Imagining a Humble Universe

I've been sitting on the concept behind this post for a week. Everyday it feels more and more urgent as I hear people talk to each other in real life and in the media. I've hesitated because it brings light to a problem, and I have no answer. Somehow, listening to this On Being podcast with Mary Oliver helped me realize that I just need to get this one out there. Creativity is impatient. 

 The pillars of creation. photo taken by the hubble telescope. It can be be found  here .

The pillars of creation. photo taken by the hubble telescope. It can be be found here.

For a number of fascinating reasons, scientists and mathematicians are coming to believe that while we live in an infinite universe, our universe is likely one of many, if not infinite, universes: the multiverse. (Check out this Radiolab podcast if you have no idea what I'm talking about.) Our universe was born 13.82 billion years ago in a flash of light, heat and potential and we now sit here at the precipice of time as it's ultimate creation. <-- This is science. 

This is fantasy --> What if the universe wonders if it is good enough? What if it is wondering if has really lived up to its potential? Maybe it is concerned that its galaxies are not the perfect spirals that it had hoped for. Maybe it is worried that it is expanding too fast or too slowly. What if it looks at the emergence of life and intelligence, and is afraid that it may have been a mistake? Our universe might be worried that when compared to other universes it is just not perfect nor elegant enough. 

Is that too far out? Imagine if our planet was thinking the same. What if Earth was looking at the purity of color and sterility of the other 7 planets and felt inadequate, like an imposter?*

These questions come to mind because I have been experiencing an inundation of self-deprecating thoughts among my friends, colleagues and myself lately. In each case they (I) seem to look at the people around them (me) and feel a sense of total amazement with the company they (I) hold and begin to think,  "I must be an imposter here. Soon they'll figure out that I'm a mess, nowhere near their level. They will kick me out of this group once they see how flawed I am. I am not worthy of this." 

When I see people saying things like this, I am always struck by how beautiful and amazing THEY are and how tragic it is to hear them voice their concerns, unbelievable really. When I feel this voice in myself I struggle to imagine how it can't be true, even as I rationally know that it isn't. How can we trust our worthiness in the face of such incredible beauty and skill that we witness around us?

Taoism advises us to be valley, to see the power of lying low and letting the world flow towards us.

With fractals, it is the slight imperfections, and their iteration, that make things beautiful. As Benoit Mandelbrot reminds us, "Mountains are not cones, clouds are not spheres, trees are not cylinders, neither does lightning travel in a straight line."

We all are acutely aware of our imperfections. In the face of the amazing world we live in it is hard to see our place, but here's the trick: we're amazing too, even with our shortcomings.

So here's what I want to say: Don't be afraid to find "your place in family of things." Come humbly, but come. You fit right in, and we need you. This needs to be a team effort.


*Yes, I understand that anthropomorphizing a universe or a planet is fraught with complications. I'm claiming agnosticism on this one. I can't say if it's possible for the universe (planet) to be conscious or not. I believe that it's impossible to know, so for now it's just fun to think about.