David Bercovici’s lecture on the origins of the Earth was pretty science orientated to me. Before his lecture and seminar, we read few chapters of his book the Origins of Everything in 100 Pages (More or Less), in which Bercovici introduced the formation of the solar system, the planet Earth, the ocean, and the climate. I learned from his book and lecture about the chemical and geological processes that all these basic building blocks went through to form the environment we live in today. But jumping out of the pure science cycle, it is also interesting to think about the social and historian implications of these scientific findings.
I was interested in Bercovici’s description of “one recipe of the Earth.” We often the words “unique,” “one and only” etc. to describe our mother Earth. Scientific evidence, in fact, supports this uniqueness. There are a countless amount of possibilities in every step of a planet’s formation, but Earth ends up being the only known planet with water and a habitable climate that can support intelligent life. This uniqueness can make generalizing rules or theories of the origins of the Earth and universe extremely hard. In the third chapter of his book, Bercovici talked about the many debates existed in studying the solar system, such as the angular momentum paradox, the Earth-Moon oddity, and the lunar mysteries, etc. As Bercovici pointed out, it is even possible that there exists another recipe of a livable planet. Nowadays, we live in an era in which sciences and technologies are developing so rapidly. These questions can, therefore, be both easier to answer due to the discovery of more evidence and harder to answer because of the constantly emerging new theories.
By the end of the class, Prof. Fleming asked us what people from the 16th century would believe about the origins of Earth and humans. While most of us thought religions must have largely influenced the mainstream voice of that period, I appreciated the discussion on the geological, social, and cultural scale of this question. Apparently, back in time, my Chinese culture has an entirely different theory on the origins of Earth and humans. Our myth-like theory believes that Pangu was the hero who separated the sky from land and Nvwa used clay to made humans. Modern historical studies show that the goddess Nvwa symbolizes the ancient matriarchal society, and the tales of chaos egg before Pangu was born signifies the cluster of nebulae in modern astronomy. As time went by, many of these myths encouraged ancient Chinese people to observe and study the motion and position of the Earth and the stars, which eventually set bases for the birth of ancient Chinese astronomy. It is therefore astonishing to me that while different cultures and societies have different myths and tales on the origins of the Earth, many of them eventually evolve and meet the theories in modern astronomy.