Throughout history every culture has assigned itself a place in the universe. The modern term, cosmology, the study of the universe, allows us to examine how us as people living on earth are positioned relative to the cosmos. Cosmologies of ancient cultures have a wide range of cosmological possibilities. The ancient Greek Empedecles posutlated that the universe is made up of four elements, earth, fire, wind, and water. His cosmology is representative of his time period in that the technology available to him consisted of his own eyes. Today, with technological advances we are able to see deeper into the universe on both a macro and microscopic level. This has depened our level of understanding in not only the field of astronomy, but in everyday life. We see ourselves as being part of something grand, as part of something that is beyond our understanding, as being part of a universe which contains ideas that we can not possibly comprehend. Einstein's general theory of relativity contains a section which describes space time: the fabric of the universe. Because of this theory, our cosmology has been severly altered so that our understanding of the universe is much deeper than before.
When one compares the theory of relativity to that of the Maya there are a few striking similarities. The first is that very few people in both cultures actually understand the cosmology. In ancient Mesoamerica only the elite understood the motions of the celestial bodies such as venus and the moon. This was not by accident, since those who had access to the information used it to subjugate the masses. Consequently this astronomical information was closely guarded so as to maintain its mysterious and supernatural qualities. In our society, anyone who so desires can walk into any library and try to understand the theory of relativity. But, it is not usually that simple. Where the Mayan information is merely observational and calendrical, the modern theory of the cosmos involves a much more complex understanding of not only the night time sky, but also the ability to visualize the universe on a cosmic level. Because of this, the modern scientific explanation of the universe has taken on unique cosmological attributes. No longer is the make up of the universe decided by those who are in political power; the universe is now explained by those who have a much greater power: knowledge. Science has become an explanation as to what is happening in the world around us.
The cosmologies or the modern world, even though they are more complex
and more evidence based, still fulfill our need as humans to explain what
is happening around us. As cultures in the past have quenched their
thirst for an explanation, what distinguishes our modern astronomical/cosmological
theories is that we understand that there is more out there than we can
explain. Until we can travel to a black hole, determine what happens
when the universe comes to an end, or figure out what composes the mysterious
dark matter we are merely living in theory. But, we understand that
we are living in theory, for the basic construct of science is that anything
is possible as long as it can be proved. Using this moto as a guide
to our cosmology, we think that we have managed to understand to the best
of human capacity the order of the universe. But it is possible,
as we have disproved the aniquated ideas of our ancestors, that there is
another explanation, that there is something else that makes up the fabric
of our universe. What distinguishes our set of beliefs is that we
leave room for further explanations and that all that we know could be
changed, altered, or modified to fit the universe that we observe.
1. Aveni, Anthony Stairway to the Stars John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York. 1997
2. Hawking, Stephen A Brief History of Time Bantam Books. New York 1988
3. Hetherington, S. Norriss Cosmology: Historical, Literary, Philosophical, Religious and Scientific Perspectives. Garland Publishing, Inc. New York. 1993