Summary of Our Improbable Universe
Chapter 15: Our Valuable Universe
Comparison of our universe to other potential universes leads to the conclusion that this is a remarkably rare and creative place. The creative processes started with the first moment of the Big Bang and continue today. Complex elements evolved out of the raw energy of the Big Bang in many stages, over billions of years. First energy cooked up an almost smooth cloud of simple atoms. Over billions of years, gravity gathered this material into young stars. First generation stars then formed and cooked up complex atoms. In supernova explosions these elements were spewn out into space where they could serve as the raw material for life bearing second generation stars like our sun. All of the steps in this sequence of events could have easily failed to have happened if our universe were any less of a place than it is. At least fourteen stepping stones had to be just right. This is an astounding reality.
The chain of happenings continued after the cosmic stage for life was set. About six billion years after the Big Bang our solar system began to form from a cloud of gas and dusk. This material was formerly the core of a giant first generation star. We are its legacy of star dust. Gravitation slowly gathered this dust and gas into the solar nebula. The slowly rotating nebula contracted into a spinning disk of gas and dust. This disk then condensed into the planets and the sun. Within half a billion years of the last really big meteor hit , life spontaneously evolved out of the complex chemical environment on the primitive earth. Within the same period the most primitive RNA base life forms evolved into the complex cells, based on the DNA genetics, that we have today. The evolution of matter had succeeded in initiating biological evolution. The fact that it happened so rapidly indicates that it is happening all over the universe.
Biological evolution went on for another three billion years before it produced multicellular organisms . Though the complexity of these organisms gave them many survival skills it also made them vulnerable to crises. Numerous catastrophes, like excess volcanism and giant meteor impacts, flogged them up the evolutionary ladder to produce the diversity and complexity of our biosphere today.
The evolution of complex and fragile organisms produced creatures that cared for their children. This generalized to caring for their clans and ultimately their neighbors. The social cohesion that resulted enabled social units to function more effectively than individuals in the struggle for survival. Culture, or shared learning within these social units, enable evolution to occur in learned behaviors more rapidly than in biological genetics. Learning from peers, and combining ideas from diverse sources, did for cultural evolution, what sex did for biological evolution. It speeded up the rate of behavioral change dramatically. It also created a new mechanism for inheritance that operated outside of the confines of DNA.
A particularly social ape, that was heavily challenged by its hard life on the savannas of east Africa, learned to use found rocks as butchering tools for the carrion that it lived on. Later these apes discovered and passed on techniques for making simple stone tool. From then on, brain capacity and the complexity of their tool kits expanded together. Along with the development of tools and their uses, people had to refine their communications skills. This culminated in the development of complex spoken languages and the evolution of a voice box that could make complex sounds. This innovation greatly expanded the importance of the cultural (learned component) of the human psyche relative to the biological (instinctive) one. We became creatures of a collective mind as much as creatures of a collective gene pool. Our mental being camefrom our friends, teachers and lovers as well as from our ancestors.
Within the last several thousand years these developments have resulted in the creation of social organizations of unprecedented scope. Civilizations have arisen and pushed development of science and technology at an ever quickening pace. Written records of commerce evolved into written scriptures, laws, histories, myths, mathematics, and science. Knowledge became ever more freely decimated and therefore of greater importance. The invention of printing, radio, television, and computers threw oil on the fire. It got everyone, from the rich down to the poor, involved. We are now part of a world wide collective psyche that is shaping all of us and is shaped by us all. We are it and it is us. Humanity has become one as never before.
Despite the majesty of this complex reality, we threaten to destroy it all. Our potential for turning our back on the work of the universe exists on all levels of human reality. On the political level we can destroy the world that we love with nuclear holocaust. On the biological level, we risk destroying the biosphere that is our mother. Greenhouse warming from the burning of fossil fuels could do for the ocean what our benign sun did not. At the same time the destruction of habitat is extinguishing species to an extent that rivals the great meteor impact that cleared the deck for the rise of mammals. If we do not curb our ways soon, the great biodiversity of this planet will be lost forever. The other creatures of this planet also reflect the incredible creativity of this universe. Their loss is the loss of a unique and complex beauty that required a unique and complex universe to be created.
Perhaps our greatest risks exist on the level of individual human spirit. The problem is greatest here because the understanding is less. This issue is pivotal because healthy and happy individuals are not likely to tolerate life threatening situations for long. The solution to the other problems will probably be found if the individual is strong and happy. But in the midst of great material well being we seem lost at sea when it comes to creating real human happiness. Our fiercely individualistic, modern philosophy of life, has failed to acknowledge that human beings of the past were always imbedded in a society of kin and tribesmen from whom they could get the love and respect that is fundamental to human happiness. The rugged individualism of modern life encourages people not to give love so we don't get it. We are starved for love and respect and we don't see that it is something that we have to create in order for it to exist. Even the children are often deprived of this basic human need for love.
In a broad sense love is what humanity needs in order to evolve into a sustainable long term future. We need to love all the forms of beauty that this universe has evolved. Appreciation of the remarkable struggle that these other beings had to endure should deter us from mindlessly destroying them. Appreciation of the incredible improbability of a universe in which these things could happen adds to the value of their lives and our own. If we are to survive, the universe demands that we learn to love life and to see our lives as imbedded in a larger life process that must also be loved.
Looking back across the eons of time, the innumerable stepping stones, and the lucky chances of our biological history, presents an awe inspiring view. You have to be a purest at Nihilism to say "so what?" when confronted by this panorama. Whether the foundations for this reality were put in place by a clever creator or it happened in a tiny fraction of zillions of universes (that were nearly all sterile), this is a fundamentally unique and valuable place and the life within it is its greatest gems. Whether we look to a creator or to this creative universe we see the same command. It is to be part of the on going act of creation and to value the show.