On Being Insignificant

I may be walking to my next class, eating a sandwich, listening to bits of conversations, or even doing something I love, and all of a sudden I feel like my life is so pointless. There is no meaning. We just do things in our life but in the course of humanity, in the course of the universe, in the grand scheme of everything in existence, our impact is so little. Nothing we do truly matters. And it’s funny, how we seek meaning in a world with no inherent meaning. We like to think of ourselves as the center of the universe and that our needs surmount everything there was, is, and ever will be. In reality, we live and die just like those before and after us, leaving only a speck of dust comparable to the void.

For some reason, I don’t feel saddened by our triviality. When I was younger I would feel distressed about our utter insignificance, but now I believe that I can either think of the fragility of human life as discouraging or accept it as a fact of the universe. I now choose to feel humbled for being an infinitely small particle on a vast canvas of art only out of necessity, which is sort of like lying to myself because we should live our lives ignoring/accepting this fact if only for the sake of our sanity. If I didn’t choose to feel humbled and accept our insignificance, I would likely become a depressed hermit who lives on a mountain and talks to no one.

I used to think that being spiritual meant being religious, and only recently did I discover that I can be spiritual without believing in a higher being. Being spiritual is believing in something bigger than yourself. By this definition of spirituality, I am deeply spiritual— I believe in the universe. (Or maybe even universes?? We don’t even know yet!) Although I am comparable to nothing, I am part of something whole. I feel free. Although nothing matters we can still make things matter to ourselves. (But what does it even mean to matter? Doesn’t everything matter? Why does “mattering” even matter? Isn’t “mattering” just a construct of our human minds?) The combination of trivial beings makes the whole that is life. Now, whenever I think about my insignificance, I feel more awestruck than sad. I know that although nothing matters in the “grand scheme of things,” I have to make things matter to myself or else I’ll waste my precious life being sad about nothing. I believe that life is truly a gift of probability and our ability to appreciate life is incredible, regardless of our little impact over everything.

When I went through an existential crisis of sorts and was trying to find who I was and what I was here for, I came across a quote from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot that has shaped my view of the world:

“Look again at 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 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. 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.

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.”

When I first read this quote, every fiber in my body shivered. It was beautiful. It summed up my thoughts in so many ways that I could never even imagine. It summed up the thoughts I didn’t even know I had. I have always loved learning about space and the vast universe, but only after reading this passage did I realize that by learning about the world around us and the cosmos, I could learn more about where I belong and how I should direct my life. We are so desolate and alone in the universe, but at least we’re alone on a beautiful planet with 7 billion other people and a vast amount of animals and plants. When you look at the world from the distant vantage point that is astronomy, conflicts seem so insignificant. Why can’t we all just love each other? Sounds naive, I know, but if you think about it, all of our petty fights and wars all surmount to nothing. So if nothing matters, why should we hate? Why cause suffering? Why hold grudges?

I guess the cynical could argue that if “nothing matters”, why love? Why be nice? Why even live? The answer is still mulling around in my head and I don’t know. I just know that it feels right and the only reason we should do good is because it feels good. Which is a pathetic reason given that the majority of our feelings come as a benefit of our survival, but it’s all I can think of right now with my limited, sleep-deprived mind.

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