I was at a sholom zochor last night and after a few beers, I found myself in middle of an intense argument about whether all goyim (non-Jews) hate all Jews? I could not believe that this man actually felt that all of them MUST hate us, from where would such a sense of fear and isolation come? Aside from feeling bad for him, it left me thinking. When I left there after forty-five minutes or so, I went on my weekly Friday night walk to the beach. The scene was breathtaking, not a cloud in the sky, no moon, and all the stars were out in their full majesty. As I looked out onto the endless vast dark ocean, I truly understood what it means to feel insignificant. I am tiny compared to this ocean and compared to a star the even this great ocean is not even a puddle. It is barely a mark on a speck of dust, and in true cosmic sizes, the star itself is no more than the smallest spark. Yet here I am. Alive. Taking it all in. I do not know a lot about reality but the little I do blows me away. I am left wondering, how amazing is this experience we call life? How much more so is what we refer to as the “human” experience?
From a big bang 14 or so billion years ago, an entire universe was born spewing forth a plasma of a subatomic mess. No atoms could have formed in these initial moments, it was too chaotic, and the closest thing resembling stability that I know of at this time was quark-gluon plasma. From this, the first atoms arose and the uniform plasma became individualized. At first, there was a very limited variety of atoms that were formed but it was enough for the first fireworks; the first stars. They were giant nuclear collectives, individual atoms working together putting on the greatest show in the universe for no one’s eyes at all. This is the true nature of nature; absolutely amazing, and yet she does not care who is watching or who will like it. Nature is as she is, that’s it. These atoms working together became something they could never accomplish themselves; they became the heavy elements. Only in the center of stars where gravity was at its strongest, could two atomic nuclei overcome their mutual dislike for each other and join to become something bigger and better, a heavier element.
The heaviest of elements however are only created in the intense pressures of the death throes of a collapsing star. After a series of collapses and explosions that is the death of a star, all the material that was in the star is blown around to be used again. As the matter cloud falls in on itself because of gravity it reignites but not all the dust makes it into the star. Some of it just stays swirling around and sometimes creates smaller lumps of matter. Sometimes this satellite has enough mass to ignite and create a binary star system and sometimes none of satellites have enough mass to ignite. A variety of satellites can form, and although most of them would not be able to support life as we know it, perhaps they are capable of supporting other forms of life, perhaps better suited to their environments.
Around one particular star, which we call “the” sun quite a few satellites were formed. Some were giant balls of gas, truly majestic in size; and some were small lumps of rock, not much in terms of size. One of these small rocks had a chemical composition and a favorable weather system that allowed liquid water and life as we know it. Within a relatively short time, the first life forms arose on that little rock, and began to multiply.
The conditions on that rock stayed in such a way that allowed the life to continue, and whenever it did change, the life was able to change with it. After doing so for many generations, the first signs of real change in the life began appearing. The life began to get more complex allowing for better chances at getting more food, and better chances of surviving longer. Although the changes were plentiful, only those best fitting the environment survived. As the life became more complex it began to evolve things like a nervous system with a main control center, it evolved all kinds of organs and limbs, each life form competing for the reward of survival. At one point, the greatest life form on this rock was a creature called the dinosaurs; they were giant lizards that lorded over all other life forms. These beasts came in many forms some ate plants some ate other animals some even ate other dinosaurs. However, they all died out when environmental situations became hostile to their existence and nothing remains of their powerful reign other than a few fossils.
After they died out the best creature adapted for survival was a group called the mammals. Being the dominant life forms on this small rock, they evolved into all sorts of species. Eventually there arose a sort of mammals we now call apes, these mammals had great brains, superior bodies, and started learning how to use their surroundings in a way previously unseen. They began making tools to help them to simple tasks; their form of communication was unsurpassed, with the exception of the dolphins perhaps. They kept on improving and evolving better brains until they could not only learn how to get food better, they could even predict the habits of their prey and each other, their language surpassed all other life forms, and they had tools for everything. They had this capability called imagination, which means they can understand things in an abstract way even if the thing were not there.
