A History of the Universe as told by Edward, the oldest electron there ever was, to Tom Mahon, who vouches for the veracity, audacity, and perspicacity of this narration
This account of the creation and evolution of the universe and life on Earth is based on the discoveries in the physical and life sciences in the last century.
Once upon a time… No, that’s too informal.
Or maybe… In the beginning… Yea, that’s classier. So… I’ve set the time. It was In the beginning…
Now I have to set the place. That’s harder to do. In the beginning there was no “place.” And no “place” existed no “where.” Endless emptiness, see. You don’t see?
Let me try this. In the beginning there was no thing, no where, no when. That means no color, no light, no sound, no ground, no air. Nada. Zilch.
But then all of a sudden there was this very, very small whatchamacallit. It had no size. It had no weight. And it had no past. But boy, did it have a future. Because everything and everywhere and everywhen was inside it. Including you.
Today it’s called The Singularity. Back then, we called it ζΞξξ♦♣ξτ⊄∀∇™.But that’s because we didn’t know any better.
No sooner does The Singularity pop into existence, but it explodes. A Big Bang: a very, very, very hot release of energy.
Existence came into existence. Being began. And it echoes today. A low, rumbling sound. The original cast recording of Creation.
Let me introduce myself. I am Edward the Electron. A quantity of energy with a negative charge. But not a negative outlook.
I’m the oldest Electron in the Universe. My friends call me Fast Eddy. I’m what…? Maybe 13, 14 billion years old? I lost track. I know… I don’t look a day over ten billion. What can I say?
I take care of myself. I exercise. And I get around. Boy, do I get around… I’m all over the place. Sometimes, here. Sometimes, there. Sometimes no place (Don’t try this at home, kids.)
For just a moment, I was the only electron in the new universe. It was very lonely.
Until, ah!… a beautiful stranger appeared across the void. She filled the void in my existence. You have my void on it. Of this I’m positive. No, she was positive. I was negative. She was positively pretty Polly Proton.
I was still Edward the Electron, with a negative charge but not a negative outlook. We were opposites, but opposites attract. We completed each other. So Pretty Polly and Fast Eddy bonded together.
We formed the first Hydrogen atom in the universe. (Actually, it was the first atom, period. So we called our family the Periodic Table.)
Then more energy cooled. More protons. More electrons. More Hydrogen. Pretty soon we started to cluster, to keep each other company in all that dark space. The more we clustered, the denser we got. The denser we got, the hotter we got. Until we caught fire. We became a sun. And there was light, glorious light!
And the first day ended, and there was physics in the universe. But wait, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet…
The second day dawned, and some of us Hydrogen atoms got an idea, “If a proton and an electron make a Hydrogen atom, what happens if you put two Hydrogen atoms together?” So Polly and I fused with Patrice Proton and Elmer Electron to form Helium.
Then we said, “Let’s see how far we can take this.” So we kept building up, adding Hydrogen to Hydrogen and Helium to Helium until eventually we formed Carbon atoms. Then Oxygen atoms. Then Iron. Now we were cooking.
And with all this fussing and fusion, we came up with a whole bunch of new elements.
But by now there was very little Hydrogen left in that sun to burn, and the fire went out. The only thing left was the cold dense core of bigger atoms we had fused to form, like Carbon and Iron.
And as we cooled down we started seeing red, then turning blacker, and finally solid black. Wholly black. A black hole.
That giant sun collapsed into a crushed, cold, compact core. So deep and cold and black that any light passing by got drawn in and never got out again.
And when we couldn’t crush any more, we blew up. Went “supernova.” Our Carbon and Oxygen and Iron and other elements blew out into space as dust and debris that clustered to form asteroids and meteorites and comets. Polly and I were blown apart from Patrice Proton and Elmer Electron, and went our separate ways.
And there was evening of the second day, and there were chemicals in the universe.
By the morning of the third day, a few billion years ago, a whole bunch of us old star-debris asteroids and comets, settled into orbit around a new sun.
We spun round and round that new sun, and as we did we accumulated other star-stuff, like rolling snowballs that grow as they roll. With each new orbit we picked up more chunks of rumbling, tumbling rocks, until we grew so big we became a planet circling the new sun.
And that particular planet is the one you live on, called Earth. You wouldn’t recognize how it looked back then. It was a roiling, boiling cauldron of earthquakes and volcanoes, bombarded with even more stuff from space.
And with all that churnin’ and burnin’ action at the center and on the surface of Earth some of us gases, like Hydrogen and Oxygen, that had been trapped in old minerals got set free and burped out to form an atmosphere. And whom should we meet there, but our old friends Patrice Proton and Elmer Electron.
It felt good to be free again, and warm in the glow of the new sun’s light. In fact it got so hot that Polly and I fused again with Patrice Proton and Elmer Electron and with a new friend, Oliver Oxygen, to form a water molecule. And we fell back to earth.
We landed in a creek that became a stream that became a river that carried us down to the sea. And one day a high tide swept us into a little pool on the seashore but never came back to lift us out again.
So Polly and I were stuck in that tide pool, along with Patrice and Elmer and Oliver, and other Hydrogen and Oxygen and Carbon and Nitrogen atoms. We were warmed by sunlight and excited by lightning. We sparked, and formed an amino acid. And then a protein. And then an organism. And, hey presto, sunshine and stardust had come alive.
And there was evening of the third day. Life emerged and there was biology in the universe. But wait, you still ain’t seen nothing yet…
At dawn of the fourth day, Earth teemed with simple, one-cell, blue-green algae. But then another explosion happened. Not as big as the Big Bang that started the universe, but an explosion just the same. An explosion of life.
