TRANSCEND Media Service, Feb. 21 – The above title is the slogan advocated by two University of California Santa Cruz professors, the astrophysicist Joel R. Primack, and his wife, the cultural philosopher (and singer) Nancy Abrams. Their fine book, The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World, based on the Terry Lectures at Yale October 2009, will be published by Yale University Press in April.
Their motto – adding cosmos to “Think Globally, Act Locally” coined by René Dubos, the French-American ecologist – is innovative effort to solve the problem formulated by Joseph Campbell in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: “what the modern world needs more than anything else is a story that unifies”. Their answer, story, narrative, “A New Origin Story”, is the story of the universe, much deeper than just Big Bang and accelerating expansion. Told in beautiful prose, appealing to brain and heart.
A unifying story calls for something above all individual humans, something out there, and in here; like life itself, human life, humanity as such, the net of human relations, the god(s) of our faiths. It cannot be I-me-my-mine; that is egocentrism, and the idea that zillions of egocentrisms is altruism is nonsense.
Religions — re ligio, reconnect with that out there — deliver answers; with the Creator as unifier and the Revelation as the unifying narrative in the Abrahamic religions; with a universe with rhythms of expansion and contraction in Hinduism. Secularism is a denial of creator-revelation, with Smith-Kant-Laplace-Marx-Freud-Jung producing God-free narratives for economy, human reason, the mechanics of the universe, history and the human mind, individual and collective. But a negation is not a unifying theme. Humanism, making humanity God, and History the narrative, can inspire solidarity, but is also a tale of human frailty.
Unifying narratives share another three-letter word; not “God”: “Awe”. The way Primack-Abrams tell the cosmic story inspires Awe. Primack impressed decades ago with the intellectual audacity of being as at home in the micro-micro of strings, quanta, quarks, dark matter and dark energy, as in the mega-mega of super-universe of universes; at home in orders of magnitude from 10-25 to 1030. There is no need to go into astrophysical details, most readers will, like this author, learn a lot, and be filled with Awe at the miracles happening every instant. Creation without a Creator.
But Primack-Abrams see humans as central to the cosmic drama, not as specks of dust in an enormity. How do they justify that?
Not by life; there may be other life forms in the universe. But by the human spirit, not only a product of the universe but capable of comprehending it; the universe does not, like the gods of our religions, escape, evade any comprehension. We might add, metaphors, hypotheses yes, but comprehension? Can we co-create?
The authors: we can at least stop destroying Planet Earth with CO2 emissions doubling every 30 years, bringing us far outside the normal variation. Control our numbers, and the CO2! And evolution should bring us further, maybe into co-creation.
And, the authors say, there are certain rules for our behavior outside planet Earth, in “outer space”:
1. Do not introduce attack weapons into space
2. Avoid fragmentation of satellites
3. Prohibit explosions of any kind in space
4. Require all satellites to re-enter when useful life is over
5. Ban nuclear reactors in orbit
We all know to whom these rules are addressed: Santa Cruz is in California in the United States; with a falling empire seeking a refuge in outer space. A major struggle for all of humanity.
Second, humans are centrally placed on the 10-25 – 1030 axis, on 101 in centimeters. We can look in both directions, and do.
Third, not only we are blessed but also our habitat, “Earth is an unusually suitable planet for complex life”; not a “massive gas giant” like many other planets, our orbit is near circular, coming neither too close nor too far away from the sun; the sun is long-lived and the position of the Earth stable with liquid water; Earth’s surface recycles carbon and other elements essential for life; the moon stabilizes the Earth’s rotation and climate; our entire solar system is in the “galactic habitable zone”.
Blessed beings on a blessed planet in a blessed solar system in a blessed galaxy. Chosen Beings in a Promised universe?
And that universe may be only one in a super-universe-multiverse-metauniverse. Different universes may obey different physical laws. Ours came out of a fraction of second, the Big Bang, 14 billion years of accelerating linear expansion. This image is similar to Western self-images as a Center of expansion. But the super-universe would be hospitable also to universes enacting, for instance, Hindu cyclical cosmology. A culturally very pluralistic conceptualization.
Close to the beginning there were only hydrogen and helium atoms, numbers 1 and 2 in the periodic table — the others came later. And down there in the lowest orders are the “double dark”, matter and energy, a basis for a double dark theory to serve the goal of the Grand Unified Theory bridging quantum and relativity theories created a century ago.
“Our planet is very special and maybe unique in all the cosmos. Our ancestors are not just our grandparents and great-grandparents, not just our ethnic group, not just the human species, not just life or Planet Earth, but stars, galaxies, dark matter, and all the forces of nature, living and not, in an unbroken chain back to the Big Bang.”
So the authors, “enlarging the human identity”, point to our cosmic responsibilities. And to our planet, to life, to the human species, to our ethnic group, to our families. To all of the above.