Sunday, August 3, 2014

THE STUFF OF STARS – What Every Human Wants

The other day one of my Facebook friends shared a video that’s got me thinking like very few social media posts do. It is astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s response to this question from a TIME Magazine reader: What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the universe?*

In brief, what astounds Tyson most about the universe is that every single atom of everything that comprises life on earth—or anywhere else for that matter—originated in certain high-mass stars that exploded some fourteen billion years ago and blasted gas clouds through the galaxy. Every ingredient necessary for life was in those gas clouds, which eventually condensed, collapsed and formed the next generation of planets.

       We are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more 
       important… the universe is in us. Many people feel small, because they’re 
       small and the universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from 
       those stars. ~ DR. NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON

At our very core, isn’t this what every human being wants most? To know where we came from; that we’re part of something bigger and more enduring than ourselves or our self-devised institutions; that, in fact, we’re connected—to each other, to all life, to the earth, to all of creation?

             At our very core, isn’t this what  
             every human being wants most?

I suggest that this is why we experience such profound joy, such awe, beholding the Grand Canyon, the birth of our child, or perhaps the rescue of a person or animal from grave harm. This is why I felt my spirit deepen and soar at the same time when a 50-foot Pacific gray whale cow, just twenty feet away from my dinghy, swam under her calf, lifted it gently and pushed it to my outstretched hand.

These wondrous moments are, necessarily, rare. But there are countless smaller, everyday wonders that surround us every day. We knew how to see them and let ourselves be affected by them when we were children, but too many of us have lost that ability. Too much other stuff competing for our attention—distractions, pressures, expectations.

It’s sad enough to see how many of us have lost that innate, childlike sense of wonder, that feeling of belonging, in its deepest, truest sense—to Nature, to each other, to life. But what’s sadder still is seeing how seldom we seem to realize it, or, if we do, how little that bothers us.

Still, the loss must hit home at some level, judging from how desperately we struggle to compensate.

      I’m afraid...we’ve come to actually think 
      that virtual reality is the best we can do.

I’m not about to say that this age of instant gratification, of crowd-sourced truths, of virtual connections, is entirely without redeeming value; that would make me a hypocrite. But the degree and the sheer amount of time consumed by these illusions of “reality” and “connectedness” is nothing short of astounding.

According to Nielsen's annual Social Media Report, in just one month, Americans spend 121 billion minutes on social media sites. That’s more than 230,000 person-years we spend “staring into the glaring screen of so-called sharing”—and remember, that’s just in the United States, and in just one month!

I’m a great believer in the notion that if something looks bizarre or over the top, it’s quite likely more than a fluke; there’s often a good reason for it. In this case, I’m afraid that reason may be that somehow we’ve come to actually think that virtual reality is the best we can do.

It isn’t.

This brings me back to Tyson’s inspiring words. When we hunger for something to inspire us, for a sense of belonging, for a purpose, there will never be a shortage of answers flying up at us from the ten-diagonal-inch screen sitting in our lap.

If all you want is an answer, that’s fine. But for those of us seeking THE answer, that can only be found by turning that thing off and looking up at the stars.
* MOST ASTOUNDING FACT - Neil DeGrasse Tyson


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