Of space and time
Of love and light and meaning
No small finite creature I
Of sight and hands
Of heart and mind and spirit
If it comes down to the question
Is my living owed a purpose
I answer, oh so surely
I live to live
To love and give
My existence is, quite simply, these
From Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver
British Columbia, Canada, 2016
Interesting question. One of the responses:
Which, of course, put me in a mind to consider one of my favourite topics: the question of infinite and infinitesimal, of significance and insignificance, all of which describe, at least for me, the dichotomous nature of existence. Nothing like an existential crisis to remind me what’s really important.
I don’t think science suggests we’re either miniscule or unimportant. Quite the contrary. Maybe one of the more famous scientists of my generation can say it more saliently (and no less poetically). In the following, he is referring to an image, taken from a remote space probe, in which the earth appears as a 0.12 pixel-sized pale blue dot suspended, alone, in the vast darkness of space:
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. 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. 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.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.
Pale Blue Dot
It may seem, then, that Sagan agrees with the respondent I quoted above. But, to me, it is clear he does not. In all this vastness of space, though we are several billion sentient beings crowded together on a tiny pale blue dot of no great material significance, we (and our sentient and non-sentient cohabitants) are the only such known living entities in the universe. We are, so far as we know, and in so far as it matters to us, the only truly important thing about the universe. It is an importance that cannot be measured, or somehow calculated, or otherwise reduced as finite.
Moreover, my personal, individual role on this stage of existence is, similarly, without measure and irreducible. (Yours too. Yes, you.)
It doesn’t much matter how this gift of existence came to be, or how it came to be bestowed upon me. The fact is, I have opened the package, along with every other living creature. This bond of receivership connects me to every one of us, and everyone to me. And it makes the individual choices I make about what that gift means of the utmost importance and significance. I think that’s true for everyone else, too. (Yes, again, you.)
I don’t think science can answer this question of meaning for us, or questions of purpose, or significance or importance. I don’t think it’s equipped to. The answer isn’t objectifiable. How can I quantify or qualify the value of my existence, let alone anyone else’s? By what measure?
It’s not always easy … it’s often not easy … but I’m working as hard as I can on behalf of the live, love, give bit. I think life on my pale blue dot gets on a bit better when people find meaning in that. I know it’s better for me when I have any small success at it.