Reflection on Neil Shubin’s The Universe Within

As humans, we often think of ourselves as being in the center of the universe. Most of us believe that we are the “supreme” beings and that everything should revolve around us. Whenever we have issues in our personal lives, we feel like the world is about to collapse. However, after listening to Neil Shubin’s talk about his book The Universe Within, I realized how insignificant we all actually are. The earth itself is merely a small speck in the galaxy, and humans are even smaller than that. Yet despite how unimportant we may seem at this point, we are still very deeply connected to each other and the rest of the universe.

One point that Shubin brought up in his lecture was that the earth itself is constantly changing. This fact is fairly obvious, but it was not something that I had really thought of before. As a geologist, he had found that a tropical rainforest in South Africa used to be a tundra many years ago, and Antarctica used to be a tropical rainforest. He also found that on the top of Mt. Everest, there is evidence of former sea life. The evidence he provided was not particularly mind blowing, but it did make me think more about how short our lives are. None of us will ever live long enough to see changes such as these occur because they would take millions of years. However, this type of research is something that I really admire and respect. Shubin talked about other scientists besides himself who had a desire to explore the vastness of our universe. One group of astronomers known as The Harvard Computers looked into topics such as how to measure the brightness of stars and influenced Levitt to theoretically measure the size of the universe.

The last main topic in the lecture centered on the idea of biological clocks and our rest-activity cycle. Benzer, a researcher from CalTech worked with fruit flies and found that the 24-hr clock is genetically inherited from our ancestors. I found this to be very interesting because it means that at some point in time we evolved to reflect the 24 hour rotation cycle of the Earth. Then Shubin went on to discuss how the Earth is also set on a 100,000 year cycle which is correlated to the ice ages. If this is true, it shows how powerless humans are when it comes to comes to controlling our environment. We might be the only species that has influence over natural resources, but there are still many factors that are out of our control. It is human nature to attempt to control everything in our power. We try to change our lifestyles by recycling and searching for alternate sources of energy, but nothing we do can prevent the Earth from changing. I am not saying that we should stop these efforts, but it might be beneficial if we stopped placing ourselves at the center of everything.

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