Disclaimer: I’m a writer, not a scientist, but I try.
There are at least 200 billion stars in our galaxy. Can you even wrap your head around that number? I can’t. I go outside at night and watch the few that are visible through the Disney-Area light pollution. There’s Orion, easy to find. There’s that really bright one-wait, that’s not a star, that’s Venus. OH WOW! Is that a shooting star?! Wait, no…airplane. The night sky is incomprehensibly beautiful, even the weak version we get here in Orlando. It’s like something out of a surrealist painting, something that is not supposed to be real but by some miracle of science, is.
So just to bring everybody down a bit, I should point out that a great deal of the stars we gaze at are long dead. To me at least, that’s almost tragic. I don’t know, can you mourn a flaming ball of gas? I suppose. But, where I am on Earth, it isn’t dead yet. I stand here watching a star that seems very much alive, but at its point in space-time it is already gone. It’s like crying because you know that we are all the helpless victims of entropy, constantly and slowly decaying, even if we are solid and full of life in the present moment.
But even if the sky is full of dying stars, it’s still full of living ones. Living stars and meteors and planets and dwarf planets (love ya Pluto) and everything that we have yet to discover. People have said it before, but compared to all that vastness, what am I? A speck on a rock that will be forgotten someday. The protagonist in my own story, but nothing to almost every human alive. It’s so easy to say that. To say that I am nothing, we are nothing, but it’s wrong. We are everything. And I mean I’m not just trying to think positive or whatever, I mean literally, scientifically, everything. Break everything down to an atomic level, we’ve all got our protons and neutrons running around. Carl Sagan said, “We are made of starstuff”, because the basic elements that construct the stars in space, construct us too. So, I don’t look at the sky and sense my unimportance in its endlessness, I feel at peace, I see a place of belonging.
I wrote that back in January. It’s October now, and thought I’d respond to it. For the most part, I still agree with myself, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of thing lately because of one of my classes. It turns out, when you go back to college philosophical spiraling only increases. (Note: The above disclaimer still stands, I am a creative writing major.)
Of course, I am still of the opinion that the night sky is beautiful, though we’ve had a little snow lately which has blocked it a bit. (No, not in Florida. Really, come on people, I live in Boulder, Colorado now. Keep up.) I still basically agree the middle bit about the stars, really most of the end too, I just have more opinions now which might change the way I agree? Maybe? That’s up to interpretation.
I say, in my previous article, that the fact that a great deal of the stars we see are already dead by the time their light reaches us, and that “we are all the helpless victims of entropy, constantly and slowly decaying, even if we are solid and full of life in the present moment”. Now, if you’re hoping this response is me having finally seen the light and at last found optimism, I hate to disappoint. It’s not that I have no optimism, it’s just kind of weird and sometimes depresses other people (which was recently proven in one of my classes, sorry everybody). As to my previous statements, they assumed that time was a progression of events, which wasn’t my goal but was how it sounded. The idea that stars could be dead in the past, or that we could be dead in the future, assumes that past and future exist. This isn’t quite right, (again, NOT a scientist), cause as far as I can understand it, (just an art kid!), time is relative and therefore all happening at the same time. If this is true then there’s no such thing as past or future anyway. There’s just present and everything is happening in the present all at once.
The stars are alive and dead and being born and we are living and dying and being born and being forgotten and being loved and being hated and crying and laughing and fearing and braving all at the same time. There’s no such thing as tomorrow I will be strong enough to face it because there’s no such thing as tomorrow. You are strong enough now, even if it’s not the now you can see and sense. I am being born and I am dying right now somewhere in time. But not really at all because death and birth are subjective, more like the shapeshifting of basic elements into something new, a constant varied flow to make different living and nonliving things out of the same base materials. Like a kid playing with Legos.
I say too, that we are “speck[s] on a rock that will be forgotten someday”. In the original article this was just a device to get me to my ending point, that though we are small beings in the universe we aren’t nothing in it, we are everything. Cause of all that stuff I said with everything being made of the same materials and all that. Which I think I still agree with, but these days the world, well not the world, our species, has been getting on my nerves a bit. And by getting on my nerves I mean legitimately terrifying me.
I am currently writing an essay on someone (a fictional character) who is so powerful that he sees the world and humans as pretty irrelevant against the vastness of the universe. At one point in his story he is being asked to save the human race. He is not invested in humanity, has no interest, and when another character confronts him about it, insisting that he help them, he says that if the humans die “…the universe will not even notice.” I’ve been thinking about this character’s point of view a lot, since I’m writing a midterm essay on him. To be clear he didn’t suddenly change the way I think about the world, but reading stuff…it makes you think. And I mean, he’s kind of right. If we, the humans, kill ourselves with our own stupidity the earth will go on. We are not invincible, we are not gods. We are not the most important things to ever live. We may be bigger, and in many ways more advanced than ants, but our extinction will be no less meaningful. If the ants die out, earth lives on. If the humans die out, earth lives on, flourishes. The indomitable plants will devour our structures of metal and wood and we will be forgotten.
Now, this character I’m writing about would say that’s fine (I mean later he gets kind of invested in humanity again, but whatever. Bonus points if you can figure out who he is.) But he’s essentially a god and can just go to a different planet or build his own universe, he sees his timeline, experiences his life, all at the same time, without the illusion of time as a series of linear events. If the human race were going to be destroyed he’d just kind of look of into the distance and say there was never anything he could do because this was always going to happen, was predetermined. I don’t think he’s of the opinion that the humans deserve to die, he’s just indifferent.
Sometimes, when I really am feeling hopeless about everything, I start to think that yeah, maybe earth would be better off without us. It’s like we can’t do anything right. We are self-destructing and I want an escape from it. (An escape where I get to live with my friends and family and write books, but still). The thing is, I don’t have that option. I am not a detached god being who can zip off to space anytime I want. I am human and I want desperately to live, so I think we’re worth saving, if only for the selfish reason that I have things to do. The world is extremely discouraging lately and I don’t really know how to believe that everything’s going to be fine, but for some twisted reason the fact that we are just small beings against a huge universe is quite comforting to me? Like, when I die eventually I will be forgotten, sure, whatever, oblivion and all that, but so will everything.
There is so much out there that nothing matters really, but everything matters because everything just becomes everything else. If we destroy ourselves, which don’t get me wrong, terrifies me every day, our particles will just become plants or cats or something. I don’t know, the fact that the horror of our species will not ruin everything out there is just nice. And when I’m terrified about literally everything I just kind of think about how much more there is to the universe, how very small we are and that helps for a little while. I mean really, one look at the night sky and you realize how petty and insignificant our little lives are. If it were just us, and we were destroying everything there is, then that would be really sad. If I was only ever this, this Olivia, and there was only earth and only humans, that would be scary. It’s like if there’s only one lightbulb in existence and then you break it. No more lightbulbs for you. Ever. But there are an infinite amount of lightbulbs out there and they don’t need us. Okay, yeah that was a dumb simile, but still, even if we pull ourselves together (please, oh please) somewhere in the timeline I’m already a fish or whatever, and when the earth itself is inevitably destroyed I might be a comet or a star or something. Which is neat.
So now that I’ve probably made every single scientist in existence cry at how inaccurate my science is, let me try for a conclusion to this stream of consciousness mess. The universe is big, bigger than our problems, and we’re really less important than we think we are. Time is weird, death is complicated, and If you’re ever discouraged just remember that you’re probably a fish right now.