The Journey of the Universe
Liz Parker, By the Fire co-founder, recently took fashion design, business, media and visual merchandising students from London College of Fashion to Hampstead Heath to explore the relationship between fashion and nature. The ancient oak trees provided a compelling contrast to the hyper-humanised classroom environment, and became our teachers for the day.
Below we share a guided visualisation used that day called 'Journey into the Universe' written by Andy Jaeger who co-facilitated the session. The visualisation takes students on a journey back to the beginning of time to the moment in which human life emerged on this planet, taking in the massive changes our species has created.
To find out more, contact Liz via firstname.lastname@example.org
Journey of the Universe
Take a moment to close your eyes.
Focus on the sensation of the air filling your lungs, as you breathe gently in and out.
You are going on a journey.
On this journey of your imagination, you will travel further than you have ever travelled.
Further than any human has ever travelled.
Back, back, back in time, to the very beginning of the universe.
Nobody knows what there was before the universe began.
But we do know that, 13.7 billion years ago there was a great flaring forth.
In the earliest moments of existence, all of the matter, energy, space, and time of the observable universe rushed out from a single, dense point, no bigger than a grain of sand.
A moment of great heat, trillions of degrees, boundlessly expanding outwards.
Within the first few microseconds of this great flaring forth, tiny elementary particles combined into protons and neutrons.
After a few minutes, the protons and neutrons began to combine together in small clusters.
Constantly torn apart and remade in violent collisions, the first flashes of light appeared.
As the universe expanded, it cooled.
And as it cooled, atoms emerged.
In these early stages of the universe, hydrogen and helium were the first to atoms to form from the vast ocean of light and energy of the great flaring forth.
The formation of these first atoms, the early interactions between energy and matter, set the stage for the formation of galaxies and stars.
Around 13 billion years ago, vast clouds of atoms began to coalesce.
Expansive density waves helped to shape the early galaxies from the billowing clouds of matter.
More than 100 billion galaxies were formed over the next billion years.
Our night sky is still filled with light and energy of these billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars.
Each of these stars was formed as clouds of hydrogen and helium imploded from the gravitational pull of their own mass.
As the atoms drew closer and closer together, they collided and vibrated, becoming hotter and hotter.
Once temperatures reached around ten million degrees, the protons and neutrons began to fuse together, releasing light and energy.
But every star must die.
Some stars simply burnt out, collapsing under the own weight.
But some stars exploded in spectacular supernovas, blasted apart by their own energy, outshining all the hundreds of billions of stars in darkness of space.
And in these explosions, even more elements were formed.
Every atom of carbon, oxygen, gold, calcium, phosphorous, and every other element found on Earth and in our bodies, was created in the death of stars.
And out of this destructive act of creation, our own solar system was born, 5 billion years ago.
A massive cloud of elements surrounded our young sun.
Slowly drawn together by gravity, these elements coalesced into tiny lumps of dust that grew larger and larger with time.
Colliding and breaking apart, these tiny grains of dust became our eight planets.
When it was first formed, the Earth, our home, the third planet from the sun, was a ball of molten rock and swirling elements.
Over time, the heaviest elements sank towards the core, and the thin floating crust that we rest on today began to form.
Temperatures were high on the early Earth and water quickly boiled into steam and vapor.
The sky, rich with hydrogen-sulfide, was a pinkish orange.
Millions of years passed until the earth became more stable, the oceans calmed and a thin layer of atmosphere persisted.
In these conditions, the first cells could form.
Around four billions years ago, the first simple cells emerged on planet Earth.
These are our earliest living ancestors.
Their life is extraordinary to comprehend.
Even these simplest of cells had a sense of awareness regarding their surroundings.
This awareness allowed them to interact with their environment and to make intelligent choices.
When their cell membranes, their skin, came into contact with minerals or water, they reacted, taking in the material, or maintaining their barrier.
In this process, every cell was making a choice.
They were choosing what to take in and what to block out.
Throughout our history, from individual cells to complex organisms, we have flourished and adapted by being aware of, and responsive to our surroundings.
This is the genius of evolution.
Passion, desire, parental care, and sexual choice are all parts of this ongoing evolution of life.
Animals court each other, from the dance of stickleback fish to the spider’s rhythmic plucking of the strings of its web.
Trees devote their time and energy to producing seeds.
Some fish remain near their fry to ward off predators.
Each and every organism cares for, and attempts to pass on, the genetic material found in its DNA.
Our DNA is the gift of our ancestors, the first humans who were birthed five to seven million years ago in what is today central Africa.
We began as a small population of apes, facing ecological crisis.
In response to a rapidly drying environment, some of us attempted to live in the open vastness of the newly emerging savannahs.
As we left the forest and adapted to the environment of the open plains, we developed the ability to move about on two legs.
We learned to be flexible in our behaviour.
And we grew bigger brains.
Then, by about fifty thousand years ago, these traits had allowed us to migrate out of Africa and into Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
And as we moved, we began to reshape the world, leaving traces of our consciousness behind us.
From interpreting dreams, to creating art and literature, to communicating simple lessons and messages through written language, we invented something never seen before in the history of life.
Rather than merely passing on our genes to the next generations, we humans could now pass down enduring knowledge in the forms of music, customs, languages, arts, and science.
Our life flourished.
After a long period as hunter-gatherers, we settled in the great river valleys of the world.
Our cities and civilizations emerged.
We developed religion, architecture, literature and fashion.
We cultivated new foods through agriculture.
We learned to sail and navigate the world’s oceans.
We attempted to alleviate poverty, to cure illness, to feed more people than was previously possible.
From the polar ice to the equatorial deserts, our evolutionary genius took us to the ends of the Earth.
But our evolutionary genius could be the end of the Earth.
Because we also developed machines that granted us the power to reshape our world in ways our ancestors would have thought magical.
Because we plundered the Earth for its resources, turning the fossilised remains of prehistoric forests into fuel for our cars, plastics for our kitchens and clothes for our bodies.
Because we transformed the environment to meet our needs, and left our waste to choke the life from the other beings who share our world.
Because we subjugated and enslaved each other, fighting wars not only against each other, but against the very Earth that sustains us.
For the first time in the history of the universe, it is no longer nature that is the primary mover of the evolutionary process; it is the actions of humans.
Our actions are causing the ice caps to melt.
We are killing the coral reefs.
We are filling the oceans with plastic and microfibres.
We are pushing thousands of species to extinction each year.
We are living beyond our planetary boundaries.
We hold the power of death in our hands.
And we are shaping the future of life itself.
We have forgotten the journey that has brought us here.
But it is time to remember.
To remember our place in this extraordinary universe.
To remember the remarkable events that brought us to this moment.
To remember that evolution has given us abilities that we can use to embrace each other, and all the other beings who inhabit our world, with compassion, kindness and care.
To remember that the power to change the world for good is within our reach, if only we will grasp it.
We are at a crossroads on our journey, not just our human journey, not just the journey of our planet’s history, but the journey of the universe itself.
Our lives are part of the journey that has been unfolding for 13.7 billion years, from the great flaring forth to this very moment.
And so, as you come back to your body, feel the Earth beneath you, breathe deeply, stretch and open your eyes, know this:
The next step of the journey is up to you.
© Andy Jaeger 2017. Based on The Journey of the Universe (2011) by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, published by Yale University Press, with additional material by Matthew Riley.