MANY PATHS, ONE HORIZON
The story of mankind's spiritual awakening, and
of the part we play in it.
© Kit Constable Maxwell
1. SPACE AND MATTER
The universe is vast, and it's still growing.... Like the most
engaging of mysteries, the more we discover about it the less we understand
its purpose. Our relationship with the universe remains one of mankind's
most puzzling dilemmas.
Planet Earth - our small home in a boundless
When we view the nature of human evolution on this planet and of
our planet's insignificant place in the solar system, we are confronted
by the curiously unbalanced relationship of space and time to the
history of human development. Evolution typically reflects the changing
needs of the evolving species, and this has happened on our planet.
But Space and the Universe appear to be, from a scientific viewpoint,
largely bereft of constructive evolution, and we are left feeling
more overawed than ever.
In 1983 the US spacecraft Pioneer 10, launched eleven years earlier,
officially departed our solar system, the first man-made object ever
to do so. By 1997 this little craft had travelled some 5.8 billion miles
on its epic journey out beyond Jupiter. Information being transmitted
from its solar transmitter was now taking 6 hours to reach home.
But Pioneer's journey is only just beginning; racing away into space
at some 6 miles (10km) per second, it is not expected to make a contact
with a star for another 8,500 years. At this point, signals will take
an amazing 3.8 years to reach home. It is heading for the constellation
of Taurus, and it will take a million years to get there.
From our earthly perspective, Space appears unworkably big.
The absolute beginning of time defies description; without
data and the changes that characterise the passage of time, comparisons
are meaningless. We can't use descriptive adjectives unless we have
some yardstick by which our observations can be measured. With no
change there is no time; infinity and eternity are one....
The theoretical origins of all time reside in a suspended state of
eternity; an unbounded void without content, light or dimension. No
motion, no energy, no change. Much as we now describe outer space,
an empty, inert and vacuous experience of absolute nothingness; a
place where eternity stands eternally still.
We don't know how long this pregnant state of subatomic vacuity existed,
but we know it ended about 15 billion years ago, when a cataclysmic
eruption of stupendous power and energy, known as the Big Bang, hurled
superheated, super-dense energy out into the great boundless void
of space. This trillion degree eruption comprised protons, electrons
and neutrons driven out of any identifiable form by indescribable
heat and immeasurable pressure. It wasn't for about 300,000 years
that the temperature had dropped sufficiently for these split off
particles to begin to clump together to form atoms, the first step
in the chain of development into molecules of gaseous matter.
Through the ensuing aeons of time this hot, dense matter cooled and
condensed into the rocks and gases of the galaxies we now observe.
Some are now so far away that in 15 billion years their light hasn't
yet reached us. But more remarkably, these giant bodies of energy
are still hurtling out through space with relatively unabated velocity.
Our enormous universe is getting bigger. What a bang it must have
When inertia and stellar gravity eventually overcome this velocity,
the great galactic expansion will peter out to a fretful pause; and
then, under the influence of its own force, slowly begin to contract.
For the first time in stellar history the stars and planets of the
universe will begin to move together. The process will continue with
escalating speed and intensity until it recombines in a geophysical
conundrum of inexpressible energy, with stars, planets and whole galaxies
jostling for position and colliding in a statement of ultimate density
and unutterable force. The laws of physics will break down and matter
will destabilise into molecules, then atoms, and then into subatomic
particles of errant energy, those protons, neutrons and electrons.
These will then be driven out of existence and into a limbo state
of non identity.
This is what the scientist Stephen Hawking calls the hypothetical
'Big Crunch', and this scientifically probable scenario could only
have one obvious result - another Big Bang, every bit as formidable
and titanic and cataclysmic as the last.
We have no way of knowing, therefore, how many universal cycles have
preceded our own. How many experiences of life and time have been
lived - and lost - since the absolute beginning of all time. The state
of eternal emptiness that preceded the Big Bang can no longer be called
eternal - because Big Bang stopped eternity in its tracks, and the
evolution of life commenced.