They could create things that had no survival purpose, and they could afford to as well, they were that good at survival. They created things for enjoyment, such as music, art, stories, and poetry. They started trying to understand everything, for they realized that the better you understood something, the better off you were in using that thing, or sometimes if it was a potentially dangerous thing, prepare for it. However, they were still limited, their method of understanding was still in its infancy and they arrived at many half-truths, and many false conclusions. When in their search to understand everything many times, they would reach something that they did not know. It was very uncomfortable to leave it as an unknown and so they guessed, many times incorrectly.
These limitations notwithstanding, they still were the best life form this rock. They discovered a way to keep record of their thoughts and knowledge on rock, then later paper that could in a sense “freeze” their words for a long time, to be accessed by anyone. They began to use tools in every imaginable way until they were able to have tools that could think for them. They built systems of understanding such as math and philosophy. They were also the first creature to realize that they were going to die, this made many of them feel that life was futile, so many of them postulated that they would live forever beyond their bodies. They also thought that the only way to understand many happenings was to assume conscious intentional governors of nature, with human wants and desires who could be reasoned with and be pleased. Unfortunately since they were only guesses different people made drastically different guesses.
They were nomads, spread around to many different parts of the world, and traveled in groups. In their obsession with their way of seeing the world, and their fear of the unknown they would demonize the “others”. ”Others” were those whose guesses about reality differed from their own. In their fear of the “others”, they began to fear each other, denouncing each other as being one of the “others”. This fear caused isolation, paranoia, distrust, and life again became the fear for survival.
Finally, after thousands of years of living like this there came two revolutions around a thousand years apart. The first was the Greek enlightenment, the second the European enlightenment. These led to better methods of understanding our world, better methods of understanding each other, the idea of respecting all people, the first real steps toward the elimination of superstition and baseless fear.
As a human being myself, I am thrilled to be living in this time in our history. I can appreciate the simple beauty of being alive, I do not fear superstitious nonsense, I can understand my universe, I can understand other humans, I do not expect them to be perfect, I understand that they evolved from other, simpler primates and sometimes act irrational. This is ok.
People are semi-evolved primates, that’s it. Bear this in mind next time you are confused about how people act. As semi evolved primates, we can do what we want and create our lives however we want. We were once amoebas, we can go anywhere from here. We can hold any opinion we want, however we should keep in mind that it is just an opinion. If we are extremely careful, we can sometimes know things almost for a fact, but it takes a great amount of gentle care and precision to know truth.
In between our opinions and the truth lies our worldview. This worldview of ours encompasses our entire humanity, world, and universe. We each have one, it is unique and individual. By remaining open and gentle with each other we can sometimes glimpse a parallel universe, entirely strange and ridiculous, yet hauntingly familiar. Sometimes we can get lost amidst all these ridiculous and entertaining universes, it does one well to bear in mind that we should also have a universe of our own, as beautiful and ridiculous as the next. In the arts, I sometimes glimpse the minds of other people and simultaneously am comforted in our similarities and amazed at our differences.
I see most people as simply wanting to live in peace, without fear, with love and happiness. Most people simply want their little corner of a world for themselves, do not want to bother people and do not want to be bothered. Most of us want to share the good we have with other people. Most of us are lovers of life, artists of our own lives, and artists of our own worldview. We are all born curious and some of us retain that throughout our lives. We love to share, love to be at peace with one another. Yes, fear and pain can distort this in people and make them hateful instead of loving, hoarding instead of giving, but given the chance, most of those people would rather go back to the good life. Life can get tough and we can grow cynical, yet I keep seeing people accomplish such greatness that I cannot help feeling optimistic. If history has taught us anything it is that, we can rise above our shortcomings.
I am a proud human being. Proud of what we have accomplished notwithstanding our shortcomings, if anything it is our shortcomings as people that make me the most proud of what we have still managed to accomplish. We have done so much with so little that I cannot wait to see where we will go from here. I see us rising above our childish superstition, above our senseless fear of each other. I hope we can appreciate the uniqueness of earth and learn to cherish and treasure her, instead of squandering the beautiful planet we have. I am a proud human being.