, Salem, MA


March 20, 2014

Anderson: Following our ancestors

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise.”

— Carl Sagan, Cosmos, 1980.

As “Cosmos” is updated in a 2014 Fox TV weekly special, the gift of perspective seems to be a worthy goal, though I’d never consider our human concerns to be insignificant, much less petty. Because of our unique human quality of self-awareness, we know that each of us is the center of our own universe. This is at least as arguable as the once-popular theory that the earth is the center of the solar system, with the sun revolving ’round.

The earth is about 4.6 billion years old, which doesn’t seem like a high number, considering that we Americans are dealing with a national debt of $17.3 trillion. Further, a Harvard team has just validated theories about the Big Bang that created the universe, fewer than 14 billion years ago. If we had started spending a dollar a day at the beginning of the universe, we wouldn’t be anywhere near spending $17.3 trillion.

On the other hand, moving from the immense to the small, I’m told I have roughly 100 trillion cells in my body, so the national debt has a way to go to match THAT amount. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, my concern about the economic survival of our little corner of the universe could be considered relative, if I didn’t have relatives about whom to care.

Politically, my son and I are worlds apart. But when it comes to the cosmos, we are mentally bonded, as well as connected genetically to stardust, the rocks and all living creatures, including each other. We began our exploration of inner and outer space with the Madeleine L’Engle books that we read aloud to each other during his K-4 years. After we watched the original Cosmos together his junior year in high school, I bought him the book for Christmas and inscribed it:

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