13 March 2013

The Liberating Power of Insignificance

Earth orbits a star that is one of 200-400 billion in the Milky Way galaxy. There are an estimated 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The universe has existed for over 13 billion years. The universe is expanding and increasing in entropy. It is predicted to eventually reach a state of ultimate entropy sometime after 10100 years in the future. Long before that, the Sun will expand to be a red giant star, and engulf the earth's orbit (approximately 5.4 billion years). Long before that, changes on the earth will cause all life to die out (approximately 2.3 billion years). Long before that, the human species is predicted to have died out (somewhere I read human beings are probably in the midlife of their existence). There may or may not be other sentient species to arise on Earth. It all depends on whether sentience is adaptive to changing environments. So in cosmic terms, as a species we are utterly insignificant, existing en toto for a very brief time in a very limited location.

Within this utterly insignificant species, an individual life is even more insignificant. I am one of 7 billion people on the planet. There have been billions before, and probably billions after me. I do not matter in history. I matter even less in the cosmic reach of the universe.

For some people, this would be a depressing thing to realize. I find it exhilarating. Born into religious fundamentalism, I was raised to think that my every thought and action was rife with horrifying, eternal significance. The way I spoke to another person, even the thoughts I didn't verbalize about him, could not only damn me for all eternity, but set off a chain reaction of human behaviors in others that could damn a whole slew of people. I could destroy lives for eternity through carelessness.

Please tell me how a seven-year-old child is supposed to carry this burden?

In light of such an upbringing, to discover I mean absolutely nothing in the universe is liberating. I don't have to worry so much about my actions, because whatever effects I have, they are extremely limited in time and in space. The cosmos will not be greatly affected when I fuck up.

This is the liberating power of insignificance.

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