The universe is big. Incomprehensibly big. And it is very likely
just one out of an incomprehensibly large number of
incomprehensibly big universes. Our recorded history, recorded
human history, goes back less than 5,000 years. It has been less
than 10,000 years since humans first started organizing into
civilizations and well under half-a-million years since modern
humans even existed at all.
By contrast, Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for over 165 million years.
ONE-HUNDRED SIXTY-FIVE MILLION YEARS. Try to imagine life 165
million years from now.
In the unlikely event that humans continue to exist in any form at
all after 165 million years, think of what the implications would
be for recorded history.
Superstars like Tom Brady and Madonna are celebrated now and likely
will be remembered for years to come. Luminaries like Thomas Edison
and Abraham Lincoln will be remembered for generations. Singular,
paradigm shifting personalities like Jesus and Einstein will be
remembered for millennia. But who will be remembered in one million
years? Who would be remembered in ONE HUNDRED MILLION years?
Let's suppose that Albert Einstein had the greatest impact on the
course of human history over the last millennium, for argument's
sake. And let's imagine that we could only pick one seminal figure
from each millennium to venerate. So, Einstein from the last
millennium, Jesus from the millenium before that and Julius Caesar
from the millenium before that. That is three historical figures to
represent three thousand years, sounds pretty manageable.
Now fast forward 165 million years and that number balloons to an
unwieldy 165,000. To put that into perspective, there have been
less than 50 American Presidents; if you can name them all that's
great! Now imagine trying to remember 165,000 Jesus Christs and
Einsteins. And that is to say nothing of all of the Abraham
Lincolns, Martin Luther Kings, Moses, Buddhas, Gandhis, Francis
Bacons, Leonardo DaVincis, Mohammeds, L. Ron Hubbards, Joseph
Smiths and Justin Biebers that have been left out.
Stretched out far enough and given long enough eventually all
personalities and accomplishments will become meaningless,
especially given that time and the universe will invariably outlast
human existence. One hundred sixty-five million years from now my
life (and yours) will be completely indistinguishable from Mozart's
or Shakespeare's or a fourth century Egyptian farmer's or probably
even a grasshopper's or a banana's.
The Earth is about 4 billion years old and the universe (this
universe) is approximately 14 billion years old. Eventually our sun
will expire and our planet along with it (assuming it is still
around). Humans will almost certainly have run their course long,
long before any of this. Our universe ultimately will expand or
contract into extinction.
It is not just that nothing will last forever, it is that there is
no such thing as forever. Everything will end. Existence will be
indistinguishable from non-existence. When all memory and record of
existence have gone it won't just be gone it will have never
Honestly I don't spend a lot of time thinking about this. How could
you? But, whenever I happen to catch myself thinking about it,
slipping deeper into the hopelessness and despair of the thought
(and the reality), I will look at my hand and see that it is
moving. I notice how light is reflecting off of it and how it is
covered in a tiny latticework of cracks and wrinkles. I open and
close my fingers and know that I am controlling them. I recognize
that I am walking back to my desk at the office or driving my car
to pick up my daughter.
Self-awareness and the capacity to reason are exceedingly rare in
our universe (insofar as we know). The dinosaurs never accomplished
it in over 165 million years. In the history of our planet we are
the only ones ever to have achieved it.
Maybe we don't exist. Perhaps nothing exists. Maybe we are just
biding meaningless time until all that ever was ceases to be or
ever have been.
For now I have the capacity to reason and the ability to consider
myself and the universe and my place in it. I get to love and
create and play and despair and experience and appreciate a myriad
of emotions. I get to share and communicate and relate to other
people just like me.
For whatever it is worth, this little sliver of space and time that
we have been granted in our universe is special. If not for any
other reason than the completely improbable fact that we are aware
of it and so we are able to make it that way.
As long as we are here, we may as well enjoy it.