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David Peters



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Lennie told more of his stories, which were usually funny and sometimes profound, but I couldn’t hear a thing.My eyes had glommed on to the bubbles rising in my glass of beer.Like the early cloud chambers used to detect elementary particles invading Earth’s atmosphere, the bubbles traced out lines.Coming from distant supernova explosions.When a star blasts itself to smithereens, the violence makes its long journey to us, right here, messing with this glass of beer that had hitherto imagined itself safe from any such intrusion.The planet was already dying, and it could get much worse, even one second from now.If a supernova exploded within two hundred trillion miles of Earth, even if the explosion had happened years ago, its intense gamma rays could be one minute away from reaching us.Though they roared toward us for years, we would know nothing of their existence.Even if we accidentally trained our telescopes in their exact direction, we would see nothing but a star peacefully twinkling.The blast of light from the explosion would not have reached us yet.Then it would arrive.A wave of incineration would instantly destroy the ozone and kill off the phytoplankton.All the oxygen would be vacuumed from the atmosphere.A trillion carcasses would stack up on an Earth reduced, in a geological instant, to a husk.I sat with Lennie and knew this cosmic slaughter could commence in the next minute.If it didn’t come in that minute, it could come in the minute after that.There was no way out of this fearful state.Thomas served as president for the American Teilhard Association, which held meetings once a month.The schedule of events started in the early afternoon with a presentation on the new cosmology followed by discussions among those assembled until early evening, at which point a light dinner and drinks were offered to the group.I arrived early to help Thomas with the food shopping.Inside Safeway, I pushed the cart while Thomas marched up and down the aisles, plucking out the items that would be served for dinner.Heads of lettuce, russet potatoes, three whole chickens, and four cans of Campbell’s mushroom soup, which he told me with a laugh was his secret ingredient for almost every meal he prepared.Even though we were in a bit of a rush, we had to make one more stop, a special bakery Thomas loved for its apple pies, so instead of heading back to Riverdale, we drove south on Palisade Avenue toward Manhattan.I decided to bring up a question that had been bothering me.I had avoided asking it because I knew it would reveal another hole in my understanding.But after my embarrassment over the galaxy poster, things could hardly get worse.You speak of matter as having a spiritual dimension, I said.But you also say that the universe story is the discovery of science.I don’t see how these two can go together.If we are using science to get at the truth of things, we can’t use a phrase like spiritual matter.How do you reconcile this?What you say is accurate.Though rooted in the empirical details of contemporary science, the new cosmology is not science.It’s an interpretation of the data science has given us.We slowed to a stop at the red light.Even as we waited, he kept his eyes on the road ahead.The key assumption of the foundational scientists of the West, including Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton, is that the universe is out there and that the human mind can examine it and discover the laws that determine its actions.Our whole approach is based on this belief of our separation from the natural world.The belief that we are inside our brains, and from that perspective we can understand the things out there.This dualism was given its philosophical foundation by Rene Descartes and its operational method by Francis Bacon.It has led to spectacular knowledge of the universe.But it has come to its end.The irony is that its success has shown the falsehood of its enabling assumption.When scientists discovered cosmic, biological, and cultural evolution, they demolished the notion that we are ontologically separate.We are not separate from the universe.The universe and Earth constructed us.This is what you mean when you say we humans have to stop hogging all the noble qualities for ourselves.Things like love and generosity and spirituality.Thomas reached over and tapped my forearm with his index finger.Simply that.So you would be happy saying something like, ‘The Sun is generous’? I asked.Certainly.But still, how is that not anthropomorphism?That’s what I would be accused of.The real difficulty is the diminished form of modern languages.In English, ‘generous’ has come to be identified with a particular action of a human being.We’ve imprisoned the word.With that stunted meaning, it is of course nonsensical to say the Sun is generous.What we need is to expand English to make it capable of giving expression to our deep experiences.The Sun is generous, but not as a human being is generous.The Sun is generous as every star is generous.It transforms its mass into light.What are the numbers again? he asked.Four million tons.Four million tons of the Sun are converted to light?Yes.And that takes place each second?Yes, I said.Four million tons of the Sun become light in each second.