Monday, October 30, 2006

We Are Just The Right Size

Hi folks!

It has been said many times in the last century that "we are but a speck on the surface of a small rock circling an insignificant star in the low-rent spiral arm of an unremarkable galaxy lost in the vastness of space."


We are, in fact, precisely the right physical size to be the most interesting entities in the universe.

To kill off any self-effacing whine of species bigotry, I leave the door open to include any other intelligent creatures walking/swimming/floating elsewhere in Reality in this class of The Universe's Most Interesting Objects.

If we were much smaller we would lack the requisite number of parts to be as interesting. If we much bigger, we would lack the ability to move about the universe freely.

For those bent on using the scale of a human in comparison to the vastness of space as "yet another indication of human futility" let me just ask: "What physical bulk would satisfy you to make a creature significant, and why? In an arguably infinite volume of space, precisely what mass is necessary to make you feel valuable? When even a cluster of galaxy clusters is a pin-prick against the background of the 26.8 billion-light-year-wide sphere we can see around us, is there any monumental structure that impresses you, and would you really want to be it?"

Stars are interesting and beautiful objects in all their varied forms. The swirling bands of Jupiter (itself not really a *big* planet by comparison to it's extra-solar kin) are beautiful and complex and make for a fascinating display. But stars and planets make horrible conversational partners. Galaxies and nebulas are not capable of caring whether they themselves live or die, much less is it possible for them to appreciate why a flower is beautiful, or why the loss of the perfect moment is regrettable. The towering columns of smoke made of the tiny dots of galaxies that represent some of the largest-scale creations that (at least I) can get my "puny" mind around cannot themselves imagine the complexities of why a warm summer day is nice, or why the death of a child is horrible.

When I was a small child I went on trips into the mountains of Colorado with my mother and a bus full of her mentally-handicapped clients. On one memorable trip I sat next to a forty-year-old man with Downs Syndrome who was continuously enraptured by the beauty of the world around him. I will always recall sitting with him as he clapped with glee at the subtle wonder of an eagle soaring along a ridge-wave. As we drove to yet another day of investigating the incredible richness of one "tiny" spot on the face of this "insignificant" world we inhabit - a tin box full of the "least" among us - I could see clearly that there was nothing insignificant at all about human beings.

So, please, save whatever post-modern self-flagellation you may feel impelled to wallow in. Save it up, wrap it with string and drop it into the sun. See if the sun notices.



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