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…
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.