Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
A Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World
by Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel R. Primack
Wonderful people, including those associated with Tikkun, are trying to save the world, but many are working within an image of reality that cosmologists have now discovered is fundamentally wrong. For humanity to cooperate enough to solve global problems, we need above all else a shared understanding of reality. Fortunately, at this crucial moment when global problems are escalating and so much is at stake, a scientific revolution is occurring in the branch of astrophysics called "cosmology," the study of the universe as a whole -- its origin, nature, and evolution. This revolution is revealing our true cosmic context.
We have the crucial new knowledge! Earth was not created a few thousand years ago, but neither is it an average planet of an average star in a universe where no place is special, as many scientifically educated people assume. Earth is incredibly special, more so than anyone imagined before recent discoveries of hundreds of other planets orbiting nearby stars. In fact, everything visible to all our scientific instruments -- the stars, planets, dust, nebulae, and all the galaxies -- is less than 1 percent of what's actually out there. Most of the matter in the universe is invisible, non-atomic "dark matter," and most of the density is not matter at all but "dark energy," which powers the expansion of the universe. The dance between dark matter and dark energy dominates the universe; the complex atoms that incarnate us and our entire planet are rare jewels created inside stars and blown out in supernovas to join a forming solar system. We humans all share an identical line of ancestry back past the first cell into supernovas across the galaxy and back to the Big Bang. These and other fundamental discoveries may make it possible to figure out how the universe operates on all size and time scales, including our own.
Long before science, every tribe shared a "cosmology," that is, a big picture. If we construct a shared cosmology today, based on our best scientific understanding combined with a deep appreciation that in human brains the sense of reality is created by metaphor, it could transform our minds and thus our world.
Our culture's split between science and human values reflects not reality but just a deal arrived at between scientists and the Catholic Church after the arrest of Galileo. Given the enormous problems confronting us, the modern world can no longer afford to maintain this historical fiction, developing an accurate scientific picture on the one hand, yet being guided in our feelings, philosophies, and views of the future by ancient fantasies that stand in for fact on the other. The universe is One. It's time to reconnect the scientific and the mythic into a science-based appreciation of our place in a meaningful universe. This could solidify the bonds of humankind and provide the grounds for agreement about humanity's long-term future.
Joel R. Primack is Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Nancy Ellen Abrams is an attorney, philosopher, and award-winning writer. Abrams and Primack are co-authors of The View from the Center of the Universe(Penguin/Riverhead 2006) and the forthcoming book, The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World (Yale Univ. Press 2011), based on their 2009 Terry Lectures at Yale (on YouTube).
Their articles in Tikkun include "‘In a Beginning...': Quantum Cosmology and Kabbalah," January/February 1995; "Gravity, the Ultimate Capitalist Principle," September/October 2001; and "Our Place in the Universe," November/December 2007.
Source Citation: Abrams, Nancy Ellen, and Joel R. Primack. 2011. A Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World. Tikkun 26(1) online exclusive.