I enjoy thinking about cosmological concepts, the vastness of outer space and our relative insignificance within the unfathomable expanse of the universe and infinite time. This thought process might seem odd, but somehow, sometimes, my thoughts about the human condition and spirituality include a combination of intellectual curiosity and unrestrained astonishment that we even exist.
Noble Prize nominee Andre Malraux declared that “the greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random between the profusion of the earth and the galaxy of the stars, but that in this prison we can fashion images of ourselves sufficiently powerful to deny our nothingness.” Those images of ourselves include our understanding today of humanity’s place in the vastness of the cosmos and the immensity of cosmic time.
I recently gave a speech to address the question of our smallness in the context of our galaxy and beyond.
Understanding as much as I can about the dimensions of the cosmos and grand arc of time helps me appreciate the beauty and wonder of human existence and our accelerating comprehension of reality. What was once unfathomable to ancient humans and later denied as religious heresy during the Middle Ages can today be comprehended and explained.
We are really small, but our enormous collective consciousness has discovered, revealed, dissected, analyzed, and exploited many secrets hidden from our species until less than 500 years ago—not even a fraction of a second of the last minute of the final day of the cosmic calendar. Much of what I shared in my speech involves knowledge gained within the last 100 years, although our species has been gazing up at and wondering about the night sky since our ancestors stood on two legs and peered across the savannas of Africa, even long before our species dwelled in caves.
Among the greatest human minds to have ever lived and died, Albert Einstein appreciated the significance of our unique place in space and time and the planetary caretaking challenges confronting humanity:
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to become free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
We are really small in physical size and across the span of all time, but we collectively constitute the largest consciousness in the known universe. So, perhaps this makes us tall after all. This also makes our short but impactful human lives consequential. We have the technological prowess to both create and destroy the future.
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