The vastness of it all

A Nautilus piece published on 25th November 2020 titled “A Supermassive Lens on the Constants of Nature” begins by telling us that the 2020 Physics Nobel winners have “established that the center of our own galaxy houses a supermassive black hole with the equivalent of 4 million suns packed into a relatively small space.” 4 million suns….!! 

Michael Strauss, Professor & Chair of the Astrophysics Department at Princeton University makes the “distinction”, in “Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour”, “between the universe as a whole, and the observable universe, the part we can see today.” The “boundary of the present-day observable universe”, he writes, is at a distance of “45 billion light-years from us.” And “beyond the edge of the observable universe, there is much more universe out there, indeed, an infinite amount, if we are to believe our current measurements of the geometry of the observable universe and our cosmological models.” 

In “The Power of Myth”, Joseph Campbell narrates a story about Indra. “….it happened….that a great monster had enclosed all the waters of the earth, so there was a terrible drought, and the world was in a very bad condition. It took Indra quite a while to realize that he had a box of thunderbolts and that all he had to do was to drop a thunderbolt on the monster and blow him up. When he did that, the waters flowed, and the world was refreshed, and Indra said, “What a great boy am I.”

Indra then goes on to the top of the the “central mountain of the world” and commissions the “carpenter of the gods” to build him the grandest of palaces – a palace like none anywhere. Each time Indra comes to inspect the progress, he instructs the carpenter with more and more ideas on making the palace bigger and more spectacular. The carpenter, in frustration, approaches Brahma for help – Brahma, in turn, seeks out the “sleeping Vishnu” who “just makes a gesture and says something like, “Listen, fly, something is going to happen.”

“Next morning, at the gate of the palace that is being built there appears a beautiful blue-black boy” who tells Indra “I have been told that you are building a palace as no Indra before you ever built.”

And Indra says, “Indras before me, young man – what are you talking about?”

The boy says, “Indras before you. I have seen them come and go. Just think, Vishnu sleeps in the cosmic ocean and the lotus of the universe grows from his navel. On the lotus sits Brahma, the creator. Brahma opens his eyes, and world comes into being, governed by an Indra. Brahma closes his eyes, and world goes out of being. The life of a Brahma is four hundred and thirty-two thousand years. When he dies, the lotus goes back, and another lotus is formed, and another Brahma.””

The boy’s next words tell us that thousands and thousands of years ago, human beings sensed the vastness they were part of. “Then think of the galaxies beyond galaxies in infinite space, each a lotus, with a Brahma sitting on it, opening his eyes and closing his eyes. And Indras? There may be wise men in your court who would volunteer to count the drops of water in the oceans of the world or the grains of sand on the beaches, but no one would” be able to count the number of  Indras.

As the boy continues to talk, an “army of ants” passes by, and the boy laughs. Indra asks, “Why do you laugh?”

“The boy answers, “Don’t ask unless you are willing to be hurt.”

Indra says, “I ask. Teach….”

And so the boy points to the ants and says, “Former Indras all. Through many lifetimes they rise from the lowest conditions to the highest illumination. And then they drop their thunderbolt on a monster and think, ‘What a good boy am I!’ And down they go again.”

Carl Sagan writes in “Contact”: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

Peace 🙂

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