Our Universe got the green light
and began with a big bang.
Cosmic dust coalesced and stars appeared.
Planets spun in timeless orbits
around their parent-suns.
On our planet life appeared.
Brains evolved in some species –
Pods at one end of a flexible stem.
Eons passed before creatures
crawled glistening out of primal muck,
gasping and scuttling,
and finally walking on two feet.
Our ancestors crouched in caves,
staring into blazing fires,
the beast-filled darkness at their backs,
the mysterious star-filled skies above them.
We would still be in those caves
had we not had big, convoluted brains.
Had we not been wired to learn and
learn and learn.
In some environments we learned to live in ecological balance.
In tropical warmth and arctic ice there was enough to eat –
once we had learned to hunt, gather, and fish.
Until a few scant centuries ago,
before the European colonizers,
millions lived lightly this way
throughout the planet.
In other places we learned skills beyond survival.
Domesticating wildlife – cattle, pigs, fowl, sheep and goats.
Creating tools – plows, wind and water-mills, scythes and sickles.
Irrigating land – rice-paddies, wheat, and barley.
Agriculture took root.
Civilizations emerged, bountifully sustained
by the animals, plants, and water that we so successfully
bent to our will.
Magnificence spread across the Earth.
Golden necklaces of the Inca;
Trees and flowers spilling over Babylonian Ziggurats;
Huge, blank Egyptian Pyramids
holding and hiding bejeweled Pharaohs;
Greek and Roman marble statues
gleaming in Mediteranean sunlight.
The West rested on those Mediteranean laurels for centuries.
Leaning on Ancient Rome and Greece
for philosophy and knowledge of the natural world.
Constantly re-learning our ancestors discoveries,
Western learning becoming increasingly rote.
Feudal lords and priests ruled.
New learning was discouraged.
Aquinas could revise Aristotle but any truly new perspective
was heresy, its advocate a target for the Inquisition.
Everywhere everything was in its place. Everyone had their place.
God in his heaven. The feudal Lord in his castle.
The priests – Shinto, Catholic, or Aztec,
attested to the rightness of the arrangements.
Europe as Colonizer
Yet, new learning persisted.
Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Europe shook the world.
Kings and merchants saw
that an empirical approach could be advantageous.
New discoveries, whether optical, navigational, or military,
enabled them to amass
gold and silver, spices and silk.
How much more profitable to subsidize
explorers and inventors,
than to debate points of religious dogma where proof waited in a place
from whence no one returned.
Galileo persisted in saying that the Earth moved,
while in one great exhale,
conquistadors, merchants, and priests;
the brave, the greedy, and the God-struck;
Portugese, Dutch, and Spaniards;
French, and English;
swept across the oceans to every corner of the world.
Propelled by avarice, dreams of glory,
and new learnings.
that the Earth was round;
that it could be circumnavigated;
that it was not the center of the Universe.
The Rise and Fall of Reason
The next century
called all social certainties into question.
Using the light of their intellect,
Voltaire and Jefferson
exposed the rotting foundations
of the House of Royalty.
In 18th century France and America,
Reason, in the crimson robe of Revolution,
faced the Dragon of Tradition.
The Divine Right of Kings gave way
to the Inalienable Rights of Humanity.
Old Systems shuddered and crashed.
Reason unleashed, breathed hope into
the oppressed masses of Europe.
But Jacobin Terror
showed that ideas
without compassion’s temperance
can turn a country into an abbatoir.
Evil was committed on a grand scale.
The tumbrils rolled through cobbled streets
abulge not only with aristocrats.
Disagreeing with a political line
made you an enemy of the Revolution,
and cost you your head.
The Jacobin Terror gave Reason a bad name,
and Tradition held on for decades more.
For if Reason leads to mass murder,
why not choose to obey those
who promise to do nothing new,
who keep the old faith,
who ruled one’s parents and grandparents
By the dawn of the 19th century,
The Terror seemed extinguished.
But like a smoldering fire,
it reignited more than a hundred years later
in Lenin and Stalin’s Russia –
and Mao’s China.
Still, we persisted in learning more about the Universe
in that organized manner we call “Science”.
The more we learned, the more we benefited.
The start of the 20th century
saw us enamored of “Progress”.
Skyscrapers, the internal combustion engine, flying machines,
stories of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells –
all promised us a wonderful future
thanks to our new, marvelous toys.
The mass, mechanized horrors of World War I
and the advent of the assembly line,
caused millions to doubt the benefits of modernity.
Many equated Science with Dr. Frankenstein’s creation.
Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Chaplin’s “Modern Times”
spoke to those many.
