Someone once asked Neil deGrasse Tyson what the most fascinating thing about the universe was. As if having prepared for the question his entire life, he launched into a full-blown speech:
“The most astounding fact is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on Earth, the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy ions in their core. Under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars, the high mass ones among them, went unstable in their later years. They collapsed and then exploded, scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy. Guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems. Stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself.”
Wow. That’s quite the image to hold in your head. And how impressive the cocktail of life just one planet, our planet, has mixed from these ingredients:
And while we, the species of humans, have come out on the very top of this tree, we’re still just a branch. A tiny splinter of the universe. The genetic difference between the smartest monkeys, chimps, and humans is 1.2%. That’s why they and our toddlers still share many behaviors. So when asked about the possibility of alien existence, Tyson imagines the same gap:
“If aliens came and they had only that much more intelligence than us — the gap that is between us and chimps, and we have DNA in common — if they were only that, they could enslave the entire earth and we wouldn’t even know it. Maybe that has already happened. And we are living our lives as though we are expressing the free will of the human species, yet we are nothing more than an ant farm. On their shelf. So we are their entertainment. Not even worthy of investigation beyond what we look like in their terrarium.”
It’s funny, isn’t it? This contradiction. We are the pinnacle of evolution, and yet, we know next to nothing about the context we’ve been dropped into.
I may not wear a lab coat at work, but I’m a little bit of a scientist myself. Every day, I try to parse a small fragment of that context and make sense of life. Through writing, especially over the past year, I’ve discovered there are many ways this grand, cosmic contradiction is baked into life itself.
Here are 12 of the biggest jokes the universe plays on us.Read More