The "big" of it all

Time (featuring Gabbi)* - 090212
I want to focus on the big picture as a conclusion to my series of posts on time.  It is easy to focus on the now, the world within a few feet of me, and the people I can see around me.  Even though I have a well established sense of object permanence, I still tend to disregard the big world around me that I am not immediately interacting with. 

My mind knows that my wife is at a church a few blocks away.  I know that my parents are probably getting in the car for their trip to their church.  I am sure President Obama and Governor Romney are talking about the election to some other people.  Even though I know all this stuff, I am not really thinking about it. 

Right now I am looking out at grassy area on the UC Berkeley Campus, drinking a tea (trying to soothe a sick stomach) and writing this.  A wall is behind me, a number of men are sitting in a random pattern in tables facing away from me.  My whole world can easily be summed up by what I am seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting at this moment.  This sense of "immediate-me" creeps into all my senses, including one of the senses we don't really count as a sense - the sense of time. 

When I was getting my first undergraduate degree**, I took two influential courses in the same quarter, geology and and astronomy.  It was in both of those classes that my concept of size, space, and time were challenged.  I held a rock that was over two billion years old.  I learned I was made of dust from stars long dead.  One night, my astronomy class used a telescope and I became a speck.    We looked at  a very faint, distant object and my professor mentioned that it was a very old star and that I was looking back in time, probably a few billion years.  He then told us that star probably didn't exist anymore and if it had a solar system, all its planets were burnt up and dust.  After looking back in time, I let my eyes adjust to the dark while standing in the cold mountain air and looked at the Milky Way floating above.  I got a glimpse into how long time really is.  The enormity hit me and I had to sit down and felt tears run down my cheeks due to the magnificent grandeur of it all and how damn insignificant I really am.

Someday you will have to say "goodbye" to the sun.
You will bid farewell to the moon, the sky, the clouds, and the stars.
As all things that live, we dim out to a smoking wick, our quiet goodbyes to those things that were  always with us acknowledge we were the grain and they were the beach.
They may not hear our goodbyes, but their existence in our beings need to be recognized and bid proper adieu. 

After that moment, I felt so insignificant in the great sense of time and space.  In the universe, I am less than a grain of sand and in the dimension of time I am less than a atomic flash.   When compared to the extreme greatness of both, there is no microscope powerful enough or time piece precise enough to measure or observe my existence.  This was (and sometimes still is) a pretty depressing realization, until I learned of another truth - the order of it all.

Our universe is spread across time and space.  It isn't haphazard or random.  Invisible forces keep it in order and can help us theorize on what has happened and predict what will happen.  Stars form from the dust of other dead stars.  From that, solar systems form, life my grow on a few planets, then the star dies out, one way or another and it starts over again.  The same is for humans, we are born, we grow up, some of us procreate, and we die.  All I have to do is live in the time I have, try not to harm others, help where I can, enjoy and experience the awe of it all, and die.  In the grand scheme of things, I really don't have much to do.   The weight of the universe is not on my shoulder and I am a tiny piece of lint on its broad shoulders.

* Please click on this to see the big picture.

** I am not bragging about my number of undergrad degrees.  I pissed away my first (psychology) by not getting good enough grades by being lazy.  This laziness cost me the chance to get into grad school and finding a job.  I went back for a second degree and did much better because of the hard lessons learned from my first one.


  1. I don't really know what to say, Karl. I know yours is a prevalent view. For myself, I believe what we can perceive in this world and the entire universe is just one layer of existence. My only evidence is my near death experience at age three, but ever since I have believed other dimensions exist where we will continue to be ourselves although as a spirit in a world of light.

    1. Carla - I agree there are other layers of existence, but I have not had deep contact with them. Every once in a while I get an inkling of them though. I don't doubt your experience, I just haven't had one yet and sadly my faith is not too strong in anything anymore.

      As for this post, my main point was on looking at the grandeur or time and space. When looking at all (space) and living in it (the progress of time), my existence in it all is really so minimal that it can't be measured. I am starting to find comfort in it that I don't have to answer to the whole universe anymore, just myself and make sure I enjoy my little time with those I interact with while trying not to do any harm.

  2. Karl, an enjoyable series of posts. Thanks for the thoughts.

    Time is portrayed as masculine, it is father time mother earth took for her mate. That relationship coming down from antiquity says something I think, that those who lived so far before us understood this and put it in their legends.

