Defining our universal significance
Imagine that you are night riding in the imaginary front seat of the Mars Rover, currently about 70 million miles away from Earth and, instead of halting to examine a rock as your job requires, you put the vehicle in park and stop to peer up at the stars.
Knowing the approximate location of home, you search until you find that special pale blue dot we call Earth. It is one of about 4,000 other shining dots in the Mars night sky.
If not for the precise knowledge resting inside your life-saving brain bucket, it would be impossible to distinguish one dot from another.
Even possessing that knowledge, as you stare at the immensity above, you cannot tell if the dot is populated or totally devoid of life. But in your heart you know better.
Still, from where you are standing, you cannot tell how the stock market did today, who won the hockey game last night, how much snow fell in the Rockies yesterday, or if the blue lights are still burning on that damn bridge in Edwards.
You also are clueless as to how many AIDS deaths recently occurred in Africa, the quantity of nuclear warheads ready for launch in North Korea, the number of terrorists collecting in a cave for new attacks in Israel, and how many children were recently murdered in the name of one deity or another in various parts of the world.
Although you care – deeply – the feeling of insignificance for mankind in general and yourself in particular is overwhelming.
Now, take your imaginary self and hitchhike on a light wave traveling at, well, the speed of light. If you had started your journey the very day our planet began its first orbit around the sun (about 4.5 billion years ago), you still would not have crossed even half of the known universe. If you had begun when man first transmitted radio waves, around 100 years ago or so, you would only now just barely be cracking the edges of our own galaxy.
Pick a planet, any planet, and stop. Now turn around and look back. The pale blue dot has completely disappeared. You find yourself caring less and less about who’s killing whom, how much money somebody has, the medals somebody won or how many times someone else showed up for National Guard duty. None of it really matters.
You shake your head in amazement at the millions upon millions convinced that “their way” is the “true way,” realizing that none of them actually possesses anything other than a desire to survive and a blind faith for something better.
Well, welcome to the club, Major Tom, because it is all true. We are insignificant. All of us.
We are not the center of the universe any more than Martha Stewart is a middle-of-the-road housewife headed for an appellate court. We never have been. We never will be.
We live on an insignificant chunk of celestial rock that is spinning around an insignificant sun on the leading edge of a pinwheel connected to an insignificant galaxy, one of hundreds of millions of galaxies loosely identified that contain hundreds of billions of other suns and planets.
In the true BIG picture, we truly are nothing.
What we accomplish here on Earth has absolutely no bearing on anyone or anything anywhere else. Not in our solar system, our galaxy, or the entire universe as we know it to exist.
What any of us says, writes or does means as much or as little as a John Kerry position reversal or a George Bush intelligence briefing.
Yet many of us are so stuffed full of self-importance that we fail to recognize the scientific fact that the only thing truly separating any of us is not our skin color, ideological preferences or religious beliefs, but subatomic segments of DNA.
This realization should cause us all to think of the only things in life that truly have considerable meaning for us – our families.
For me, it is my wife and three boys. What happens to them on a universal scale is of little importance. But what happens today, tomorrow and the next day here in Happy Valley means everything to me.
Watching people on a global scale as they spend a lifetime jockeying for positions of presumed importance, pretending those positions have an effect on mankind as a species or their prominence in some Shangri-La of an assumed afterlife is frustrating at times, entertaining at others.
But while having no impact on universal events, we have the ability to stamp indelible imprints upon the minds of the next generation. If we can lead by example, maybe, just maybe, they can grow up understanding that changes to the world as we know it do not begin with a protest, an election, an exploding bomb in a crowded marketplace or a war to prove superiority and dominance.
Changes begin at home, one on one with a parent, the instant a child is born. We provide, nurture and teach from that moment forward.
Although meaningless on the ultimate scale known to mankind – the entire universe – this is the one opportunity each of us has to be truly significant.
Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com