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Paper: Views from the Center of the Universe
Volume: 409, Cosmology Across Cultures
Page: 3
Authors: Abrams, N.E.; Primack, J.R.
Abstract: The modern theory of the composition, evolution, and structure of the universe had its origins in the early 1980s, and in the past decade the astronomical evidence for it has become extremely strong. We now know that the vast majority of the universe is invisible dark energy and cold dark matter, with stars, gas, planets, and other visible stuff making up only about 0.5% of the cosmic density. The new cosmology gives us a new perspective on how we fit into the universe. We humans are made of the rarest material in the universe, relatively heavy atoms like oxygen and carbon that are forged in stars. Our size is midway between the largest and smallest sizes, the cosmic horizon and the Planck scale. We also live at the center of time from the perspective of the cosmos, of our solar system, and of life on earth. There is no geographic center of the expanding universe, but we humans are turning out to be central to the principles that underlie the new cosmology. Many of humanity’s most dangerous problems arise from our 17th century way of looking at the universe, which is at odds with the principles of modern science that we blithely use in countless technologies. There is an almost total disjunction between the power of our technologies and the wisdom required to use them over the almost unimaginably long periods during which their effects will last. People can’t recognize threats that don’t make sense in their cosmology, and this is why the new cosmology is such an important contribution to the world at this moment and must be presented to the public in ways they can appreciate. We can learn to do this from earlier cultures’ cosmologies, which were presented through stories, images, symbols, and rituals. Those cosmologies were scientifically wrong, but they nevertheless provided a mental homeland that defined a shared reality for their people. The challenge today is to take the new universe picture and present it not just as physics but as a mental homeland for our time – a homeland where cosmological time is the normal perspective and where global threats that may not get out of hand for another generation or two are as real as a hurricane coming tonight.
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