When I drank, I did not worry too much about my place in the cosmos, or about how we, as humans, frequently live out our lives with grandiose ideas of our own importance, when in reality all we amount to is a minuscule speck within a vast, black expanse of time and space. But, with far more thinking time on my hands and less mental cloudiness these days, I find myself contemplating such things rather a lot. I’ve realised that I am now caught up in a virtuous circle; without alcohol fogging my thoughts, I have finally acknowledged just how precious life is and this serves only to reinforce why I never wish to drink again. As a drinker, I simply never noticed those things, or was too drunk or hungover to properly consider them – thus wasting my life drunk did not strike me as anything to worry about.
Here are a few thoughts on the specialness of human life, and on the blue dot we call Home.
Last weekend, I was spending time with my sister who has a far greater knowledge than I regarding physics and astronomy. As we sat beneath the stars late at night, she told me that the Milky Way contains at least 100 billion planets, and between 200 and 400 billion stars; that the observable universe is approximately 46 billion light years in radius. She described how our solar system is moving at about 500 thousand miles per hour as it orbits the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, a speed which results in a cosmic year (the time it takes us to orbit the centre of the galaxy) lasting between 225 and 250 million years.
We are tiny, unbelievably small creatures, living out our lives in an unimaginably vast cosmic arena. The time which has gone before us and which lies ahead serves to limit our individual lifespans to mere flecks of nothingness, grains of sand, gone in the blink of an eye. As a species, we are here today, gone tomorrow.
When I think of these colossal truths and consider my insignificance within the universe, I don’t feel disheartened. What we have in our hands is a wonderful opportunity to experience life in the middle of an expanse of time and space incomprehensibly huge. Somehow, knowing that our planet is just one of billions and billions makes me love it all the more. We are so special, so precious and so rare.
The life we possess amounts to a fragment of curiosity, a flurry of exploration, a singular chance to better ourselves and grow our collective knowledge. Our lives are so minute, but worth all the more because of it. This isn’t some slapdash, dole-it-out-to-everyone-and-just-keep-on-coming-back-for-more type bash – our experience of life as a species is incredibly short-lived and finite for certain.
In 1990, space probe Voyager 1 took a photograph of Earth from a record distance of 3.7 billion miles. Earth shows as a fraction of a pixel, lost in an immense sea of space. This image makes me feel in awe of humankind and so grateful to have a life which is born out of the laws of physics and chemistry but which is nonetheless so rich, complex and gratifying. It makes me want to grab on to every single day and make it count, to experience as much and to travel as widely as I possibly can, to meet different people and know foreign cultures, to maximise my time in the brief window of opportunity which is life.
The Voyager 1 photograph serves to draw my attention to the things of substance in the world, that which matters, and to disregard all the superfluous nonsense that we can waste so much energy on. Our dot of a world, which travels at a frightening rate, holds our intricate yet humble existences.
We are not the centre of the universe, not by a long shot. But we should be the centre of our own lives and treasure each and every day we get to spend on Earth. We are, after all, here for the briefest of moments.
Click below for a moving description of Earth as the Blue Dot, from astronomer Carl Sagan;