Shared Reality Based on Science

Shared Reality Based on Science

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We are living in a Golden Age of cosmology—the study of the universe as a whole. With fabulous new telescopes plus powerful theoretical breakthroughs, astronomers can see back almost to the big bang and outward to the horizon of the visible universe, and they are piecing together the story of our origins. After thousands of years of mythological origin stories and a few centuries of scientific-sounding guesses, what is emerging is humanity’s first picture of the universe ever based on solid evidence. This is humanity’s first chance to have a unifying picture that may actually be true, and it could become the basis for a shared picture of reality as our species moves toward a global civilization. Ever since ancient Egypt and Sumer, cultures have bonded around a shared picture of the cosmos as they understood it. All those pictures were scientifically inaccurate by modern standards, but they were unifying nonetheless. A shared reality based on science could be the most valuable possible gift to our fragmented human race.

This is a pivotal moment for our species. We are reaching the end of the exponential growth in human resource consumption and environmental impacts that began in the Industrial Revolution some 200 years ago. A shift is inevitable soon, since the environmental impacts are now becoming serious and will soon be catastrophic if present trends continue. There is no law of physics that says we humans can’t solve our biggest problems—but first we have to raise the level of our thinking. Cosmology may seem to be a subject that is completely irrelevant to any normal human endeavor, but it could actually turn out to be not only practical, but our salvation. It lets us re-envision seemingly intractable global problems and possibly see solutions on different timescales.

What would it take, and mean, for Earth’s citizens to become capable of thinking in, and acting for, the extremely long term? The possibility of becoming such a future-oriented global society may seem abstract, even pie-in-the-sky silly right now—but in fact, it may only be possible now. There are freedoms and resources available today that in a generation or two may disappear unless changes occur. The new cosmos is everyone’s home, its origin story is everyone’s story, and sharing the unique place of intelligent life in this astonishing universe is a bond that unites us all. This may be humanity’s best chance for a very long and successful future, and our best chance for infusing today with the excitement and optimism necessary to get there.

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Originally published on the City Brights Blog.