Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Wonder of Life.

Someone once said that the cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths. We are surrounded by endless mysteries, beautiful and bizarre, which could take an entire life to explore.

Pick a direction, point, and you will find yourself looking at something of almost endless beauty, depth, and wonder.

A kinesin 'walking' through a cell.
Own own body is a thing of wonder. The human body teems with tens of trillions of cells, some foreign and some native, which weave the life sustaining processes we all depend on. A vast collaborative enterprise, our bodies perform wonders that could boggle the imagination. More than that, each individual cell is like a world unto itself, a tiny universe of molecular machines that shunt, walk, build, and push. If we could take a trip inside our cells we would see them alive with activity. Some of these processes and activities are understood already but many more wait to be explored. In the future, some of us will have their hearts stirred by these tiny worlds living within us and will discover some of these elegant truths about our bodies. They will go on to expand the set of human knowledge even about something as familiar as ourselves.

Tubeworms near a hydrothermal vent.
The world in which we live is also a thing of beauty. Countless species thrive in almost every environment. Around deep sea hydrothermal vents, fissures spouting scalding water and minerals, communities of sea creatures form in the depths. Deep pockets of high salinity create strange, dark underwater 'lakes' with tube-like creatures growing beside them like plants on some alien world.
Shark fins for asian markets.
In the sunlit forests, hills, and plateaus of the world, our more than 8,000 endangered species struggle for survival in a wilderness increasingly threatened by the expansion and market-forces of humanity. But the exotic is never far from home. Step into your back yard and take a handful of soil. In the palm of your hand you could be holding almost 200 species of bacteria all unknown to science. Future generations will need to carry hope with them as they explore a biosphere that is, incredibly, largely undiscovered; hope enough that destructive habits can be changed, hope in the nature of people, hope for our world.

A model of a high energy xray beam.
When our species was younger we looked at the stars and saw things like our fate or warring gods. We imagined that the celestial bodies were some marionette moving on crystal spheres, spinning on perfect geometric shapes, or fixed to vast domes. The sky and all it conjured within us was a source of fascination and a sense of the numinous; it inspired the thoughtful with wonderment, awe, and a connection to something greater than ourselves. The new kind of poet today will know that nothing has changed in the awe that our cosmos can create. Black holes foam with energy as particles spontaneously appear, as if from nowhere, with some being drawn in and the others escaping. Vast beams of high energy particles, powerful enough to destroy worlds, jet across space in distances greater than the breadth of a galaxy.
Our sun next to the largest star.
Ponderous stars hang in our sky, some so large that it would take millennia to fly around. The edge of our universe, so distant that it would take a beam of light 14 billion years to reach, provides its own mysteries to scientists and philosophers alike. There is no shortage of wonders in our cosmos and the doorway to adventure is remarkably easy; a warm jacket, a cloudless night, a telescope, and perhaps the company of friends can begin a lifetime of exploration.

The passionate, the empathetic, and the inquisitive will own the future. Look around you at the marvelous world with its wonders inconceivably great and small. Perhaps you can help teach others to follow this rewarding path of love for life and all that is in it.


Want to know more?

A CGI voyage inside a cell

Stephen Fry visits some of our endangered species

The BBC takes an unprecedented film journey around our planet.

E.O. Wilson discusses saving life on earth and the Encyclopedia of Life

The Scale of the Universe - interactive flash


Jonathan Elliot said...

Nice post, Iain :)


Iain said...

Thanks :)

It's a thought that I've felt for years. It was bubbling away on my mind recently, so I thought it had to be said.

Lydia said...

What a fantastic way of looking at the world!

Iain said...

Thanks Lydia, much appreciated.

I see that your blog recommends some blogs that I also read. Nice to meet you :)

Christina said...

Beautiful :) And a reminder I need to go into the world a spell and discover it all over again.

Iain said...

Hehe, yep, it's a big world with almost *too many* amazing things for one life to take in.

I read somebody's comment on a forum a few days ago where they said something like, "the world is full of anger, hatred, and war" etc.

I don't think that does life justice.

Take a camera, go for an hour's walk. Take some photos. I'll bet that you could come back with five photos that hinted at the beauty around us. And that's just in your neighbourhood.

I think that there is "black" in the world, obviously. Anger, pain, boredom, injustice. But there's another side. I think we pick what we choose to perceive of that dichotomy. I think we can work on mitigating and diminishing the injustice and suffering in our world while also celebrating and embracing the joy.

Lydia said...

It's nice to meet you, too! :)