The Human Scale

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If someone suggests that human beings take a lot for granted, you might not really argue.  It’s easy to see that we do – anything that we are used to, that we expect, we take for granted.  If we sit down and make a list of everything that we take for granted, maybe as part of a gratitude exercise, we will likely list ordinary things from our daily lives.  Very few will ever think of the astonishingly limited scale of our human existence in this cosmos.  We are totally at home with the tiny range of experience we normally have access to, and unconsciously default to thinking that’s all there is, until we really ponder.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” ― Joseph Campbell

Take the simplest example – our sight.  We only see 0.0035% of the electromagnetic spectrum which spans from radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays.  After thousands of years of human existence, we have only just discovered just how prevalent ultraviolet light is in the animal kingdom.  All of the frequencies that light travels in, and we can detect less than 1% with our eyes – and even in that tiny experience of light there is so much beauty.

All of our senses give us but a glimpse of what this creation is capable of.  Hearing is another easy example.  Normal hearing is between 20 to 20,000 Hz.  Infrasonic and ultrasonic sounds are not audible to us.  Same story with smell.  Recent articles boast that humans can detect one trillion odors, which sounds staggering.  But ask your dog about hearing and smelling super-powers.  There are countless species on our planet whose capabilities dwarf our senses that we are so proud of.

“The visible world is a daily miracle, for those who have eyes and ears.” ― Edith Warton

Speaking of our planet, think of our human scale in the infinite span of space.  The latest orbital telescopes like the Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and Compton just name a few, are peering out into billions of light years.  As you take a step of a couple of feet on the pavement, consider that scale against the expanse of our cosmos which is beyond our ability to wrap our minds around.  Consider where we occupy space in our terms at 2m, compared to the known spectrum scale of space – from Plank Length 1.6×10-35m to atomic nuclei 1×10-15m to the observable universe 8.8×1026m.  All we experience in daily life is a nano-spec in this incomprehensive continuum.

“We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself.” ― Brian Cox

We can’t speak of space without talking about time.  Here too, our familiar concepts of seconds, minutes, hours, days, years… all pale in creation.  The shortest unit of time ever measured is 10-21 seconds.  On the other end of time’s range, we consider the universe to be 13.7 billion years.  If the universe was 100 years old, a human life would last 15 seconds and if the age of the universe was one year, homo sapiens showed up 7 minutes before midnight.

Even when we talk about the universe, physical matter that we know and can describe only makes up 5%.  We have no idea what makes up 95% of the universe!  Dark matter, dark energy…  Our perception of physical reality is limited to the grossest level.  There are many subtle layers of reality that are beyond the awareness of nearly everyone – energetic waves that pervade everything.  Sit in silence and meditate on the vastness, the silence, the stillness.

“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.” ― Alan Watts

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