If you’re searching for perspective in life, go camping on a mountain on a clear summer night. At midnight, put on a warm coat and look at the sky. Everything you can see from a mountaintop, in fact, everything in the universe you can see, feel, smell, touch and hear is made from combining 118 different atoms in different combinations. The reason you can make such a diverse universe out of so few building blocks is because they’re so ingeniously designed. Atoms behave so logically that you can arrange them in a chart and predict how they’ll interact with other elements based on where they are on the chart. The inventor of the Periodic Table of Elements was even able to predict the existence and nature of yet unknown elements because nature is so mathematically logical.
Not only are the building blocks of reality logical, they’re resilient. Every atom everywhere obeys the rules of the universe all the time; so far the universe has operated like clockwork flawlessly for about 13.8 billion years. It’s also grown so huge there’s not even a number for how big it is. But no matter how old or spread thin the universe becomes, atoms still follow the same inherent, unwritten rules everywhere, all the time.
If you take any atom in the universe and break it apart you’ll find it’s made up of smaller pieces that behave according to their own set of rules, and the product of their actions becomes the behavior of the atom at large. Those subatomic particles are made up of even smaller pieces that follow their own set of unwritten rules. The rules of subatomic physics are too complex for most humans to understand, and even our brightest scientific minds still don’t completely understand what’s happening at the bottom of reality. At this point, scientists have broken atoms down so far that the pieces just look like invisible forces and mathematics. Until they can find more concrete answers, we’re left to wonder how and why we live in a universe made of math.
Even if we don’t understand the grand design, we can still marvel at it. And its most breathtakingly genius feature is the existence of life. It’s odd enough that such an elegant universe would exist in the first place, let alone possess the capacity to convert inorganic matter into self-replicating DNA automatically.
What makes the existence of life even more surprising is how complex its design is. Consider that your body is made up of countless atoms joined together to form molecules, which behave according to their own set of logical, purpose-driven, unwritten rules. Molecules are designed to combine and form living cells. There are about a trillion cells in your body that consume food, produce energy and poop while performing some function your body needs to live.
The precision and speed at which the cells of the human body operate at is cosmic. To simply lift your arm over your head, your body has to send an electrical impulse down a conductive fiber to your arm muscles, which are made of millions of fibers the size of hairs. The electrical signal tells the muscle fibers to inject themselves with calcium, which causes billions of smaller components within each strand to contract. They stay contracted until the brain sends a signal to the muscle to flood its cells with potassium, which blocks the muscle’s ability to hold its grip. All those billions of events happen in a fraction of a second.
As impressive as it is that the human body can move so efficiently using such an involved process, that doesn’t scratch the surface of our anatomy’s complexity. The cells in our bodies follow unique rules to form tissues, which follow their own set of rules and combine to form organs, which interact elegantly with other organs. Together, they create a self-replicating, self-healing, self-aware, problem-solving, bi-pedal, autonomous supercomputer with a stable skeletal structure and strong muscles that lives on a giant rock spinning around a giant fireball in an endless vacuum.
If you’re impressed by the design of the human body, you should be equally weirded out by it, because the programming instructions that run all of the body’s functions are stored in your DNA, which is made out of atoms, which arranged themselves to form DNA by themselves. The universe arranged itself into DNA and is running programming instructions in your brain. That means the universe is literally your copilot.
Your body is more than just a machine. It’s a mother, father, son, daughter, employee, citizen, lover, believer, dreamer, worrier, champion, loser, etc. This is how we tend to think of ourselves, but on the grand scale of things, our bodies are ultimately tiny globs of atoms jostling in a sea of atoms. If doctors dissected you, all they would find are atoms. They wouldn’t be able to find you.
Your memory, identity, skills, emotional scars, motivations and everything else that defines you as a person is the product of chemicals and electricity churning away in your brain, a glob of inanimate matter behaving animatedly. Somehow it all comes together to form something that exists between the lines. Somehow the brain produces a ghost in the machine that can will your body to speak the words, “I think. Therefore, I am.”
Not only do you know you exist, but you can distinguish yourself from other piles of atoms. You can interact with other atoms, and they’ll respond to your existence. Other people can also acknowledge, remember and interact with you, further reaffirming the reality of your existence.
So here you are, built on math and grown from stardust, living for a short time with the ability to comprehend your own existence, knowing you’re going to die someday relatively soon. At that time, all the atoms in your body that held your consciousness together will unravel themselves from each other and spill back into general circulation. The brevity of life might make existence seem futile, but the amount of power and work that went into creating the universe and the life within it suggests there may be value to it. You may be an underpaid employee, a rejected lover, an overworked parent, or unappreciated artist, but first, you’re a cosmic miracle/mystery.
The big question is, what do we do with this surreal life we’ve got? If nothing else, we should all be standing around looking at our hands saying, “Whoa,” because reality is amazing.
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