Existential Angst

It’s all Neil deGrasse Tyson’s fault. First it was his “Cosmos: Spacetime Odyssey” on television. Then it was his irresistible book title: Astro-physics For People In A Hurry. Tyson says stars blow up and spread the hydrogen and oxygen necessary for life. 

All my life I’ve been successfully avoiding any tendency I might have for left-brained scientific thinking. Now, well into my 78th year I’m fascinated by decidedly scientific facts.  One good example is my new-found interest in the 13.8 billion year age of our universe. That’s 13,800 million years!

So tell me, when exactly was it that God stepped in and created humans? Was it an extremely long process that began 14 billion years ago? 5 billion years ago? Maybe 300 million years ago? 100,000 years ago? Hmmmmm.

Just this week I learned a Jewish theoretical physicist from Brazil won the Templeton prize. You know, the award given every year to someone who makes an essential contribution to the spiritual dimension of life. What’s going on here? This guy is a full-on left-brained, sequential-thinking scientist. Spiritual? No way!

Well, as it turns out there is a way. Marcelo Gleiser, that Brazilian scientist, says there are two kinds of spirituality. There is the one we think of first; the one where people of faith connect with a supernatural spirit or soul that is part of us. In Gleiser’s words “we somehow have these material and non-material parts of ourselves” we call soul or spirit. Then there is the kind he, as an agnostic believes in. He describes it as “the deep breathing-in of the natural world and the meaning of our existence in that world.” OK. I like that. 

Marcelo talks about how, when a star enters its super-nova, end-of-life phase it actually spreads throughout the galaxy the calcium, iron, hydrogen, and oxygen we are all made of. We begin, very literally as stardust. Isn’t it wonderfully mysterious and awesome that, for us earthlings it all started 4.6 billion years ago when our particular solar system was born?

Now, what about this thing called existential angst? For hundreds of years we’ve been pushing back on the idea of evolution because the more we look at it the less important we homo sapiens seem to be in the overall scheme of things. Do you suffer from it? I think I did at one time. But thanks to some great teachers over the years, most recently Marcelo Gleiser I no longer have any concern about our status in the universe. 500 years ago most of us got really angry at Copernicus for suggesting our earth was not the center of the universe. Fast-forward to today. Now we know we are decidedly not the center of the universe. Turns out our sun is merely one of 200 billion stars in our galaxy which is only one of 200 or 300 billion galaxies in the universe! Wha? We’re nothing right?

Not according to Gleiser. Please click here and learn how we are anything but insignificant. As a matter of fact there is ample reason for gratitude and full engagement in our singularly special place in the almost 14 billion year history of this universe.

I hope you will get to know Marcelo Gleiser interviewed on June 7 by Mary Hynes here.

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