After I wrote my last post I decided, especially since this is a blog on atheist spirituality, to blog about a spiritual experience I had that was related to my learning in my Intro to Astronomy class. That particular learning was the idea that all the different elements in the universe were fused together in stars and supernovae from the original hydrogen that was formed just seconds or fractions of a second after the Big Bang.
This was the idea that Carl Sagan was talking about when he said that “we are all starstuff” and the idea that inspired the title of my first blog “bits of starstuff.”
After I first learned about this, I was sitting out in my parent’s backyard laying on my back on the ground looking up at the stars though a sizable break in the trees. While I looked up at the stars I contemplated that the elements I am made of and depend on–like carbon and oxygen–were fused together in the massive supernova deaths of stars. A main-sequence star generates its energy by fusing hydrogen into helium in its core. When it runs out of hydrogen it starts fusing the helium into carbon until it either collapses into a black hole or white dwarf or explodes as a supernova, depending on the mass of the star. The pressures involved in a supernova explosion results in the fusing of most of the elements we know. (For more info, see http://aspire.cosmic-ray.org/labs/star_life/starlife_main.html and http://library.thinkquest.org/17940/texts/star/star.html and other sites found by searching “star life cycle.”)
Like I said before, this answered a question that I’d thought could only by answered by God–where did the elements come from? As I looked up at the sky contemplating this I had this wonderful feeling of connection with the universe (and no, I was not smoking anything) and felt an odd sort of kinship with the stars. I’m made of the same stuff as the stars. And so is that tree over there (and that notion gave me a wonderful feeling of vertigo). It was a wonderful experience, one that I will remember for the rest of my life.
I used to look at the stars and think of some scripture about God calling out the stars by name. But this experience make that quote look like a silly childish notion. I always realized that God does not really call the stars out–they are always there, just hidden by scattered light in the atmosphere for an average of 12 hours a day. Letting go of that and contemplating the universe in all it’s strangeness and hugeness and even coldness was a large step in spiritual growth for me.
The universe is a strange and wonderful thing. And I am a part of it.