two about the natural world and its miraculous, devious workings; but sadly, some of us never look up into the oh-so beautiful sky and wonder about the nature of things.

And yet here we exist, in our ultimate beauty and our evolutionarily perfect creation as a testament to the universe's innate proclivity to create greatness. We are in fact the very universe experiencing itself; we are its children and its eyes and its thoughts; and so we inevitably ask, is there a God? Or, later in our development and growth we will undoubtedly also ask, does it even matter? What really matters is that we are here, now, and it is incredible. To be a part of this journey through space and time is truly something to cherish and appreciate and, dare I say, worship. In order for us to survive beyond this infantile phase of our development, we need to appreciate the reality that we inhabit, We need to understand it and live in accordance with its natural laws. In fact, it demands this from us, by virtue of its creation of us from matter once contained inside its exploding stars. We are all star stuff. And we live in an era where we know this to be true.

Don't be fooled into thinking that you don't need this awareness, for you can't fully realize yourself until you understand the world in its greater context. And don't let the scope of this knowledge lead you to think that you aren't allowed to know these truths and that these ideas are only available to the privileged or innately gifted. You most certainly are allowed to comprehend its greatness and vast scope, and when you do, you will start to be able to realize your own greatness and facilitate that of those around you. Indeed, it is a fundamental ingredient in our progress, our ultimate survival, and our inevitable existence in harmony.

Without Understanding There Is Nothing:

It is fundamental to this knowing, however, that there is a vast, unimaginably expansive world out there, both inner and outer; a world that most people are all but completely unaware of. This world is above us and below us, it is all around us and within us, and it connects all of life, all of the energy and absolutely all understanding. And yet, most people know nothing of it, knowing only vaguely of its existence but little more. This shallow understanding of the natural world informs their limited perception of reality, and in turn, their opinions and choices are based on only a small subset of the facts -  their very existencetheir very existence is in dissonance with the natural world as a result of their misinformed or poorly informed worldview  is in dissonance with the natural world as a result of their misinformed or poorly informed worldview. There is far, far more to the world around us than meets the eye. Its history and composition are astounding, its life and diversity amazing, and the universe in which our world resides is beyond the strangest fantasies imagined, and as a part of it, a part capable of comprehending it, we are by necessity called upon to learn the basic mechanics and makeup of this machine we call existence. Just as we need to learn to read and write in order to communicate across distance and time, so too must we learn about the nature of things in order to have any sort of perspective and grasp. The effort and time required to understand the basics of physics, mathematics, cosmology and other key sciences is minimal in the scope of our time spent, say, watching television. And the benefit of understanding these things outweighs any other consideration. Ignorance of these truths is like living with only twenty percent vision and thinking that you are in fact seeing the whole picture. Despite the limitations of what we currently know and understand, it is still vast and hugely illuminating if only to shed light on the journey of discovery that lies ahead for humanity and for that which we still have yet to uncover.

While many have argued that it is impossible for us to have any true understanding of the natural world and the universe which we inhabit, we do have at least some understanding of it through our limited perception and through the tools we use to increase the scope of that perception. To have at least some grasp on the natural world is a powerful beginning - and we need to make choices in alignment with our scientific understanding of these things if we are to make any valid choices at all. To not think and to not act in a way congruent with the world that we inhabit would be sheer insanity, and yet that is what we continually do. The first step in achieving an appreciation for the beauty of the universe is to make some effort to comprehend that which we know to be true through science and observation. This is key. When a true appreciation for the scale and beauty of our universe is held, decisions are informed through a whole new horizon of understanding, and better things are bound to happen as a result. No other result is possible within this paradigm.

Perspective Through Understanding:

Bound to the Earth and trapped within our limited, albeit dazzling senses, it is sometimes hard to keep any real perspective of our place in the universe in mind. The fact that we are whizzing through the cosmos on this spaceship Earth at over two and a half million miles per hour is easily forgettable amid the lattes, car payments and the myriad distractions that we suffer unto ourselves with unyielding frequency. The fact that you and I and everything we have ever seen, felt and beheld all came out of the inside of an exploding star some 5 billion years ago in a universe almost 14 billion years old is not in the headlines. The vast abundant scale of the cosmos itself too big to comprehend, we are some thirty-thousand light years from the centre of even our single galaxy, one of a hundred billion scattered across the abyss. Just think of it for a moment; when you look up into the sky at the milky way, you are looking at light that is 30,000 years old - that is the time it took for those particular photons emitted from those particular stars to cross the huge recesses of space and enter into your particular eyeballs - and then be interpreted by the unimaginably unlikely existence of your consciousness. It is mind-boggling to even consider, and yet it is happening and it is true. Perhaps most notably, Monty Python made a noble and hilarious attempt at creating some perspective in this regard.

