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The Essence of Being Human: Part 1

Updated: Jun 5



I want to share some of the universal questions that mankind has been asking from the earliest times, when we humans first became aware of ourselves as a part of the natural world. But first, we have to discuss some important ideas from theoretical Cosmology, the study of the origin and evolution of the Universe. Let's do this in two interrelated blogs, since the twin subjects of the nature of the Universe and the meaning of Life might be considered a rather large expanse to cover in a blog!! (Two blogs should be sufficient, right?!)


HOW DID THE UNIVERSE BEGIN AND WHY DOES IT EXIST?


According to the Big Bang theory, the universe began as an infinitely hot and dense mass of plasma around 14 billion years ago. This mass rapidly expanded and cooled, allowing the formation of subatomic particles, atoms, eventually stars and galaxies, and subsequently all life forms .


All the matter and energy presently visible in our Universe today was contained in a volume of space no bigger than a city block, and has since expanded to extend for more than 46 billion light-years in all directions, and it continues to expand today.


The Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago through the accretion of gases, dust, and rocky metallic debris. It was initially an extremely hot, molten ball of rock, impacted by frequent strikes from comets and asteroids and subject to intense volcanic eruptions.


The emergence of life on Earth is believed to have occurred around 3.5 to 4 billion years ago, after the development of suitable conditions. The oceans cooled and neutralized from their initial acidity and something extraordinary happened; a molecule, or perhaps a set of molecules, capable of replicating itself, came into being. This event marked the dawn of evolution of life on earth, an unfolding that occurred within the larger evolution of the cosmos. The word cosmos originates from the ancient Greek word 'kosmos' which meant both 'order' and 'world', as the Greeks viewed the universe as a perfectly ordered and harmonious whole.


While the details are still debated, most theories agree that the emergence of life required the presence of organic compounds, liquid water, and an energy source . Organic compounds (carbon based) were indispensable for the origin of life because they provided the essential molecular components, enabled self-replication and compartmentalization, were likely available on early Earth, and could undergo chemical evolution towards greater complexity.


The earliest physical evidence of life on Earth comes from fossilized microbial mats and chemical signatures in ancient rocks dating back to around 3.5 billion years ago . However, the process likely began even earlier. The sequence of early life on Earth progressed from simple organic molecules to self-replicating RNA, microscopic organisms, bacterias, and eventually multicellular organisms. Each stage built upon the previous one, leading to the complex life forms we see today.


The first fish evolved about 530 million years ago. The first land-based plants came into existence about 500 million years ago, and around this time, amphibious animals emerged from the seas and began adapting to life on land. The first primates came into existence about 60 million years ago, eyes facing forward and an opposable big toe for grasping, with adaptions for tree-dwelling.


Humans (Homo sapiens) share a close genetic connection with later primates, particularly the great apes like chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. Humans share approximately 98.8% of their DNA with chimpanzees and bonobos, making them our closest living evolutionary relatives. With gorillas, humans share around 98% of our DNA. This high genetic similarity is due to our relatively recent evolutionary divergence from a common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos around 6-7 million years ago, and from gorillas around 10 million years ago. The key hominins leading up to modern Homo sapiens were Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and to some extent the Neanderthals, with the transition occurring in Africa from archaic to modern humans around 300,000-200,000 years ago. Anatomically modern Homo Sapiens (like us) emerged around 300,000 years ago. Around 10,000 generations of modern man have lived and died to date. And you and I are the current iteration.


The Universe is the ultimate recycler. The Universe has been evolving for a very long time, 14 billion years. The atoms in our bodies have been recycled through countless stellar and planetary processes over these years, and their fundamental origins can be traced back to shortly after the Big Bang and the subsequent stellar accretions that enriched the cosmos with heavier elements. In essence, as Carl Sagan said, we are all made of the stuff of stars- the very same atoms that were once part of the early universe.


Inside your human body right now are hundreds of billions of atoms that were once inside every other human being on Earth. Throughout the generations and the aeons, those same atoms continue to make up everything: the atoms of the dinosaurs, the early plants, the trilobites, and even the single-celled organisms that once dominated our planet are now inside you. As a result of this constant recycling over billions of years, calculations indicate that each human contains approximately 1 atom in our body from every breath that every human has ever taken. We are fundamentally connected to all that has come before us.


The concept of cosmic evolution extends the idea of evolution from biological processes on Earth to include the physical processes that have led to the formation of galaxies, stars, planets. This broader perspective highlights the interconnectedness of all things in the universe and suggests that the evolution of complex life, including humans, is a continuation of the universe's trend toward increasing complexity over time. The conditions on Earth that allowed for the emergence and evolution of life are the result of billions of years of cosmic evolution, from the formation of the planet in a habitable zone around the Sun to the chemical elements available for forming organic molecules.


