Space | Our Place in the Cosmos

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. 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.”

-Carl Sagan

There has always been the inevitable desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves, slowly boiling deep down inside us. It is an aching that tugs lightly at us, like a child wanting attention. It is a fleeting yearning which fills church pews on Sunday mornings, drafts the militaries of the world, and propelled man to set foot on the moon. But, now, at a time when nothing is sacred and we are left to choose our paths, we wander about the face of the Earth, craving purpose which was once upon a time told to us. No longer is God beyond question and our nation’s interests beyond doubt. Where once we were resolute in our purposes and duties before God and country we are now skeptical. The dominion of nationality and religion used to supersede all other allegiances and explanations, but no longer. Purpose used to be handed to us, now we seek to find it and take it. Now we look to thinkers among us for explanation and purpose, not our clergy nor our kings. Now our hearts look to the suffering abroad rather than at home. Now, instead of looking at the Earth for answers, we look to the Cosmos.

This desire for belonging and purpose is entirely human and intrinsic. It is not something to be ignored. People spend their entire lives searching for something to make it all worth it. Each person throughout history has sought, and perhaps found, that purpose which we all crave, whether perhaps between the dusty pages of their scriptures, the conquest of new-found-lands, or maybe on the battlefields against those whom they thought needed to die. But while each of them fiddled with their Earthly tasks, a select few decided to ask why an apple falls from a tree and what we are seeing when we look up.

Perhaps nobody from our time better understood the triviality of our planet than Carl Sagan. Earth is barely a blip on the radar of the universe and the conflicts between us do not even register. He said that “somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” I would posit that to some measurable extent, to an amount at the very least equal with religion, our purposes, our truths, our fortunes, our yearnings, and our answers lie out there among the stars. A good friend of mine told me that the best place to look for God is in nature. The beauty of nature on Earth is amazing; yet the beauty of the Universe, being its natural mother and infinitely larger, is boundless.

Thank you for reading the first article in this series on Space. Keep on the look out for the next article on Interstellar which will be a joint-article with our series on Life.

-JS

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