Here’s a factoid about me that most people don’t know: The first college course I took was an introductory astronomy course. I was concurrently enrolled in high school at the time, and I chose it because it sounded more interesting than chemistry or physics. I was right, it was excellent, probably my favorite class ever, and for my first semester of college, I declared astrophysics.
Obviously, I didn’t stick with that major, but my curiosity about the universe, even today, is particularly insatiable.
I’m not sure if anyone realizes how nerdy B. and I are, but the truth is, we’re up there. How did we spend our Friday night? We went to an astronomy lecture at Penn sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Festival. Professor Gary Bernstein (who just happened to get his PhD from Berkeley) gave a stellar lecture about the solar system. After his talk, I chatted with him about the possibility of a multiverse, and B. asked him about a good planetarium around Philly. Tomorrow we’re going to the Fels Planetarium at The Franklin Institute.
After the lecture, we got to see Mars, Saturn, and the Moon through high-powered telescopes! We could actually see the rings of Saturn, as if it was a picture. It was magnificent and breathtaking. Mouth completely agape, I wanted never to stop looking through that eyepiece. I thought about how infinitesimal we are in this universe, and how I find the universe so completely comforting.
I don’t believe in gods or an afterlife any more than I believe that there’s a China teapot floating around between Mars and Earth. However, I’ve always wished that after death, we could be able to float around the universe, without the limitations of a corporeal existence. I want to see the stars, the planets, the moons, and all the matter up close. I want to explore it, until I know every secret of the universe. Obviously, this wish will never come true, but still I find myself so fulfilled simply by having the chance to exist in this magnificent natural world, to see just a glimpse.
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”