Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Webb Of Life

It’s impossible fully to grasp the images coming from the James Webb Space Telescope. Countless clusters of light: galaxies. Millions of them, each containing billions of stars. A Milky Way’s worth of Milky Ways. And it’s but a slice of the out-there, seeing branches on a single tree in a rain forest miles away and bigger than (what’s left of) Brazil’s. Only more.

No analogy captures it. Our Earth, in the vastness of the Universe, is a single grain of sand among the grains of all the beaches and deserts on our planet. Our brains are unequipped to make sense of it. Black holes and nebulae. Light years. Parsecs. Numbers so enormous, they shatter into meaninglessness.

The tidy nebula in Tuesday’s gorgeous image covers an unimaginably vast region of space and contains countless stars coming into and going out of existence. What hope do non-scientists have of wrapping around it; we can barely understand atoms.

After traveling for billions of years, the light in those images arrived, nearly from the beginning of the space-time in a tiny corner of which we happen to exist. It’s a wondrous scientific achievement, by people far smarter than anyone reading (or writing) this. People committed to learning about and understanding our universe, in ways that most of us never will. For the thrill of it, the wonder, expanding the mind. Curiosity and thirst for knowledge remain human characteristics, at least in people as yet unaffected by a political party’s attempts to erase them. And it’s still only a superficial scratch on the surface of the unknown.

Here we are, improbably alive on nothing more than a molecule, insignificant within the cosmos, while the birth and death of stars and galaxies continue as they have from before this time began. Through the Webb telescope, we see what happened billions of years ago. Happening still.

In such an unmeasurable expanse, how can our Earth be the only bearer of life, with billions and billions of places for a one in a billion-billion chance to occur? In whichever creation story one chooses to believe, it can’t be that everything out there, so far beyond what we can see or Bronze and Iron Age religious scribes could imagine, is only about us? That it’s for us, alone, that a creator, selected from among the planet’s cafeteria of religions and hundreds of gods, cares? Is suppressed insignificance the reason we’re carelessly destroying the home we’ve been gifted? Denying, as so many do, that it’s happening?

If we can’t grok the enormity, we ought at least be able to see how foolish, how petty and ungrateful we are to waste the flickering light of life we’re living, in a tiny speck of universal existence. Even if there’s another life awaiting (it can’t be comparable to earthly consciousness, because, you know, ATP and glycolysis), there’s no excuse to behave as selfishly and uncompassionately toward one another as we are in this one. To, using the scientific term, blow it.

State Senator and, I’m happy to say, friend, John Lovick recently shared a maxim he holds close: “You stand for what you tolerate.” Profound in its simplicity, it’s even more so in light of the lights shining light on the outermost reaches brought nearer by the Webb telescope. Paradoxically, life’s insignificance and brevity thus reflected demands we not waste the moment we’ve been given. We oughtn't misuse the opportunity to stand for something while we’re here, by tolerating the intolerable. If the immensity of the universe we’re seeing means what we do here matters little, in scale, the onus of significance is, therefore, on each of us.

Unwillingness to tolerate the destructiveness of Trumpism is part of what I’ll stand for in my remaining time. We applauded Arizona’s Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers, whose faith and belief in the Constitution compelled him to refuse Trump’s criminal demands. Then we learned he’d vote for him again. Trump’s irrationality and lies, tolerated, presumably, to preserve tax cuts and deregulation are what he actually stands for. Unlike what we first thought, it’s dishonorable. 

The same for anyone who manages, for whatever self-serving excuses, to rationalize continued support for Trump, despite his perpetuating a democracy-destroying lie, trying to regain power by inciting hate, caring nothing for the impact. They stand for what they tolerate. What some see as hateful in my writing reflects, in fact, my unwillingness to tolerate, in silence, Trump’s dragging down of America. After seeing those magnificent images and contemplating their meaning, even less could I tolerate being seen to stand for it. There’s the meaning: we make our own. Christ-like acceptance of “otherness” would be a good start.


  1. This is a good article, but I was reminded of the time where one shakes off a humping dog (Trump), but still can't/won't clean the shit off his shoes (Trump-stink).
    Trump is dead. Think forward for your last few years, there is still time for greatness.
    Think Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright, George Washington Carver, Madame Curie. You have this in you, and it's screaming to get noticed (see above article).

