Eyes to the Starlit Wayside: An Observer’s Cosmos

by David King on October 31, 2012

Since I was very young, I’ve been preoccupied by space. It’s pretty cool stuff, when you think about it: dark, mysterious, incomprehensible in size, and littered with little green men and spaceships and other worlds with other beings with dreams of their own – dreams of us, perhaps.

Very early on, I came to the firm conclusion that we weren’t alone in all this space. What a ridiculous idea, really, to imagine mere humans as the only stewards of so much emptiness. (To pay homage to Carl Sagan’s Contact, it sure seems like an awful waste of space.)

As an adult, my romance with space has increased tenfold.

Today, we know that space isn’t really space at all; that there is a fabric to the cosmos, comprised of dark energy and dark matter, elusive constructs that give substance to the nothingness. We know that black holes are born of dying stars, forged from the infinitely dense weight of imploding supernovae; that these space-bending vacuums form the centers of galaxies, including our own Milky Way. Gravity is no longer some mysterious force, but rather understood as a consequence of the presence of matter, which causes a curvature in the fabric of spacetime (the Moon, for example, simply travels around the curvature created by the Earth). And the universe isn’t expected to slow down – it’s expanding at an increasing rate. In a hundred billion years from now, the night sky of some distant life-bearing rock will find itself starless, for everything will be pulled too far apart.

We take for granted our location in spacetime, yet we are ideally positioned for intelligent reflection of both the cosmos and of ourselves. The anthropic principle posits, after all, that in order for conscious observation to occur, the physical laws and age of the universe must be compatible with its observers. If the universe were too young or too old, life wouldn’t be possible, and so conscious observation necessitates now (it also necessitates here, at this ideal distance from the Sun – what is referred to as the Goldilocks Zone). Similarly, it is of no coincidence that we find ourselves in a universe fine-tuned for life, for conscious observation cannot occur otherwise. If any particular law of physics were off by a single unit, matter itself would cease to exist, and observation would be impossible. We’re the lucky ones, you might say. To observe is to live where observation is possible.

And to dream is to believe that stars are more than gas and fire.

When I think of space, my head hurts. And it should. Have you ever tried to imagine the edge of the universe? Or what’s beyond that edge? This is head-pounding stuff, and rightly so. Today scientists speak of a multiverse, where other more poorly tuned universes drift alongside our own – in order to explain the perfectly unique built-for-life characteristics of the not-so-nothingness we find ourselves in. But our minds aren’t built for this stuff. They’re not made to hold all of this. We are mere observers, nothing more.

And nothing less. Be it our greatest gift or our ultimate frustration, we must continue to observe in awe; to observe, and to reflect on our observations – to wrestle with wormholes, to fall in love with white dwarfs, and to pin our dreams to the fabric of the cosmos. To observe is to fulfill our greatest purpose as a species, should we ever have one.

The course is set, the destination unknown. Eyes forever to the starlit wayside.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Carole Moran October 31, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Brilliant…both in subject and the poetic words reflecting it!

Nice to be reminded of a whole other fascinating and amazingly expanding world above my own little grey canopy of Vancouver this morning!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: