I don’t typically pay much attention to daily news.
This is because I know if really big news hits, I will hear about it from someone.
Such is the case with Nature‘s recent discovery.
It would seem our universe is quite a bit more vast than we may have previously assumed it was.
With study results titled, “this is the most detailed map yet of our place in the universe,” I eagerly scanned the results.
Then I wondered – with surprise – why I wasn’t feeling surprised.
Perhaps is it because I have watched and rewatched the movie “Contact” for years (this movie, of course, is a film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel by the same name).
In the film, budding scientist (Jodie Foster) asks her dad if there is other life “out there.”
Her dad wisely responds, “Well if there isn’t, it would be an awful waste of space!”
I guess this has always just made sense to me.
Of course proof is always nice, but in lieu of proof, I still opt to believe there is other life rather than that there isn’t.
On that topic, I will never forget one night – this was in the fall of my senior year of college – when I was feeling particularly stressed out about life, the future, and my place in it (if any). I wandered out to the commons area and glanced up towards the dark night sky.
What I saw stopped me in my tracks. So many stars! So many uncountable tiny bright dots of luminescent light…..and me, feeling so small in the presence of all that vastness.
I realized it wasn’t all so serious as I was making it out to be – my life and graduation and where I would find a job and how I would pay back my loans and if I would survive my eating disorder and all the rest.
There were even greater mysteries as yet unsolved….and the world and the universe surrounding it was surviving just fine amidst such ongoing uncertainties.
I decided that, more likely than not, I would survive just fine too.
As well, in recent years (and the older I get), the more I realize how little I really “know” about anything – space, Earth, others, me.
So forming any opinion that shuts out yet-to-be explored possibilities (such as the possible presence of other life that does not cohabitate with us here on Earth) seems both unwise and un-inspiring.
I also feel like many of our foremost scientists feel similarly curious and open-minded – why else would they name the newly discovered “supercluster,” of which Earth is such an infinitesimal part, “Laniekea,” or “immeasurable heaven?” (Laniekea = “Laan – ee – uh – kay – uh.”)
And as I watch the most excellent 4 minute video Nature has produced to describe the discovery, I can’t help but notice how much of the data mapping seems to produce similar structures to what our own cells look like under a microscope – both in their static and dividing forms.
The other day I was chatting about all this with my longtime mentor, Lynn.
After treating myself to yet another film where rapacious plundering aliens descend on Earth, sucking up all our natural resources and killing us off as they do it, it occurred to me that this is exactly what we – us – human beings – do to our own planet day after day.
It made me wonder if perhaps these sci-fi films are more awkwardly biographical than we care to admit.
Why worry if the other life “out there” (and I do believe it is out there) is unfriendly, when we so often act in such an unfriendly way towards our own planet, ourselves, each other, and fellow species?
At this point in my increasingly stressed-out monologue, Lynn stopped me. She told me that the most important quality in encouraging human growth is to always have hope.
In other words, she pointed out that focusing on the positive (i.e. on the folks trying to save our planet and its non-human inhabitants) is the best way to encourage more of the same.
Yes, it is always an option to worry that other life forms will delight in offing us and carting away everything of planetary value, just as it is always an option to worry that, by the time they get here, there won’t be anything left of value to cart away.
But it is also an option – and frankly a better one in every way – to daydream about the delight of meeting our friendly interstellar neighbors, who are eager to teach and to learn, and equally eager to give and to receive.
Today’s Takeaway: What is your response to the news that our particular “dot” on the map of our universe is even tinier than we might have assumed? Are you surprised – why or why not? Has this news changed how you view our place and role in the greater galaxy….galaxies?