• brucepaynejohnston

Our Place In A Universe Bigger Than Imagination

I am sure that a great many people remember the iconic photo of Earth from space, circa 1975 or so. If you don't, here it is, digitally updated:

What the beautiful blue orb-with-landmasses in the foreground hides is the utter vastness of what's in the background. Spirituality is kind of like that sometimes, but never mind.

It's my personal opinion that humans have never really come to terms with the reality that Earth is just a tiny speck in space, enormous compared to us but in fact incredibly small and fragile. And yet also highly significant, as it is home to the only conscious life we know about (sorry, UFO buffs, I'm still not convinced that UFOs house conscious life, or are what some people think they are) that can perceive a Universe.

I meditate on this picture at least once a week. I like to think that it will inform my actions over time - that I will be willing to look past my tribal hatreds (and I do feel them sometimes) to avert war and destruction of the life on this Earth, that I will support intelligent space exploration, and so forth. As Carl Sagan said, no matter how angry you get at another person or nation, let them live. You won't find any more people in the Universe, as far as we know.

Another picture very much worth meditating on is this one, though it's really a map more than a picture:

Here our size relative to All That Is becomes very clear indeed. Wow!

I am less concerned with the rather elementary nature of our understanding of this vastness than the fact - or at least, it seems a fact to me - that we have not integrated the reality that we exist in this context. For the most part the only humans who are at all aware that we are influenced by the flux of energy, matter, and other forces from beyond Earth are astronauts, astrophysicists, and presidents of power and telecommunications companies who must worry about solar storms. Even they, from the experience I have with such people, must think about space beyond Earth in a fairly abstract way.

I don't know what an embodied sensitivity to the world outside of our home planet would feel or look like. We may not find out until many more of us start interacting with that world in a more significant way than we do now. For the present time, it may have to be enough that we feel our smallness in the Universe, as well as its immensity. We might care for things here better than we do, be wiser in our approach to life. We might even display resolve and greatness.

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