Epiphany regarding the Big Bang

James - Cambridge, Massachusetts
Entered on March 2, 2009
Age Group: 65+
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I dedicate this to my grandson Jacob who is a bright 11 year old chap with an active sense or curiosity and a larger sense of mischief and fun. He should hear this now and then again in about 10 years.

I am prone to professional epiphanies when, after puzzling the data the answer hits you on the side of the head, gives you a dope-slap and becomes immediately obvious. I experienced such an epiphany by explaining cosmology to my grandson Jacob.

Recently, Ruth and I and two of our grandkids took the Amtrak to Washington. I was pleased to note in the Aeronautics and Space Museum, the NASA Cosmology section, the WMAP (microwave map of the universe about 380,000 years after the “Big Bang”) that I had studied earlier at a NASA web site.

Later at lunch, Jacob asked me what I liked best and I told him that the WMAP was my favorite. He asked me what it meant and I took out a napkin and drew the figure we had just seen and the meaning and conclusions:

• In the beginning, 13.7b years ago, there was a “Big Bang” of creation.

• At that point the seed of all the matter and potential of our universe was created.

• Time itself was created. There was no time before the big bang.

• The universe has been inflating and extending in time at the speed of light.

• I pointed out that our earth was born 4.5b years ago, that life started on Earth less than a billion years later and that our species achieved is present form only 150,000 years ago and has been expanding its consciousness of the universe ever since.

• I told him that here at the leading edge of the universe, while being able to look back to Genesis, we are at the edge of creation right Now.

Jacob got a big grin on his face and said “Wow!!”

At that moment, the meaning of what I had just said suddenly dawned on me if not on him. I realized that we were not only observers but co-creators of this new universe, that we were responsible for its future direction.

“Wow” said Jacob again with his now mischievous grin.

“Wow indeed!”, I retorted. I told him that it was his responsibility to learn as much as he could about the universe, and that it is a shared responsibility to continue the creation. This is the ethic that should guide our lives.

But Jacob’s “Wow”, though sensing the profundity, was his way of making fun of his strange old grandpa. He was thinking of the television commercial about a family’s first view of high definition TV where Dad says “Wow!” in his daddy voice and Mom says “Wow!” in her mommy voice and baby says “Wow!” in his baby voice and the dog says “Wow!” in its doggy voice and the cat says “Wow!” in its feline voice and the little flea on the cat says “Wow!” in its tiny robotic voice.

The joy of a good epiphany is that it can be profound, ordinary, dumb as well as fun and, though secular, it is a gift of the Creator. And to this, all I can say is “Wow!, and this is what I believe (for now)”