19. Humbling Humanity

by H. W. Moss

The New York Times reported the Hubble Space Telescope has been able to look back in time at “faint reddish spots” that may be galaxies formed a mere half billion years after the Big Bang.

Incredible news, but this may come as a greater shock: all the visible matter in the universe, including those “faint reddish spots” as well as you and me and every SUV, amounts to less than half a percent of what must be out there.

In practical terms that means most of the cosmos is not visible to us. In fact, our material plane, all we can see including all the stars in the heavens as well as the smallest particles at the sub-atomic level comprise less than half of one percent, .4 percent to be precise, of the theoretical total of all matter that must exist if our quantum mechanical calculations are correct.

Those calculations and observations state that the universe is expanding, accelerating as it expands, actually, instead of contracting and slowing which was once the common belief. The only way to explain that is the inference there must be a considerable amount of matter and energy we cannot see because what we can see does not account for the accelerating expansion theory.

Actually, it gets worse than that. How much we cannot see or account for is astounding. If the latest theories are to be believed, dark matter and dark energy comprise 96 percent of the cosmos to which you can add four more percent of “non-luminous” ordinary matter, which results in a calculation that totals 100 percent and does not even include the stars or the planet earth or us.

In case this is still not clear to you, let me put it another way. The material world on which we stride plus all the stars everywhere add up to so little matter, is such a small amount in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t even figure in the calculations.

And that tiny, itty-bitty miniscule amount astronomers do assign is really just an afterthought. They threw it in because there are those among us who would scoff and say, “Yah, well what about the hand I’m holding up in front of my face?”

Turns out, there is no way to actually calculate that point four percent of matter in the cosmos. The figure is itself a rounding error that occurs when using such big numbers.

In mathematical terms then, we are the result of rounding up. You know, .357 equals .40 when you round up to the nearest tenth. (Yes, I chose the caliber of a Magnum pistol to use as an example on purpose.)

There is another perhaps more well known anthropological analogy that is equally humbling. We can use a 24 hour clock or a 12 month calendar model to demonstrate how long (or how short depending on whether you are a glass half full or half empty person) humans have been around. Now, this makes sense only so long as you are not going to insist the earth was made in six days and then He took Sunday off.

The earth seems to be about 4.5 billion years old, the cosmos about 13.4 billion. If our planet’s entire life were spread out on an annual calendar beginning with January 1 and ending at December 31, then dinosaurs appeared around the 20th of December. Humans showed up at about six minutes before the stroke of midnight on December 31st.

What does this have to do with you and I? Well, we ought to realize our egos are doing us a huge disservice pretending we are somehow important.

On the other hand, we know we are not important. Yet, we are self-aware and, although there is not a lot we can do about the situation in which we find ourselves, we can continue to explore and investigate using better and more technologically advanced devices to prove how little we know about that grand scheme.

Which brings me to the antonym of “humble.” Is there one? “Hubris” does not describe our analysis of the surroundings. If anything, we are without such vanity as we continue the quest, and this in itself is humbling.

When I was a child, perhaps eleven, I was a self-centered brat. My father challenged me saying I could not kiss the floor. He was correct. My tiny brain was so sure it was above everyone and everything that I balked at the very idea.

So he knelt and put his lips to the carpet and then sat up. Keep in mind, my father was an agnostic and an attorney, yet this type of humility is the premise on which almost all religions draw: kneel before thy god. Prove your humility. Which is where the “Six Day Theory” comes back to haunt.

We are unique on the planet in that we are aware of our own impending death. We are aware. Can there be a more compelling argument for the existence of something greater than which we can conceive?

Kissing the floor and looking into the cosmos and accepting Darwin are facets of the same consciousness we call being human.