What I Learned from the History of the Universe

I recently came across Big History Project, an online interactive course about the history of the universe, about where everything came from. “Big History examines our past, explains our present, and imagines our future. It’s a story about us.”

I just got the chance to watch the first two chapters, “The Universe” and “Our Solar System & Earth”. It was mind-blowing. I am sharing three of my learnings with you in this article:

1. We are all made of stars.

The Star Formation part of the course remains my favorite. It explains this simple but magical thing: everything is made of stars.

During the first 380,000 years after the Big Bang, not much was going on in the universe. When the temperature drops to a low enough point, particles such as hydrogen and helium start to form. “Tiny imperfections. Little knots, wrinkles, and flaws will begin attracting nearby particles of matter. The clumps will grow, becoming more massive, and attracting more particles.” As the compacted clumps of hydrogen and helium increase in density, they will also heat up. With gravity further squeezing the center of the giant balls, their temperature rockets, and the stars light up.

“Burning at incredible levels, cranked to the extreme, a star will eventually consume all the hydrogen that powers its nuclear fusion. Then the star changes dramatically.” When the star runs out of energy from its core, it collapses. Its many outer layers fall inwards, and they slam with unimaginable force into the star’s center, creating new elements. With the force of gravity, new elements continue to form new stars, and new stars collapse and create new elements.

Since everything in the world is made of elements, and elements all came from collapsed stars, everything is made from stars, including you. Remember the story that says, when your ancestors died, they became stars in the sky? The stars are indeed your ancestors. The oldest living star we know was born around 13 billion years ago. Isn’t that amazing?

2. Increasing complexity is the theme of the universe.

Right after the Big Bang, the entire universe was filled mainly with space and two types of elements – hydrogen and helium. Billions of years after that, the Earth was born and settled into orbit around the Sun.

“Though Earth was neatly orbiting the Sun as a rocky mass four and a half billion years ago, no organism could survive there. Radiation from the recent supernova kept the planet extremely hot, its surface molten, and oxygen was non-existent.” Do you know how many years it takes for the Earth to become what it is like today (slightly polluted but still incredibly beautiful)? 4.543 billion years. 4.543 BILLION YEARS!

The Earth is 4.543 billion-year-old.
Image from Google Search

We all know what happens 4.543 billion years after the Earth was born – we human beings come into life, observing and studying all that history of the universe.

There is one theme that is consistent throughout the 13.8 billion-year history of the universe – increasing complexity. From simple to complex, to more complex, to even more complex than you can imagine. The human brain is one of the most complex structures in the universe. There are “100 trillion minimum number of neural connections, or synapses, in the human brain. That is at least 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy.” How complex is that?!

The complexity of the human brain has reached a point where we are conscious of our existence, we study where the universe came from, we learn about the environment around us, and we actively engage in changing things around us and making them even more complex! Look at the “stuff” around you, an incredible amount of human creations. We create materials, tools, books and even the Internet.

500 million years ago when jellyfish was the most advanced creature on the planet Earth, they never could have imagined what a creature could do if they have neural connections at least 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy (yes I’m talking about us human beings). If the universe keeps increasing its complexity, which I’m pretty sure it will, then 500 million years later, what will come out of it? We don’t know, and we cannot possibly imagine, just like how impossible it was for jellyfish to imagine what human beings can do. (If you’re interested in this jellyfish analogy, I’d recommend you to read Ishmael).

Still so proud of our achievements as human beings? Think again.

3. Anything good takes time.

At the beginning of the article, I wrote, “During the first 380,000 years after the Big Bang, not much was going on in the universe.” Yes, it took 380,000 years for the first particles to form, which was the beginning of all the matters.

How many years have you lived in the world? Our lifespan is not even worth mentioning compared to the long history of the universe. It took 13.7 billion years for this world we know to be built since the Big Bang, not to mention we don’t even know what was going on before the Big Bang.

I’m in my mid-20s now. I walk fast, work hard, and I expect good things to happen quickly. I am a typical hustler. But looking back on the history of the Universe, I realize that anything good takes time.

Time is invisible but necessary for anything good to happen, so be patient. Take your time seriously and spend it wisely. It’s the only resource you can’t get more than anyone else every day. I often doubt about this concept of “jobs” where you exchange your time for money. Since time is such a valuable thing, choose your job wisely too. If you can’t get anything good other than money out of a job, it might be time to start thinking about getting a more rewarding job where you can take satisfaction, learning, and growth into considerations.

Hope you enjoy reading it, and feel free to reach out or comment on the blog to share your thoughts.