Atomic Impact

August 8, 2007 at 4:53 am (Uncategorized)

A couple of weeks ago, Llew picked up a copy of the BBC’s Focus magazine. He started reading out surprising little facts right throughout lunch – it’s full of science and technology bits and pieces, the kind of stuff I do find genuinely riveting but rarely seek out myself. One section was called ‘Up ‘N’ Atom,’ and it listed 10 fascinating atomic facts.

Whilst it’s true that all 10 were fascinating, there was one in particular that really bent our brains:

5. Most atoms were made a few minutes after the birth of the universe.

Huh. Imagine that. So… we’re all just recycled atoms from the beginning of time? Am I understanding that right? Because, you know, if that’s true, then it kind of puts a different spin on that whole reincarnation thing Hindus and Buddhists believe in, or at least so Llew, Warwick and I were discussing on Saturday night.

Think of it. If most of the universe’s atoms have been around since the universe began, then we must be those same atoms in different… er, what is it? Clusters? Systems? Sequences? I’m not sure, but basically what fascinating fact #5 says to me is that we’re mostly recycled. And if that’s true, then isn’t that scientifically backing up a religious belief in reincarnation? Isn’t it basically the same thing? Okay, okay, Hindu reincarnation assumes you come back in the form you deserve for the deeds and misdeeds of your past life, your prior incarnation/s. I’m not sure if Buddhism suggests the same thing. In the case of Hinduism, then, there’s an ethical imperative underpinning the way in which those atoms perpetually rearrange themselves into new life. If you behave like a dog in this life, then woof woof in the next: you will get your comeuppance.

This idea connects believers in reincarnation to the rest of the universe in ways I find quite appealing. Everything is connected, and humankind’s is not the only existence that matters. But it’s still disappointingly punitive, which is a problem I have with organised religions right across the board. i.e. If you don’t watch yourself, that spider you’ve just squashed underfoot might someday be you. It’s a threat just like the eternal Hell-fires are a threat. Be good in this life or you’ll spend eternity burning in Hell in the next. It’s sort of ludicrous, really. I wish that penal element wasn’t involved in the reincarnation argument, because without it, what I had always imagined as a fairly unlikely proposition turns out to be entirely credible. Even ‘the world’s best science and technology monthly’ says so. The ever-shifting atoms (and believe me, I’ve seen my skin change right before my eyes – those pesky little buggers are all heading south) that are currently hard at work keeping me together will one day contribute to something else, possibly other life. Cool.

I like the inclusiveness of this fact. I like its universality. I believed it before but now I know it to be true: fundamentally, we’re all in this together.

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