Putting Things in Perspective

Note: This content of this post is similar enough to a previous post of mine titled We Are Negligible for the post to be mentioned here, but not enough for this post to be considered a sequel.

calvin-significant

The philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote in his essay, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch,

Without man and his potential for moral progress, the whole of reality would be a mere wilderness, a thing in vain, and have no final purpose.

Like most philosophers, Kant had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Even if he did, his analysis is incorrect to the point of being considered self-centered and childish. Looking at the vastness of the cosmos and its grand scales (which I discussed in the post I linked above) does the hypotheses that without the existence of an insignificant collection of life-forms wandering on the surface of a speck of dust orbiting a tiny nuclear fusion reactor, one of billions spiraling around a black hole forming a structure that is just one of infinitely many in a universe (which might turn out to be just one of infinitely many other universes), that without the existence of these puny little beings, the whole of reality will descend into chaos hold weight?

Well, I don’t know about philosophy, but in the scientific point of view this assumption is preposterous. One must remember that for 99.9% of the about thirteen billion years of cosmic history, humans weren’t even around. Was the cosmos at that time any worse off without our existence? Of course not. On top of that, I hate to say it but (at the incredulously naively ridiculously over-optimistically estimated very very most) in about a couple billion years we won’t be around to make these nonsensical arrogant claims anymore. Here is a video that discusses the ultimate fate of the universe (it was made with the help of Caltech Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist Sean Carroll, so I’m guessing it’s pretty scientifically accurate) :

It seems depressing, right? Makes one feel insignificant. Putting things in the cosmic perspective may seem disconcerting, but it is a very nice means of self-improvement. For example, if Napoleon, Genghis Khan or any number of modern war-mongering generals and politicians were to stop and think for a moment in the cosmic perspective, perhaps along these lines:

I am about to send my army to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children, fellow beings who share my moment in time. I am about to widow and orphan countless people. And after all this cruelty I’ll be able to claim ownership of a tiny portion of a microscopic dot which carries no particular significance in the cosmos. Is it all worth it?

Perhaps there would would be fewer wars and bloodshed and we’ll finally learn how to live in harmony respecting each other’s differences and treating each other as equals. Another good thing the cosmic perspective does is that it gets rid of your ego. It is impossible to contemplate about your existence and your place in the cosmos without developing humility. Here is a video of Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson discussing one’s ego and its relation to the cosmic perspective:

One might ask, in all this emptiness, how does one add purpose and significance to one’s life? Well, if you measure your worth by the amount of lands you have conquered or the amount of wealth you have amassed then I don’t think being reminded of your place in the universe will give you any comfort as it will make you realize your insignificance even though you are trying hard to deceive yourself into believing you are important. On the other hand, if you measure your worth by the amount of people you have helped and influenced in your life and by the knowledge and understanding you have gained, then I think this perspective should be far more uplifting than it is depressing. In his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, astronomer Carl Sagan wrote (yes, I quote Carl Sagan a lot, deal with it):

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Maybe if we think of things in this perspective, perhaps there still might be some hope for us, as a species to one day end famine, reverse climate change, establish world-peace and journey to the planets and the stars. Until then, and once again I quote Carl Sagan, “for small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

Finally, here is a photo called “Earthrise” taken by an astronaut during the Apollo 8 mission. It shows the beauty and fragility of the tiny planet we call home…

earthrise

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