Strongly influenced by Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson grew up to become perhaps the most well-known living astronomer. In his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, he presents this challenging subject in a highly comprehensible way to nonscientists. Here are some of his indications of the universe as ultimate reality.
We start with the following: “…however big the world is – in our hearts, our minds, and outsized digital maps – the universe is even bigger. A depressing though to some, but a liberating thought to me.”2 It appears the sheer size of the universe, for Tyson, is one feature of its ultimacy. There is a corollary to this: the fact that the universe does not center on or revolve around us, ultimate reality transcends any single center, even us clever humans.
Another feature of its ultimacy is the immense numbers of the constituents of the universe. He offers some examples:
- “There are more molecules of water in an eight-ounce of the stuff than cups of water in all the world’s oceans.”3
- “A single breathful draws in more air molecules that there are breathfuls of air in Earth’s entire atomosphere.”4
- “There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on any beach, more stars than second have passed since Earth formed, more stars than words and sounds ever uttered by all the humans who ever lived.”5
But we are not insignificant by virtue of these facts; another component of the ultimate nature of the universe is that while we and no other creature is master of space and time, we all participate in “a great chain of being.”6 And he tells us that this ultimacy is reflexive, “We do not simply live in this universe. The universe lives within us.”7 From all of this (and more – dark energy, dark matter, the universality of physical laws, etc.) comes Tyson’s ‘cosmic perspective’ where he truly shows how ultimate is the reality of Sagan’s Universe: “The cosmic perspective is spiritual – even redemptive – but not religious. The cosmic perspective enables to grasp, in the same thought, the large and the small.”8
From these last two astronomers I think we get a final formulation of the universe as ultimate reality. The cosmos is rationale, comprehensive, large and single but numerous in parts, un-centered and autonomous, external and internal to us, and even spiritually simulating. Do we dare suggest that science is straying dangerously close to the boundary line of religion?
2Tyson, Neil deGrass, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2017. ISBN 978-0393-60939-4, page196.
3Ibid., pages 201-202.
4Ibid., page 202.
6Ibid., page 199.
7Ibid., page 203.
8Ibid., page 206.
2 Replies to “ULTIMATE REALITY AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – THE UNIVERSE – PART IV (continued)”
It sounds like a book for day dreamers. Which makes it beautiful to such folks. But, as a practical matter, what is it good for? If it could point thinkers in the direction of understanding consciousness, I would happily take that ride. But it seems too big for that. Even our thinking about philosophy itself is too big which is why that study has not resolved the mystery. Neuroscience is far too much around life science to be of much use. Physics is better for quantification and qualification yet it does not do much for these, as they apply to human thought. Metaphysical speculators? Nope.
Interesting comments. You sound as if you do not think there is much to gain from understanding the cosmos. I have a cousin who feels that way. I don’t wish to quibble, but I suspect physics and perhaps astrophysics are essential not only to some common things such as the workings of GPS and atomic energy, but the future of mankind if we hope to ever escape the limits of our rather small planet. I for one still hope our future is in the stars, though I suppose that can be viewed as idealistic.
I agree understanding consciousness better (but not necessarily just the neuroscience of it) is more immediately useful to understanding the nature of being human and of our meaning in the world. But ultimate reality seems too limited when ascribed to our species, or even life or the Earth. I suspect we will feel cheated or at least disappointed if those are the limit of ultimate reality.
In the coming posts I do hope to address the idea of consciousness at a more cosmic level. I would be interested in your reaction, but even more interested in any thoughts you can offer based on your own research and reflections.