Monday, July 02, 2012

We all realise the earth roll’d round in its diurnal course with rocks and stones and trees, as Wordsworth pantheisticly put it, for a very long time before Homo Sapiens came along to blow up the rocks and cut down the trees, but Did You Know that if you decided to walk the history of this planet at a rate of 2 steps = one million years, you’d have to walk all day, and only after lunch would man’s ancestors emerge, jellyfishlike, and only in the last 2 centimetres would agriculture register anywhere in the world, followed within millimetres by war, industry, and religion? Nor me. Greg Morter has worked out a scale timeline from the Big Bang till now, and his Cosmic Walk is mind-blowing. You take hydrogen gas and you leave it alone and it turns into rose-bushes, giraffes, and humans, is how cosmologist Brian Swimme sums up the inconceivable surprisingness of our history - and it gets weirder than that.

The full journey takes two days, as the longest part of the story is lifeless chaos until on the morning of the second day, a mere 5 billion years ago, our mother-star Tiamat goes supernova and from the blazing dust of that catastrophe our solar system begins to form. We are indeed stardust, as Joni Mitchell sang, and as Greg beautifully puts it: we are a stardust cloud that has become conscious of itself and its own history – dust talking to itself, about itself.

Greg’s talks are full of fascinating facts and thought-provoking soundbites, though I admit round about Matter is not matter in the opening presentation I did start feeling like Dougal in Father Ted when Ted explains perspective by use of a small plastic cow. “This one close, that one far away. Now do you get it, Dougal?” “No, Ted.” But slowly, walking our time-line in kilometres which each represent a billion years – 13.7 of them – we all begin to grasp the full extraordinariness, if not the meaning, of life. It’s surprisingly late in the story before death enters ~ along with sex. As bacteria, we had no life cycle and basked in sunshine without predators or prey: only when plants evolved with chloroplast, enabling them to make their own food, did rudimentary animal life start to develop mouths in order to eat each other. So you could say that because 2 billion years ago we lacked one tiny element in our cell structure, we grew into a species programmed to attack and destroy…
Greg says no such thing, of course. He reminds us that “We are the species that reflects back to the universe its own majesty.” And it’s not all about the science: there are celebratory rituals and reflections, cosmic role-play (pictured is Annabelle as the earth being bombarded by comets) and lots of superb food on offer at the camp site. The weather was 90% excellent, so we could laze on our breaks in million-year old sunshine (a million years and 8 minutes, actually – rays take 8 minutes to travel to earth) and appreciate a celebratory rainbow at the end of the day,
At the end of the weekend as we ponder on this astonishing world which has somehow survived blazing infernos and ice ages and at least five extinctions, the two themes which emerge most powerfully are creativity and continuity. The world we recognise now won't survive, clearly, but something will happen and on past history "it will probably be beyond our wildest dreams.” So it’s up to us, really. But we all know that anyway.
I’ll end this posting as we ended the evening around the camp fire, with the Galaxy Song.


Ian Mowll said...

Thanks for this wonderful write up Crysse - yes it was an amazing weekend :)

Moragh Mason said...

Yes, you've summed it up perfectly, Crysse. An experience not be be missed.