Who Am I
Inner Peace Comes Through Knowing Who You Are. Knowing Who You Are Starts With Knowing Where You Came From And How You Got Here.
“Altogether, the results of the neuroscience of religion thus far suggest strongly that a religious instinct does indeed exist … [but] … surely there exist ways to find spiritual fulfillment without surrender and enslavement.” *
You Are Stardust
You are stardust** that somehow came alive, and how and why that happened is a mystery. So the question is, Where did that stardust come from and how did it become alive?
The universe was created 13.7 billion years ago in an instant called the Big Bang.*** No one knows how or why the Big Bang happened, or how or why life came to exist on Earth. However science continues to better understand the conditions that were present at those times.
At first the universe was smaller than an atom, was incredibly hot and contained everything in today’s universe. The universe then expanded at incredible speed and within the first second energy shattered into the forces of electromagnetism and gravity. Then energy congealed to form matter.
380,000 years after the Big Bang the first atoms appeared as huge clouds of hydrogen and helium. Those clouds had a temperature difference of just 1/1,000 of a degree, which was just enough for gravity to start compacting those clouds.
As those clouds compacted their density increased, which caused gravity to become more powerful; and as gravity became more powerful the temperatures in the clouds rose. When temperatures finally rose to 10 million degrees, protons started to fuse, which released a huge amount of energy that caused billions of stars to form throughout the universe.
However those new stars eventually died and as they were dying their temperatures rose so high that the protons in them fused into atoms of various elements such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sodium, gold, etc. And when those stars finally died they exploded, which scattered the dust of those elements across the universe. At the same time as those old stars were dying and exploding new, young stars were forming and the dust from the dead, exploded stars started swirling around the new stars. That swirling dust then combined to form minute particles and small bits of rock that eventually combined to form asteroids, planets and moons as shown in the above photo of galaxy M106 by the Hubble Space Telescope.
That is how our Earth and solar system were formed 4.5 billion years ago. Dust that had been scattered across the universe by exploding, dead stars started swirling around a new star, our Sun. That dust then combined into larger and larger chunks, which then combined to form Earth and the other planets and various moons and astroids around us.
And as it turned out Earth had just the right combination of energy, chemical elements and water for life to form. Today your body is made up of the dust of that exact same carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sodium, gold, etc. that was scattered across the universe by exploding stars billions of years ago.
Stardust Comes Alive
Life needs energy, but not too much energy or too little. In the center of a star, there is so much energy (heat) that any atoms that do combine immediately get busted apart by the heat. In intergalactic space there is so little energy (cold) that atoms cannot combine because it is too cold. What is needed for life is just the right amount of energy, and Earth has just the right amount of energy because we are close, but not too close, to the Sun.
Life also needs many chemical elements and it needs a liquid like water. Why a liquid? Because atoms in gasses move past each other so fast that they cannot combine. And in solids, atoms are stuck so tightly together that they cannot move around and combine. In liquids, atoms are free to move around and link up to form the molecules that are essential for life.
The Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago and it had almost perfect conditions for life to form. It was just the right distance from our star the Sun to contain huge oceans of open water. And deep beneath those oceans at cracks in the Earth’s crust there was both heat seeping up from inside the Earth and a great diversity of elements. So at those hot cracks deep in the oceans fantastic chemistry began to happen, which enabled atoms to combine into all sorts of exotic combinations.
Life is more than just exotic chemistry however. For life to exist required that the huge molecules that were forming deep in the ocean become stable and reproduce. Somehow 3.8 billion years ago those huge molecules did become stable and they did start to reproduce, but no one knows how or why that happened. No one knows how or why life on Earth came to exist.
What we do know is that while the energy in our universe moves toward entropy (dissipates) according to the second law of thermodynamics, our universe is also able to transform itself in a direction that is positive, progressive and ever more complex.
We do not know why the universe is continually transforming in this positive, progressive, ever more complex direction, yet clearly this transformation continues to occur right in front of us every day.
Life Learned How To Learn
Again, for life to exist required the huge molecules forming deep in the ocean to become stable and reproduce. Those stable molecules of life that formed deep in the ocean and learned to reproduce themselves 3.8 billion years ago are called DNA. A DNA molecule is made up of a double helix connected by rungs, and it contains all the information necessary to reproduce itself. When you cut yourself and then it heals, that happens because your dna has reproduced itself automatically without you having to do anything.
The DNA of humans (also called our genome) contains 6 billion bits of information. 99.9% of that information is the same in every person. Only .1% of that information varies, which is why we are slightly different from one another. ****
DNA does not always reproduce itself and its information exactly however – it has imperfections. As DNA copies itself, once in every billion replications there tends to be an error. Some of those DNA with errors end up working and thus become new types of living organism. And those new types of living organisms with errors then start competing with their original parent DNA for resources, and whichever version wins those resources is the only one that survives.
Through such internal errors of reproducing itself DNA accumulates new information about what works best in its circumstances, and in so doing it literally learns how to better adapt to the circumstances in which it finds itself.
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The first forms of life that appeared on Earth 3.8 billion years ago were simple, single cells like these:
As the DNA in those single cells replicated itself, those cells learned through such DNA replication errors how to better adapt to their circumstances, and through that process the cells became more diverse and complex. Then starting about 600 to 800 million years ago this trial and error process of DNA learning resulted in multi-celled organisms such as fungi, fish, plants, amphibia, reptiles, and dinosaurs.
During that time DNA was also having errors that resulted in faster ways of learning, and that process eventually resulted in organisms with brains that learned in real time. However when those organisms with brains died the information that accumulated in their brain died with them.
Then 65 million years ago an asteroid struck Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula creating conditions equivalent to those of a nuclear war, which wiped out the dinosaurs. The absence of dinosaurs left niches on Earth in which the ancestors of humans could flourish and so DNA then learned how to transform itself into humans.
Still The Same Old Mystery
The above sections describe how science views the conditions that were present when and since stardust and life came into existence. It is very important that you understand however that neither scientists nor anyone else knows HOW and WHY stardust and life came into existence. How and why stardust and life came into existence remains a mystery.
Yet here you are – stardust that somehow came alive – reading these words while floating through endless space on a small speck of dirt and water surrounded by a very, very thin layer of air. The chances of that ever happening were way, way, way beyond infinitesimal.
Many people today claim that this mystery is no longer a mystery but rather that this mystery is easily solved simply by adopting their beliefs, which they claim are true. Yet such true beliefs about this mystery have almost always caused divisions in society and separateness in individuals.
Mankind has always held this mystery to be that which is most sacred and holy to us.***** Further, for most people this mystery inspires wonder, awe, reverence and gratitude, and for many a need to express those feelings. You can express your feelings about this mystery and fully celebrate life without searching endlessly for beliefs that are true, which you will never find. Instead you can simply accept that this mystery is a mystery to you, which then allows you to relax, be content and get on with life.
You alone decide what to believe. You alone choose your path through life.
Photo of Galaxy M106 by NASA Hubble Space Telescope
Edward O. Wilson; The Meaning of Human Existence; Liveright, 2014 [and] The Social Conquest of Earth; Liveright, 2013.
You are 93% stardust by mass. The remaining 7% of our mass is hydrogen, which was created at the time of the Big Bang and thus is not stardust.
The following sections were adapted from David Christian’s Big History Project.
David Reich; Who We Are And How We Got Here; Pantheon, 2018.
Recent surveys by the Pew Foundation have found that most people in the United States still believe in God or a universal spirit.