Distant Galaxies and Life on Other Planets
A Whiteheadian Appreciation of Recent Explorations in Astrophysics
This has been the surprise to me actually that my perspective on love has been so informed by science, but it has. It's been fundamentally shifted, you know. And then I read other scientists who've had the same perspective and it all kind of makes sense. I mean, Carl Sagan's quote, you know: "For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love." This love, this idea, is this moving force. I mean, it just permeates our history, our culture. I've equated it to, you know, this analogy of dark matter.
-- Natalie Batalha, Astrophysicist at NASA, scroll down for interview
A Few Quotations from Alfred North Whitehead
An actual entity is concrete because it is such a particular concrescence of the universe...
In fact if we allow for degrees of relevance, and negligible relevance, we must say that every actual entity is present in every other actual entity.
The whole spatial universe is a field of force, or in other words, a field of incessant activity.
God [the lure toward order and novelty in the universe] is an actual entity..and so it the most trivial puff of existence in far-off empty space.
Distant galaxies are societies of societies of societies. Their members include electromagnetic occasions in empty space and enduring objects in occupied space. Enduring objects endure through time for periods of time of varying lengths: from much less than a split second to millions of years. The enduring objects are corpuscular societies.
Empty space is not really empty; it is a field of incessant activity, pregnant with novelty. Scientists today tell us that much of it consists of dark matter, that is: matter which emits no discernible light. This matter is a little like God. It produces no energy but pulls us.
How old is our universe? The prevailing proposal today is about fourteen billion years, but that may change. Indeed, the whole idea of our universe originating in a big bang may change. The brilliance of science is not to hold onto any given theory of origins too tightly, because the theory can always be challenged by new information and new ways of interpreting given information.
In Whitehead's philosophy the history of the entire universe is understood as a beginningless and endless series of societies which transpire in cosmic epochs. The idea of a single origin is rejected. All actualities have multiple origins. Our cosmic epoch seems to be governed by electromagnetic occasions, but in other cosmic epochs there may be other types of entities. Entities are happenings or event.
In any case, when we talk about distant galaxies and life on other planet, we are talking about galaxies and other forms of life in our cosmic epoch, which is but one among an infinite number.
The laws of nature are really habits of nature. They are habitual modes of interaction which endure over time and which can also evolve over time. Even laws are in process. The entire universe is a beginningless and endless journey of countless events in countless cosmic epochs, enfolded within a womb-like Journey which includes the whole. The womb-like Journey is God.
So why do Galaxies matter?
They are beautiful and interesting.
They add to our understanding of the universe.
They are places where the many of the universe become one.
They are present in us even when we don't know it, which means that we would not be us without them.
Even as they are immanent within us they also transcend us beautiful and bewildering ways.
They remind us that we are not the center of things.
They are places where the love force of the universe -- God -- is at work.
They make us feel a little silly if we belong to religions that are excessively human-centered or astral-impoverished.
And why do Exoplanets matter?
At least some of them, and probably a whole lot of them, are inhabited by forms of life.
They can help widen our capacities for love, which is what religion at its best is often about.
We (or our ancestors) may be able to communicate with some of the other forms of life some day.
...at least this is what we learn from Natalie Batalha in the interview below. When you study the universe, she says, it is the universe studying itself through you.
-- Jay McDaniel
Krista Tippett's Interview with NASA research astronomer Natalie Batalha in On Being
Galaxies, Exoplanets, and Habitable Zones
A galaxy is a system of millions or billions of stars, together with gas and dust, held together by gravitational attraction. Astrophysists at NASA suggests that there may be as many as 500 billion galaxies in the universe. An exoplanet is a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system, in our galaxy or in a distant galaxy. The Kepler Mission, sponsored by NASA, is to detect potential habitable zones on other planets. It has been, and continues to be, quite successful. So far more than a thousand candidate planets have been detected in a very small part of the universe.
Excerpts from the interview with Natalie Batalha offered in left column. For entire transcript click here.
Ms. Tippett: I mean, you also bring words like love. You just mentioned suffering. I think something that's very intriguing about you as a scientist, it's not that you're confusing these things with your science or conflating them, but I sense that this life of discovery that you're involved in does bring you back to think about something like love differently. That it informs and somehow infuses your thinking about that. So talk to me about that.
The Most Massive Black Hole
The Most Distant Galaxy in the Universe