On Life

One of the big flaws in human thinking has been the tendency to view things from the wrong way round. We see things as they are now and then work backwards from this point. We look at the world around us and see the entire breadth and depth of history as a chain of events that leads, irrevocably, toward the here and now.

We look at our planet and say, “Ye gods, it’s like it was all set up for us. There’s food to eat, it’s aesthetically pleasing and the weather is just right.”

In reality, the planet just is. We developed to fit the planet, not the other way round. The weather is right, because our body hair, fat layers and internal temperatures let us live in the places we do. It’s aesthetically pleasing, because we have instinctual and learned behaviors that show us what looks right (symmetry, bright colors and what have you).  There are things to eat because our digestive systems evolved to eat a wide variety of fruits and animals.

One viewpoint tells us we are the undoubted masters of our domain, lords of the manor who can go where we want and do what we want. The other way, we’re just another in a long line of guests who’ve parked their asses on planet Earth.

Taking it even further, the fact we even exist is a miracle, going from front to back. The planet is orbitally in the right place, our star is the right brightness and size, our planetary neighbors like Jupiter provide us shelter from asteroids: the Earth is a a safe haven in an unbelievably hostile environment. It’s a miracle that life even exists!

What is not taken into account is that this solar system is only one of 200 billion other star systems in our galaxy. And that’s the conservative estimate. There could be up to 400 billion other stars. Assuming there’s a one in a billion chance of a planet Earth forming, that still gives us 200-400 other Earths in our galaxy.

And that’s our galaxy.

Look here:

That is an image taken from the Hubble telescope. Each of those stars and whirls are actually galaxies. Thousands and thousands of galaxies. Some larger, some smaller than our own galaxy.

And that’s just what we can see. The Hubble can only see so far and there is, probably, much more out there. Galaxies upon galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars, spinning through the void.

The Earth, our Earth, is most definitely, a bit of an odd duck. There are plenty of things that could have been different that would have led to a lifeless solar system. But, it so happened, that the Earth was in the right place, with the right star, with the right conditions. And, it so happens, that there are hundreds of trillions of other potential chances for Earths to happen, all over the universe.

While this might reduce humanity’s significance in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t take away from the coolness that we’re not alone. We’ll ignore the probability and possibility we’ll ever meet intelligent life. And the infinitesimal odds that we’ll be able to communicate with whatever intelligent life we come across.

Let’s just bask in a universe that permits us to exist.

Dylan Charles

Picture stolen from hubblesite.org

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