In their book, The View from the Center of the Universe, astrophysicist Joel Primack and cultural philosopher Nancy Abrams teach that we humans are living in a unique moment in the history of the universe that makes it possible to know the universe in an intimate way.
Ours is “the midpoint of time for our solar system” because in six billion years the sun will grow so hot that it will expand, swallowing up Mercury and Venus and burning Earth to a crisp.
But, they say, ours is also a special time to be living in the universe because distant galaxies are moving away ever faster, and are disappearing over the cosmic horizon.
Our visible universe is emptying out: our distant descendants, no matter how advanced their telescopes may be, will never be able to see as many galaxies as we can see now.
[Today represents a] special window of time that can only happen during a relatively brief epoch in the entire history of the universe: late enough that intelligent beings have evolved who have instruments to observe the distant galaxies, but not so late that the galaxies have begun to disappear. Without this period of overlap it might have been impossible for intelligent beings ever to get the chance to figure out the nature of the universe.
But that is not all. We humans are
…the only size that conscious beings like us could be. Smaller creatures would not have enough atoms to be sufficiently complex, while larger ones would suffer from slow communication—which would mean that they would effectively be communities rather than individuals.
The “Goldilocks Principle” informs us that
…creatures much smaller than we could not have sufficient complexity for our kind of intelligence, because they would not be made of large enough number of atoms. But intelligent creatures could not be much larger than we are, either, because the speed of nerve impulses—and ultimately the speed of light—becomes a serious internal limitation….The speed of light seems dizzyingly fast to us, but on the scale of the visible universe it is excruciatingly slow and would prevent the parts of any large intelligence from communicating with each other in a reasonable amount of time compared to the age of the universe.
Stephen Gould taught that humans are “a fortuitous afterthought” of the cosmos but such a mind-set “reinforces our collective irresponsibility” as Primack and Abrams see it.
The authors conclude that we humans are significant to the universe. We are special. Special for our size, special for our intelligence and creativity; and special for the time in which we are living on earth, in the solar system and in the universe as a whole. This is recent information that modern cosmology never knew.
It seems our powers of praise are special—and timely–too. Along with our responsibilities. For we are special also for our capacity for lies and self deception and violence and evil unfortunately.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men, pp. 9-12.
Banner Image: Neolithic tomb capturing solstice sunrise: “Newgrange Triskele” by Seán Doran is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
NOTE: Unfortunately, due to malfunctions in our video platform, there are no subtitles for today’s video. To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Queries for Contemplation
How does it feel to learn that we humans are special in the universe in the eyes of today’s science? How does this relate to the Webb Telescope? And to the archetype of Father Sky and the renewal of a healthier masculinity?
The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine
To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature, to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God