Who are we? What are we doing here? Where is here? Why is it?
We live and breathe and take our being within a vast mystery. One that inexplicably harbours self conscious life forms, such as ourselves, who seek meaning and purpose within its cosmic vastness. How we create that meaning and make it sensible to ourselves tells an old story of trial and error, spirit, focus and will; a deeply felt and well earned story of the evolution of consciousness on this planet.
We know that our ancestors, from a time before any known record or remembering, paid great and passionate attention to the tides and seasons of Earth, revolving within the starry movements of the night sky.
Observations of these cycles of light and dark created by sun, moon and stars formed our first sciences and technologies; part of an instinctual mysticism, spirituality and philosophy. An experiential and shamanic basis to all of the mytho-historical religions that later flowered everywhere and every "when" that humans took root, grew and thrived for tens of thousands of years.
In the famous painted caves at Lascaux, in central France, star maps over 16,000 years old identify the three bright stars, known as the Summer Triangle. Another gallery has a map of the Pleiades star cluster, the Seven Sisters. Recent analysis has pointed to further evidence of a deep cosmic sensibility and a comprehensive mapping of the night sky by these ancient artist-shamans at Lascaux.
Lascaux is not the only prehistoric cave or rock site recording an indigenous reference and reverence for the night sky. Illustrations are found in numerous locations all over the world. Here in Australia there exists a great wealth of dreamtime story and rock art concerning the extra terrestrial world. Unlike our own celestial traditions (which focus exclusively on connecting groups of stars, dot-to-dot style, into constellations) Aboriginal mytho-astronomy focuses on the dark patches between the stars and upon the deep magnificence of the Milky Way.
An irony of our contemporary situation is that while we rarely experience the crystal brilliance of the Milky Way ourselves, we consume satellite images, artists' conceptions and computer generated animations illustrating the depths of the universe. Indeed, we hunger for glimpses of the furthest stars, seeking them out in our science fiction fantasies, TV documentaries and visits to planetariums, by using the same technological magic which blocks the real thing from our experience. We desire to make "contact", yet are trapped inside our own self made conundrum. We marvel at the astonishing information and images coming from the Hubble Space Telescope while also being divorced, by the same technology, from our own personal experience of the "music of the spheres".
The current scientific explanation concerning the manifestation of the universe is the Big Bang Theory. But the term "Big Bang" is both inaccurate and misleading. It wasn't actually an explosion and there was no sound. "Big Bang" was a catchy label promoted by science writers, picking up on a provocative comment made by the renowned British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle. This somewhat aggressive and sly sexual metaphor was exploited when Dr Hoyle coined the term "Big Bang Theory" during a BBC radio broadcast in 1949, while attempting to ridicule the ideas behind the "expansive" competitor to his own "Steady State Theory" of the universe.
Regardless, Big Bang Theory won, becoming the current agreed upon scientific model for our universe. Based on predictions coming from Albert Einstein's "General Theory of Relativity" it has been rigorously tested and modified for over 80 years and remains the clear winner. It states that at the heart of the Big Bang, back before there was either time or space, there was a theorised "primeval atom", the singularity of all singularities.
Scientists deduce this singular state of affairs from measurements taken of the "red shift" of galaxies moving out into the farthest edges of the observed 4D universe (length, height, depth and time). These measurements surprisingly tell us that the universe is still expanding. Astrophysicists then logically deduce that if the universe is still expanding in our "now", then it must have been emerging from the contracted state of some "when" ago. This simple, yet stunning assertion, leads to some bizarre and interesting conclusions as science strives for the supposed holy grail of cosmological studies, a Grand Unified Theory.
Big Bang Theory tells us that "in the beginning" there existed an infinitely dense and super hot object, a "singularity" estimated to be about the size of a child's marble. But there can be no explanations, according to the theory, as to where this hyper-quantum object existed. Or, if it was actually an event in some much grander and infinitely older universe, a multiverse, even possibly some other unknown trans-dimensional state. Thus, it may not be a literal beginning at all. It only seems that way to us from our Earth-centric point of view.
Regardless of these mysteries, the theory states that at some unknowable stage, this ultra potent, marble-sized uber-density of extreme heat/energy went exponential - in the truest sense of the word. The singularity suddenly "inflated", releasing colossal temperatures and pressures, in a calculated time of 10 to the minus 37th of a second:
0.000000000000000000000000000000000001 of a second in time!
