Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The 11.7 Trillion Names of God

The lastest scientific estimate of the age of our planet is about 4.5 billion years, and the age of the known universe is about 14 billion years, give or take a few hundred million years. Our galaxy is thought to have 200 billion stars, plus or minus a billion. From what our best scientific instruments can observe, the known universe has about 125 billion galaxies.

Light from our sun, traveling at 186,000 miles per second (or 669 million mph), takes about 6 hours to get to the outermost planet in our solar system. From there, it would take about 4.5 more years to reach our solar roommate, Alpha Centauri. Going on to visit our next door neighbor galaxy, Andromeda, that little sunbeam would take 3 million years to get there, provided it made no stops for eating, sleeping, or going to the bathroom. The human mind cannot even begin to express a comprehensible number to measure the distance from the spot you currently occupy on this planet to the edge of the farthest galaxy.

But time and distance only seems to be relevant to us humans here on Earth. Without getting into any theological discussions, in some circles it's believed that the human species has only been around for about 3 million years, which, when compared to the age of the universe, is a fractional percentage so small my computer's calculator goes nuts trying to display it.

Most of us here on earth take up less than 10 cubic feet of space. If you were a tourist to the sun, and stood next to it to have your picture taken, in an 8X10 print of that picture, you'd be microscopic, unless you are Aretha Franklin. And our sun itself is almost microscopic alongside the largest known star, which the Hubble telescope recently discovered, and which was subsequently named Alpha Rush Limbaugh.

We humans have an average life span of about 70 years on this earth. If you're fortunate enough to live in the United States, you can add about ten years to that, and could even go up past 100, if you're lucky or Congressman Robert Byrd (D-WVA). But against the 14 billion years the universe has been in existence, we'd be beyond generous to say 100 years would be like a molecule of poot in a hurricane.

If you've managed to stay with me this far, you've been very patient as I've droned on about a bunch of boringly huge numbers, and no doubt you're wondering - like an August town hall attendee - "Is there some point to this?"

Well, it's two things, actually, and both deal with perspective.

If you consider about half the number of stars in the observable universe - 12 trillion - that would be equal to our current national debt ($11.7 trillion). Which, by the way, is growing at a rate of about $4 billion a day, or $5 billion if you factor in Michele Obama's shopping trips.

If you consider the times we're living in then it would be wise to think about what Saint James said - "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."

Universal Health Care, Cap and Trade, Cash for Clunkers, the natioal debt, Democrats vs. Republicans, conservatives vs. liberals, Cowboys vs. Redskins, whites vs. blacks vs. latinos vs asians vs. arabs vs. Jews vs. Muslims vs. Christians. In the final analysis it's all folly.

In 1953 Arthur C. Clarke wrote an award winning short story called "The Nine Million Names of God." In it monks in a monastary set out to list all of the names for God evident in all human cultures. They believed the universe was created to identify all the names of God and once the naming was complete, God would bring the universe to an end. Rather than encode all the names by hand, which would've taken them thousands of years, the monks hired computer experts and their super computer. It turned out, in the story, the monks were right. Here's the last line of Clarke's story - overhead, without any fuss, one by one the stars began going out.

I suppose all the problems in our world and in our country should weigh heavy on us if we're concerned citizens and decent human beings, but in a billion years Who's going to notice?

1 comment:

MrsP said...

Hopefully, by the time we notice that our stars have begun to go out, we will know at least one name for God.