Monday, August 27, 2012

Our place in the scale of things

Barrie Davenport brings scale to doubts

Our Place in the Cosmos

One other bit of research and learning has had a significant impact on my perspective about my life and my problems. Even though I’m a right-brained, English major, intuitive type, I’ve become fascinated with elements of quantum physics and theories on the multiverse and the discovery that the universe is expanding at a rapid rate.
I’ve trudged through a few books on the topics by Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene. I can’t intelligently articulate the theories or findings, but I do understand clearly that the cosmos around us is larger than we can imagine. Trying to comprehend it makes my brain hurt.
Look at this little statistic.
In the book The Science of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the author Mike Hanlon says, “In July 2003, scientists at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Australia announced their latest estimate for the number of stars in the Universe – 70 sextillion. That is 7 followed by a mind-boggling 22 zeros… The new estimate means that the number of stars in the visible Universe is larger – quite a bit larger, actually – than the total number of all the grains of sand on all the beaches on Earth…”
If you want some additional perspective on our human existence in relation to our position in the universe, take a look at this series of photographs:
Here’s our lovely Earth looking beautiful and ample, especially compared with poor Pluto, the non-planet.

Oh dear. Earth is not quite as colossal as it seems. Jupiter looks like the big bully on the planet playground.

Well, at least we know Big Daddy Sun is looking out for us, even though we’re pretty puny. Pluto is pitiful. At least we’ve got that going for us.

Uh oh. No Earth in sight.

Look at Antares and Betelgeuse.  Ever hear of them? Antares is more than 1000 light years away and the 15th brightest star in the sky. Sun is that ridiculous white speck next to the dinky orange dot.

These photos represent only our solar system within our one galaxy.
But according to scientists, there are around 100,000,000,000 (one hundred billion) galaxies in the known universe, as far as current telescopes can detect. Some of these galaxies may hold up to 100,000,000,000 stars, but most galaxies probably contain at least 10,000,000,000 stars.

What Does it Mean?

In the scheme of things, our little problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. (Apologies to Humphrey Bogart.) We are a speck on a speck — times infinity.
This knowledge can be completely depressing or totally liberating. It can make you question everything you believe or get really clear about your life.
So here’s the conclusion I have reached for what it’s worth.
I have a very short time on a very small, but beautiful planet. I have many wonderful things at my disposal — people I love, interesting work, fun things to do, new things to learn every day, incredible beauty all around me.
Yes, sometimes crappy random things happen, and they disrupt my life. But I don’t want them to disrupt it any longer than they must.
I want to savor and enjoy as much of life as I possibly can every single day. I don’t want to waste a minute worrying or thinking about problems. And I want make the world better in some small way before I leave it.
That’s all I know for sure, and that’s what I intend to do.