The Universe Is Optimistic
Abundance is universal.
I’m an optimist. I’m an optimist because I’ve tried the other way, and found it wanting, tiring, counterproductive. I’m an optimist because I’ve found that optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Optimism requires hope, and you cannot have a life without hope. I live, therefore, I’m an optimist.
As I look out upon the news of the world, laden with environmental collapse, social collapse, and economic collapse, I see doomsday predictions day after day. The dollar will collapse in value with all the money we’re printing. Society will break down as a result of the ongoing plague, the coronavirus. The environment will soon refuse to support humans with greenhouse gases and microplastic particles everywhere. Humans are screwing things up royally, and there is nothing we can do about it, but try to fix it.
There is so much bad news that it seems a miracle that life goes on. It really does go on. Life is a force bigger than all of us. Life on earth started 3.5 billion years ago. We know this because the oldest rocks with fossils in them are 3.5 billion years old. That means that life has had 3.5 billion years to get it right. Life has seen through time on a geological scale. Life on earth has suffered greater calamities than human beings.
A little more than 2.3 billion years ago, cyanobacteria figured out how to metabolize methane in the air. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. As cyanobacteria proliferated, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere was decimated, plunging the average temperature of the earth by 50 degrees C. Life continued on snowball earth. Life learned from its mistakes. Life was optimistic.
Life has been found to thrive everywhere we care to look on earth. We find bacteria lining the hydrothermal vents where seawater meets magma under the ocean floor. We find bacteria that can live in the hot ponds of Yellowstone National Park. We find life in the desert with little rain, cactuses that can hold water for years, and camels that can store water for weeks in their humps. Regardless of how badly humans screw up the planet, I am confident that life will go on with or without us.
Scientists estimate that there are 6 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone. That’s really optimistic. 6 billion planets could have water on them. 6 billion planets are in the Goldilocks Zone, where the temperature is likely to support life as we know it. 6 billion planets with an atmosphere that could support life. And that is just one galaxy, a galaxy that isn’t very large on the scale of galaxies.
The Hubble Telescope was launched in 1990 and has been surveying the skies for more than 20 years. The Hubble Telescope orbits the earth and can see space as it is, unobscured by our atmosphere. How many galaxies are there? Survey says! Ding! 100 billion galaxies and counting. So let's extrapolate 100 billion times 6 billion. That’s 6²⁰ planets that could harbor life as we know it. As far as life is concerned, I’d say that’s very optimistic.
Water is one of the main ingredients that support life on this planet. Maybe many others, too. Water covers 71% of our planet, and 98% of that water is in the oceans. Scientists estimate that there is 3 times more water in the crust of the earth than on the surface. But don’t stop there for water. Look up.
Scientists have found water in 23 different places in our solar system alone. Some of those places are watery moons of giant planets with an icy crust. In other places, it’s just a little bit of frost or vapor. But the water is out there. According to Cosmos Magazine:
In our own solar system, Earth is the only planet with liquid water on its surface. But in a study of more than 4000 exoplanets, a team led by Li Zeng, a planetary scientist at Harvard University in the US, found that fully 35% appear to contain up to half their mass as water.
35% of 4000…that’s 1400 planets that we can detect that have liquid water. Huh. That’s pretty optimistic.
The mother lode of water has been found to be more than 12 billion light-years away from us, orbiting a black hole in a quasar. Life doesn't need much to get going. Where there is energy and water, there is a chance for life. Black holes and quasars (incredibly energetic sources of radio waves) are fountains of energy. So how much water was in that mother lode? 140 trillion times all of the water on earth. And that was 12 billion years ago since the light from that quasar spent 12 billion years getting here. I’d say that water got an early start in the universe. Huh. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about life in the universe.
Coming back to earth now. In my life, I live in abundance. Much of what I have was made by someone or something else. I don’t have to build everything I need. I have space, air, water, and light. I have time. I didn’t make that stuff up. Much of what I have now came before me. Everything that I am touching right now was made by someone else.
I’m not rich, and I’m not poor. I just have enough. My pantry is full. My refrigerator has enough food. I have enough rice to last for months. I have enough water. I have a place to live in. I have clothes to wear. I have enough to support my growing family. I have some time to enjoy it all. Every day, I make a choice to let all of that be enough. I don’t have to abandon my family in the quest for ever more stuff. I have love and I give love. I have enough for today.
I know that the pandemic has taken a toll on all of us in some way. Long before this pandemic, I was born during the German Measles epidemic in 1964. I lost an eye. I lost an ear. They’re still there, but they have been deeply attenuated. One eye has no lens. One ear has near-zero hearing. Somehow, I still find abundance in this life.
I could feel pity for myself, and I did for a time, but I found that to be tiring. I got tired of being tired. I have one good eye. I have a decent ear with a bit of tinnitus. I still enjoy music. I still make jokes. I am still a father, husband, and breadwinner. I still have enough. I don’t how it all works, but it works. I have found abundance in my life.
I found that abundance because I made a choice to be an optimist. I took the time to notice that the universe is optimistic.