Posted by DrJeff on May 3rd, 2010
Copyright 2010 | About this blog
Photo caption: Earth as seen by the MESSENGER spacecraft as it flew by our planet on August 2 2005.
This post is a Dr. Jeff Speaks Out.
Don’t let your seemingly vast experience as an inhabitant of this world fool you. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of self-importance. Let me explain.
You likely live in a house or apartment on a street, and in a community that’s part of some town, maybe even some major urban area. Your community is likely part of a much larger state or province of one of the nations of Earth—which are themselves nothing more than imaginary constructs of human society. Your country is also likely assigned to one of the continental masses whose sum total of land area is just 29% of the planet’s surface. You are small and the Earth is seemingly vast, as if we humans to Earth are just so many micro-organisms scurrying about each day (each rotation of Earth), and following rules of social engagement that often defy logic.
It’s a story that at a most fundamental level defines your address. It may be all the address you need to ship a package to your friend across the ocean. But it won’t cut it with the intergalactic post office. As I said, don’t let your experience and perception fool you. It’s the rest of the address of which most Earthlings are unaware. For so many reasons it’s also the most important part of the address.
This seemingly vast Earth is but a tiny planet. (By comparison, over 1,000 Earths fit inside Jupiter.) Earth is one of eight planets orbiting the Sun—a tiny star by star standards—as part of a planetary System called the Solar System. The Sun resides in the Solar Neighborhood of stars, a small smattering of stars found in the Orion Spur—a nondescript little corner of the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is a vast city of stars, with enough stars to give 50 to every human on Earth. Right now, you, your family, and the rest of your race are orbiting just one of those stars.
The Milky Way is one of two large galaxies in the Local Group of 25-30 galaxies. The other large one, Andromeda, is on a collision course with ours. And the cosmic debris-field that is the Local Group of galaxies resides not too far cosmically speaking from the Virgo Cluster of 1,300 to 2,000 galaxies. The Local Group and Virgo Cluster are just two of the 100 to 200 or so groups and clusters of galaxies making up the Local Supercluster of more than 50,000 galaxies. The Local Supercluster—a small supercluster—is one of MILLIONS of superclusters that are woven together to form the largest structures ever seen—Galactic Filaments. And all this comprises the Observable Universe—what we believe is a remarkably insignificant portion of the Universe that nature, by law, allows us to see. Beyond what is observable, the Universe may truly be infinite.
So using myself to summarize—
I live in a house on a street in a town in the State of Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC, in the USA, in North America, on Earth, in the Solar System, in the Solar Neighborhood, in the Orion Spur of the Milky Way Galaxy, in the Local Group of Galaxies, near the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, in the Local Supercluster of galaxies in the tiny corner of the Universe we like to call the Observable Universe.
That is our address. It makes the often human perception of our reality as the center of cosmic activity …. just laughable. You always know the most about your own neighborhood. But that also leads you to conclude your neighborhood is somehow important. In truth, it is only important because YOU live there. And YOU obviously think YOU are important. So please think about this … for vast numbers of humans, our perception, our daily life, is driven by self-importance, a remarkable lack of humility, ignorance of—even disinterest in—a greater context of existence which our machines of exploration have brought into crisp focus, and for many, a sense that embracing God is the righteous and comforting thing to do—but does not require taking time to look at the majesty beyond Earth. And while we burn precious, non-renewable calories watching “reality” television, following the lives of the rich and famous, acquiring lots of things, deciding which of us is better or more deserving or more moral, and buying into the distorted views of what our societies have our children embrace as heroes and role models, our world—the spaceship that affords us the view of majesty—is coming under attack.
The microbes called human kill one another because each group, each (bacterial) culture, thinks they are more important than the other. It is self-importance taken to the extreme. Their self-serving technology is modifying the environment of the planet, not only threatening their existence for generations to come (how do they do that to their children?), but puts at grave risk countless species that don’t have the gift of recognizing the majesty of the cosmos. Isn’t it ironic that the only species on Earth that does possess the gifts of intelligence and tool-making, does not collectively care about its world, and collectively squanders these gifts?
So watch the movie above, taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft as it flew by in 2005. Watch as the Earth recedes into the cold, black void of space. Imagine the nearly 7 billion humans scurrying around on its surface. How many of them recognize that the remarkable spaceship they are on is NOT owned by them? It never was. But because of their technology, they are now, by natural decree, stewards of this spaceship for good or ill. Do they understand their responsibilities to the spaceship, to all its occupants, and to themselves? For if this tiny blue world is laid to waste, the geologic Age of Self-Importance will be over, the rest of the Universe will surely not care … and I fear God will not come to the rescue.
A penny for your thoughts …..
Photo and movie credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. For more information about the photo and movie visit the MESSENGER web site.
3 Responses to “The Address of A Self-Important World”
Colin Crawford Says:
May 5th, 2010 at 8:58 pm
The “penny for [my] thoughts” notwithstanding, I’ll have to admit I’m a bit “surprised” to be the first comment to this 2-day old article. That seems to indicate that, as well written, thoughtful and accurate the article is, at best, Dr. Jeff, you’re merely “preaching to the choir.” That fact, as with your observations, is NOT “ironic,” but more “embarrassing” in that you and I and an oh so minuscule fraction of the predominant bipedal lifeforms on this rock “have to” be lumped into the genus homo [not so] sapiens [and even less so] sapiens. Come spend just 24 hrs with me in “rural” Ohio, about 30 mi W of Cleveland, and I can show you, vis-a-vis my “neighbors,” more ignorance and outright stupidity than you and everyone you know can possibly imagine. To paraphrase the late, great, and sorely missed Carl Sagan, “Humans are not just dumber than we imagine, they’re dumber than we CAN imagine.” Seriously, given the “recent” collapse of the economy and the disaster of the Deepwater Horizon, to name just a couple pieces of evidence, reason dictates that the future of “civilization,” and most every species alive today, is very, very bleak.
There aren’t “too many people” on the planet, just too many stupid ones ignorantly and utterly indoctrinated into one or more fictions dictated by every religion (mythology) on the planet. Even more unfortunate, way too many of them hold positions of “power” and “authority” in virtually every region of the world and their followers are legion. Thinking requires effort, belief does not. With nearly 7 billion “humans,” there are at least 6 billion imagined “realities,” of which less than 10 possess any validity. To any who doubt these facts, I will be happy to provide more evidence than you can possibly comprehend that 1) this IS the situation and 2) you’re still alive merely by the providence of “dumb luck.”
May 17th, 2010 at 1:31 am
its truly sad that our “intelligence” is wasted on an extremely ignorant and intellectually backward species
June 29th, 2010 at 10:33 am
I’ve been thinking about this concept of “self importance” quite a bit the past few days.
My instincts tell me the issue is even more profound than you’ve described. There is more to the Universe(s) than we can possibly imagine. The theories emerging from quantum physics and cosmology imply that mankind, when viewed from the perspectives relating to the eternties of space and time, is nothing more than rumor of a whisper of a myth. In my opinion, patholotical narcissism is the defining characteristic of humanity.
However, it is possible (maybe even required) that individuals realize that there is value to be found things that are perceived as insiginifcant. Small things matter.