Ten years ago I believed crystals could cure cancer.
I was convinced ghosts were real, people could read minds and I could project an invisible energy from my hands to heal people’s bodies and souls. I travelled the world, barefoot and hopeful, searching for magic and the secrets of the supernatural. I went to Stonehenge at the summer solstice, hitchhiked around Europe, hung around the great pyramids and threw myself up a huge set of stairs to Machu Picchu all in the name of enlightenment. I was looking for answers to the mysteries of the universe and I was convinced a spiritual path would take me there. If I could just travel to all of the ‘power points’ of the world, the lay lines would align and the planet would whisper the secrets of the cosmos into my eager ear. But as far as I travelled, as much as I searched, I still wasn’t satisfied because spirituality didn’t offer any real answers, only more questions.
Then someone sat me down and told me I was wrong.
They showed me books on the psychological tricks psychics employ to dupe people into believing they can read minds and tell the future. They provided me an endless stream of articles outlining the lack of concrete evidence to support reiki, homeopathy, faith healing, UFOs and various other ‘metaphysical phenomena’.
In the course of a day my whole belief structure came crashing down. I cried. I felt weightless, like I had lost everything that made me who I was. Then I remembered I didn’t need to find my footing in the world, because gravity was doing that for me. But wait a minute…what the heck is gravity anyway?
And that’s when I really, truly discovered science.
For years I had been asking big, complex questions about the universe and for years I had been turning to religion and spirituality for answers. Finally, at twenty-something, defeated by my own irrational beliefs and offered a perspective on science I had never considered before, I was ready to admit that the void in my understanding of reality couldn’t be filled with the immaterial. I needed something more concrete.
I embraced science with the same enthusiasm as I had my spirituality, but still I felt distant from it. No matter how many talks I went to or classes I audited I could only absorb a surface level understanding of the methods of scientific discovery and the natural phenomena that govern our reality.
I wanted more. I wanted to keep asking why until I knew as much as I possibly could—as much as we currently know—so I could truly grasp the enormity of the mystery that is the universe. I wanted more than a basic understanding of what I was learning, I wanted to really learn it, to really know it. “So why don’t you just be an astrophysicist?” Ben (my husband) asked one night when we were making dinner.
I froze. “Can I do that please?” I said.
“People don’t just do that do they?”
“Well some people do…besides who cares what people do? You can do whatever you want.”
So it was decided. The quest had begun. I was going to walk the talk I had been spouting for years; that the understanding of the universe was integral to human progress, that critical thinking and the scientific method were the best (and only) tools we have that allow us to differentiate ourselves from our cave-person predecessors, that science is a path to knowledge and possibly spiritual fulfillment.
I’m lucky. Ben and I are privileged to live a life where we make enough money for this dream to be realized. We live in a country that has free health care and access to good schools. We grew up in solid, middle class families and had great opportunities to do what we wanted with our lives. We don’t have a dog or plan to have a kid or have any real expenses beyond our little apartment and its utilities. I run our company (Happy Creations) and I’m a writer but I’m a fast writer and my tasks with the company are limited allowing me loads of free time to think and ponder and invest myself in my cosmorphosis.
I know I’m lucky and I’m thankful every single day. And because I’m so lucky I feel it is both my honour and my responsibility to do something with my life. I don’t want to waste the opportunity (and the passion) I have to gather knowledge about the universe and to share my excitement for thinking, understanding and the cosmic perspective.
Unfortunately there are so many people out there who aren’t as lucky or as privileged and I hate that. I want to live in a world where everyone is fed, clothed, housed and educated. I want to live in a world where anyone who has the desire to learn anything can freely and wholly pursue it without fetters. I want to live in that world and I think the only way to achieve that is by taking risks and trying to better ourselves as a species so that our descendants can learn from our discoveries and become better citizens of not just of the planet, but the universe.
We all have fears when starting something new. I’m afraid I’m not smart enough to understand the things I want to understand. I’m afraid that by making my journey public people will think my efforts are pointless and self-involved. But ultimately I believe that learning about the universe is one of the greatest privileges of our species and I don’t want to keep spinning on this planet, in this solar system, in this galaxy, in this universe without making my best effort to understand how…and maybe even why.