This photo of the Sombrero Galaxy was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and was voted the top space photo of all time by a panel of astronomers.
The Sombrero Galaxy lies 25 million light years, or 146,642,400,000,000,000,000 miles from earth. It has 800 million stars and is 56,000 light years, or 328,478,976,000,000,000 miles across.
There are upwards of 100 billion galaxies in the universe and each galaxy contains billions and even trillions of stars. The total number of stars in the universe is estimated to be 100 sextillion stars. A Sextillion looks like this:
while 100 of them would be equal to:
Try to wrap your head around that. That is a lot of stars, don't you think? There is probably not enough space on this page to put in the number of the possible number of planets in this universe. It would be an inconceivable amount and yet estimates done by the late Carl Sagan indicate that even with such huge potential we may, indeed, be the only intelligent life in all of this. Think on that for a moment. I find it a frightening thought given that as a species we do not seem all that intelligent to me.
The question is not whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe but whether there is intelligent life on earth.
Carl Sagan liked to say that we are made of "star stuff." All of the heavy elements in our bodies were created in the super nova thermonuclear explosions in the beginning of things. We are indeed quite factually made of star stuff.
Wes Nisker, founder of Inquiring Mind and Buddhist teacher says, "We are pieces of the universe wondering about itself." If that doesn't befuddle your mind I don't know what will.
What are we doing here? Why is there life instead of just inanimate objects? In the creation of the universe no life was a more likely outcome than life. How did atoms learn to reproduce and how and when did that reproduction give rise to consciousness? Why did it give rise to consciousness? It would seem to be a rare occurrence having beings wandering about aware of themselves.
Astrophysicist Brian Swim said, "Four billion years ago the earth was a molten rock of lava and now it can sing opera." Nisker asks, "How did that happen? And why?"
Yes, how? Why?
Perhaps strangest of all is that consciousness, our consciousness, plays a role in the creation of reality. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics says, "There is no reality in the absence of observation."
Perhaps you should read that again. It is a little hard to digest. Without observation there is no reality. It is amazing how far science has come. Of course, 2500 years ago Buddha said, "Mind is the fore runner of all things."
As hard as it is to digest, it is fact. What we see if not what really exists. In the act of observation probability waves solidify as particles. This is an experiment that quantum scientists have recreated thousands of times. This is all very high weirdness. Just who and what are we that we create reality?
Here is something to think about. Science tell us that every single cell in our bodies processes about 4000 transactions a second. There are about 56 trillion cells in our bodies so the total number of actions every second is in the quadrillions. Let's see IBM come up with a computer that can do that many flops.
The following dharma talk, Be Here Wow, by Wes Nisker is both highly amusing and extremely profound and I encourage you to have a listen.
(Originally posted to Multiply December 4, 2008)