Existence and function of human life in the universe
Global Past, Global Present
December 17, 2009
The existence and function of human life in the universe
My vision of my role in the universe is that I am here to share knowledge with others and work toward formulating creative solutions to global issues. My role is also to participate in activities that benefit and perpetuate human life. The existence and function of human life is to provide catalysts that contribute to the health of other humans, our planet and, on a larger scale, the universe. Our contributions to the state of health of each other and the universe may have positive or negative consequences – cause and effect – which makes knowledge and prediction two important human characteristics. With my participation in the Global Past, Global Present course, I have broken through the surface – of my complacency in not-knowing – to the information that is being gathered by scholars in the study known as Big History. This course has revealed an amazing amount of information regarding the big picture of human and natural history that I may otherwise not have known. I have absorbed academic and practical information from this course regarding the modern creation story which I am analyzing and assimilating in the hopes of understanding the vocabulary of, and sharing the knowledge gleaned from, this multi-disciplined field of study.
Are creative thinkers stewards of the human race and universe?
Some of the information covered in this course includes biographies about some very creative thinkers – Albert Einstein, David Christian, Fred Spier, Alan Lightman, and Lise Meitner – as well as their discoveries and theories. I have learned that it is helpful to study the past – to understand what has worked or not worked in the past – in relation to taking care of life and the world we inhabit. About human behavior, in “How Big History Works: Energy Flows and the Rise and Demise of Complexity,” Fred Spier argues “that for most, if not all of human history, the quest for sufficient matter and energy to survive and, if possible, reproduce has been the overriding theme” (12). As self-proclaimed stewards of the human race, this planet and the universe, our purpose as humans is to continue the existence of our race. Perpetuating life is a pattern that has occurred since the beginning of life’s existence. As David Christian explains in Maps of Time, living organisms, including humans, did not appear immediately after the big bang which created the universe 13 billion years ago.
Why do we need to know about time-space, quantum physics, gravity?
Whatever created that big bang is marked as a point in time in which there is a before and an after. Alan Lightman writes in Einstein’s Dreams that time is a human perception and that it may exist in 30 formats other than the linear format we know on Earth. In Lightman’s novel, the various creative time format possibilities affected humans differently depending on the format. If time was circular, then humans acted differently because they knew they would be in the same time-space whenever the cycle started over again. The three NOVA films in “The Elegant Universe” series describe Einstein’s theories of string energy, the 11th dimension, and time-space. I think Einstein was special – he shared his knowledge about the universe, matter, energy, and gravity – important information for the human race. He was a creative, forward-thinking person who developed a Quantum theory which explained light as photon particles and later as waves. He explained that our universe is constructed of energy and matter. He also devised mathematical formulas that included computations for atom/molecule size. Einstein contributed the theories of E=mc2 and relativity / gravity. The significance of Einstein’s contributions include acknowledgment of cause and effect and the dualities of nature.
The time-space frame that came after the big bang is what scientists are able to study; presently, there is no evidence of time and space prior to the big bang, but opinions on time-space and the creation of the universe are altered with new scientific discoveries. Technological innovations, along with creative thinking, provide humans with tools such as the Hubble telescope with which to study the
universe. There are no eye witnesses to the big bang, yet theorists have outlined a creation theory which states that shortly after the big bang the universe started to expand, which it still does to this day. The early expansion altered the mass of matter and energy that resulted from the big bang into different masses influenced by gravity. Some masses formed stars which then formed galaxies. Earth appeared around our sun about 4.6 billion years ago and complicated, complex flows of energy formed and eventually life appeared 3.5 billion years ago. Modern humans appeared 250,000 years ago at which time began a process known as collective learning. I think it is important to know about the creation
of the universe and the appearance of life in order to learn what purpose humans have in the universe.
What can we learn about our purpose in the universe from looking at patterns and evolution?
Global Past, Global Present has introduced concepts on the patterns and evolution of human existence and the universe. Eric Chaisson, in “Follow the Energy,” describes these concepts as the study of cosmic evolution and that Big History “is a grand evolutionary synthesis bridging a wide variety of scientific specialties-physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology, and anthropology, among others – a genuine narrative of epic proportions extending from the beginning of time to the present, from big bang to humankind, from formless simplicity to organized complexity” (1). The complexity of living organisms, both plant and animal, are more complex than stars. Brains are the most complex systems in the universe.
