The universe doesn’t write its story. Yet, when we look to distant stars millions of light years away, we are looking at the story of the universe unfolding to us right now. Yet, we are also the part of the universe – we and the star we are looking at are made of the same stuff. When we look at a star in the night sky, it is the dust of the star itself that is looking at its own beauty. When any one of us contemplates the universe, it is the universe that is contemplating itself. This point of view might sound like mysticism. But, it is based on the reality that we are just atoms. If we view ourselves as a bunch of atoms, we are one with the universe. Of course, the dust has life and consciousness. But, I wonder if it is my life and my consciousness. Although, the majority of human beings will like to believe that their life and their consciousness are something external to the universe and their arising is a violation of the universal laws. I suspect my life and my consciousness belongs to the universe as much as my atoms belong to the universe. In this sense, we are the like sense organs of the universe and, through us, it can be conscious of itself. The story of the universe will be our true story.
When you look at the sky and see the darkness behind the stars, do you wonder about the nature of this darkness? I remind myself that what my eyes see as darkness is actually the primordial light that is coming to us from all directions. This primordial light was there even before the birth of a single star in the universe: invisible to our eye but visible to a radio telescope.
Looking a faint star through a telescope, we look back in time. In the moment of our looking, our eyes absorb the photon that was created in the stared millions of years ago. The star might have been dead by now. The last photon it emitted toward us is might still be traveling in space. Perhaps, there will be no one on this earth to absorb that photon and witness the death of the star.
Had universe been existing from eternity, there would be no darkness in the night sky. If you would have pointed a dark patch to an astronomer in one direction, he would have said that we have to look further back in time with more a powerful telescope and we would find a star there. Our universe is not like this at all. The best telescopes have looked farthest in space and back in time till they find no stars there – they find a sphere beyond which there is total darkness. Yet, to some aliens that can see radio waves, this primordial darkness would be luminous. They would see it as the afterglow of the big bang – an event that created all that we see around us and all that we do not see as well.
After the big bang, all that exists today started its journey as a bunch of particles in space. Soon, hydrogen and some light elements were cooked in the hearth of early universe after big-bang. Frequently, these particles would come close to one another, saying hi, exchange a little energy, separating, and saying bye. The same story repeated again and again for millions of years. The universe went on expanding and cooling.
Next, some regions, which were dense, as random fluctuations, became denser as gravity did its magic. Matter started accumulating. First gas clouds were born. We all were present as atoms in one or many of those clouds.
Bigger clouds grew bigger grabbing matter from around them. They become so big that they started collapsing under their own weight. Their cores becoming hotter and hotter. Hydrogen atoms started fusing into helium. Soon, newer light elements also were produced like carbon and oxygen – atoms that form most of our body weight today. Those of you who were living in heavier stars had access to heavier elements: sodium, calcium, phosphorous, aluminum, silicon. and so on, up to iron. but, none of us had any access to gold, platinum at that stage of cosmic evolution. Ours was a poor world. Then, the some of us were fortunate. Their stars blasted. Enormous energy was released. New, more heavier elements were cooked in the aftermath. That’s why gold is so rare. Platinum is rarer. Uranium is still rarer. These rare elements were cooked only in the explosion of super heavy stars. The debris of explosion contracted and got heated further. New stars were made out of them- richer in elements.
As byproducts, planets were also produced. They cooled and heavy elements solidified. Atoms reacted. They made molecules including the most abundant molecule – water. All the water got evaporated from the hotel planets. The cooler ones lived in the ice ages. Some planets like earth could retain water. Heavier planets retained their atmosphere due to gravity. Air escaped into space on lighter ones. We are lucky to have the oceans and the atmosphere. But, even our earth was not habitable in its formative stage.
Some of the molecules that make me and you today were swimming in the ocean in the myriad of forms at that time. Some of them were flowing in the rivers, settling in the sediments, rising in the mountains, or clashing in the tectonic plates, or drifting with the continents. In those times, we all were erupting from volcanos, thundering in the sky among the clouds of not only water but all of the strange liquids we now sample in the bottles in our chemistry labs. We as atoms were metamorphosing into all possible compounds documented in the chemistry books, both inorganic and organic. We were erupting, evaporating, boiling, blowing, raining, endlessly. There was no purpose. The earth was not arranging for the life to emerge out of this chemical soup. It was playing the whole game of geophysics and chemistry at the natural pace. The game continued for millions of year and then something significant happened according to our point of view. Earth had no point of view. It simply evolved. The same events might have unfolded on enumerable distant planets in the universe that are conducive to life. We are not alone in this universe.
Who knows when which stroke of lighting produced first amino acid, or first RNA, or the first cell! Then, there were many such, replicating themselves, and improvising. Each one of us, at that time, was living spread among millions of micro-organisms. Maybe, a part of you was at the north pole and another at the south pole. Every micro-organism responded to light or temperature or to some other molecules. These simple behaviors become more and more complex with time. The organisms evolved and replicating themselves, sometimes making replications errors. What we see today – the whole diversity of life – are the errors that were better equipped to survive. We do not see the other set of errors – less equipped to survive – due to the obvious reason that they didn’t survive long. At that era, we lived millions of lives, most of them wasted, but all necessary. Some of our life forms become more complex, multicellular. We developed organs. First eye was just a pin hole camera: version 0.1. Then came version 0.2 which could tell few shades of lightness and darkness. Then, the resolution and colour sensitivity improved with subsequent versions.
Soon, life evolved out of oceans into the land. Gigantic animals were evolved, sustained, and destroyed themselves on this earth. We, during our grand journey, have lived in dinosaurs. When a meteorite destroyed the dinosaurs, we were there exploding in the blast and settling in the dust. We evolved in myriad life forms, always adapting to the new situations and building up complexity out of random fluctuations. Many of our life forms became extinct. Many survive still. We grew on the earth as forests and oxygenated the atmosphere. We blossomed as flowers, and flew as bees and birds. Our human form that we take for our true identity evolved only just few thousand year ago in this cosmic journey spanning billions of years.
When we say, “save the earth”, we are not even aware that it is us who need to be saved. Earth has survived for billions of years and can survive for billion of years to come. Adding few molecules of poisonous gases into the atmosphere or pouring some harmful liquids into the oceans will not harm the earth: it will make us extinct. This whole evolution of the universe was not a design to bring us on the scene. Our evolution on earth was a beautiful accident. Yet, our extinction can be a planned genocide.
There was no universe will that evolved life. It evolved because of the laws of the universe allow this possibility. The concept of free will is an effective model devised to explain the complex human behaviour. Yet, however complex our behaviour be, it still obeys the laws of nature. In this sense, there is no absolute free will. We still use the term “will” in the limited sense as an effective model. No “will” is needed for life to originate and evolve. However, our “will” can make life extinct on this planet.