I am astounded by reality. When I think about what I am, what everyone is, and what the universe is, I am amazed by the magnitude of it all. Of course we do not have all of the answers. However when I take a step back from everyday life and try to get an idea of the part of the picture that we seem to understand, I am in awe!
When I imagine that, the observable physical universe started with the seemingly bizarre event that we call the Big Bang (really a misnomer) and that it led to all THIS, I am overwhelmed with wonder. How all that we call energy and matter, and even time itself came to be in that instant. How over immense periods of time stars and planets formed. How chemistry on Earth led to life. How life evolved from single cell organisms on to creatures of astounding variety and complexity. How humans came to be. How the great mystery of consciousness came about. How over a relatively short time period (but from my point of view a long time period), people developed culture, science, technology, civilization etc. The totality of it all is really beyond comprehension.
The way that the universe got from the Big Bang to the world today in our tiny piece of the Cosmos is a mind- boggling wonder of wonders that most people scarcely think about. Often I stop to ponder how odd it is that in this little corner of the Universe it has thus far cumulated into cars, gourmet food, Shakespeare, bad television, Mozart, Da Vinci, pop music, war, politics, capitalism, communism, Nazism, morality, computers, on and on and on! The path that reality has taken seems so long and strange yet it is the fabric of our existence.
As I alluded to above, I find consciousness to be one of the most baffling phenomena of it all. What is this thing that we call “Self?” I have read a bunch of books and articles on it. It is still very mysterious. A belief that seems common, though not universal, with both researchers as well as modern philosophers is that when a certain high level of information processing organization occurs, the phenomena that we call consciousness ensues. I believe that this set of theories and beliefs likely to be true. Yet as David Chalmers points out in The Conscious Mind this is an extremely unsatisfying explanation if one is intuitively trying to get at the nature of what we call awareness!
No doubt there are wonders that are yet undiscovered. However, maybe in some areas our view of the big picture is nearly complete. Perhaps the above explanation of consciousness is pretty much all there is to it and science just needs to fill in the details. In regards to awareness and our minds, current theories just seem so inadequate. I feel a similar sense of not really intuitively understanding the seemingly paradoxical concepts relating to the Big Bang, Quantum Physics, Time, singularities, the nature of matter and energy and thus existence itself, etc.
Yet it may very well be that my brain, which evolved to mostly deal with hard practical problems of survival and reproduction on a tough planet whose rules are mostly governed by animal behavior, chemistry and Classical Physics, is just not capable of intuitively understanding concepts such as consciousness, the Big Bang, Time itself, etc. It is a wonder that we are beginning to get at these elusive truths in the form of scientific observation, theories, experiments and mathematics. Alas, real gut level comprehension may elude us forever.
Some will attribute much of this wondrous Universe to a God. Personally I see little evidence of the existence such a Being. However the reality of such an entity is possible. If there is a God I would guess it to be very, very different from that conceived by most religions and philosophies. There are so many rarely discussed possibilities that seem much more likely then those traditionally conceived. Just one example, a variation on Deism comes to mind. Imagine a super powerful intelligent entity that created the part of the Universe that we can observe. This Being is not omnipotent and needs to play by the rules and laws of a much larger Universe. It is extremely long lived on the order of tens of billions of years but not necessarily immortal. This Being cares little for humanity or what we call morality. I do not believe that this hypothetical entity exists. I do think it to me more likely then the traditional conception of God. I describe it just an example of many possibilities.
We humans in 2012 are traveling the cusp to time. We find ourselves awake and aware in an enormous Universe that has been here for billions of years. All the past has gone before. The future has not has happened yet (Many Physicists contend that there is nothing special about the forward movement of time and such may just be based upon our perception. I cannot claim to fully understand this concept and I find it near impossible to write a Blog from that perspective!). We are only able to look back at all that has gone before and wonder about what is to come.
I am hesitant to recommend too many books on these topics as advances in our knowledge quickly make information obsolete. I love all the writings of Carl Sagan. He combined astronomy, physics, biology, history, culture, philosophy, as well as a very humanistic and tolerant worldview to weave a picture of the universe that very much parallels my own. Of course Stephen Hawking’s writings on physics and the nature of the Universe are classic.
In terms of biology, evolution and what I call the philosophy of science and understanding I agree with much of the worldview espoused by Richard Dawkins. However, I find Dawkins to be too angry and disrespectful towards those whom he disagrees with for me to advocate for his writings too strongly. Daniel Dennett and David Chalmers have really good books and articles on the subject of consciousness.
There are many others thinkers of note, some that I have read of and I am sure some that I have not. There is much exploration available to the curious person. We live a great time to possess and inquisitive mind!
I think that if and when we discover extraterrestrial intelligence it will in the very least help and change our perspective on many of these issues. Imagine how such a discovery will impact upon our views concerning science, philosophy, our place in the Universe, and almost everything else! In the meantime, I urge everyone to take a step back and think about the ALL.