We are survivors and the descendants of survivors. We are children of parents who are children of parents who survived natural disaster, war, famine and disease.

Our immediate history goes back millennia, back through the Information Age, the Post-Modern and the Modern Age, through the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Reason, the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, the Roman Empire and the City States all the way back to the first agricultural villages[1].

We can trace ourselves back through prehistoric nomadic cultures, the hunter gatherers, the Stone Age, the Ice Age, back to a time when all our forebears came out of Africa, back until our ancestors were not even Homo Sapiens, but a predecessor of modern man. And still we can go back through that ancient lineage to other ancestors of hundreds, thousands or even millions of different species through all the ages of the Earth until we trace our DNA to a single single-cell organism that was the parent of us all.

What a fantastic history, what a remarkable creation that first single-cell parent of us all must have been. What a strange accident of chemistry, if accident at all, must have caused that first single-cell parent of us all to be – and what enormous consequences have resulted.

But even that first cell cannot claim to be the beginning; our history goes back much further than that: to the interaction of molecules that reacted together and became the complex chemicals that were the seeds of life; to the creation of those molecules from the atoms of hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and the other elements that were found in the dust created in the nuclear fusion of earlier stars. We could say that we are “star dust and to star dust we will return, but that does not take our history back far enough.

Still further back before the creation of the stars and the galaxies we can go to Big Bang[2], to the plasma fusion of subatomic particles that were to create the first matter and anti-matter and finally back to the very building blocks of those subatomic particles that first interacted and established the Universe. Those first building blocks of matter are created from units of energy that are the fundamental components of everything in the entire Universe. All is energy and energy has existed from the moment the Universe came into being.  At Big Bang[3] the universe began its cosmic dance that has been developing and evolving ever since.

Everything in the Universe, particle, wave, force or field exists through the harmonic (and sometimes explosive) interaction of those elemental units. To quote John Dryden: “From harmony, from heavenly harmony this universal frame began.[4]

In simple terms harmony attracts and dissonance repels. Each physical law, each theory of physics or cosmology reveals the sophistication of the universal cosmic dance and the sheer beauty and intricacy of the universe that incorporates us all. Without this continuous dance of elemental energies there would be chaos, as the energies could not cooperate together, and nothing would have any constancy or meaning; entropy[5] would increase. Elemental units of energy interact to create the subatomic particles that interact to create the atoms that interact to make the molecules, that make the galaxies, the stars, the planets, and ultimately that most complex of microscopic chemical factories that make up the cells of creatures that live in harmony and cooperation together to make complex, thinking creatures such as ourselves. Without that absolutely fundamental order nothing that we see and nothing we experience could exist.

Imagine holding a porcelain mug. It is white, fine and translucent. You can feel its weight in your hand. You can get a microscope and zoom into the material and first of all the smooth white material turns coarse and lumpy as you zoom in. With a powerful electron microscope you might get an image of the crystals that are aligned together to form the porcelain. The most powerful microscope in the world might show grainy outlines of molecules. But in reality, what you are really looking at is nothing. An atom is made of a nucleus of protons and neutrons and orbiting electrons, but even if you were able to zoom in so that the size of the atom was as big as football stadium, the nucleus would only be the size of a grapefruit and the electrons hardly golf ball sized, zooming around the upper stands. The majority of the atom is empty space. The mug and your hand that holds it only exist because of the physical forces of the Universe. The mug can be seen because the vibrations of the atoms reflect photons – particles of light – back from the molecules. Your hand cannot pass through the mug, because repulsive forces prevent the orbits of atoms pass through each other. The weight of the mug is caused by the Higgs Field creating a mass which reacts with gravity – which would cause the mug to fall if you let go.

These fundamental forces are different expressions of energy and it is the interactions of those energies that create the material reality we see around us. At the most fundamental level, we are simply energy existing in a vacuum.  You personally are a harmonic dance of energy expressed in complex interactions of fields and forces that has become a living, breathing, thinking human being. When you die, your part in the dance will change as the forces and energies that make up your body leave one part of the dance and join another since the molecular structure of the body will change and the atoms that make it up form new alliances and new forms.

Humans have discovered the laws of thermodynamics and these tell us that energy cannot be destroyed or created, just transformed. Therefore we carry around in us those same fundamental dancing energies that have existed since the first moment – from the Big Bang, or the moment of creation, whichever you prefer. The dance started by that first attraction and that first cooperation between those infinitesimally small energies working in harmony. In the same way we carry the DNA of our parents, we still carry those primeval energies within us that are the same age as the universe itself. They have been attracted into ever more complex forms, inanimate and also animate – such as our living breathing selves. Through countless cycles, through slow repetition and variation the dance has evolved over the eons and we, in part, are the result. We are so complex that it is estimated by biologists that:

  • An adult human body has around 60 trillion cells[6];
  • A single human cell can generate some ten billion different proteins essential to the proper functioning of the body;
  • The human brain has 20 – 50 billion neurons of 10,000 different types and is the most astoundingly complex structure in the known universe[7];
  • One human brain is capable of 6.4*1018 nerve impulses per second which was equivalent to the combined processing power of all the world’s general purpose computers in 2007. In other words all the computers in the world in 2007 reached the processing capacity of one person’s brain[8].
  • If you stretched all the molecules of DNA in your body in a line it would reach 120,000,000,000 (one hundred and twenty thousand million) kilometres or 4.6 light days[9].

I have read that a human cell contains 10,000 times more molecules than there are stars in the Milky Way and each molecule will be made of multiple atoms. The statistics for the human body read like those of a colossal galaxy!

Go and have a look in a mirror and marvel at yourself. In fact marvel at everyone you meet! Look around you and at marvel at life on Earth and – for both the good and the bad – marvel at the achievements of man. Whilst in terms of the age of the Universe, the period in which mankind has existed maybe a mere pinprick in eternity, the fact we exist at all as thinking creative entities is undeniably amazing.

You are a living example of harmonic progression that has resulted from the evolution of the Universe itself. You are a thinking conscious expression of primeval dancing energies capable of achieving whatever you have the vision to achieve.

 


Footnotes

[1]Thanks to Bill Bryson for this notion from a Short History of Nearly Everything, 2004. Back

[2]     Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Catholic priest, set down one of the first modern propositions of the Big Bang theory for the origin of the universe. He published his “hypothesis of the primeval atom”, based on Einstein’s work prior to Edward Hubble’s 1929 observations about an expanding universe. Back

[3]     I am often asked what came before Big Bang, but there is no agreement. Big Bang is only a theory (a theory with challenges), but it forms a convenient starting point as, it is generally agreed, that before Big Bang there was neither time not space. Thus it is beyond current knowledge and not relevant to this book. Back

[4] A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day 1687. Back

[5] Entropy is a measure of the unavailability of a system’s energy to do work. Spontaneous changes tend to smooth out differences in temperature, pressure, density, and chemical potential that may exist in a system, and entropy is thus a measure of how far this smoothing-out process has progressed. If you have a glass of water with ice in it, the ice will get warmer and the water will get cooler. Entropy is a measure of how far this has progressed. The relative entropy in this example is highest after the ice has melted and all the water is at the same temperature. Back

[6]     Many of these figures can be found at http://vadim.oversigma.com/MAS862/Project.html. Back

[7] New Scientist 3 April 2010. Back

[8] Martin Hilbert and Priscila López “The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information” February 10 2011. Back

[9] 750,000,000,000 miles. Back