Consider too the inner world, that world of not only cells and proteins and all of the magical building blocks of life but also of the much, much smaller things - the molecules, atoms and the quantum particles, numbering in the trillions and trillions in just one individual human being. There is a world of energy and matter, intertwined and bound to one other, unable to be created or destroyed, only able tothere is only one world, and it knows nothing of political borders, of ideologies or of economic class, and if we are to live in harmony with it, we need to understand this  change form from one to the other. The energy and matter in this world is as old as the universe itself, and will always be for as long as it exists. Some of the stable fundamental particles on our planet have been in existence for billions of years, not changing form or state, and they have been inhaled and exhaled by all of the humans that have ever lived and who ever will on this tiny, pale blue dot. The surreal and crazy natural world in which we live is full of unimaginable construction and balance, and when one has a fundamental understanding of this, it becomes clear that there is a bigger picture of which we are sorely unaware. Looking at our social and political problems in this context, when the world is seen and understood as one living entity, as it truly is, borders and class structures, political ideologies and make-belief economic fundamentalism just seems silly, and they very much are. There is only one world, and it knows nothing of political borders, of ideologies or of economic class, and if we are to live in harmony with it, we need to understand this.

The Incomprehensible Scale Of Time:

Another piece of the puzzle in this quest for perspective and thus, appreciation and understanding, is the vastness of the scale of time, the 13.8 billion years of the existence of our universe, according to our current knowledge. We are here for but a brief flash in the cosmic scale. All we have ever been has been the tiniest blip, and if we are to endure for the billions of years left in this great universe, we will need to escape our home and find other places to dwell, for even the life our our Sun is limited in the greater scheme of things. In the cosmic calendar (a method used to visualize the vast scale of time in the existence of the universe, condensing 13.8 billion years into one calendar year) we only started drawing on cave walls at 11:59 pm of December 31st and have only been industrialized for the last half second or so. If there is life out there somewhere, and it is very likely given the giant scale of things, it could be billions of years old, advanced in ways we cannot even conceive of. We are so young, but we have come so far. From our vantage point on this tiny rock floating in space through nothing more than our ability to observe the things around us, we have come to understand things both large and small, and have, at a minimum, an ability to steward our planet for a long, long time if we would only chose to do so. If we have come to understand all that we have in a mere heartbeat of cosmic time, what then can we achieve if we are to endure for another hundred years, for a millennium? And what if we find a way to live forever, what then? What would our perspective be if we knew we would never die, if we knew that the consequences of our actions would be observable - by us?

The Unimaginable Unlikelihood Of Your Birth:

And what of the origins of life on this planet? It came from nothing, from star stuff, and it persists and evolves through devastating ice ages and catastrophes. It can all be traced to a common ancestor and we are all related, as much to the chimpanzee as to the amoeba. We are all indeed one, and are part of this organism called Earth. The odds that you and I even exist at all is astounding, but since there is no other reality that we know of to exist, we tend to not consider the precious nature of our existence. We take it for granted - a product of our lost perspective.

The Nature Of Things:

In a world where madness is the norm, where out-dated ideologies prevail and where so many are left out in the proverbial cold, we have clearly lost a true and meaningful sense of perspective of our place in all of this. When science means nothing, we no longer seek truth as a society and this will undoubtedly create our own doom. When we know the names of all the notorious serial killers throughout time but know nothing of the great minds that uncovered the truths of reality, we have come to a point where we have skewed our values to the extreme. This beautiful, abundant universe has made us, and made us to understand itself, as we are all children of it. We have been given starlight, a gift blasting our small Earth with sufficient energy to power all of our cities ten thousand times over. We have been given the gift of consciousness, and have used it and our insatiable curiosity to uncover secrets and truths, and yet we do not live in harmony with that knowledge. And this gap between our knowledge and our capacity to utilize it grows ever-wider. The status quo relies upon our dim understanding of these things; but it remains that this knowledge is there for anyone who wishes to know it, and that knowledge is very powerful. We will prevail, but the narrow-minded and selfish among us will have to wake up or be run over as we take the world back.

So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure
Just how amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space
Cus there's bugger all down here on Earth
- Monty Python

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