Originally posted 7 Oct 2003. A story of undivided wholeness, but in strictly material terms and in linear time, with a definite beginning and an open end. My life is in a tiny segment of that time. These days, my sense is that neither reality nor I have a beginning or an end.
I like to think of myself as a very special little collection of stardust. Before you back away slowly, avoiding eye contact, let me explain. The story below is my layman's understanding of the condensed history of the universe up to the earth's formation…
Nearly 90% of my body is made of just five elements - oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and calcium. This is good old run-of-the-mill physical stuff. Atoms of these elements and their brothers and sisters from the periodic table are what make up all of the things we see on Earth and across the universe. Sure, in you and me, these things are put together in pretty special ways, but we are still made of the same building blocks as the rest of existence.
The material in me is pretty old. It didn't just pop into existence as I grew in my mother's womb. It's been around longer than the Earth, because the earth was formed from it. So I'm not talking 37 years old here, but something somewhere between 4.5 billion years and 15 billion years old.
It was 4.5 billion years ago that the sun and the earth formed as the gravitational force of clumps of matter pulled those clumps together and attracted more matter, which in turn made the ever-growing clumps more massive.
All of the raw material for this clumping came from massive explosions of other stars. The earliest stars formed just the same way as the sun, from the accumulating effects of the gravitational force between specks and clumps of matter. The matter for these first stars was all very light - having burst onto the scene in the Big Bang that gave birth to space and time in our universe (which we think happened 10-15 billion years ago). Maybe early editions of our hydrogen atoms were there, but not the other elements I've listed. The stars basically transmuted the light material into increasingly heavy material.
That's what fusion is. Stars are just huge fusion furnaces. Under their immense gravitational force, matter is compressed tightly at their centre - sufficiently tightly that the nuclei of light atoms there are 'mushed' together to form heavier atoms. The weight of the each resultant heavier atom is ever-so-slightly less than the weight of the lighter ones that made it. Einstein's E=mc2 tells us that the 'missing' matter shows up as a huge amount of energy, which counterbalances the gravitational force to keep the star from imploding upon itself.
Over time, these early stars fused atoms into heavier and heavier configurations, creating the elements of the periodic table up to and including iron. Yet all of this matter was still 'trapped' in the star. The next step came when the balance of the energy released from the fusion reactions and the gravitational force of the star's huge mass was lost, at which time the star exploded in a huge supernova. This did two things.
First, it splattered much of the star's matter, composed by then of many different elements, far and wide. Second (and simultaneously) the huge force of the explosion fused some of the matter into even heavier elements than iron. These elements were and are all unstable - radioactive. The energy baked into them in that huge explosion is released slowly over time as the atoms 'decay' back towards the stability of the structure of iron.
Anyway... some of that material ended up in a clump we now call earth, and a tiny portion of it gets recycled constantly by geological and biological (read life) processes. Right now, some of that stardust is bundled up into a happy, if twisted, little living thing - me. I was made from a single fertilised cell of it and grew to 8 lbs of it by building additional cells from material passed from my mother through the placenta. Over the course of 20 years, I ate and digested huge amounts of previously living matter (all made of stardust) to grow to a healthy 170 lbs. I now try not to add even more mass (!), but I still ingest large amounts of it to gain energy and replenish dying cells within my body.
When I die, I will relinquish the remains of my borrowed stardust to the common pool, from which at least some of it will take life in new forms - grass, rabbits, cows and persons. Eventually, and sadly, the Earth will die - scorched then frozen. And the stardust of this little corner of the universe, having so valiantly created order against the raging tide of entropy, will just continue to be.