The Season on Origins
During these six weeks, we remind ourselves who we are by examining the contexts in which we are – our cosmic, biological, historical, social, communal, and individual contexts. We look at ourselves through different lenses and at different scales. We see the world we inhabit as the natural scientist sees it, as the social scientist sees it, and as we as individuals see it. We find our place everywhere, from the vastness of the universe to our own living rooms.
Week 1 – Cosmic Origins
This week we explore the cosmos and our place in it. Let’s see what perspective it grants us to see ourselves from the vantage point of the universe, what beauty it lends our lives to better understand the workings of that universe. Let’s see how our lives are enriched by what we learn and experience this week.
In the opening chapter of his Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan meditates on the following picture of Earth, taken in 1990 by the Voyager I space probe from about 6 billion kilometers away.
“from this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives… on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam… It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” (Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York: Random House, 1994. Print.)
Sagan’s brilliant prose captures the fundamental duality of our relation to the cosmos. From the perspective of the universe, all of our petty conflicts and even our most cherished dreams seem insignificant. Yet at the same time, we are reminded that this pale blue dot in the vast cosmic dark is a vibrant dot. Almost the entirety of the history of life has taken place there. It is, as Sagan rightly points out, our home.
Join us this week as we seek to appreciate our place in the universe. Join us as we strive to see ourselves as both vastly insignificant and at the same time infinitely precious. Join us in using the suggestions and resources below to celebrate our cosmic origins…
Watch the first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, hosted by physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. This 2014 documentary is a follow up to the landmark Cosmos: A Personal Journey, which was hosted by Carl Sagan in 1980. It is visually beautiful and presents the story of the universe in an exciting way.
Visit your local planetarium or science museum. Such places have a wealth of information about the star stuff of which we are made.
Read Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe by Simon Singh. This New York Times bestseller explains the origins of the universe and the human story of the Big Bang Theory in clear and engaging prose.
Stargaze. Take some time before it gets too cold to look up and marvel at the beauty which surrounds our planet. Look at a far-off star and imagine being there, looking back at us. Try to get away from the light pollution of cities, if possible. Here is an excellent star chart and a short video on how to use star charts to get you started.
Listen to Astronaut Michael Massimino describe his experience repairing the Hubble Telescope on this. His story is by turns harrowing, touching, and exhilarating, and he tells it incredibly well.
Eat some freeze-dried ice cream or other “astronaut food.” Celebrating our cosmic origins is not just about learning things and feeling connected to the universe. It’s also about having some fun. Remember to celebrate this week.
November 9th is Carl Sagan’s birthday. Celebrate Carl Sagan Day in memory of this Humanist hero.
If you have a car, volunteer to take someone who doesn’t out away from the light pollution so they can star-gaze too.
Donate to an organization which supports the pursuit of science. Science Buddies is one such charitable organization which works with school children.
Comment below with your ideas for how to observe this week!