Boldly existing outside the box through conscious living and constant learning.
Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere.
–Carl Sagan from “Cosmos”
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
– Carl Sagan from “Pale Blue Dot”
Often times when we find ourselves constricted by boxes and barriers it is extremely difficult to appreciate the true immensity and grandeur of the world we live in. So much of what exists in the universe does not register in our individual realities because it is beyond the scope of what we can physically, mentally, and emotionally experience. For most of us large parts of the universe will forever remain untouched and incomprehensible, but that should never stop us from expanding our mind as much as we can and seeking to understand the existence in which we find ourselves.
I was reading one of my favorite blogs and was intrigued by this post and wanted to explore the topic further. The vastness of space and the intricacies of the microscopic world have always intrigued me. I guess I see the pursuit of understanding even that which I cannot see as essential in escaping my own small-mindedness. If we understand that the limits of what we call reality are only bound by the capacity of our minds to experience even once unimagined aspects of the universe, than to seek out that knowledge will allow an unending expansion of our own personal reality. Things exist, function, and affect our lives even if we don’t know they are there and by which understanding them we can fully realize the reality we live in.
To help aid you in this pursuit I want you to spend some time looking at this demonstration of the different scales and measures of size and distance in the known universe. Come back once you have looked at it and we will discuss what it tells us about reality, our world, and how understanding these things can help us connect with others.
Just a quick disclaimer. This can be addictive and amazingly fascinating. The first time I went to it I played with it for an hour without even realizing it. My dad was the one who sent it to me so blame him for the lost productivity.
Whew! I am glad you made it back in one piece. Now that you have taken a small peak into the vastness of the known universe, what does this have to do with expanding the mind and breaking free from our boxes? Great question and one we will explore henceforth.
By observing the scale at either end we are presented with multitudes of things that we probably had no idea even existed where they do. Things so small and so large that it is hard for our minds to comprehend their existence. What this tells us is that what we call “reality” isn’t just what we can observe with our senses. Reality exists outside the scope of our understanding and away from the reach of our limited human capacity. There is an infinite amount of stuff happening all around us even if it is not observed by human beings.
This concept applies to even the world we can sense with our intelligences. All around the world there are people, places, forces, festivals, relationships, miracles and tragedies, heartbreaks and love stories moving along the continuum of time and space regardless of our participation. So much beauty and opportunity exists out there and to limit our absorption of said experiences is like confining your mind to only one level of the above exercise. If you didn’t notice, earth is relatively tiny in comparison to the vastness of the universe so there is really no excuse to not get out there and see what it has to offer.
A huge takeaway from being exposed to this exercise for me was the reiteration of the “smallness” of my reality and the truly minute nature of the things that at times seem insurmountable to me. We all have problems, we all have issues, and we all think that our challenges are the most important things in the world. Remembering that I am literally a speck in the grandeur that is the universe helps me keep my seemingly imperative problems in the correct perspective. It helps me not get lost in my own mind and forget that there are others even in my own neighborhood that probably have far worse issues facing them than I do. Literally, and for lack of a less cheesy cliché, it helps me not sweat the small stuff which is pretty awesome.
What does the tiny end of the spectrum tell us about the interconnectedness of mankind? Well, lots I think and if we take the time to consider it I think the world would be a vastly more awesome place to live. Taking a look at the pieces in the far left side of the bar we can see that, no matter where you come from, we are all made up of basically the same parts. You don’t see any mention of race, religion, sexual orientation, neighborhood, or what color hoody you where next to the microscopic makeup of matter in the universe.
Underneath the superficial aspects of our humanity, we all operate and exists because of the same forces and pieces. If we strive to remember that perhaps contention over unimportant facets of what makes us who we are would disappear, and in turn maybe violence and segregation would decrease even a small amount. That is not to say that what makes us individuals is not important. On the contrary, each person’s unique parts are what make life exciting. It is when those individualities are turned into demarcations of superiority or are used to justify persecution of those who are different that it becomes a problem. Like hip-hop philosopher and unboxed extraordinaire NAS says in his and Damian Marley’s song “Africa Must Wake Up:”
We’re all distant relatives, no matter where you from, where you live
How near or far…
Africa, China, Japan, Afghanistan, Israel…
We’re all fam, we’re all distant relatives
Maybe this is all a bit too in-depth. Maybe this is just a cool illustration of how big and small stuff is. Maybe I am, and it wouldn’t be the first time, overthinking things a little. Even if that is true we all still learned at least one thing from looking at the exercise right? I mean, I bet you never knew what the Ant Nebula was or that it is 2 light years in size! That’s pretty cool if you ask me. My goal here is to emulate Carl Sagan in the sense that “it is in his imaginative drive that confronts the depths of space with human understanding. He presses mankind towards an ever-deepening desire to discover not only themselves, but also the universe around them.” What did you take away from the activity? How do you see things differently because of it? Did you think it was a waste of time? I would love to hear your feedback, and as always, keep breaking down boxes and expanding your mind.
Ant Nebula Photo: here
Pale Blue Dot Photo: here