May 25, 2013

What If We Could See The Stars? A Humble-Cosmic Perspective

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed
-Albert Einstein
What if we could see the stars as our ancestor could in the dark sky with no artificial lights or pollution? Would that change our perspective and views of life, observing our insignificance and irrelevance as well as our unique and special place in the vast and old universe that has existed long before us and will exist long after we are gone? 

As I've blogged about this before here it is hard not to be humbled by how fortunate we are to be alive and human considering the 14 billion years of universe and all the unique circumstances that made life and eventually humans and specifically us as individuals possible. But of course we often lose perspective on how lucky and insignificant we are at the same time. Our daily routines revolve around satisfying and focusing on our short-term individual needs, wants and desires. Our window to the world is through a self-centered prism shaped by media, technology and sponsored-journalism. We do obviously feel we are special but ironically we've come to feel entitled to be special and not lucky. As we've increasingly tailored nature, technology and our social networks to meet and address our individual needs and desires, we've convinced ourselves of our self-importance and control in our lives. The irony, however, being that we are extremely lucky to just be alive as conscious human beings. 

It seems that these days the only time we are forced to reflect upon moral or existential questions is when we are personally faced with such decisions through personal experiences or news of tragic events. Even in case of sickness or uncertainty we often outsource the big questions to doctors, priests, psychologists, scientists and now Google.

In today's hyper-stimulated and sensationalism-obsessed society, unfortunately, the big questions are either too boring since there are no exact answers or have been addressed by our respective outsourced moral and existential authority sources of religion, academia or media. We've outsourced all these questions while being shielded from nature and human contact in our urban "caves" over-stimulated by the virtual world of the internet. What we get in our lives then is this cycle of illusions, where there is reality, then there is our perception of that reality through the prisms of popular culture, media, and technology which is merely a virtual representation and then there is our response or mental symbolic impression to these virtual representations.  It's obvious that how we incorporate our symbolic understandings of these realities further shape our lives in a way that is very alienated and distanced from reality itself. The irony being here that,this is not very different than our view of the cosmos where there is the real cosmos, there is our limited view of it through our polluted urban skies and then our non-reaction to this anti-climactic view which could not be further away from the real thing. This polluted version further makes us less aware and conscious of our universe since we don't really see it. 

Recent research has shown that, in the face of powerlessness and uncertainty the human brain kicks into analytical overdrive in an attempt to find answers and conclusions, which often lead it to believe in conspiracy theories and dogma. What if instead of over-analyzing simplified facts to answer complex questions, we instead use our right brain and simply appreciate these complexities through curiosity. The anxious brain needs quick answers and will make them up if need be often resulting in bad judgement but the curious brain embraces complexity and makes no preconceived judgements in the face ambiguity.

The bottom line is that asking the big questions matter even if we don't know the answers because these questions and our lack of answers shape our perspective, hopefully to a more open and humble one. The fact is that, regardless of how the universe, life and human consciousness came to exist, their simple existence is nothing less than extraordinary, humbling and fascinating. Even with our exponentially advancing understanding and tools of science and technology today we are still in the dark ages when it comes to answering the big questions which can only mean that we are living in very interesting and exciting times:
  • We only know and observe less than 5% of the universe: According to the Planck mission team, and based on the standard model of cosmology, the total mass–energy of the universe contains 4.9% ordinary matter, 26.8% dark matter and 68.3% dark energy.[2][3][4] Thus, dark matter is estimated to constitute 84.5% of the total matter in the universe.[5]
  • We only understand the function of about 5% of our DNA: The amount of noncoding DNA varies greatly among species. For example, over 98% of the human genome is noncoding DNA,[1] while only about 2% of a typical bacterial genome is noncoding DNA.
  • Our conscious control of our feelings and actions is less than 5%: Numerous cognitive neuroscientists have conducted studies that have revealed that only 5% of our cognitive activities (decisions, emotions, actions, behaviour) is conscious whereas the remaining 95% is generated in a non-conscious manner.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Your Ego and the Cosmic Perspective

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