I was watching a program on the Discovery Channel last night about the universe and the major discoveries that scientists have made in terms of our knowledge of the great abyss that is space. As I watched and tried to take in the marvels of not only the reality that we live in, but also of the human mind in its ability to hypothesize about such a complicated subject as the universe, it hit me: how completely absurd. No, I don’t mean how absurd that people care about these things, or even that there was an excruciatingly long television program dedicated to what seems like every single star and planet, but more accurately, how absurd that I’m even trying to understand how this all works.
I will admit, even the simplest mathematics involved in theories about space is enough to make me want to change the channel. The explanation of the earth’s size in relation to the rest of the milky way was bad enough, but the fact that our galaxy is one of millions in the universe seems hardly comprehensible. The idea of aliens, black holes, alternate universes, and the potential instantaneous destruction of everything we know as ‘life’ seems to be at times too much to handle. So while sitting on the couch sipping a beer and feeling absolutely ordinary, I was contemplating the extraordinary; and was in the middle of having an existential crisis.
Then I began to wonder. How much of what we discover in the lifespan of the earth will really be useful to us in the long run? If what scientists say is true, then eventually, either by being swallowed by the sun, sucked into a black hole, or being destroyed by comets like our unfortunate predecessors, everything we work for can be erased in an instant. If we can discover ways of being able to tell what is billions of miles away (and further), then why are we so bad at discovering the solutions to problems that a large majority of people face everyday? It might be naïve of me to claim that discoveries made about our universe are not as important as the ones we make pertaining to the betterment of our human existence, but then again, I would rather live in my present reality than one that portrays me as an insignificant speck in the grand picture that is the vastness of space (but that’s just me).
Often I wonder about what could be done if the brain power put into spatial exploration could be transferred into efforts to solve major issues plaguing the world such as war, poverty and hunger. I’m not one to discredit the research and progress we have made about space, but are we really that grounded in the distant future that it seems more likely for us to find another planet to live on before we put all our intellectual power into bettering the world we live in today? At times it seems that scientific advancements in all things related to ‘space’ can draw our attention from the more ‘real’ problems we have been trying to fix for decades. Is it possible that there can be too much discovery? Does the advancement in one field of study sometimes overshadow the lack that can be seen in others, and if so are we becoming so confident that all our problems will eventually be solved by science that we forget how precarious and fragile our global standing is from day to day?
I am not unaware that some advancements in tackling major social, political and global issues have been made in recent history, but there still remains a great deal to be done. So I guess what I am trying to say is that it is interesting to look at all the things we have accomplished and imagine what else we could do, instead of looking on the brilliance of others as they present us with our own profound insignificance both with respect to the universe and our own individual abilities to bring about change. So to end on a slightly less depressing note- if Stephen Hawking can do it then so can I! Ok, am I being overambitious and completely unrealistic? YES. But what’s that really cheesy saying? If you shoot for the moon…?