Monday, November 11, 2013
A Star Lit Night
If you ever stare up into clear night's sky, especially during the Fall, for any length of time you tend to get a sense of the magnificence of the cosmos. When you contemplate that every flickering light in the sky is a distant planet, off somewhere in the vastness of the universe; it's light already tens of millions of years old by the time it reaches our eyes, may in fact, no longer even exist. What we now see as light may be nothing more than a memory; its originator perhaps long burned out around the time of the dinosaurs, if not before. But beyond that, one gets a sense that there is a unique beauty to the cosmos; a profound order, and out of that order, an logic; an intelligence which has created a balance whereby that order can reign.
When we watch the news, we see the power and fury; the utter destruction nature can bring, yet we often fail to realize that geologically speaking, we are living in one of the earth's more quite epochs. The earth has, for most of its existence, been a far more brutal and violent place. Even our earliest ancestors who survived numerous volcanic eruptions, bitter cold and immense ice expansions, or long droughts, still lived in a rather stable climatic period.
It's really amazing that life ever evolved at all, but evolved it did. Out of the primordial muck, life developed in fits and starts, often followed by mass extinctions and new forms of life. It is almost as if Creation was experimenting with a cosmic chemistry set. In time, after countless ages, Man, or what we would consider "Man", emerged; more brute than anything. But we evolved; we changed rapidly. Man soon learned the value of mutual cooperation, be it for hunting or protection or for simple survival. We learned to think critically. We learned to analyze our environment and how to manipulate it. That's how we were able to transform the night by harnessing fire, and with fire we were able to see in the darkness. We had stolen light itself from the heavens and we no longer afraid. We made tools and used fire to refine them. We were able to cook meat, and thereby improve our quality of nutrition. That make us healthier and stronger. And we were even able to use its charcoal and smoke to create; to express ourselves outside of ourselves. No other creature had even been able to that before.
We also learned to communicate. Other animals communicated, but what made us unique is that we were able to think abstractly; to conceive ideas, and then express those ideas, and as our communication skills improved, we were soon able to retain those ideas and to pass them on, where they were kept as a community memory. Communal memory allowed us to learn from pass mistakes and to make improvements almost exponentially. It provided us with a sense of continuity. Soon, through our collective abilities to grasp concepts of cause and effect, and from that, agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine and the other sciences. By studying the stars and understanding seasonal cycles, we began to comprehend changes in weather patterns, tides, planting cycles and improve crop development.
Modern Man is some 10,000 years old. Civilization is but 5000 years old. In that time we've come up from the savannas, out of the caves, into small settlements of huts by lakes and streams, later to build ziggurats, pyramids, cannels, and dams. Our villages are now vast multi-complex hives with vast global communication networks connecting to more people in a year than existed on the entire planet a mere 5 millennia ago. We're able to prevent most diseases; to feed ourselves year round. We've examined the most finite molecules which makes up the fabric of our very existence and we've harnessed the power of the atom. We've reached back into the heavens seeking to know more, but especially needing to know if we're alone. Were we a fluke; a happenstance, or was there an intent? And if there was an intent, what is it and is there a meaning to our collective being? And if there is a meaning to our collective being, is there a unique meaning for us individually?
We've created myths and religions to try and answer those questions, for they are the ultimate questions we need to be answered as a species and individually; they are as old as Man. Many adhere to some form of belief system. They seem to derive a sense of reassurance and order. However, many do not. A few believe it's all randomness. Some think there is an intelligence, but it is barely aware of us, its creation, if at all, and in that, they gain perhaps a cold comfort. And there are those who see us a part of the whole; part of the cosmos itself and inseparable from it. For them, they see a connectedness to the very stars that flicker in the night as much as to all life around us. For them, they walk in Creation itself. This seems to be something that has engaged us since we first gazed up into the heavens all those generations ago, perhaps on a clear Fall night like this one, and wondered out loud who we really are.