To simplify the science, genetically we are 50% our parents’ DNA, 25% our grandparents’ DNA; 12.5% is owed to our great grandparents and so on, ad infinitum. If you chase this all the way back you can never reach the beginning, as the remainder – no matter how small – is always halved. We therefore all owe our traits to the first living entity. A hell of a thought, it is a powerful connection to all living things.
If we continue to pull on that string – back beyond life, to the very building blocks of the planet from which we arose – we realise that our common ancestor is not merely cellular but atomic. Atoms are made of smaller parts known as particles, and particles of smaller parts again.
So when the universe exploded into being 13.75 billion years ago, in an instant the ingredients for every single thing that has ever existed and will ever exist did too. This includes the matrix of ‘rules’ that govern the universe and therefore ensure our existence. As a mathematical certainty we are no less miraculous. The miracle is merely located at a different point in the infinite.
If the singularity that flashed into being had been different in any way, the outcome of the ‘Big Bang’ would have been very different. The universe that developed could have easily favoured the existence of nothing over something, and imploded on itself very early on. The miracle therefore is that our universe is the perfect structure for us to exist within. The implications are mind-blowing. Our universe is at least 100 billion light years across, and that is just the observable aspect. It may have been the million billionth universe to come into being, and its randomness aligned perfectly to give rise to us.
We are therefore so utterly insignificant, yet simultaneously completely miraculous. As Carl Sagan said, “We are made of star-stuff.” We are literally made from the matter forged in the furnace at beginning of time. We are the Universe evolved to a form capable of pondering its own existence.
As the conscious aspect of the Universe we tend to set ourselves apart from everything. In the Bible this is accounted for by ‘The Fall’. We fell from grace in the Garden of Eden. We ate the apple, the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. We knew ourselves for the first time; we became self-aware. This is a tidy little metaphor. It describes how the arrival of consciousness gave us a sense of separation from and superiority over everything else in the Universe, positioned in Christianity as a ‘broken’ state. Taking this perspective, individualism is a misnomer, an anachronism – a state we should evolve away from, not towards. It becomes a deception, encouraging the illusion that we humans are autonomous from, and greater than, every other living thing.
Ironically it is science that proves our interconnectedness; we are all the stuff of stars. The notion of the individual has been prized in this Era of the Self, but I would argue that, if we can’t respect the entity that is our ‘neighbour’, we should at least respect the atoms they are made of. The fact they became a reality the moment our Universe exploded into being means they were meant to be, and who knows what good could come if we interacted with them out of that understanding.
Oliver Wall is an artist and writer.