Hi there. Make yourself comfy. I really am glad you’re here.
A lot of hard work went into you being here you know.
It took the couple of trillion drifting atoms that made you – the you that clicked this link. Your ensemble of trillions is combined so carefully and intricately that your specific arrangement is the first and last of its kind. The first and last that will ever exist. EVER.
Well aren’t you a special little snowflake.
Looking at our existence at its atomic level is awesome and astounding, but at the same a little ungratifying. Can our existence really be reduced to nothing but a bunch of mindless particles?
We’ll see. I’m gonna be selfish and leave that question for later. First I want to talk about our hesitance in being exposed to this kind of thinking, and why it’s important that we are.
All our starting points are usually the same – School.
You know, when we were given those non-descript science textbooks.
The textbooks we’ve come to realise require 4 mortgages and a kidney to fund. And the textbooks we therefore appreciated by carefully annotating with necessary information; for me – with dicks, practice signatures, song lyrics, and occasionally a point that my teacher said would be in the exam (a point that, despite my efforts, would never again be located when navigating the Bermuda Triangle of the text).
Personally, it always bugged me that textbook authors always seem to have the most quintessential English names in existence. The bunch sitting in my study; Roberton, Paterson, Williams, Smith, Edgeworth. As someone whose last name raises the eyebrows of everyone I meet (‘No no, I’ll add you on Facebook instead’) – I’ve kissed goodbye to textbook writer as a career choice (I’m devastated).
My point is, for a lot of us, our early exposure to the wondrous world of science was the exact opposite – a boring, monotonous test of our memory with little to no engagement. I’m 2 subjects away from a Science degree at uni and I’ve only recently begun to appreciate it.
I shit you not. I initially picked the degree only because I was good at it.
In fact, my recent interest in human existence and science was so shocking it prompted my mum to go beyond labelling it as out of character, to sending ‘u ok?’ texts.
Pointer: replying with self-deprecating, questionable memes will apparently dig you deeper.
But why does science escape many people’s realm of interest. In my opinion, a lot of the time it just doesn’t seem exciting. And on top of that – especially in our early lives, it’s incomprehensible. These textbooks, they’re mostly focused on straight facts; inclines, measurements, formulas. But how do we know these things? Why are they important? What’s it mean for us?
I love how Bill Bryson describes his early experience with textbooks:
‘It was as if [they] wanted to keep the good stuff secret by making all of it soberly unfathomable.’
Recently, I was lucky enough to meet the CEO of a start-up called CubeRider, aimed at engaging young students with core science subjects. They hope to bridge the current gap that exists in graduates with necessary technology skills. They’re doing it by literally sending the kids’ work to space. The kids are taught a multitude of practical skills (coding, programming, basic engineering) as part of a syllabus, then produce a piece of hardware that is sent straight to NASA, then to the International Space Station to collect data. It’s fucking awesome.
This kind of engagement sparks deeper thought and interest.
I can’t send you guys to space. But I’m hoping that the readings that have inspired my thinking, communicated through me to you, will inspire you to be curious about understanding, well, everything.
And I feel the best way to start your journey is with how I began this post – with you. You miraculous piece of work.
You’re made of trillions of atoms, perfectly and specifically combined into a one-off arrangement. These atoms will work together for the course of your life, undertaking the billions of intricate efforts that are necessary to keep you whole and let you experience existence.
Why do they do it? Atomically, existence isn’t all that gratifying.
Like your puppy or kitty – they’ll give you every bit of attention you ever need, but unlike them – they don’t care about you at all. They don’t even know that you exist. They don’t even know they exist. They’re mindless particles with the sole goal of keeping you, you.
How’s that make you feel? Bit weird? As Bryson puts:
‘if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.’
An atom’s attention however, is as fleeting as our lives. A mere 650,000 hours, if we’re lucky. Once we hit our expiry date, your atoms flick your power switch, disassemble and go off to be something else. That’s it. You’re done.
But should we really be unnerved by this? By the fact we’re a bunch of combined, mindless particles with an expiry date?
No! We should celebrate. Celebrate that it happens at all. I mean generally it doesn’t in the grand scheme of our universe.
Looking at it generally, the Masterchef Mystery Box challenge for cooking up the universe has pretty basic ingredients; carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, few slices of calcium and sulfur, some other elemental seasoning. But Earth definitely gets the winning apron. Here, they combine to form the wonders of our life and existence. Most other places, they don’t. It well and truly is miraculous. It’s corny and cliché, but the special thing about the atoms that make up you is just that – they make up you.
Atoms make a lot more than life too; water, air, rocks, stars, planets; anything that exists in our universe. But most curious of all, they don’t need to exist. The universe doesn’t really have to exist either. Once upon a time, it didn’t. Once upon time there was nothing – no atoms and no universe for them to do their thing in. And then there was. Just like that. And countless processes and changes since time immemorial that have led to you being you, the special arrangement of atoms that is you, the you that is reading this post.
To conclude, I want to stress how amazing it is that you exist and how important it is to question how and why that is.
Don’t be a millennial that thinks science is lame. You were born into a generation with unrivalled potential to learn, explore and uncover the mysteries of the universe.
And if all else – it’s always fun to have deep, mind-blowing shit to impress people with.
Take care guys,
You can check out my Instagram here: