I have a doctorate in engineering and so understand physics, science and engineering fairly well, at least on an intellectual level. However, that does not mean that I do not experience a sense of awe at what nature has revealed to us thus far.
Let’s start from the images of universe and its myriad of objects. A good place to start given how fresh are the images sent by James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Although I know that there are 100 billion stars in our galaxies and there are 100 billion galaxies, plus or minus a few billion, I still feel overwhelmed when I see the images of deep space sent previously by Hubble, now refined by JWST. Now think about the fact that the visual stuff is just five percent of the universe. Some twenty percent is dark matter and the rest…seventy five percent — -is dark energy. Now consider all that emerged from infinitesimally small singularity when the Big Bang occurred some 13.7 billion years ago. That’s not all. There are likely to be multiple universes around and there is also a possibility that the whole thing is nothing but mathematics, as per Max Tegmark of MIT.
From universe, let’s come down to the splendid complexity and variation of life on this earth. First of all, as Carl Sagan famously said, “we are made out of star stuff.” The heavier elements (besides Hydrogen and Helium) we are composed of would not have materialized if it were not the enormous temperature and pressure that are present in a star. As the star goes through its life cycle, it explodes dispersing this heavier stuff in the interstellar space and they eventually end up as our building blocks. How amazing is that?
For a physics and mathematics-oriented person, biology is a whole another world, so to speak. From a simple beginning of single cell life, how has nature created a complex human being? We are composed of some thirty trillion cells, each of them has a specific task to perform and requires regular nourishment. This count would double if we include microbiome…bacteria, viruses, and fungi…that live in/on us.
Each cell is complicated and contain DNAs, RNAs and proteins. Recently, I started a course of biochemistry and molecular biology and finally grasped how complex the proteins are. There are thousands of them, each with its massive chemical and physical structure. DNAs themselves are a marvel of nature. They are complex molecules made out of three billion bases, which are “simple” chemicals. Something goes wrong with a few of them during reproduction and you have a mutation. However, it is the mutation that makes life as diverse as it is. New organisms emerge and those who are able to survive the situation then are able to thrive. The others don’t.
Thinking about how a simple activity, like walking, requires an efficient execution of a complicated process. The retinas of eyes receive reflected light. That gets converted into electrical signals and get sent to a specific part of the brain which, through pattern matching, figures out what the eyes are looking at. It then sends appropriate signals to muscles that contract to make legs move while keeping balance. The “GPS” in brain notices where I am walking and gets me home. Unbelievable.
Even though the world that I perceive on my daily walks is complex, that is only a tiny sliver of what really exists, as described by Ed Yong in his book “An Immense World”. All of us, all living things, exist in our “sensory bubble” referred to as “Umwelt”, a German word. According to Ed, the earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, electric and magnetic field. A lot of it is outside our Umwelt. Just see the dog sniffing around. It is able to detect what is beyond what we can. Or a turtle that can track earth’s magnetic field. Or a bat that senses obstacles in total darkness using radar. Each in its own Umwelt.
However, even those animals can’t detect the part of our universe that is very small. Beyond molecules and atoms are quarks. The small entities (like electrons or photon) behave like particles as well as waves. Some properties of these very small particles are bizarre. They can be anywhere until observed. Also, a particle can affect another (it is entangled with) immediately even if it is at the other end of the universe.
I cannot but marvel at what nature has created. and remember Louis Armstrong and his famous song:
What a wonderful world