    1. "What 'above article'". The one you wrote, "above" in the sense that it is above the comments on your blog.
      With your name you should pursue funding for a Mukilteo building in your name for the furthering of education (connecting to your wife's long-standing school board participation) in research studies you know about due to your medical knowledge/experience. And, the continuing raising of monies among Mukilteo residents you have access to because of your own standing.
      And, the children of Mukilteo could benefit in internships and alumni participation as they pursue advanced degrees in fields sponsored by the efforts of our own dying, PNW billionaire who doesn't want to be forgotten.
      You could do great things. Dump the Trump, and see what the next 20 years bring.
      (I personally worked with a local entrepreneur who designed things until he was 95, "design" included the concept, engineering, and the building(s) which surrounded that.)

  2. It's been many decades since I read Kurt Vonnegut's classic Cat's Cradle, so I will have to paraphrase one idea that really stuck with me:

    A man sees God and God asks Him "What do you think of all this Universe I have made?" Man replies "It is very wonderful, but what is it's Purpose?" God asks "Must everything have a Purpose?" Man replies "Of course." To which God responded "Then I leave it to you to think of one" ... and then He went away.

  3. Of course, Vonnegut was an atheist using a mythical figure to make his point. He was also not an optimist and would not have been at all surprised at our current miasma of doubts and fears.

    BTW this is skyriver. Blogger login is not working.

    1. Thanks, Sky. Good to know it's you.

    2. Hi, Skyriver. Good to 'see' you. Try logging out/in via Blogger. I had to mess with my profile to make it recognize me for this comment.

    3. You have to enter your name before you write your comment. The first option is 'comment as Anonymous' but you can select your email or name and then type it in. It's a little extra step.

  4. Devil's Handmaiden

    We ignore the white supremacy for lower taxes.
    In fact...Drumpf's simps ignore all bad to make excuses for their actions.

  5. Very thought provoking, Sid.

    More than a pretty picture for many of us, the spectacular JWST image inspires thoughts of our place in this universe. But are we really alone? Or is our insignificance actually one among countless? Just last week a paper was published by astrobiologists/chemists announcing the discovery of multiple molecules that are precursors of RNA in a molecular cloud near our galaxy’s center. No pretty pictures, though. Add those to the host of organic molecules already known to be ‘out there’, and I believe we’re one among countless. But insignificant by distance and our preoccupation with ourselves.

    I’m not at all surprised that tribal membership is so high on our list of needs. A million years or so of hominid evolution would seem to ensure that we need a tribe to survive, and other tribes to despise, hate or fight. Or why we imagine and worship mythical beings who are somehow watching over us, as well as ascribe agency for things easily explained by science. There’s been some recent research showing that life experiences, especially stressful ones, can affect DNA that is passed on to our offspring. We’re programmed to seek a strong tribal leader, whether good or bad, as long as we prosper and the hell with the rest — unless we expand the tribe.

    1. Are you familiar with the Fermi Paradox? It basically hypothesizes that two intelligent civilizations would be unlikely to ever meet, even if many developed during the life of a universe. Or just like that, only different.

    2. Each would have had to last a few million years, unless the use of wormholes had been invented. No way ours will last another couple of thousand, let alone millions.

      Fermi was a smart guy.

    3. Speaking of wormholes...We found the first ever dormant black hole!

  6. Hears the truth :O)

    1. Also:

    2. Love the opening words of the description, Smooth:
      "One of the leading experts on extraterrestrial life ..."

      Narrated by one Steven M. Greer MD, retired. He had to change only a single letter in Urologist for his retirement shtick.

    3. So what you are trying to say is it's NOT a space laser?


      OK...If it's not a space weapon then what is it?

      Now I am*head desk*

  7. Game over...Drumpf wins!

  8. How convenient...

    Garland is an Obama era relic. Gee, they are not in cahoots. They were not going to charge anyone. POTUS et ilk is untouchable when running for office. Note comes just before the hearings damning Drumpf. Keep everyone in line.


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