Looking up to the sky on a clear dark night, with clear eyes alone, the expansiveness of the universe is clear. It is easy to lose yourself within this expanse, the shapes of the bright shiny specks shifting from one formation to another in your mind; sitting with your child and pointing out the big dipper, while he/she points out the snake, tiger, or Popsicle shape designed in his/her imagination. These types of activities and thoughts often make us feel small against such a huge, and according to current science, ever-expanding space. However, we don’t deserve to feel this isolation, as we are far more connected to these shiny specks than what we allow ourselves to feel.
The truth is, we are made from the stuff of stars.
To break down the science stuff –
Stars exist as a result of fusion reactions. Most stars fuse hydrogen to make helium (like our sun). Then when hydrogen is gone it starts fusing helium. The fusing of helium makes even heavier elements. Then once the helium is depleted the heavier elements start to fuse, and so on. This is how oxygen, carbon, and heavier atoms are produced. This is how all of the elements on the periodic table were produced. The stopping point of fusion comes with iron – any elements larger than iron require more energy to fuse than the energy released – this is the point when a supernova occurs (explosion / death of a star).
In short, stars manufacture elements and every so often the stars explode and push the manufactured elements into space. These elements end up forming new stars and solar systems.
As Neil Shuman, associate dean of biological sciences at the University of California, explains in his book The Universe Within, “Each galaxy, star, or person is the temporary owner of particles that have passed through the births and deaths of entities across vast reaches of time and space. The particles that make us have traveled billions of years across the universe; long after we and our planet are gone, they will be a part of other worlds.”
In other words, the elements manufactured by the stars are the same elements that make up our bodies. It is no wonder our bodies are made mostly of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon which are the same elements (as noted above) which are manufactured by stars through fusion.
You could say looking up at the sky is like looking at a mirror, only the mirror not only reflects, but also travels back in time.
The time we know and live by every day is also created by the stars, namely one star: our sun. The orbit of the Earth around the sun, as well as the orbit of the moon around the Earth creates the months and years that pass by during our lifetimes. Our seasons are created by these orbits as well, and if you’ve ever experienced “seasonal mood changes” you may now start to realize how deeply connected these big balls sitting up in space are to our personal lives.
What is odd to me, is how we can be so connected to the universe, we are literally made of the universe and we live by its clock; at the same time, we have learned to think of space as something separate from ourselves. We learned to think of ourselves as small and isolated compared to the expanses above.
Why do we feel so small compared to the universe?
The human mind hasn’t always thought itself so small against the universe, the change was recent and mostly driven by Western culture as a result of the scientific view of objectivism, and the introduction of modern science. If we need to measure objectively, we can’t make ourselves part of what we are measuring; so science pushed humans out of the universe and portrayed it to us as something separate from ourselves in an attempt to measure it (and some may say to measure it quite successfully). The Western cultural views driven by Christianity didn’t assist much either, portraying humans as the “chosen ones” and driving a divide been ourselves and the natural world around us (viewing humans as are more intelligent than any other life form and even than the universe itself).
Due to this “objectivism” we pushed away notions of connection between the world outside and inside ourselves, along with a dismissal of astrology and ideas of following the stories in the stars created by our ancestors.
Looking at the universe objectively left out a huge part of existence: us.
Most of science still holds the objective views; it’s what the scientific method was built on. However, the problem has occurred to scientists (with some help through quantum physics) that humans are in fact a part of the universe, and that the observed is not always independent of the observer (especially if we want to answer fundamental questions about the observed; i.e., the universe). As a result, science is starting to turn a new leaf in the direction of this problem, and the problem has caused quite a divide between scientific views; the two groups in science are currently referred to as “mind” and “matter”.
Mind versus Matter – Simplified views of the divide
The “mind” group is beginning to see objectivism as worn out and attempting to move in the direction of recognizing a connection between the universe and all living organisms. Certain views even go so far as to attribute a collective, single, universal consciousness as the answer to the “hard problems” in science (i.e., the fundamental questions of life).
The “matter” group is doing their best to stick with the current scientific method and keep thoughts of universal consciousness out of the question. The catch phrase of this group has become “shut up and calculate”, with the thought that if the “hard problems” of science are ignored, the gaps will fill in themselves as long as we let research, experiments, and mathematics continue.
The views of the “mind” group are quite interesting, though the stages are currently primarily philosophical. It must be said that all science began with philosophy, so such views shouldn’t be dismissed on this point. Regardless, it is clear the lenses of science are changing, and we may find ourselves within a new realm of knowledge in the not-so-distant future.
Though the world of science may be in for a world of change, it’s past has proven one deep fundamental truth: we are made of star dust. And everything in our world (even the world itself) is made of star dust too. There is hope this thought will provide feelings of connection instead of isolation, and the ability to see yourself as part of the big picture (instead of something outside of the picture completely), or maybe you are already feeling all of the connections tingling.