But Lenin and Stalin, Ford and G.E., ran far with the
“better living through electricity and progress” ball.
Artists extolled Science and The Machine.
Art Deco, Futurism, Soviet Constructivism appeared.
Oh those seductive images of locomotives,
their smoke streaming across well-ordered landscapes.
Those giant dams saving millions from floods and darkness.
Those Red tractors chugging over fields,
liberating the oppressed peasants.
The End of the Affair
An even more horrific Second World War
spawned nuclear weaponry
and threatened our very survival as a species.
We were then forced to see Science and Technology
as a two-headed God, bringer of doom or salvation.
We had learned to master the innermost
workings of the Universe,
yet failed to learn how to live with each other and Nature.
Roads supposedly leading to Utopia,
Instead ended in the desert.
National Liberation struggles,
morphed into ethnic cleansing,
and other crimes against humanity.
Mao’s “Permanent Revolution”
congealed into a little red book,
by millions of chanting acolytes,
some in caps and tunics,
others in jeans and t-shirts.
when one rides a horse backwards.
Now we can look back and see that in the 20th century,
Secular mass ideologies had their time on stage,
and exited to cat-calls.
The Real Revolution
As the new century begins,
Our oohs and aahs crescendo again-
an electronic new world appearing.
“It’s a computer, it’s a phone,
no…it’s a Super-Communicating Whatsitz.”
We see the products of our new learning.
Some beneficial, some frightening.
It’s hard to see the true source of “permanent revolution”.
It doesn’t reside in any person, principle, or product.
Its source is our innate ability to keep learning.
Science structures our learning about the nature of the universe.
Art, Philosophy and Religion structure our
responses to the universe, the natural world, and each other.
The pot keeps boiling, new perspectives emerging.
The revolution rolls on as long as we keep creating and learning.
It is this constant unfolding that makes human evolution possible.
For our evolution to continue, our learning must be balanced.
The gap between our scientific and our humanistic
Being Free to Learn
As more of us learn to fight to be free,
more of us will be free to learn.
Learning and freedom entwined
like the branches of a great wisteria.
In the past century
vast parts of humanity,
marginalized and oppressed,
unable to use their intelligence and creativity fully,
began taking their rightful place in the sun.
Asian and African people shattered their colonial chains.
Women, struggled for and gained rights,
beginning their journey towards equality with men.
Millions who existed under Soviet rule
can now dare to dream of pursuing happiness.
Exploited workers, the disabled,
gays and lesbians, ethnic minorities,
are demanding the right to fulfill their potential.
Our evolution now brings us to this new learning:
as more of us struggle to be free
more of us become free to learn.
The more of us free to learn, the greater the benefit for all.
If we are to survive our stormy adolescence,
If we are to avoid destroying ourselves as we begin reaching to the stars,
then we must all be free to learn.
as our understanding of the Universe grew,
we seemed to shrink in importance.
Each new discovery underscoring our
lack of centrality within the cosmos.
Now, we have created the Big Eye in the Sky.
We can see beyond the darkness
to the blazing heart of our galaxy and to the very edges of the Universe.
We have reached a point
where we can appreciate and celebrate
our ability to see and understand so much
of our parent universe.
The vastness of our vision,
From the farthest stars
to the tiniest particles,
speaks of a different kind of centrality
Made of star-stuff, we are the Universe’s way
of seeing and celebrating itself.
Our view expands daily,
and with it our potential for impacting our
Just as creatures evolved brains
in order to survive and thrive,
we can imagine the Universe evolving us
for its own reasons.
Our roots go back to the moment of Creation itself.
We were potential even then,
in the white-hot nano-seconds when Space and Time
Our voyage on Earth has been but a blink in stellar time,
and yet we have already learned so much.
When we are all free to learn,
how much faster will we learn,
how much faster will we evolve.
So now we can all
reflect on the awesome privilege and responsibility
of being born a human.
We need not despair.
We are not cosmic jetsam
spinning purposelessly through space.
Tiny transients of no value,
living on the edge of one of a billion galaxies.
We are much more than that.
We are inheritors and transmitters of
knowledge, skills, and visions.
If we survive,
what our descendants will bring to the Universe,
may deeply impact it.
Until then, to fulfill such a destiny
will demand all our wisdom
for many generations to come.
In this and following generations
let us support human rights for all
so that all may play a part in creating
a cosmic destiny for humanity.
Let us respect all life, for all life’s sake,
and to make us worthy
of such a destiny.
Let us learn what we need to learn
to be our fullest selves.
In that manner will our lives be infused
with meaning and fulfillment.