The headline in the science section of the New York Times said it all, “Suddenly, It Seems, Water Is Everywhere in Solar System.” That means humankind has now come as close to discovering life on other bodies as we’re going to come without direct evidence of microbial or multicellular organisms.
“After spending so many years going after Mars, which is so dry and so bereft of organics and so just plain dead, it’s wonderful to go to the outer solar system and find water, water everywhere,” said Dr. McKay, who studies the possibility of life on alien worlds.
By outer solar system he isn’t referring to Jupiter or Saturn, but the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Scientists have long been convinced that there’s water beneath Europa’s thick crust of ice, and now they’re pretty sure that Ganymede and Callisto, two more of Jupiter’s 63 moons, have water as well. (Those three, plus Io, the molten and continually erupting volcanic one, are the largest, and two or three of them are visible with binoculars from the backyard on a clear, dark night.)
The latest discovery however, concerns the plume-spewing Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, which evidence shows not only has as much water as Lake Superior, but the presence of considerable heat as well. That means Enceladus has the three essentials for life—liquid water, heat and organic molecules. It has jumped to the top of the list of likely places in the solar system for microbial life.
Why the water on (or in) Enceladus is so hot is a mystery, but “the primary mechanism is probably the tidal forces that Saturn exerts on Enceladus,” as the article stated.
Water, it’s turning out, is more than a medium and metaphor for life. Water may well be of the essence in the universe.
Astrobiologists say that the discovery of even a single place in the solar system besides Earth that has simple-celled life would mean that the universe is teeming with life. According to the same principle of probabilities, we now have evidence that the universe is awash with water.
Today is Pi Day, the only time this century when the calendar lines up with the first five digits of the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, 3.1415.
Pi is an inconstant constant in the universe, an ‘irrational’ number, which means there is no way it can be completely expressed. Using computers, people have computed it into the trillions of digits in a game of chasing infinity just for the number-crunching fun of it.
As the mathematician Manil Suri rather chillingly put it, the infinite possibilities of pi are “an apt metaphor for an age when we are being asphyxiated by mushrooming clouds of information.” Do we have to be?
The fact that the complexity and profusion of the universe can come from rules as simple as pi (circumference divided by diameter) “makes us wonder if our universe’s complexity emerges from similarly simple mathematical building blocks.”
Pi is also called a ‘transcendental number.’ Such numbers, Suri says, “reveal how limited human knowledge is, how there exist teeming realms we might never explore.”
That’s because pi, like all mathematics, and human knowledge itself, is an abstraction, not the actuality. As Suri points out about pi, no circumference, however accurately calculated, completely matches the measurements of the same area measured physically. That’s because the universe is not flat; the world is flat, as Thomas Friedman so obtusely put it.
Complexity from simplicity, order from disorder, consciousness from randomness—all these are human concepts, dualities and illusions. In nature, and in our own brains if we understand the operation and limitation of our minds sufficiently, complexity and simplicity, order and disorder, and consciousness and randomness go together, inseparably, mysteriously and yes, transcendentally.
We return to the essence. The essence of life is water. And the infinite heart of death—not the cycles of life and death but the actuality that preceded the universe and will follow it— is also synonymous with water.
Taking ablutions, ritual cleansing, is performed the world over with water. In Jesus’ time, every person had to ritually bathe through full immersion before entering the Temple of Jerusalem. Catholics retain a vestige of this ritual by the habit of dipping fingers in ‘holy water’ as they enter or leave a church.
The old rituals of ablution have lost meaning because they have lost their contexts. Nevertheless, they symbolized a human being dipping into the infinite pool of life and death, and thereby being cleansed.
Water is blessed, and doesn’t need to be blessed, though the priest, as intermediary (something Jesus never intended) supposedly sanctifies it. In any case it’s not water that inwardly cleanses, but what water symbolizes.
Water is synonymous with essence, and essence is death beyond dying, and dying without death. Truly understanding and embracing death, we grow in life and deepen in awareness. And awareness is immortal in the cosmos.
Without implying a Creator, the universe was created for water. Water is life, and death, and love.