A Bit of Eternity

Painting of The Wave by Vladimir Iwasiuk

Each breathing human inhales, and by necessity, exhales approximately 25 sextillion molecules of air with each breath.  That is 25 with 21 zeros after it (25×1021).  The entire atmosphere on earth has 1.09×1044 molecules in it.  By sheer calculations we can determine how many molecules of Caesar’s last breath each of us are inhaling in a day, and it is in all probability at least a dozen.  By the same token there is a finite amount of H2O that reached our planet through snow ball comets made primarily of ice, pelting our planet millions of years ago.  That same, by now melted ice, washes in and out of our bodies every second through drinking, transpiration, perspiration, urination, absorption, etc.  Like the air we breathe, we have a few molecules of water that were part of Aristotle, Mozart, and Madam Curie’s chemistry.  That water eventually passed through all the world’s oceans, then back to us through the rain.  Almost all of our atoms are replaced on a regular basis.  Some tissues replace quicker than others, such as intestinal mucosa, skin, and blood.  Taste buds last about 10 days while fat, to our consternation, is around for 8 years.  Neurons in the brain, on the other hand, are never replaced, only one issue to a customer for life.  If one neuron dies it is not replaced.   Although ultimately when the whole organism dies the elemental makeup of the neurons gets recycled by the worms, and by the chickens that consume the worms.

We derive all our energy, directly or indirectly, from that big nuclear furnace in the sky, a relatively small pulsar star in a remote corner of the Milky Way, our galaxy.  It has been there in its present form for 4.5 billion years, initially created along with everything else, 13.8 billion years ago when a tiny, very dense bit of mass exploded in what has been euphemistically called the “Big Bang”.  The sun has enough fuel left to last another 5 billion years or so, more than enough for each of us to have a few more birthdays.  This energy comes to us in little packets called quanta, these particular quanta are photons.  They have bounced around the interior of the sun for thousands of years before they reached its surface and gained the force to escape into space.  They travel rather fast, at 186,287 miles per second, one of the more constant constants in the universe– the speed of light.  At that rate it takes 500 seconds to get from the surface of the sun to us.  Obviously, the longer it takes light to reach us, the further away its source is.  The nearest galaxy to our own is Alpha Centauri, and light takes four years to reach us from there.  That light was generated four years ago, so in fact we are looking back 4 years in time when we look at that galaxy.  With the most powerful telescopes, like the Hubble telescope, we can actually look at light that was created almost near the beginning of time, the Big Bang, and look at the past and the creation of our universe!

It might surprise you that gravity is also thought to travel in particles, gravitons, and it too travels exactly at the same speed light does, 186,287 miles per second.  Time and space are intimately related, as are mass and energy, and their amount, value, distance, shape etc. are all relative depending on a whole host of factors, as we are told by Einstein’s general and special theory of relativity.  Space is bendable by mass and time passes slower, the faster you are traveling.  Furthermore, gravity also influences how fast time passes.  If we were in the habit of wearing ankle watches and our watches were accurate enough, we would notice that the wrist watch would always be faster than the ankle watch, as the stronger gravity is, the slower time moves along. It gets even stranger, energy can turn into mass and visa versa, something that was proven when the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy and Fat Man” and vaporized Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I share this with you to remind you and myself that we are a small, seemingly insignificant part of a larger picture, and that there is a certain timelessness to our physical being.  Also, this does give us a small, but definite, claim to eternity, even if we are made of just 7×1027 atoms form only 60 elements of the 118 elements listed in the periodic table, forged together by our DNA into the only intellectual beings, at least on this planet.

I like to think of our journey through our existence like a wave on the ocean.  A wave is a constantly changing force that moves over a body of water, and eventually ends up on a sandy beach, creating a lot of white foam.  A wave changes its substance constantly.  From one second to the next a wave is made up of entirely different molecules of water, yet it remains the same wave, just as we who float through life with different molecules at various times making up our physical structure, but remaining the same person.  The closer the wave gets to shore the taller it gets, just as we often become stronger and wiser, the longer we are around.  Just as the cresting wave shows off its beauty and power, it must crash on the shore and end its existence. We too decline at the end, but leave a mark on the sand, and the spent force of the wave pulls some of the sand back into the ocean.  Although the earth looks much the same after a single wave has washed ashore, it has left a mark along with many other waves to slowly alter the lay of the land.

Furthermore, by leaving a bit of our DNA to our progeny, we continue to send more waves ashore to leave their mark in the sand.  We and ours too change the lay of the land, some of us by tiny grains of sand, others of us by large boulders, but we too leave our mark and thus gain a bit of eternity.