Evolution endowed us with intuition only for those aspects of physics that had survival value for our distant ancestors, such as the parabolic orbits of flying rocks (explaining our penchant for baseball). A cavewoman thinking too hard about what matter is ultimately made of might fail to notice the tiger sneaking up behind and get cleaned right out of the gene pool. Darwin's theory thus makes the testable prediction that whenever we use technology to glimpse reality beyond the human scale, our evolved intuition should break down. We've repeatedly tested this prediction, and the results overwhelmingly support Darwin. At high speeds, Einstein realized that time slows down, and curmudgeons on the Swedish Nobel committee found this so weird that they refused to give him the Nobel Prize for his relativity theory. At low temperatures, liquid helium can flow upward. At high temperatures, colliding particles change identity; to me, an electron colliding with a positron and turning into a Z-boson feels about as intuitive as two colliding cars turning into a cruise ship. On microscopic scales, particles schizophrenically appear in two places at once, leading to the quantum conundrums mentioned above. On astronomically large scales... weirdness strikes again: if you intuitively understand all aspects of black holes [then you] should immediately put down this book and publish your findings before someone scoops you on the Nobel Prize for quantum gravity... [also, ] the leading theory for what happened [in the early universe] suggests that space isn't merely really really big, but actually infinite, containing infinitely many exact copies of you, and even more near-copies living out every possible variant of your life in two different types of parallel universes.
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This brief century of ours is arguably the most significant one in the history of our universe. We'll have the technology either to self-destruct, or [to] seed our cosmos with life. The situation is so unstable that I doubt we can dwell at this fork in the road for more than another hundred years. But if we end up going the life route instead of the death route, then in a distant future our cosmos will be teaming with life, all of which can be traced back to what we do-here and now. I don't know how we'll be thought of, but I'm sure that we won't be remembered as insignificant.
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