A Million Different Things: Morning #5, Who Are We? How Did We Get Here. Who cares?

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Who Are We? How Did We Get Here. Who cares? continues the free serialization online of my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man. A complete index for each section can be found at: Gift of A Million Different Things.

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A Million Different Things

Morning: Meditation #5

Who Are We? How Did We Get Here. Who cares?

Is the universe large or small? Does reality flow or is it motionless until you swim through?

When we get behind the wheel of our cars on Monday morning, rejoining the world at work, does it really make a difference if the universe is fourteen billion years old, spawned from a black hole, or only seven-hundred and refreshed daily by factory workers in Idaho?

Assuming you’re not astrophysicists, of course.

Would knowing the history of reality with certainty help put bread on our tables or shelter our families? Would it in any make our lives richer? If not, why do we waste energy tickling our imaginations about it?

A curious thing happened on the way to our becoming human. We kicked off our evolutionary excursion by emerging as creatures with a passion to know. By “know,” I mean gathering and analyzing information about everything in reach, whether useful or useless, and talking about it.

Beyond any other distinction, this is what we do. This is what being human means. Nothing else about us is as deeply unique.

Knowledge, obtaining it, weighing and distributing it–everything else about being human buzzes around that.

The universe is our barely touched research center and land of discovery. We’ve been given a rich lab with the finest, most up-to-date tools.

Who Are We? How Did We Get Here. Who cares? In The Beginning

A startlingly large number of us care about gaining some useless insight into what happened in the instant after the universe was born. Forget, for now, the probably unknowable features of whatever came before that. The inexplicable expanded (not with a big bang really, but instead, more of a whoosh!) to form planets, galaxies and smaller stuff, rocks, trees and you and me.

Partly, our desire to comprehend beginnings explains the ancient emergence of religions. Fables provided symbolic ways of describing how much the wisest (or at least the most powerful) of us knew or were able to recall from oral traditions at the time. Fables became legend, and legend became scripture.

There is no way to prove this, but if it was possible to settle a bet, I’d put my money on the probability that dogs don’t speculate at all about where they came from or why they’re here. Squirrels and ants have no interest in the fossil record.

Teasing history out of the residue is a human preoccupation, I believe, exclusively, and we’ve long used our skills at storytelling to explain our beliefs symbolically. Taken at their most basic, words are only symbols, and we gather them up and toss them together to create broader expressions.

Simply knowing that we’re here isn’t enough for us. Every living thing has a here and now, but we want to figure out then and there, before and after, what if and what is.

In The Moment With Who Are We? How Did We Get Here. Who cares?

New Age advocates are always pounding the drum about being “in the moment,” an unfortunately ubiquitous cliche by now. This idea, would have no resonance if attractive features weren’t luring us toward the fringes. I’m no longer able to get excited about this “in the moment” movement. I believe our time-space continuum rescues us from that fizzy prison, giving us green fields of future and ripened plantations of history to harvest. Everyone enjoys a break, and respite from the present can be a rich indulgence.

That doesn’t exclude the Be Here Now energy of Ram Dass, which is a more universal and aware ‘here.’

Someday, we may invent tools that can finally describe the impossible to imagine mix of chemistry, energy and solid material that set the fuse for the Big Bang. It may just turn out to be a kind of amazing nothingness, different in every aspect than the universe we now observe, evolved and still evolving, fourteen billion years along the trail.

We might eventually discover what combination of things and energy coalesced to create the illusion of time and powered it forward. Scientists have, also, been wondering if we could do the reverse, suspend or defeat entropy enough to send time marching in the other direction–backward. Dinosaurs might be resurrected in their natural space, or we might get to see Romans strolling through Trajan’s Forum while all the columns still stand and boulders weren’t abandoned in the streets.

We might pull all this off, but we’d probably gain more from a clearer comprehension of what makes reality seem, well, real.

Who Are We? How Did We Get Here. Who cares? Is Reality Real?

Reality, as we perceive it, is in generally accepted theory a place of dimensions, most of which we don’t see, touch or smell (as far as we know) as described by supersymmetry. There seems to be more content than we know in that never quite stoppable thing we casually refer to as “there.”

All of reality can’t beexplained by what our senses bring us. We see, in our mind’s eye, a three-dimensional, electromagnetically charged world anchored by time. We don’t know what the rest of it looks, feels or smells like or when and how it intermingles with what we do know.

It’s fascinating that the rest of it is really most of it. If we begin walking time backwards, we’d probably need to drag the whole fabric, even the invisibles we’ve only theorized about. The complication I believe, however, that makes it impossible is the individuality of time.

Our clocks are not shared evenly. According whose time slice do we go backward? This assumes, maybe wrongly, that we every really went forward, which in our common understanding of the term we did not.

Who Are We? How Did We Get Here. Who cares? Really!

If evolution, as it reflects the interplay of elements in nature, can be reduced to the relatively simple enterprise of preserving species by extending genes into future generations–and, in essence, it’s been claimed to be that simple–it is nearly impossible to explain any conditions under which our human quest for useless knowledge has value. Yet, we all chase it, many of us with passion and determination.

The reason all this matters and matters a lot is that, with all we don’t know, we’re really only guessing with our ideas about ourselves and why we happen to be in this particular space, a massive environment we’ve marked off with an array of assumptions and rules that help us make sense of it.

We don’t have the tools to understand our total emotions. We can’t completely explain experiences seeming as simple as loving our children, enjoying blue skies or fearing the unknown.

We don’t know even how to ask effectively about what we don’t know. Not yet, but the truth is that we want to discover all this and more. Our desires reveal the single, natural feature that makes us human, as far as we can tell, different, at least in degree, from any other known life form, here or anywhere else in the cosmos.

Our hunger to know is not confined to traditional scientific pursuits. Each of us in our personal lives is a researcher in the nooks and corners of our labs. Who hasn’t tried to pick apart the motives that drive relations between ourselves and others?

From curiosity, we buy books and magazines that delve into social interactions of all kinds, many fully detached from our immediate experience. Experts offer to unravel the mysteries of love, sex, families, politics and business.

Novels and short stories interest us partly because they illustrate ideas about how our interactions work and/or malfunction.

This questioning, the playing with trial and error, of getting hold of an idea and trying it out in action, is what science is about, even when our practice is informal and limited to wondering about the world right in front of us, the people and things we play with every day. Science is powered by a hunger for knowledge, and we’re the creators and habitual practitioners of science, even when we call it something else.

Oh, and by the way, going back to our earlier question, the universe seems to be both very large, very small and currently incomprehensible. Our present day beliefs about space and distance will ultimately prove to be primitive and inaccurate. We will one day look back on our conceptions about the universe in the same appreciative way as we now look back on the quaint errors our ancestors cherished before Copernicus and Galileo.

There are countless mini-mysteries inside such questions, enough to keep us investigating and exploring for decades ahead.

David Stone, Writer

Who Are We? How Did We Get Here. Who cares? continues the free serialization online of my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man. A complete index for each section can be found at: Gift of A Million Different Things.


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A Million Different Things: Morning #5, Who Are We? How Did We Get Here. Who cares?, Seekyt
General Contributor
Janice is a writer from Chicago, IL. She created the "simple living as told by me" newsletter with more than 12,000 subscribers about Living Better and is a founder of Seekyt.