13.8 billion years
The meaning of life can’t be found without an understanding of where you came from. The Universe that we know came into existence around 13.8 billion years ago. Nobody knows for sure. It was a Big Bang alright. Out of nothing came nature’s simplest element, Hydrogen, filling the Universe. With just one proton, one neutron and one electron, Hydrogen is an explosive gas. You are one-tenth hydrogen. You are literally the Big Bang. Boom!
A Universe packed with galaxies and stars
The view above is called the Deep Field and it was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It looks deep into a tiny piece of space, equivalent in size to a tennis ball at 100 meters. Look past the few diamond-like, sparkling stars in the foreground, and the number and variety of galaxies is just astonishing. Each galaxy can contain billions of stars, and each star can have multiple planets orbiting it, just like our own solar system. It’s bananas, it really is. Sure, space is mostly empty space, but the amount of galaxies out there is nuts.
You are made of stars, mostly oxygen
Stars convert hydrogen into helium, emitting nuclear energy in the process. Other, heavier elements such as carbon and oxygen are made by stars crushing all the hydrogen. When stars burn up all their hydrogen, they can collapse and explode. Supernova. The almighty explosion lights up the galaxy for a blink in time, crushing hydrogen, helium and other trace elements, creating the bigger, heavier elements that make you! You are mostly:
Oxygen – 65%
Carbon – 18.5%
Hydrogen – 9.5%
Nitrogen – 3.2%
Calcium – 1.5%
Phosphorous – 1%
So you are mostly made of oxygen, a combustible gas. That explains so much about people, when you think about it! And it makes photosynthesis a really big deal!
4.6 billion years
Our sun has a projected lifespan of about 10 billion years, so we’re only halfway through its cycle. Its cycle consists primarily of fusing hydrogen from the Big Bang and turning it into helium, emitting a lot of energy in the process of nuclear fusion. So our solar system formed around 4.6 billion years ago, when lots of hydrogen condensed in space, along with plenty of bits and bobs flying around from earlier supernovas and the like, and gravity ignited our star.
Given that we are made with many heavy elements, like iron which our bodies use to transport oxygen in our blood, then the material that formed our solar system was likely in multiple stars before our sun formed. That is crazy. You truly are made of stars.
Our sun makes up 99.8% of the mass of our solar system. Jupiter makes up much of the rest. So our incredible, gorgeous Planet Earth is just a smidgeon of matter in the vastness of the Universe. Luckily for us, Earth is in the Goldilocks Zone: not too hot, not too cold, just right. And with water! So life emerged, at least 3.5 billion years ago, when Earth was just a billion years old. Aah, they grow up so fast! Now here we are. Here you are. Congrats!
Get this: Viruses are much older than humans
Here’s where things get really nuts. The first life form is still a mystery to us. But life then diverged down two roads: virus or bacteria. The bacteria were all about cells and, in time, multi-cellular life got more and more complicated, making sponges, worms, fish, dinosaurs, dogs, goats and humans. The viruses went in the opposite direction, aiming for simplicity where bacteria went for complexity. A virus is just a piece of DNA or RNA in a sphere. That’s it. No cellular activity, and that’s why it’s hard to kill.
Get this: There are more distinct viruses on Earth than there are stars in the known Universe.
So, what do you think now? Which is the dominant form of life on Earth? Humans or viruses? Humans have been around for about 200,000 years. Viruses have been here 3.5 billion years, and they’re everywhere. Each one of us is home to around 5 different families of viruses. Viruses infect animals and plants, and even bacteria.
Don’t panic! Is the meaning of life 42?
In his famous series of books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams answered the question: What is the meaning of life, the Universe and everything? 42. Sadly, Adams didn’t explain why 42 is the meaning of life, so here’s our theory: The angle that the sun needs to be at to form a rainbow is 42 degrees. When we see a rainbow, we are witnessing a spectacular, subjective phenomenon. It’s subjective in that we need to be in the right place at the right time, and our view of the rainbow is specific to us. But because of the nature of rainbows, being formed by our sun, which is very far away, the ‘same’ rainbow can also be seen and enjoyed by lots of people at once. This makes a rainbow a collective, subjective experience. When we share the experience, it really helps us to connect with others and with the Universe, and only living things with eyes can see rainbows. That’s why 42 is the meaning of life.
So, what is the meaning of life?
The meaning of life is a deeply personal understanding of who you are and why you exist. There can be no generally accepted ‘meaning of life’. It can’t be found on the back of a cereal box or on some expensive course. It can only be found by you, and is determined by you and you alone. Equality is not only necessary, it’s written in the stars. That some small number of humans think they’re superior to other human beings is actually preposterous. Looking at you, Queen Elizabeth II. Our societies are built on ignorant history and the insistence of tiny minorities that the ancient past must continue to rule the present, so as to endow their privilege. But no more. We can no longer accept ignorance or history as an excuse for brutal inequality and the preservation of insane systems.
Reality is subjective, that’s been scientifically proven. This means that your perception of reality is the only valid explanation of reality that matters. You are the most important thing in the history of the Universe. Quantum physics believes that without your existence and observation of the Universe, then the Universe would not exist.
You exist because of the Universe.
The Universe exists because you exist to observe it.
Now, how are you going to use the rest of your blink in time? The Universe literally depends on you!
AWESOME Universe forecast – https://neal.fun/universe-forecast/
MINDBLOWING look at the size of things in the Universe – https://neal.fun/size-of-space/
Fab Wikipedia article about our sun. It’s mad, Ted! – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun
Wikipedia on composition of the human body – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composition_of_the_human_body
National Geographic on the number of viruses on Earth and why only some infect us: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/factors-allow-viruses-infect-humans-coronavirus/
Wikipedia on viruses: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virus
Wikipedia on the human virome: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_virome
Wikipedia on awesome human beings: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human
Wikipedia on the Meaning of Life: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meaning_of_life
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, one of Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin‘s most famous paintings – By Paul Gauguin – Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36264337
Human embryo: Anatomist90 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Hubble Space Telescope Deep Field: NASA
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, book cover, Wikipedia Creative Commons
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