Good morning! Welcome to yet another blog post, since this is yet another Thursday. They do seem to keep coming and coming, don’t they? Thursdays, I mean. Thursdays have been going on for a lot longer than blog posts have been, and they’re likely to continue long after my blog posts have stopped.
Of course, on a cosmic level, the very notion of dividing time into days, each representing roughly a revolution of the Earth on its axis, is highly local and arbitrary. The naming of days—such as naming one of a continuously repeated seven after a Norse thunder god known to most people nowadays as a character played by Chris Hemsworth—is even more local and arbitrary.
One “day” on Jupiter is only ten hours long, despite the fact that Jupiter’s diameter is ten times as great as the Earth’s. This rapid revolution contributes to some truly amazing weather patterns on that planet. A “day” on the moon, on the other hand, is about twenty-eight Earth days long…and there’s no weather there at all.
A day on Mercury, named after the wing-footed messenger god of Greek mythology, is almost sixty Earth days long. And all these variations are just a few of the ones represented within our solar system, itself a tiny, tiny pixel in our galaxy (a “day” of which is a quarter billion Earth years long), which is in turn just a tiny, tiny splotch among hundreds of billions to about a trillion galaxies in the observable universe. And that, of course, is only a chunk—miniscule to infinitesimal—of a much larger region of spacetime that seems likely to be infinite.
But don’t worry. Your personal, day-to-day concerns still really matter. Sure, they do.
Okay, sorry about that bit of sarcasm. I’m pretending to be more cynical than I really am. Your individual, day-to-day concerns do matter, in the only way that anything can matter: they matter to you. Meaning, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. This is good, and can be highly life-affirming, unless you’re one of the unlucky people who feels that they themselves don’t matter, even to themselves. For such people, the crushing weight of reality can feel at once both infinitely oppressive and at the same time very much worthy of a “meh.” As a person who writes horror stories, among other things, I can honestly say that this is real horror.
Some horror fiction expresses a sense of being lost and trapped in a hostile and very large universe, which cares about us only as irritating insects, and seeks to crush us as such. A similar notion is occasionally (metaphorically) invoked even by such science educators as Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has been heard to speak of “all the ways the universe wants to kill us,” or words to that effect. But of course, this is a highly narcissistic misinterpretation of reality, used only as a figure of speech by Tyson (in order to emphasize certain points) and as a plot conceit for horror. If the universe really “wanted” to kill us, we would be dead. Instantly.
The real horror, from the reflexively hubristic, human point of view, is that the universe doesn’t give a tiny little rat’s ass about us. As far as we know, the only place in the universe that’s even capable of caring about anything at all is in the minds of humans…and perhaps other sentient creatures. As far as we know, only here on Earth (and in low Earth orbit) does caring exist at all. Now, depending on the likelihood first of the origin of life, then of multicellular life, then of intelligent life, there may be many other such islands of caring in the universe, and if the universe is infinite in size, simple math reveals that there must be an infinite number of such islands. But it’s equally simple to see that there is a proportionally larger infinity of places where there’s nothing that cares about anything. This is far from the worst way things could be. If there really were a Crimson King, or a Morgoth, or an Azathoth and Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu* out there, we would be in for a much rougher time than we actually experience.
Of course, as physicist and pioneer of quantum computation David Deutsch argues beautifully in his book The Beginning of Infinity, we humans—and our descendants, whether biological or technological or both—have the potential really to become significant on a cosmic scale. As he also points out, there is no guarantee that we will do so, but there appears to be nothing in the laws of nature that prevents it. It’s up to us** to decide.
That cosmic importance or lack thereof, however, does not and cannot change what is happening right here, right now, and which seems for the moment so inescapably important: That it is Thursday, and that I am writing this blog post…and, of course, consequently, that you are reading it. Nothing can ever actually be more important than “now,” because “now,” ultimately, is all we ever experience.
And now, I leave you with a brief update: Unanimity proceeds well, shrinking as I edit it much more slowly than it grew as I wrote it, like a volcanic island having sprung forth to be subsequently eroded in the middle of a vast sea of strained and overused similes. It’s got quite a ways to go before it’s a lush, tropical setting that you’d want to put on your vacation itinerary, but it’s getting there. If you do visit, I won’t guarantee that it will be a uniformly happy trip—some very bad things indeed do lurk there—but at least it should be interesting.
*A curious side-note: of these three examples of entities from H. P. Lovecraft’s worlds, only Cthulhu appears well-known enough not to be marked for correction by Microsoft Word’s spell-checker.
**And of course, to our continued luck in avoiding cosmic catastrophes that are, for the moment, utterly beyond our power to prevent or avoid.