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Holiday meditation – part of a cosmic perspective

This Scientific American post “A Thanksgiving Meditation in the Face of a Changing Climate” (November 21, 2018) is an interesting take on gratitude — from a cosmic perspective.

And ESA’s video “Space Station 20th: longest continuous timelapse from space” is the type of thing which makes for interesting meditation as well.

Here’s an excerpt from “A Thanksgiving Meditation in the Face of a Changing Climate:”

Our climate is changing because of our actions. We can already see the impacts: changes in the range and behavior of animal species, coastal cities smashed by hurricanes and inundated by floodwaters, a haze of unseasonal wildfire smoke. Science says nothing about how to feel about these changes. I feel grief, guilt, anger, determination, hope, and sadness all at the same time. But what I feel more than anything is gratitude for what we have. We live on a medium-sized rock that goes around a garden-variety star in a galaxy that exists only because of a flaw in the smooth perfection of the early cosmos.


Here’s ESA’s YouTube video:

European Space Agency, ESA
Published on Nov 19, 2018

2 thoughts on “Holiday meditation – part of a cosmic perspective

  1. Physicist Sean Carroll‘s annual Thanksgiving blog post is another take on a cosmic perspective: “Thanksgiving – the moons of Jupiter,” (the four Galilean satellites) posted on November 22, 2018.

    This year we give thanks for an historically influential set of celestial bodies, the moons of Jupiter. (We’ve previously given thanks for the Standard Model Lagrangian, Hubble’s Law, the Spin-Statistics Theorem, conservation of momentum, effective field theory, the error bar, gauge symmetry, Landauer’s Principle, the Fourier Transform, Riemannian Geometry, the speed of light, and the Jarzynski equality.)

    Reason One: Displacing Earth from the center of the Solar System

    Strictly speaking, the existence of moons orbiting Jupiter is equally compatible with a heliocentric or geocentric model. After all, there’s nothing wrong with thinking that the Earth is the center of the Solar System, but that other objects can have satellites. However, the discovery brought about an important psychological shift. Sure, you can put the Earth at the center and still allow for satellites around other planets. But a big part of the motivation for putting Earth at the center was that the Earth wasn’t “just another planet.” It was supposed to be the thing around which everything else moved. (Remember that we didn’t have Newtonian mechanics at the time; physics was still largely an Aristotelian story of natures and purposes, not a bunch of objects obeying mindless differential equations.)

    Reason Two: Measuring the speed of light

    Rømer’s answer was that light traveled at about 220,000 kilometers per second. That’s pretty good! The right answer is 299,792 km/sec, about 36% greater than Rømer’s value. For comparison purposes, when Edwin Hubble first calculated the Hubble constant, he derived a value of about 500 km/sec/Mpc, whereas now we know the right answer is about 70 km/sec/Mpc. Using astronomical observations to determine fundamental parameters of the universe isn’t easy, especially if you’re the first one to to it.

    Reason Three: Looking for life

    The point is that solar radiation isn’t the only way to heat up water and keep it at liquid temperatures. On Europa, it’s likely that heat is generated by the tidal pull from Jupiter, which stretches and distorts the moon’s crust as it rotates.

  2. An excellent summary of the Cosmic Perspective is Chapter 12 “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective” in Neil de Grasse Tyson’s book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

    … until the day I learned in biology class that more bacteria live and work in one centimeter of my colon than the number of people who have ever existed in the world. That kind of information makes you think twice about who—or what—is actually in charge.

    From that day on, I began to think of people not as the masters of space and time but as participants in a great cosmic chain of being, with a direct genetic link across species both living and extinct, extending back nearly four billion years to the earliest single-celled organisms on Earth.

    Want to know what we’re made of? Again, the cosmic perspective offers a bigger answer than you might expect. The chemical elements of the universe are forged in the fires of high-mass stars that end their lives in titanic explosions, enriching their host galaxies with the chemical arsenal of life as we know it. The result? The four most common, chemically active elements in the universe—hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen—are the four most common elements of life on Earth, with carbon serving as the foundation of biochemistry.

    We do not simply live in this universe. The universe lives within us.

    The cosmic perspective comes from the frontiers of science, yet … belongs to everyone.

    The cosmic perspective is humble.

    The cosmic perspective is spiritual—even redemptive—but not religious.

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