Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Coming of the Universe (God Who Has No Hands)

This is a modified version of "God Who Has No Hands," the first Great Story told to elementary Montessori children. It retains much of Dr. Montessori's original language, but I've adapted the more monotheistic/Abrahamic terms and descriptions to a more broad, secular tone (characterizing the cosmos at large, rather than a paternal or instructive deity). 

The Coming of the Universe

Long before our ancestors first looked up at the sky, before humans existed at all, before the earth, before the sun, before the moon and long before all the bright stars came to shine in the sky, there was a great nothing, a void. There was only chaos, and darkness was on the face of the deep - an immensity of space with no beginning and no end, indescribably dark and cold.  Who can imagine that immensity, that darkness and coldness?

When we think of the dark, we think of night; but our night would be like brilliant sunshine in comparison with that first darkness.  When we think of cold, we think of ice. But ice is positively hot if you compare it with the coldness of space, the space that separates the stars.

Then, by and by and quite suddenly, in this measureless void of cold and darkness, light appeared for the first time.  There came to be something like a vast fiery cloud which included all the stars that are in the sky.  The whole universe was in that cloud, and among the tiniest of stars was our own world - but they were not stars then; as yet, there was nothing except light and heat.  So intense was the heat that all the substances we know - iron, gold, earth, rocks, water - existed as gases, as insubstantial as the air,  All these substances, all the materials of which the earth and the stars and you and I are composed, were fused together in one vast, flaming intensity of light and heat - a heat which would make our sun today feel like a piece of ice.  

This raging fiery cloud of nothingness, too huge to imagine, moved in the immensity of freezing space, which was also nothingness, but infinitely vaster.  The fiery mass was no bigger than a drop of water in the ocean of space; but that drop contained the earth and all the stars.

As this cloud of light and heat moved through empty space little drops fell from it.  If you swing the water out of a glass, some of it holds together and the rest breaks up into separate drops.  The countless hosts of stars are like these little drops, only instead of falling they are constantly moving round in space, in such a way that they can never meet.  They are millions of miles from each other.

Some stars are so far away from us that it takes millions of years for their light to reach us.  Do you know how fast light travels?  (The children would answer.)  100 miles per hour?...200 miles? ...1,000 miles?  No, much faster.  It travels 186,000 miles - not per hour, but per SECOND!  Imagine how fast that is!  It means that in one second, it can travel 7 times around this WHOLE world.  And do you know how big around the world is?  25,000 miles.  If we were to drive at 100 miles an hour continuously, all day long and all night long, without stopping, it would take us more than ten days to cover that distance.  And yet the light covers it 7 times in one second!  You 'click' with your fingertips, and it has gone around the earth 7 times already!

So, can you imagine how far some of these stars are, that it takes their light 1 million years to reach us?

Then there are so many stars that scientists have calculated that if each of them were a grain of sand, all the stars together would cover up all the states from Virginia all the way through New York up to the height of 200 meters!  One of these stars, one of these grains of sand among those thousands of billions of grains of sand, is our sun, and one millionth part of this grain is our earth.  An invisible speck of nothingness.

One wouldn't think so; the sun doesn't look so big.  But that is because it is so far away.  The light from it takes about 8 minutes to reach us and if we were to travel the distance at 100 miles per hour it would take us a little more than 106 years to reach the sun.  In fact, the sun is one million times bigger than the earth.  The sun is so big that one of its flames could contain 22 earths.

    Chart 1a: Earth Compared To The Sun

When that first force of heat and light called the cosmos into being, every star, every particle, every speck which we might think too tiny to matter, was given a set of rules to follow.  To the little particles which were like smoke, like vapor – the universe said: "As you become cold you shall come closer together, and become smaller."

And so, as they cooled they moved more and more slowly, clinging closer and closer to each other and occupying less and less space.  The particles assumed different states which man called the solid, liquid or gaseous state.

Everything we know is either a gas, a liquid or a solid, and which of the three states it is at the moment depends on how hot or cold it is.  These tiny little particles had other laws as well: each of them was given a special love for certain particles and a special dislike for certain others.  Some were attracted to each other and some were not.  Just like human beings, they like some, and refuse to have anything to do with others.  So they form themselves into different groups.

Demonstration: Force Of Attraction

Sprinkle small paper pieces onto (still) surface of water in bowl.  Observe that some pieces are  attracted to one another, while others seem to move away from each other.