Kind of the way Polly and I got together to make a Hydrogen atom, these simple cells got together to mate. And each time cells mated they made an offspring that was unique in the universe. So every new creature born had a chance to survive by adapting to the environment that was always changing and evolving around it.
And life began to bloom in every color, from blue whales to giant redwoods.
And these new, more complex creatures, big collections of protons and electrons like Polly and me, developed skin and eyes and ears to feel and see and hear all the energy that was all around: heat and color and sound.
And Polly and I and other quantities of energy set loose back in the Big Bang now came together to form complex living creatures aware of all the other energy around. And in becoming aware of other energy, we became aware of ourselves. You and me. Or, to be precise, you, made up of lots of me’s.
And Polly and I were there all the time, moving from place to place, and age to age. And with each spin of the circle of life there are tiny changes so each generation adapts, the better to survive.
Evening came on the fourth day and there was the beginning of awareness and consciousness in the universe.
On day five, about 100,000 years ago, Earth creatures discovered they could recreate sounds they heard, and draw what they’d seen. So they started telling stories, and making pictures. In chants and poems and symbols and carvings they set out to answer where they’d come from, why they were here, and where they were going.
They told these stories to their children so they would survive by knowing what to eat and how, and which plants heal and which intoxicate, and how to raise newborns and care for the old.
And with such stories, enough was remembered about the past to make predictions about the future, and they began to make tools so the plans became real.
Evening came on the fifth day, and there was myth, art, poetry, technology. But there’s more.
Then on Day Six, starting about 10,000 years ago, people learned that seeds planted when the sun rises over here produce grain when the sun sets over there.
So they settled down, to farm and herd. They divided up difficult tasks, and began to travel about to trade with other groups.
They noticed they could extend their strength with wheels and levers. They could multiply efforts so’s to lift heavy stones to build walls; chop down trees to make shelters; hoist water from deep wells to irrigate fields providing a steady food supply.
And Polly and I were in the water molecules that were in the soil that were taken up into the vines that became grapes that made the wine that was drunk by someone who kissed a girl who made a baby who splashed in the tub whose wash water was thrown out and rolled downstream to the sea where it was carried by a current to another land where it was swallowed by a fish who was caught by a fisherman who brought it home to feed his children. All of this in only three years.
Like I said, Polly and I get around. Boy, do we all get around. And we carry with us memories of every experience. Next time you swallow me in a drink of water, think of all the places I’ve been as I quench your thirst.
And with a regular supply of food, some people had time to sit down and think about things. They looked around and in and out and beyond, and they called their home the Uni-verse, which means “the one song.” And they tried to imagine who wrote the song of the universe. And at the end of the day they decided to rest on the next, the seventh, day, and tell and sing and draw and dance their own universe song.
Evening came on the sixth day and there was agriculture, written records, settled civilization, philosophy and theology. But wait a minute; you still ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
On the seventh day… Over eons we protons and electrons moved at the speed of light from ancient suns and cosmic dust to form living, aware you. And now you’ve discovered us. Or should I say: we’ve discovered ourselves.
You are exquisite collections of protons and electrons discovering other electrons and protons in plants and animals and suns and stars and in yourself. And all of us atoms keep swapping places all the time.
We became you so you could determine our evolution. And now you who are made up of electrons and protons can manipulate other electrons and atoms and molecules, to shape just about anything the way you want it. Mind over matter.
You want to find me? Rub your fingers together. What you feel and what you feel with is us, Polly Proton and Edward the Electron. We’ve been around for almost 14 billion years, and we’ve learned from each phase we’ve gone through.
I still oscillate and jiggle and wiggle and waggle from the shock of the Big Bang, and I carry with me the whole history of the universe even as I make up part of your fingertip that you sometimes stick up your nose. (I wish you wouldn’t do that anymore.)
When I slow down, I’m a tiny particle that makes your skin. When I speed up, I’m an endless wave of energy that extends across the universe. And all the atoms in all the cells in all the organs in all the systems that make you and everyone else up, are solid points and endless flows. And that energy flow reaches back to the beginning of time, and out to the edge of the universe.
It really does. And it merges with every other cloud of energy to fill the cosmos. I know. I’ve been there and seen it. And I know it’s how you dream dreams, and see visions.
So let’s review the situation. In the beginning there was nothing, then energy, then matter, then life, then mind, then mind over matter. You are stardust, sunshine and seawater come alive, and become aware. You are the conscious fraction the universe whose observations make the universe real.
And after 14 billion years of straight-line evolution, physics from day one and philosophy from day six have linked up, bending the line and forming the circle of existence.
And what more is to come, pray tell? No one on Day One foresaw roses. And no one on Day Four envisioned the Parthenon.
You are woven into the warp and the woof of the world. Of all that was, is and will be. You are halfway between a quantum and the cosmos. The better to see in all directions.
I’m ageless, and yet in you I am made anew. You’re new, but you are made up of ageless atoms. Me and you, we’ve been here since the beginning; we’ll be here till the end.
Take care of yourself. You belong here. Take care of others. They belong here, too. Look into the evening sky: witness your genesis; behold our destiny.
For by us and around us and within us and without us and through us and over us and under us, a single flow of energy is unfolding. You only need to recognize that, and then you are truly at home in the universe. Of this I’m positive. And that’s saying something for an electron…
© 2021 Thomas Mahon