Nothing Happens for a Reason
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
From what we can tell, hydrogen in the most abundant element in the known universe. It’s also the starting point for the other five elements that make up 99% of the human body. Throughout space there are large clouds of debris called molecular clouds. These clouds are sometimes referred to as stellar nurseries because they form the fertile grounds necessary for the birth of stars.
Turbulence within molecular clouds form pockets where the density of the interstellar dust and molecular hydrogen is sufficient to produce gravity intense enough to cause these pockets to overcome their outward pressure and collapse upon themselves. When that happens, a protostar with a hydrogen core is born.
As the protostar moves toward full star status, its gravity attracts more of the surrounding material, which, in turn, adds to the protostar’s mass and causes gravity to increase. The enormous inward pressure caused by this gravity generates intense heat.
Here is where the magic begins. When a protostar reaches sufficient size, its hydrogen core is subjected to intense heat and pressure. Under these condition, the hydrogen will go through a process called fusion. When two hydrogen atoms fuse together, the result is helium, the second element on the periodic table. The protostar is now a star.
As is the case with main sequence stars, such as our sun, a stabilization occurs where the outward pressure caused by the heat and fusion of hydrogen balances out the inward force caused by gravity. Our sun is comprised of a hydrogen core and a helium outer shell which represents about 75% and 25% of the star’s total mass, respectively. It will stay this way for another 5 billion years or so, after which we are all toast. Literally.
As the hydrogen within the star is depleted, helium replaces it as the core element. Just like the hydrogen did, the helium will undergo fusion and form beryllium, the third element on the periodic table. Over the course of billions of years this process will repeat, forming, in order, many of the elements on our periodic table. Each successive elements burns for a shorter duration.
For example, stars less that 25x the size of our sun may extend their lives by burning carbon for another 600 years, then neon for 1 year, followed by oxygen for 6 months. After oxygen fuses into silicon, the silicon will burn for 1 day and fuse into an inert iron core. This is the stage where the star has signed its death warrant.
Since iron is so tightly bound, no energy can be extracted from its fusion. Iron can fuse, but it absorbs energy in the process and the core temperature of the star drops drastically. Without fusion the star will collapse in on itself. The material in the outer shell will bounce off the core so quickly that it is expelled into the surrounding space forming a planetary nebula; An encircling ring of gas that is enriched with heavier elements such as carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen.
Stars larger than 8 solar masses will have much more violent demises. They will go supernova. The energy and neutrons produced during a supernova catalyze the nucleosynthesis that allows iron to undergo fusion and produce heavier elements like uranium and gold. These, too, are expelled into space when the dying star explodes at 10-15% the speed of light.
In this way, most of the elements in the known universe were formed. Let’s go back to our molecular cloud for a second. Beyond the protostars formed from molecular clouds, outer rings of debris also form called a discs. This disc revolves around the protostar and may contain the elements created from the deaths of early stars. Over millions of years, debris in these discs collide and stick together, forming large bodies like moons and planets.
Ok. So that was a long, seemingly irrelevant overview of how elements and planets form. But, bare with me. I’m going to tie it all together.
When you look up at the stars in the night sky, or curse the sun for giving you a sunburn, remember, that is where every element in your body came from. You are quite literally, due to processes that began eons ago in some distant quadrant of the universe, the universe observing and being conscious of itself.
Your existence was made possible by violent reactions that could easily be labelled as destructive in so far as when we observe a star become a supernova, we say it is dying or that its life is coming to an end. But this is a cosmic example of something we all too often forget: That all endings are beginnings. That the two points are inexorably linked. Maybe even the same thing from a completely objective standpoint.
So next time you go through some shit and you begin to question whether or not everything happens for a reason, remember that there are reasons (the subjective logical or illogical explanation for an event, or, more practically, someone’s behaviour) and results (the outcome of something given previous conditions). To me, results are more important than reasons. If you search for a reason, you’ll never really find one. You’ll either invent, or adopt a previously invented one. Instead, underscore the importance of one of the results of the process you just went through.
For most, when they say everything happens for a reason, what they really mean is that everything that has happened within the context of a particular scenario has resulted in a positive outcome despite seemingly negative affects. For example, the result of stars dying (death viewed as a negative affect) is that we get to exist. Pretty great deal for the universe! Kill off some stars, achieve consciousness!
So what is the net result of all things? Evolution, of course!
Nothing is ever going to happen in your life that doesn’t offer you a chance to evolve and expand. It is a cosmic constant. As the universe itself continuously expands, so must you, despite what it throws at you. The more violent the catalyst, the larger the potential for growth, as we saw with our supernova example.
There is one catch to thinking like this. We aren’t automatons. We feel things. As such, growth can be painful. Endings/beginnings can be hard, so be careful to grieve them. If you don’t, they will always come back to haunt you. You can do this in many ways. Writing, recollecting, talking to friends and family, seeing a therapist, crying…sometimes you’ll even need to grieve good things. It can be hard to let go of a previous version of yourself to accept and fully engage with a new life chapter that is ultimately better for you than what came before, but if you avoid grief you will never grow in the ways that you want/need.
So stop searching for reasons and embrace results. Embrace your evolution. You're a star.