Cosmic Reflections

The thing that distinguishes you from the ground on which you walk is irrelevant. You are that ground and it is you. Just like the ants you cannot see unless you focus intently on that infinitesimal space beneath their tiny legs, you are a submicroscopic shadow in a cosmos exponentially larger than your imagination can fathom.

You know of Bashar al-Assad, but he does not know of you. What’s more, he does not care that he does not know of you and, even if he did, he would not care about you. The same can be said about Kim Jung-on and Angela Merkel and Vladamir Putin and Michelle Bachelet. They, too, cannot be legitimately distinguished from the ground on which they walk, yet we assign importance to them as if importance and value were interwoven to form steel cables.

The houses world leaders build are no more important than the ones you construct. But, neither are your houses more meaningful than insects’ colonies. Given the implications of metabolic scaling theory applied to insect colonies (something I stumbled across but don’t entirely understand), some might argue our houses are even less meaningful; but that, too, is irrelevant.

When the gravity waves from the collision between our sun and the Alpha Centauri triplets fold back on themselves, ‘meaning’ will have long since ceased to have meaning. The number of rooms in our houses and the decision between carpet or wood or stone floors, in this context (and, I would argue in any others) are irrelevant beyond measure. Even the tallest building ever built by humankind, and all its lavish furnishings, does not matter in the broad scheme of existence.

While some might suggest what I have written here is evidence of my despair, nothing could be further from reality. Rather than desperation, the sense that we all are part of the same doomed fabric—none more or less important than the next—is uplifting and freeing. The conviction that nothing, in the broadest context of existence, matters can allow us to construct the most comfortable framework for our limited experience while we are “here,” trying to make sense of a random fluke that gave us sentience. The point of this odd diatribe is that, emotionally, we make too much of almost everything. Looking at our universe and everything in it as simply a transitory experience, an arbitrary coalescing of reactive stellar dust, removes a little of the pain of being. Watching humanity self-destruct is a touch less agonizing, knowing that, with enough time, the natural rhythm of astrophysics will sort it all out, whether we attempt to play a role in it or not.

If given the opportunity, I believe I would gladly board a spacecraft for Mars, knowing I would never return. The chance to get a little closer to understanding the immensity of space and the insignificance of the tiny part of it we call home is enormously appealing. Yet, I also realize that my sense of this universe and our part in it makes my desire to know more about it just as irrelevant as the thing that distinguishes me from the ground on which I walk. It’s part of a search for meaning where there is none; such a hard concept to grasp. But no one said it was easy.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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