As complexity increases, so does the flow of energy in that system. We also have to consider evolution in terms of society and culture. The energy consumption of humans has increased as society has increased in complexity, from the energy-rate density of hunter-gatherers to agriculturists to industrialists. Spier states that the survival of living organisms – human, plant and animal – “will depend directly on the ways humans will handle the available matter and energy flows, both in a biological and cultural sense, while preserving complexity on the Earth to the extent that it will provide sufficient room for us to survive and, if possible, reproduce” (20). The survival instinct in humans has continued through the evolution process. Bruce Bower writes about John Hawks who is one of those forward-thinking people who have shed new light on earlier evolutionary beliefs, “His findings challenge the influential idea that the way humans now talk emerged full-blown about 50,000 years ago thanks to a single genetic mutation that improved vocal articulation. Hawks’ results instead play into a growing appreciation that rapid population growth toward the end of the Stone Age, followed by the rise of agriculture and village life around 10,000 years ago, triggered cultural changes that prompted genetic accommodations” (25).
How have humans affected the environment in the agrarian, industrial and modern eras?
From agriculture to industrial to the modern era, humans have learned to extract energy from the environment. Jaman Matthew writes about integrated farming and the importance of replenishing the resources we use: “In its simplest form, the integrated system is a simple circle beginning and ending with grass (or similar feed). The grass feeds the dairy cow, which in turn provides milk and manure. The milk is a source of nutrition and income for the family. The farmer returns the manure to the field to fertilize the grass” (2007). I think that studying the patterns of energy may help scientists invent or discover a new source of energy to replace the depleted fossil energy sources of this planet. Finding new sources of energy is an example of how humans use creative thinking and technology to uncover or create solutions to life threatening problems. Without a source of energy to run our machinery, much of our way of life would cease to exist. If there were no fuels in existence to run our cars, we would need to come up with a new fuel source. Likewise, as stewards of each other and the planet, we need to protect our water and food sources.
How does the planet’s structure affect human existence?
Scientists have collected supporting evidence about life’s mysteries for hundreds of years using the tools available to them and then shared that knowledge. Scientific information shared may or may not be helpful, or even seem relevant, to human survival. The study of plate tectonics is a great example of how information can be gathered and shared in our quest to better understand our planet. The Paleomap Project offers interactive lessons about plate tectonics on its Web site. I’ve mentioned plate tectonics here because of its role in our planet’s biodiversity, climate differences and human survival. If I hadn’t taken this course I may not have known the relevance of or connected plate tectonics to human survival. It is this type of discovery that excites me and that I feel is worthy of sharing with others.
What can we learn about our purpose from comparing humans and animals?
It is important to acknowledge that scientific facts are subject to change as new tools find new ways of exploring our existence. In “One World, Many Minds: Intelligence in the Animal Kingdom,” Paul Patton writes about research, evolution and the complexity of human brains: “Over the past 30 years… research in comparative neuroanatomy clearly has shown that complex brains—and sophisticated cognition—have evolved from simpler brains multiple times independently in separate lineages, or evolutionarily related groups” (72). I feel that the distinction between living organisms becomes blurred when looking at them on a large scale. Our DNA comes from stardust. Stardust created our planet from which we draw sustenance into our bodies. In “No Brainer Behavior,” Susan Milius personifies plants and their survival instincts that are programmed into their DNA. This course has shown me that we can study things up close – on a small scale – or zoom outward and look at things on a large scale. DNA is on a small scale. The time has come to look at each other as one human race and not at our different skin colors, languages, religions, geography. The distance between geographic locations has shrunk due to technological advances in communication and travel and thus the human race belongs to a global village. The challenge to discovering the purpose of life is like playing a game of chess as in the film The Seventh Seal. The movements of the playing pieces represent the masculine/feminine, yin/yang, and other dualities found in the universe. I think that like knowing how to play chess, it is important to know the cause and effect of our actions for survival.
Does it matter from where our sources of enlightenment come?
The survival-themed movies that come out of Hollywood, such as The Day After Tomorrow, are not classified as scientific documentaries; however, it is my opinion that movies like this have the potential for putting important issues in front of a large mainstream audience. By using movies to dramatize catastrophic issues such as global warming, people who otherwise would not get this knowledge through reading or in a classroom, have opportunities to learn what’s happening or could happen to our world. In addition to movies, the Internet is another element of new media that offers a channel of information. This course was taught online and many of the course assignments were articles or videos obtained online. The NOVA film, Einstein’s Big Idea, about physicist Lise Meitner, and which I viewed online, highlights the struggles – and perseverance – one person went through in regards to ethics in the scientific process. People who have devoted their lives to a cause have established models for others to follow or from which to learn. Edward Wilson spoke of the accumulation and sharing of information in his speech that was excerpted in the article “Protect biodiversity hot spots and the rest will follow.” Wilson states that it is important to record every living organism in a computer-based resource such as Encyclopedia of Life because “This will open research everywhere in the world, even in developing countries and so on, by giving access to what otherwise you would not have been able to get without visiting the museums, without getting the specimens, without going through the libraries, and working laboriously alone.”
