March 16, 2011

Security Is Always An Illusion

In light of the disaster going on in Japan, let's take a moment to realize how little we are and how little we matter.

The universe hardly knows we exist. In cosmic terms, to say that our planet is a speck of dust is to exaggerate its importance a billion fold.

We've all heard about the hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe. Each of these galaxies contains hundreds of billions of stars.  We don't know how many planets there are surrounding stars but recent discoveries suggest that there may be hundreds of billions of them.

And so we think there's a lot of stuff out there. But the universe is so unimaginably large that despite all these objects, it is essentially empty space. Only 0.000000000000000000004 of the universe is occupied with stuff. The rest is emptiness.

Now let's look at a graph I have used before.
This graph shows us human population for the past 12,000 years. For most of that time we've just been a minor annoyance. In the past few hundred years, however, we have been engaged in a reproductive frenzy of such proportions that the line has become almost perfectly vertical.

You don't need to be scientist or a philosopher to understand that this pattern of growth is utterly unsustainable.

How it's going to end is anybody's guess. It could be a man-made disaster. It could be a mass extinction caused by a cosmic or geological event (there have apparently been many of these.) It could be caused by climate change -- either human-inspired or the result of natural cycles. It could be disease or famine or war. Nobody knows what it will be, but the graph tells me that without any doubt it's going to be something.

We think our political squabbles are important. We think movie stars and football players are consequential. We think our blog-transmitted opinions are weighty. The fact is, in the fullness of time they will all mean nothing.

What is happening in Japan should provide us with a very clear lesson about the arrogance of man. We think we can control our fate; we think we understand the forces that surround us; we think we can shape our future.

We can do none of these things. Everything we have and everything we are can be swept away in a second. Security is always an illusion.

We are temporary visitors to an inconceivably tiny grain of sand. We will soon be gone without a trace.

Let's have a drink.

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