Plenary talks at the July 2009 Metanexus conference “Cosmos, Nature, Culture” in Tempe, Arizona.
No one knows for sure, but it is estimated that there are something like 1024 stars in the universe. When talking about numbers so unimaginably large, our world seems cosmically insignificant. But as far as we know, we’re the only ones who count—in two senses of the word: We alone can count the stars, and it seems to count for something that we do. As Aristotle begins his Metaphysics, “All men by nature desire to know.” There is something within us—manifested as it is in the entire spectrum of human endeavor, from the sciences, to philosophy, to religion, to the arts, to ethics—that demands we pursue the whole story of the whole cosmos if we are to be whole persons, in order to know who we are, where we are from, where we are going, and how we should live.
As Carl Sagan wrote, “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us—there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.” If we are truly to understand the cosmos and our place in it, as well as our relation to each other and to the divine, we must adopt rich transdisciplinary approaches that deeply respect yet cut across the various fields of knowledge, institutional boundaries, cultural borders, and religious traditions that frame our intellectual and spiritual pursuits.