The biblical passage, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” is a poignant reminder of our fragile place in the world. It also reminds us how deeply we are connected to the earth, the water, the air and to the other creatures who roam the land. Neil Shubin’s The Universe Within is a further reminder of this critical relationship.

At a time when we pay increasing attention to the effects of our actions on the planet, The Universe Within also reveals how the universe has had a huge impact on the development of the human race. For example, many scientists believe that our universe was created by the Big Bang. Shubin writes that atoms from the Big Bang can be found in our air, our water and inside of us, as a sort of recycling process for the ages. “The particles that make us,” Shubin writes, “have traveled billions of years across the universe; long after we and our planet are gone, they will be a part of other worlds.”

Once Shubin establishes his thesis that we humans and our universe are made of the same tiny particles, it’s easy to accept his arguments for how we are connected in other ways. Consider that humans are made up mostly of water, which also covers most of our earth; or look at Shubin’s illustration of the strong likenesses even among wildly diverse creatures, such as the strikingly similar shapes of the leg bones of an elephant and a mouse.

The Universe Within gives us an appreciation of how we are just small specks and small moments in time. But it also challenges us to take steps to protect our environment so our world can last a little longer.

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