Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Day in My Life -- The Birthday Cycle

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. :)
Quote from the opening of the long running soap opera, Days of our Lives
Today on my birthday, having turned 69 years old and now staring 70 in the face, I marvel at our current human understanding and our moment in time.

While it is fashionable to complain about the troubles of our day, from a historical perspective, we live in a remarkable time.

Today science has confirmed what seemed impossible just a few short years ago: that the universe began with the Big Bang -- starting from something smaller than an atom. And we have cracked the code of life with DNA, mapped the human genome and know where we as humans came from -- we evolved from tiny microorganisms. We now know that there are more than a hundred billion galaxies each with a hundred billion stars. And we have landed humans on the Moon, landed robotic instruments on Mars and explored all of the planets with our probes. Plus taking half of my lifetime, the Voyager 1 spacecraft just became the first man-made object to go beyond the edge of the solar system and into interstellar space (see photos at the bottom).

Planck Satellite Image: A map of the entire universe; this is a map of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) from the Big Bang. (NASA)

Electron microscope photos of microscopic organisms that led, over billions of years, to the human species. (
If a person had suggested any of these ideas at the time I was born, they would have been labeled off-their-rocker. To suggest that all these things could be true would have been total madness.

At age 13, I made a notebook. I essentially copied drawings from George Gamow's book One Two Three ... Infinity in which he explained time & space-time in diagrams and terms I could understand. (Rick Doble)
Yet this is the brave new world we find ourselves living in. In short, we can see where we came from, how we got here and where we are going -- answering all those childish questions. 

When I was growing up, I did ask these questions, but there were few answers -- only doomsday forecasts about the future. Books and movies like On the Beach or Dr. Strangelove envisioned a world in which no one survived a nuclear war. Others such as Orwell's 1984 imagined a world of 'no exit' in which the individual would be crushed. Huxley's Brave New World foresaw a well ordered but quite Draconian and sterile modern civilization. 

Today there are regional wars and conflicts, but the World Wars are memories. Thousands of years of prejudice and intolerance also seem to be on the decline. In the 1960s I was in the Civil Rights Movement as a white guy and never thought I would see the day when a black man would be nominated for president -- yet he was elected and reelected. 

That's really me in the Civil Rights Movement, in Chapel Hill, NC, 1963. I am on the far right, in front, holding up the end of the banner. (NC State Government)
 Just 60 or so years ago, when I was born, women were essentially second class citizens. Women did not go to college. A woman was expected to be a housewife or, if she wanted to work, be either a secretary, a nurse or a teacher -- those were the only choices. So today, this is perhaps the most important social change: the unequal treatment of women is fading.

Plus we are on the verge of creating a truly global culture that recognizes we are all citizens of the Earth. Yet at the same time we can be loyal to our own nation and traditions while respecting others whose nations and cultures are different.

Electric lights at night on the Planet Earth -- showing the extent of human civilization and development. (
Okay -- I get it -- the world is not perfect and never will be. The environmental problems will take all of our attention for the next several hundred years, I believe. The inequality of world living standards may take just as long. And very soon there will be more people on the Earth than the Earth can reasonably sustain, according to the United Nations.

But today, like never before, we have developing technologies that could solve many of these problems -- imagine low cost electricity from decentralized solar panels, for example. 

And it is quite certain that as our technology improves we will explore our solar system and beyond -- that the human race will continue, expand and survive.

So today we stand on a mountain top where we can see where we have come from and where we are going. The view from here is really stunning. Lets take a moment and enjoy the scenery -- let the *now moment* take over and be glad we were given this gift.

A Titan rocket takes off with Voyager 1 in 1977. (

Series of photos taken by Voyager 1 as it approached Jupiter -- which were turned into a time-lapse GIF image. (

Color photo of Jupiter's atmosphere, sent back by Voyager 1.  (

Diagram that shows where Voyager 1 is now (2013) in relation to the solar system. It is the first man-made object to leave our sun's system and go out into interstellar space.  (