At this point, a change of state known as "expansion" occurred that lasted till 10 to the minus 11th seconds. This was produced by an assumed cooling effect continuing until 10 to the minus 6 seconds. This development has been theorised to have manifested exotic pre-nuclear materials that later evolved into other stuff, from out of which our material reality came to be manifested. These became the bits and pieces of everything we now perceive, such as galaxies, stars, suns, moons and planets, until eventually, and extremely recently, us.
The universe, in this miniscule portion of a second, had by this point "expanded" into its perceived size becoming nearly 28 billion light years across. That this event had occurred at a far faster rate than the scientifically agreed upon speed limit of light remains an apparently overlooked mystery in this theory. But this speculative observation gives us an approximate age for the universe, which today is estimated to be about 14 billion earth years old. While undergoing this process of heat loss and energy transformation, the singularity suddenly manifested the potentiality for all phenomena that followed, including such basic concepts as time and space, gravity and such fundamental forces as electromagnetism.
This universal progression of cooling then continued into minutes and eventually into eons of time, as the first stars and galaxies formed from these hot energy plasmas, congealing into cloudy nebula of burning atomic gasses, consisting of early speculative elements. Elemental materials swirled into countless millions of galaxies like our own Milky Way - uncounted numbers of them containing billions of stars. As the saying goes, "The rest is history."
As mind blowing as this theory might be, it must also account for whatever else continues to be discovered, measured and observed in our universe as it undergoes further scientific study. Subsequently, newer theories of "Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy" and "String Theory" have been put forward to explain things being mysteriously much more than they seem to be.
Indeed, it seems that material "things" are only the very smallest part of the observed universe. Dark Energy supposedly accounts for 70% of the "energy density" components of the universe; Dark Matter another 25%; free hydrogen and helium (the building blocks of stars) is a mere 4%; and the stars themselves, all the trillions of them, are estimated to be only 0.5% of the known universe. Neutrinos contribute a whopping 0.3%. These elementary particles travel very close to the speed of light, do not have an electrical +/- charge and are able to pass through ordinary matter mostly undisturbed. They are extremely difficult to detect, having a minuscule, but not quite less than zero, mass. Yet there are so many of them that they amount to 0.3% of the universe. The remaining part, a meager 0.03%, are the heavy elements that make up you and me and all the other stuff we focus upon as "the real world" of rivers, trees, mountains, oceans and butterflies, plus all the other planets, moons, comets, asteroids. You name it.
Oh, and one other thing. The universe, we are informed, is shaped differently from how you would probably imagine. The universe appears to be neither spherical nor round, but rather a bumpy yet flat 3D landscape, with an expanding event horizon moving into the 4th dimension of time that continues to spread out further and further away from all the rest of itself - or so they say.
Perhaps, given this state of affairs, we might be comforted to imagine ourselves at home in a spiral arm of our dear old Milky Way galaxy. We can see her with our own eyes and even appreciate her dance in cosmic time, spiralling around her enigmatically deep core. The Milky Way is a massive gravitational singularity, which is holding us eternally spinning within the cosmos, a so called Black Hole, at her heart.
The universe, too, is a singularity. The One Song of creation. A One Spirit of cosmic potentiality providing a matrix to our Being Becoming. A literally awesome expansiveness that is expressively manifesting itself, by constantly generating novel innovations in its ceaseless replication of its evolving complexities.
Like our ancestors, we continually strive to understand the cosmos around us. Doing it justice remains an adventurous task of explaining the improbable and inexplicable to both the incredulous among us, as well as to the "true believers". But believers in what, or who, or how all this cosmic energy and life actually manifests? Because, seeking an answer to our life in the universe remains a mystery at the core of our intuitive conceptions of unity and wholeness.
In another way of thinking, this universe is a space in which we experience our life's quest as an immersive, sacred theatre. A place where a marvellous will to conception, liveliness and destruction plays out in an ongoing narrative of novelty and creation. A comedy/ drama, played out as a ritual theatre, in which we act together as both the performers and audience, the students and teachers. Indeed, we could even say that rather than a sovereign "God-ness" having originally created the universe, the universe could be the making of "God-Us".
What if the universe were actually a pan-galactic, hyper-dimensional dreaming of creation that is waiting for us to wake up ... if so, then the best is yet to come.