Exploring the Universe Together

NGC 4594, the Sombrero Galaxy

Recently Kaleesha put up a pretty fantastic couple of posts. The first, Creation, the Big Bang or Both? is one in which she shares her current attempts to better understand the Big Bang. It has been very interesting to read about her intellectual journey since her rejection of Christianity several months ago and inspiring to see her push on in her search for truth. In her second post, Astronomical Scattershooting (what a great phrase, eh?), she provided a wonderful description of her current explorations of the universe as an amateur astronomer. My  post here is something that grew out of my initial comment to her on her blog.

What I enjoy most about being an amateur astronomer is learning about the Universe through a blended process of observing distant objects  and then reading about those objects in the Wikipedia which is usually supplemented by a related episode of Astronomy Cast.  It adds so much to my life to be able to look up through a telescope and view the Sombrero galaxy, to really take it in and ponder its existence.  I wonder, who may be there and are they looking out in this direction?  In my last viewing of that galaxy I spent nearly 30 minutes allowing my eyes to adjust and taking the time to notice the details. After a time of looking through the scope and seeing so many beautiful objects, supplemented by the research, I can say that now when I look up with my naked eyes I see it all very differently. There is now a deeper awareness brewing in me, fermenting knowledge, of the details and I more fully appreciate what I see and the emotions I experience as a result.

But of course we don’t explore this Universe alone do we? At the forefront we have a global community of scientists cooperating and collaborating and challenging one another through this amazing process we call science. This open community, based on finding the mistakes and correcting the theories and adding in the details as they are discovered with newer, better instrumentation, sets the example for how we can better get at the truth. It is a never ending process, an ongoing adventure and exploration of our Universe and one we can all take part in. Those of us that are not scientists have a role as well.

As citizens of our planet it is our responsibility to make our own effort to learn and to explore. It is our responsibility to reach out, to share and engage with one another and with the knowledge being produced. The internet is allowing for increased communication between the public and the scientific community. For those interested in astronomy and related fields there are the sites I mentioned a couple days ago: CosmoQuest,  the Planetary Society and the Citizen Science Alliance, all of which have at their core mission an attempt to engage the public and even to create a space for them to participate. Most of these groups are also involved with Google+ hangouts which allow for real-time video conferencing with the scientists doing the work. If you can’t be around to watch live they are all archived on YouTube. For example, here’s the Planetary Society’s Channel.

There is an essential trait that we need to borrow from the scientific community before we can move forward: a willingness to embrace our mistakes and our ignorance. It seems to have become a common cultural trait to fear our fallibility but such fear holds us back from moving forward as individuals as well as collectively. Not so in the scientific community which is based upon a willingness to fail and a recognition that with failure comes knowledge and a better understanding of the Universe. It is in the moment of embracing failure, mistakes, and ignorance that we grow.

It is perhaps one of the great failings of the past 60 years that we have come to think of ourselves as alone and with that we have come to feel isolated, alienated. In that kind of world it is easy to become fearful and when we live in a culture of fear and insecurity we tend to avoid failure. We avoid growth out of fear of failure and we avoid accepting our mistakes because to do so is to admit we are fallible.

Fortunately, for us, the Universe that we actually inhabit is not one in which we can ever be alone or alienated, at least not physically. We might come to feel separated and alone in our minds due to our perception and our culture, but as far as the reality of the physical Universe that we live in, we are all very much connected:

When I look up at the night sky and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than most of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, because they’re small, the Universe is big — but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity — that’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on and activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.” – Neil DeGrasse Tyson

It is natural for us to share what we know or think we know and it is natural for us to be curious. It is these natural desires, coupled with critical thought and the scientific method that we can lift ourselves up and, just as importantly, lift one another up. We have great challenges before us but in teaching one another and encouraging one another we can do remarkable things. In our cooperation we have the opportunity to co-create something beautiful: each other.

We truly are in this together. There is no such thing as alone in this Universe and the sooner we remember that, feel that, and understand that, the sooner we can get on being whole again. We are but one species sharing this planet sharing this cosmos. I did not know Kaleesha or her husband or children until just a couple months ago and am thankful to Bill (another of our community and local librarian) for sending them my way when they indicated interest in astronomy. As a result they have become an important part of our little outpost of science advocates in this out of the way rural community. As long as I’m expressing my appreciation I think I’ll also mention how happy I am to have connected to Frances, Russ, Angie and Karen, all humans with which I am grateful to have met since moving to this little corner of the Universe and who have shared the exploration with me.

One thought on “Exploring the Universe Together

  1. Daisyblend

    Way to make a person feel relevant! =) The whole post is great, but that last bit about connecting… phew! You hit the nail on the head, my friend.

    "We have great challenges before us but in teaching one another and encouraging one another we can do remarkable things. In our cooperation we have the opportunity to co-create something beautiful: each other."

    Beautifully said. All of it; I just don't want to quote you too much on your own post. =)

    This concept has really seeped into every aspect of my life the last few months and I guess I'm rather dripping with love and appreciation for the people and the world around me. I did not realize that by giving an imaginary god the credit for my life and my universe, I was robbing myself and others of something precious. (Not that there is no god, but the one I believed in turned out to be false and I'm in no hurry to create a new one.) I don't know if I could express what that "something" is exactly, but I suspect you know what I mean. That "co-creating each other" thing. It's an idea that I think Christianity would feel was robbing God of his glory. If you feel it is somehow wrong, how can you begin to develop and enjoy it?

    To their credit, not all Christians feel this way. I wouldn't have said it myself if I hadn't seen from the other side. I was happy in my religion, maybe because I am the sort of person who makes the most of whatever life throws my way (eventually, if not initially), but I am happier NOW. My friendships are more plentiful and many times more rich NOW, even my older ones with Christian friends. I think this has something to do with the recognition of everything you have said here about not being alone, being in this together, and partly recognizing that God is not orchestrating my life; I am. I have responsibility and freedom I did not own a few months ago. I am exercising it. I want people in my life. I want to connect. I always have, but there is no longer anything holding me back. I'm not afraid what God thinks, or whether I've hurt his feelings. I care what my fellow men and women think. I am interested in sharing with them, pouring into their lives… It's real and rewarding in a way an imaginary relationship never can be. That we can explore the universe together is just icing on the cake!

    My appreciation to Bill, too, for his friendship and his suggestion that we connect with you, you who have been so enthusiastic, thought-provoking, encouraging and downright humorous, and thanks to you for sharing Russ and Angie, Karen, Frances, Sabrina and Lisa… all precious people I am finding easy to love and learn from. I'm loving this journey. This new year started off just right and I look forward, with much pleasure, to the future.

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