In the vastness of space and time, humans are insignificant. That we can know this, makes us precious.
Since I was about 10 years old, I have spent much of my life learning about how people think. I have studied religions, the great philosophers, science, and especially the many people I have met around the world. During the last 50 years of my life, I have watched humans grow from small groups – geographical groups and groups with similar life experiences – to one worldwide interconnected community with a nearly unlimited ability to share knowledge. I have watched the good and bad effects of this massive change.
If humans plan to survive beyond the next few centuries, we must lose our arrogant belief that we are some extra special life form and learn cooperation, the value of diversity, the value of learning and teaching, and especially that our individual lives are incredibly short but our contributions to humanity are important.
It seems that human understanding of the universe is growing exponentially. Because of today's worldwide communication, scientists and engineers in multiple fields (astrophysics, quantum physics, biology, geology) are able to share and compare information and build increasingly powerful tools for observation and analysis.
The objects in space are so numerous and so far apart from each other that it is impossible to imagine the size of the universe. The definition of "life" is now evolving to include possible life forms on planets and moons where all of earth's life forms would perish. The possibility of travel to and communication with any life form on a planet around another star (even in our own celestial neighborhood) is impossible with our current tools. And, it may be well into the future before that becomes an opportunity.
The amount of time since the "big bang" is so vast compared to all of human existence, that our lives are almost unnoticeable. To make things more interesting, humans are just beginning to understand what time is. It is not the steady stream of occurrences that we once assumed. There are little things like gravity that appear to alter the "speed" of time. There is also some suggestion that the “big bang” may not have been the beginning of everything. Also, we don’t really know if time ends.
In the vastness of time and space, humans are truly insignificant.
Humans have been observing our environment since, well, probably before we were humans. We watched things change and learned to remember those changes for reference later. We learned to make tools to enhance our capabilities. We developed communication skills to share our observations and tool making skills. We created many tools for documenting our observations so that future generations would not need to relearn them.
Other animals on Earth have also accomplished many of these tasks. One big difference between the more advanced animals on the planet and all the rest, is that we have an imagination. We have the ability to see images and make plans that only exist in our heads. The imagination is a type of "sandbox" where we can experiment with new ideas and new methods to understand and interact with our environment without the dangers of physical experimentation.
Humans became masters at using our imagination. We have learned ways to communicate abstract ideas that only exist in our heads. This provides opportunities for the imaginations of multiple people to work together to make sense of our environment and to create ways to communicate our understanding to others, especially to the generations that follow.
Sharing ideas helps us to constantly make corrections to our understanding of reality. With the worldwide communications of today, many more people are contributing their understanding of reality to the whole of human understanding. This allows all of us to improve our understanding by incorporating the perspectives of others with our own.
Humans are precious because we have evolved into a rare animal that is capable of understanding just how insignificant we are in the universe. That deserves repeating: Humans are precious because we have evolved into a rare animal that is capable of understanding just how insignificant we are in the universe. Acknowledging our insignificance gives us the potential to become more significant in the future as we learn more and more about reality.
About the site name
A few years ago, I considered how tiny humans are in space and time. This phrase popped into my head and it seemed to describe my views perfectly. Only later, I remembered that this is actually a phrase from Carl Sagan's book "Contact" - a book that I loved. So, I guess the name came from my imagination but it was heavily influenced by Carl Sagan.
"I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever -- a vision of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny and insignificant and how rare and precious we all are."