There is a very popular meme floating around these days. It’s about how immensely huge the universe is. How many billions of galaxies there are, each with billions of stars and planets, and doesn’t that make you feel small? Insignificant? Maybe even worthless? Sometimes we hear that our star is in a suburban part of a mediocre galaxy, and there is nothing really special about it. Sometimes it’s because so many folks, including scientists, have concluded that no doubt there must be millions of intelligent species all over the universe (or even the galaxy) and humans are just, well, nothing special.
The universe is unimaginably large, and the Earth, our planet, is easily lost in such immensity. Consider that there are hundreds – no, thousands – no, millions of solar systems in just one galaxy. This should make the individual human being feel like an ant who has somehow discovered that the patch of backyard he knows so well is a minuscule part of an enormous landscape filled with so many unknown creatures and objects.
Sorry, but I don’t agree. The size of the universe has no bearing on how I feel about myself or my fellow humans. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in New York City, and I’m used to big. Standing on a midtown street and watching a hundred people pass me per minute doesn’t faze me. (I know it does some folks).
As for aliens, I guess there is probably life on other bodies. I doubt there are many other planets with large animals (it isn’t intelligence that is the big deal; it’s multicellularity), but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were quite a few, considering the huge numbers. I would be very surprised if we ever had any contact with them, considering the huge distances involved. (See my previous post Alien Civilizations? for more on this.)
But either way, quite frankly: so what? I don’t know what’s out there, but I do know what’s here on this blue planet. I have seen some of it in real time, and a lot more in photos, films and videos. There are impressive mountains, powerful rivers, vast oceans, wonderful birds, pretty flowers, and all kinds of creatures. We have thunderstorms and sunny days and volcanoes. And there are people here. Lots of them, and all kinds. And I happen to like people a lot, a lot more than I like frozen planets or gas planets or craters or even planets with liquid water.
I am here, and so is the love of my life. So are you, and so are a bunch of other humans I can call my friends. Sometimes I can help them out, sometimes they help me. Sometimes they make me feel very special, worthwhile, and significant. A billion galaxies can’t take that away.