September 10, 2010

Cosmic Proportions

School.  Classes.  Work.  Work again.  School.  Read.  Library.  Research.  Abstracts.  Conference.  PhD applications.  More Work.  Class.  Social Life?  No.  Other Work.  Papers.  Editing.  Read some more.  Die a little.

I think that I may be just a little bit stressy.

The beginning of the semester has hit and it’s hit hard.  Of course, being sick at the starting line is a huge handicap to any runner, but with my eyes clearly set on the finish line (and frequent reminders to breathe), I think I’m gonna make it.  Maybe my tune will change when I hit the halfway-mark, but we’ll cross that monumental bridge when we get to it.

I had my first sci-fi class this past Wednesday (though the class will usually meet on Monday- what the hell, Rutgers?).  I am buzzing with anticipation for this class and the first seminar meeting was no disappointment.  We wound up sitting and debating for a good fifteen to twenty minutes after the class period had ended, and this is without even having done any reading!  There will a great deal of game-face involved in this semester.  I do love having occasion to cleverly disguise myself as an academic pit-bull. 

The Professor, a sharp gray-haired man well into his seventies, is utterly fascinating.  His name is H. Bruce Franklin and though he is more noted for his work on Melville and the Vietnam War (as two separate things, not some weird cultural hybrid), he was one of the first to be teaching Science Fiction as an academic interest.  Despite years of being laughed at by his peers and countless rejection letters for his book (as well as being black-listed in the seventies for being leftist), today he’s got nineteen published books under his belt and hundreds of articles.  He’s also incredibly interesting to speak with and one of the few people I’ve ever met who can work both sides of his brain at the same time (I guess you kinda have to in order to study Science Fiction as literature).

Anyway, class meeting one.  Dr. Franklin shared some facts which really got me thinking and have worked to alleviate some of my stress, if only for a small period of time.  Have a look at these statistics and prepare to be sublimely minimized. 

There are 200-400 Billion Stars in our Galaxy.  There are 100-500 Billion Galaxies in our Universe.

The Observable Known Universe is Comprised of the following…

Dark Energy – 74%
Dark Mater – 22%
Intergalactic Gas – 3.6%
Everything Else (including all those stars, us, galaxies, your computer) – 0.4%

As if that weren’t enough to make you feel slightly insignificant, take a gander at the temporal qualities of the universe-

The Big Bang – 15 Billion Years Ago
The Formation of Earth – 4.55 Billion Years Ago
The First Multi-Cellular Organisms appeared – 1 Billion Years Ago
Plants and Animals Emerge from the Oceans – 400 Million Years Ago
The First Humans (non homo-sapiens… Lucy) – 2 Million Years Ago
First Homo Sapiens – 250 Thousand Years Ago
The Last Ice Age – 12 Thousand Years Ago
The Industrial Revolution, Modern Science and Technology, birth of Sci-Fi – 250 Years Ago

I mentioned that Professor Franklin is a brilliant man.  He’s crunched some numbers and come up with this little anecdote to put above massive span into terms that our measly little human-brains can better understand…

Imagine that you’re a planet.  In fact, you are planet Earth.  You are, in this moment, twenty years old.  The above-mentioned incidents occurred at the following junctures in your lifetime….

The First Multi-Cellular Organisms appeared – 15.5 Years Ago
Plants and Animals Emerge from the Oceans – 18.25 Years Ago
The First Humans (non homo-sapiens… Lucy) – 3 Days Ago
First Homo Sapiens – 10 Hours Ago
The Last Ice Age – 28 Minutes Ago
The Industrial Revolution, Modern Science and Technology, birth of Sci-Fi – 35 Seconds Ago

Brings a certain serenity, doesn’t it?  A little warm glowy feeling in the pit of your stomach that really, no matter what you do today, tomorrow, in your lifetime, your problems are a mere speck of time and matter in terms of the universe.  I suppose there could be some fear that comes with this leading to a Bartlebyesque sense of apathy.  If everything is so tiny and nothing matters, then why even bother? 

The ants build a colony because they must.  Nevermind that said colony could be demolished in half a blink by a giant fifty times their size and there is nothing they can do about it.  I think, when faced with the universe, that same attitude must apply.  Would you keep doing what you are currently doing if the earth were to be swallowed by the sun tomorrow? 

A little perspective can mean a great deal.  And I think that the perspective Dr. Franklin had to offer this past week has gone a long way towards settling my already-strung-out nerves.

PhD programs, after all, are mostly made of air and thereby, while giving the illusion of something solid, are no more yielding than a dream.

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