The history of any part of the Earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror.
~British geologist DEREK V. AGER
It may be that our universe is merely part of many larger universes, some in different dimensions, and that Big bangs are going on all the time all over the place.
Or it may be that space and time had some other forms altogether before the Big Bang, and the Big Bang represents some sort of transition phase, where the universe went from a form we can’t understand to one we almost can.
Such are the distances, in fact, that it isn’t possible, in any practical terms, to draw the solar system to scale. (..) On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over a thousand feet away and Pluto would be a mile and a half distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn’t be able to see it anyway).
When a journalist asked the British astronomer if it was true that he was one of only three people in the world who could understand Einstein’s relativity theories, Eddington considered deeply for a moment and replied: “I am trying to think who the third person is.”
In fact, the problem with relativity wasn’t that it involved a lot of differential equations, Lorentz transformations, and other complicated mathematics, but that it was just so thoroughly nonintuitive.
In essence what relativity says is that space and time are not absolute, but relative to both the observer and to the thing being observed, and the faster one moves the more pronounced these effects become. We can never accelerate ourselves to the speed of light, and the harder we try (and faster we go) the more distorted we will become, relative to to an outside observer.
Atoms are very abundant, and durable. So we are all reincarnations–through short-lived ones. When we die our atoms will disassemble and move off to find new uses elsewhere–as part of a leaf or other human being or drop of dew. Nobody actually knows how long an atom can survive, but according to Martin Rees, astrophysicist and author of Before the Beginning, it is probably about 1035years.
It appears that if you wish to have a planet suitable for life, you have to be just awfully lucky, and the more advanced the life, the luckier you have to be. Various observers have identified about two dozen particularly helpful breaks we have had on Earth, (…) so we’ll distill them down to the principal four:
- Excellent location. We are to an almost uncanny degree, the right distance from the right sort of star, one that is big enough to radiate lots of energy, but not so big as to burn itself out swiftly.
- The right kind of planet. Our lively interior created the outgassing that helped to build an atmosphere and provided us with the magnetic field that shields us from cosmic radiation.
- We’re a twin planet. Not many of us normally think of the Moon as a companion planet, but that is in effect what it is.
- Timing. The universe is an amazingly fickle and eventful place, and our existence within it is a wonder.
There are several points that the author of A Short History of Nearly Everything states around our inevitability as life’s dominant species. As Stephen Jay Gould, author of The Richness of Life, put it “Humans are here today because our particular line never fractured–never once at any of the billion points that could have erased us from history”