In this way, the particles combined and formed themselves into different substances.In the solid state, particles cling so closely together that they are almost impossible to separate.  They form a body which will not alter its shape unless one applies force.  If a piece is broken off, the particles still cling together.  If, for instance, you start chipping a rock, the rock and the chips still remain solid pieces of stone.When it came to liquids, the universe said: "You shall hold together also, but not so very closely, so that you will have no shape of your own and will roll over each other."

"Thus you shall flow and spread, filling every hollow, every crevice in your path.  You will push downward and sideways but never upwards."  That is why, though we can put our hands in water, we cannot put them inside a rock. 

And to the gases, this law was given: "Your particles shall not cling together at all.  They can move freely in all directions."

But as the particles were all such different individuals, they did not become solid or liquid or gas all at the same time.  At a certain temperature, some remained solid, others became liquid and still others became gaseous.

And so, while obeying these laws, the little drop of nothingness that was to become our world, the blazing mass, went on spinning and spinning around itself and around the sun in the tremendous cold of space.

And as time went on, the outer ring of this mass began a dance, a dance of the elements.  The particles that were at the outermost edge became cold and shrank.  Huddling together they hurried to the earth, but as soon as they approached the hotter part, they became hot and up they went again.  Like little radiant spirits, they carried a bucket of hot, burning coal into space, and returned with some ice.

   Chart 3a: The Dance Of The Elements 

How marvelous it is!  And how simple!  If you become hot you expand and as you expand, you become lighter and soar upwards, like a bubble of air in the water.  But, if you become cold, you shrink and fall as a grain of sand sinks to the bottom of a pond.  

Because of this law the earth gradually changed from a ball of fire to the earth we know.  This was the law that the tiny radiant particles obeyed as they danced their dance; particles too minute to be seen or even imagined, yet numerous enough to have produced the world.

For hundreds, thousands, millions of years this dance went on.  Finally, the particles settled down, like tired dancers, and one after another, they became first liquid and then solid and as they became solid or liquid some of them joined others to which they were attracted, forming new substances.

The heavier ones went nearer to the heart of the earth and the lighter ones floated above them like oil floating on the water.

A thin scum was formed, like the skin which forms on milk when it is boiled and left to cool.  It seemed as though the earth had taken some shape.  But the elements inside this skin were still very hot.  They felt trapped.  They wanted to get out.  What could they do otherwise?  They had to follow their law: "If you are hot, you expand."  There was no place to expand and so they burst out.  They broke the skin and it was like a terrible fight.

  Demonstration: Volcano

  Half cup vinegar in baster2 Tbsp. baking soda + some water (to make a paste) +  5 squirts of white  dishwashing detergent +  30 drops of red ... Mix well in small bottle.

  Squirt baster forcefully, but only once, into bottle.  Move back quickly.  Red “lava” will ooze out of the  volcano.   (Practice without color: the eruption may come suddenly.)

The water that formed on the surface turned immediately into vapor and went up as the hot stuff came out from inside the earth.

There were ashes that erupted as well, and a veil of ash and  cloud was drawn to cover the earth so that nobody could see what was going on, as if the sun was ashamed of them!

  Chart 4a: Volcanoes And Cloud

Eventually, the fighting ceased.  As everybody cooled down, more and more gases became liquid, more and more liquids became solids.  The earth itself shrank and became wrinkled like an old apple that has been left in a cupboard.  The wrinkles are the mountains and the hollows are the oceans.

For, as the rocks had cooled down, water was able to return to the earth and it rained and rained.  And the water, being liquid, filled every hollow and crevice found in its path.  Thus the oceans were formed.  Above them was air, the air that we breathe.  The cloud had disappeared.

   Chart 5a: Volcanoes And Water 

The veil was withdrawn, and the sun could once again smile upon its beautiful daughter, the earth.

Rocks, water, air.  Solids, liquids and gases.  Today, as it was yesterday and millions of years ago, the laws of the universe are obeyed in the same way.  The world spins around itself, and dances round and round the sun.  And today, as it was millions of years ago, the earth and all the elements and compounds it is made of, fulfill their tasks. 
Although the elements are separate and unique, they are connected as one - to each other and to us. We – the elements, the rocks, the trees, water, air, human beings – are all made of star-stuff, from that first great cloud of heat and light. The cosmos is within us, we who were one at the dawn of the universe, and in obeying our laws and performing our tasks, we are a way for the cosmos to know itself. Humble alongside the rivers and the clouds and the mountains and trees, we look to the sky with gratitude, and whisper with one voice, “Thank you. We are unique; we are children equally of the earth and sky; we are kindred, rare and precious; thank you.”

- with thanks to Carl Sagan -