    There is a song called "Heaven in a Wildflower" that speaks deep into these thoughts of scale and proportion between the perceptive human and the universe that human inhabits, these posts recalled it to mind for me. It may well be a poem set to music, I'm not sure, I met the work set in choral form on a Hearts of Space compilation album, the work credited to one Bill Douglas. In any case it wraps the thought in tones subtle and soft as padding I'd suppose to the terror some feel when first their ego is challenged by the immensity of it all.

    It takes a particular form of maturity to open onto such immensity, and not everyone can reach so far beyond themselves without intense fear. *chuckle* In a funny sort of way these thoughts actually serve as an excellent indicator of faith (in any of the ten million forms that deep and subtle emotion can take on) when you get right down to it. To speak of such thoughts is closer to a testimony than a sermon, and hey... that can go a long ways towards helping someone else open their own perspective.

    Again, well done, and thanks.

    1. CD-
      "To see a World in a Grain of Sand
      And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
      Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
      And Eternity in an hour. "

      I did a quick bit of research on this. Bill Douglas composed the music based on a part of a poem by William Blake.

      I think this bit or writing sums up a good many feelings I have on the topic. As you mentioned about "testimony" I truly do not stop to smell the roses enough and appreciate the enormity in all things about me.

  3. Karl, if you haven't read Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," it touches on your thoughts. Kundera tries to illustrate the idea of Eternal Return (Eliade). Those whose existence has weight, heaviness, would be people like Ghandi and Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr., people who changed the world forever. The rest of us exist weightlessly and leave no mark, while those with weight exist forever in sacred time (past, present, and future transposed). Thus, most of us are meaningless in the grandeur of eternity.

    I described this badly because it took Kundera an entire novel to make his point. My son's reaction to this philosophy - and the novel - was to reject it as too grim. "You live, suffer, and then you die" is how he summarized it. He is right. My view differs because I was in the Light and it was another dimension. Did it comprise past/present/future? I don't know. I was sent back.

    Perhaps life is a cliff-hanger movie, and we are should be waiting on the edge of our seats to see how our story turns out. Sometimes I worry that I'm wrong and my son (and you) are right. But I don't stop believing and waiting on the edge of my seat.

    I love your time series. These are very important posts, because I think you and I both agree, Time is everything.

    1. Carla - You are correct - time is everything. It can't be touched, but it can be felt, or at least its effects can. My joints hurt and I have few more wrinkles and a few less hairs on my head thanks to father time and how my genetic code ages.

  4. Space and Time have fascinated me for a long time. I often ponder the universe. What was there before the Big Bang? You can’t just explode out of nothing. Where are we expanding to - into? Is it infinite or finite? The universe is so vast with distances so great that I have a hard time wrapping my mind around them. Like you say – we are looking at a lot of light that doesn’t exist anymore. As a kid it took me a while to even grasp that idea.

    The strange thing to me is it is all mostly space. We have the space of the universe, the space of our earth, the space of our surroundings and the fact all material things are made up of mostly space. If you look at steel with and electron microscope it looks like Swiss cheese. We are mostly space, each cell has space, each atom has space, and each electron has space. It’s a damn miracle we can walk across the room. lol

    As I sit in my desk chair typing this I feel stationary, not moving except what it takes to type and look at the screen. But because the

    The rotational speed of the Earth at the equator is about 1,038 miles per hour.
    The earth revolves around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour.
    Our solar system revolves around the center of the Milky Way at 500,000 miles per hour.
    The Milky Way is moving thru the dark matter at approx. 1,321,200 miles per hour

    I’m actually moving at such incredible speeds that I really can’t comprehend them.

    Your feeling of being insignificant rings true with me. It takes our Solar System about 225–250 million years to complete one orbit around the Galaxy (a Galactic year), so the Sun is thought to have completed 18–20 orbits during its lifetime and 1/1250 of a revolution since the origin of humans. Which really means the whole human existence will be insignificant to the universe.

    I like your motto - All I have to do is live in the time I have, try not to harm others, help where I can, enjoy and experience the awe of it all, and die.

    We should all embrace this. If we would, I think we could all make our own immediate universe and our time in it more meaningful to us and those around us. Thus we will be significant and have meaning. Then, at the end of our particular time, we can then answer a question Ray Wylie Hubbard asks in the long version of the song Wanna Rock and Roll – Well was it worth it son?– with a gratifying Yes.

    D.L. Wood

    1. D.L. - Thanks for your reply. The true grandness of it all inspires and also overwhelms at times. I truly appreciate your throwing speed into the discussion since it is so directly related to time as the distance an object moves over that specified period of time. Even if I am moving at 0 mph, an hour has gone by.

      I hope to have the same answer to Mr. Hubbard's question.


So,what are you thinking about?