Do grassroots efforts make a difference?
Through this course, I have learned the importance of grassroots activism as well as the benefits of joining the organization of a good cause. The World Social Forum’s Charter of Principles includes this statement: “The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth.” When I read The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire by Khassan Baiev, the heinous images of war described by Baiev caused me to wonder how the DNA of the human race could evolve and become embodied in such savages as he described. I felt the same about the people responsible for human rights violations as described in “ Chechnya, the Caucasus, & World Justice” by Barry Rodrigue et al. I wonder if, as written about by Harvey Pekar and Heather Roberson in the graphic novel, Macedonia, the world will see other nations and organizations use peace as a war-preventative as the U.N. and NATO did in the early days of conflict between different ethnic groups in Macedonia.
In conclusion, my plan is to continue to be aware of information like that found in the course Global Past, Global Present – the theories behind the creation of the universe, studies on the elements, time-space, gravity, living organisms – so as to stay up-to-date on the newest discoveries. It is important to look at the world at both small and large scales to see patterns and possible solutions to global issues among the human race and the environment. It is important to know about time-space, quantum physics, gravity and the elements to further understand cause and effect between humans in the agrarian, industrial and modern eras. This knowledge will give us clues as to how we can replenish our living planet. Any source of information is better than not knowing; upon learning about a new discovery that will affect our universe and/or the human race, it is our responsibility to take a critical look at scholarly resources for more information. It is up to each one of us to contribute to the health of this planet and grassroots efforts can produce results. Creative solutions sometimes come about from using technology for purposes other than the original intention. Like the creative, forward-thinking people who have shared their knowledge and thoughts about issues relevant to Big History, I want to steward the human race in the same manner.
Baiev, K. (2003). The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire. New York: Walker.
Bergman, I. (1957). The Seventh Seal. Sweden.
Bower, B. (2008). Evolution’s Ear [Electronic version]. Science News 174 (5). 22-25.
Chaisson, E. (2005). Follow the Energy: Relevance of Cosmic Evolution for Human History [Electronic version]. Historically Speaking 6 (5).
Christian, D. (2004). Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ellis, G. (2005). Physics, Complexity and Causality [Electronic version]. Nature, 435. 743.
Encyclopedia of Life at http://www.eol.org/
Harper, A. (Director). (2004). Parts 1-3: Origins: Earth is Born. Origins: How Life Began [Television broadcast]. NOVA: PBS.
Johnstone, G. (2005). Einstein’s Big Idea [Television broadcast]. NOVA: PBS.
Lightman, A. (1993). Einstein’s Dreams. New York: Random House.
Matthew, J. (2007). Coming Full Circle: Integrated Farming in Vietnam [Electronic version]. World Ark. 6-19. http://www.heifer.org/site/c.edJRKQNiFiG/b.2877337/#
McMaster, J. (2003). The Elegant Universe, Part 1. Einstein’s Dream [Television broadcast]. NOVA: PBS.
Milius, S. (2009). No Brainer Behavior [Electronic version]. Science News, 175 (13). 16-19.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2009). Hubble Space Telescope. Retrieved October 5, 2009 from http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/main/index.html.
PALEOMAP Project. (2002). Retrieved September 17, 2009 from http://www.scotese.com/climate.htm.
Patton, P. (2008). One World, Many Minds [Electronic version]. Scientific American, 19 (6). 72- 79 (e-reserve).
Pekar, H., Roberson, H., & Piskor, E. (2007). Macedonia. New York: Villard.
Rodrigue, B., Lawless, G., et al. (2008). Chechnya, the Caucasus, & World Justice. Lewiston: International Student Organization of Lewiston-Auburn.
Russell, C. (2009). First wave. 175(5), Science News. Retrieved from
Spier, F. (2005). “How Big History Works: Energy Flows and the Rise and Demise of Complexity.” Social Evolution & History 4 (1). 1-23. http://usm.maine.edu/lac/global/bighistory/
Wilson, E. (2008). Protect biodiversity hot spots and the rest will follow [Electronic version]. Science News. 32.
World Social Forum at http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/index.php?cd_language=2&id_menu=
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