And so....after all these billions of years in the making, and the literal integration of past with present at the atomic level, WHY does this universe exist? What is this all about?!


Theological answers are provided by texts from the major religions of the world.

Christianity, Judaism, and the Islamic faiths portray the created world as fundamentally good, a place for humans made in God's image to live, work, multiply, and exercise dominion as God's representatives on earth. Beliefs can include free-will, the concept of an eternal soul, a soul which will face judgement, and a plane of existence in an after-life of heaven or hell.


Hindu scriptures indicate God created the Earth and cosmos as an expression of divine creativity, to facilitate the experience and spiritual evolution of souls (Hinduism believes in the existence of innumerable individual souls which are eternal and cycle through countless births based on their karma/ actions), and to establish righteousness in the world (the world serves as a stage for the divine to intervene and re-establish dharma/ righteousness by punishing the wicked and protecting the virtuous through various avatars/ incarnations like Rama and Krishna).


Buddhism does not posit a creator God as the source of the universe. It views the cosmos as having existed eternally with endless renewal through natural laws and cyclical patterns, with its present form shaped by the accumulated karma of (all of us) beings rather than a divine creator's will. The ultimate goal in Buddhism is to exhaust and purify all accumulated negative karma through ethical conduct and spiritual practices, thereby attaining liberation (nirvana) from the cycle of rebirth. Buddhist focus is on understanding the nature of existence in order to overcome suffering, not on the why or how of the origin of the universe.


Taoists do not believe the universe or Earth were created for a specific purpose by a conscious God. Rather, the universe emerged naturally over vast time as expressions of the spontaneous unfolding of the Path of all things, Tao, a principle that shapes all reality, and its complementary yin-yang forces. Yin and yang are always transforming into each other in a constant flow and cycle, like day turning into night, and life moving to death. The balance and harmony of yin and yang forces is seen as the natural ideal state in the universe and within an individual.


A philosophical or scientific answer to the question of why the Universe exists is elusive and without consensus . What is not in dispute is the intimate connection we all have not only with each other, and with all of life on earth, but also with all that has come before us, back even to the very beginning of time.


This profound connection underscores the concept of interdependence, a principle that extends beyond the physical realm to our social and environmental systems. Our individual l and collective actions have far-reaching impacts on the environment and on each other. Recognizing this interconnectedness is crucial for fostering a sense of responsibility and stewardship towards our planet. Environmental stewardship involves the responsible management and conservation of natural resources to ensure their sustainability for future generations. Environmental stewardship also promotes social cohesion and well-being. By working together to protect our planet, we can create a more stable and harmonious society. This collective effort not only benefits the environment but also enhances our mental and physical health, fostering a sense of community and shared purpose.


Charles Darwin: "The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man."

This quote highlights the importance of compassion and empathy towards all nations and races, as well as all living beings. According to Darwin, the ability to care for and protect creatures beyond our own species reflects our inherent humanity. It signifies an understanding of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life on Earth. By embracing a love for all living creatures, we not only display our moral character, but also acknowledge the intricate web of life that sustains us all. This quote by Darwin serves as a reminder to cultivate kindness and respect towards all living beings, fostering a harmonious coexistence on our planet.


Albert Einstein: "A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."


American Indian Chief Seattle: "The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.


As stewards of the Earth, it is our duty to protect and preserve the natural world. This responsibility is not just about safeguarding the environment but also about ensuring the well-being of future generations. By embracing our interconnectedness and working together, we can reduce chaos, minimize disorder, promote healthy complexity, and create a sustainable and thriving world for all.


OK, however......and I'm not trying to unnecessarily complicate something as straightforward as the evolution of the Universe (right?!!) , but... there is this factor called cosmological entropy that must be considered. Entropy is a measure of the relative order and disorder that coexist in the distribution of matter and energy across the cosmos... and the disorder has been increasing since the time of the Big Bang. So if disorder has been increasing, is this Universe that we are so intimately a part of evolving on a path of harmony or disharmony from a human perspective?


Well, how about this... as entropy drives the universe towards a state of higher overall disorder, it has simultaneously fostered the conditions necessary for the emergence of organized galaxies, stars, planets, and life. This slow movement towards higher entropy paradoxically has enabled the development of pockets of interdependent harmony. And we live our lives in one of these pockets.


In conclusion, our intimate connection to the Universe is a reminder of the profound interdependence that defines our existence. By recognizing this connection and acting as responsible stewards, we can honor the legacy of the cosmos and build the best possible present and future for ourselves, all of our fellow creatures, our planet, and our little corner of the universe. Perhaps the fundamental purpose of the universe is......to evolve a place for refined peace among all lifeforms, a home for interdependent, enlightened harmony.


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