Embracing Our Cosmic Insignificance

Some find life too short because spanning an average of 67 years it seems too short to have any meaning. Other say it is too long and intentionally shorten their life story, but one thing is certain about living it eventually ends. The story of every fruit fly, king, janitor, beggar, computer guru, politician and so on doesn’t have a happy ending. We all perish and we perish only once.

This insignificance of life has bothered many of us, as our single and short life implies that it can be taken lightly. However, the fact that we are given just one life – no second chances, no secret shortcuts to endless options, no dress rehearsals – makes the lightness unbearable.

This lightness of being from the cosmic point of view proves to be liberating and a little less unbearable because it reminds us how fortunate we are for our existence. So let’s take several steps back and examine our current position. In doing so, we find what is perhaps best said by Daniel Dennett:

Every living thing is, from the cosmic perspective, incredibly lucky simply to be alive. Most, 90 percent and more, of all the organisms that have ever lived have died without viable offspring, but not a single one of your ancestors, going back to the dawn of life on Earth, suffered that normal misfortune.

You spring from an unbroken line of winners going back millions of generations, and those winners were, in every generation, the luckiest of the lucky, one out of a thousand or even a million. So however unlucky you may be on some occasion today, your presence on the planet testifies to the role luck has played in your past.

Carl Sagan also offers this cosmic perspective which helps us view our beloved Earth a “pale blue dot”. As soon as we adapt this vision, patriotism, nationalism and other dangerous words, which usually end in –ism or –ion, suddenly lose their importance. Instead, according to Carl Sagan, it highlights the importance of dealing more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known.

Nei Degrasse Tyson, the Carl Sagan of today shares the same opinion. He argues that visiting Sagan’s cosmic vantage points renders the constant conflicts in the name of boundaries or religion immature, silly and egoistic. This is similar to an adult (a word to which we generously associate the labels matured and grown-up) who treats a child’s complaints about broken toys and bruised knees as small problems (however these accidents are all traumatic experience to a kid).

Astronomy is unfairly and unfortunately considered “useless” compared to other sciences. However it has the power to reform our character and behaviour towards each other and the world we live in. It has the power to expand our view.

Astronomy lowers the omnipresent egoistic sentiments related to social status, culture, race, language. Lessons learnt through astronomy are capable of maturing up the mindset of any individual, family, institution, corporation and country.

Anyone who relishes the cosmic outlook will have qualities that will make him or her a better policy maker.

Thus, a crash course in astronomy is needed at every level. The situation should inspire us to spend less time on our cell phones and social media sites. It should broaden our minds, reduce unattractive competitiveness over journal names with the number of pages one has published in comparison with his or her neighbor. As researchers we should develop our attitudes towards learning.

As human beings, we should humble us down so that we can live up to our scientific name – homo sapiens (wise man).

We don’t suggest replacing the Bible in the motel rooms with a picture of the universe and an arrow showing where we are. We think this picture should complete the offer. Thus we could truly develop this fraction of an iota of a crumb of a grain of the universe which we call home.

Steve Jobs, an undeniable innovative man, said once (and we see here how our mortality influences our thoughts): “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose”. Yes, Steve Jobs used his cosmic lessons selectively, but these words illustrate the fact that our unbearably light life can be full of lights for everyone.

Further reading and bibliography:

  • Embracing Our Cosmic Insignificance by Surabhi Joshi (Technophilic, Winter 2013, page 10).
  • Freedom Evolves by Daniel Denett
  • Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan
  • Cosmos by Carl Sagan
  • Intelligence = Information + Jugement by Megan Jorgensen

cosmic insignificance

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.” (William Shakespeare, King Lear). Image by © Megan Jorgensen

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