It’s a cliche to look up at the stars and comment on how small and insignificant we are. This bothers me because conscious beings like ourselves are arguably the only significant thing in the universe. Now, when I say “conscious beings,” I am including the possibility of aliens and machine sentience. And of course the mental lives of a multitude of animals are worthwhile as well. Everything else in the universe is only significant in that it creates and sustains life, gives us resources, gives us something to ponder and inspires us to reach heavenward.
Is the universe really “big”? In terms of a physical dimension, only conscious beings give it any coherent scale. It’s certainly got a lot going on, but so does the human body. And without beings like us, what point would there be in this, or any universe? It would be just a bunch of dust swirling around. Could the universe be a computer working on its creator’s problems? Could it be innately conscious? Could stars be conscious in some way? I doubt it, but even these possibilities point out that consciousness is what is ultimately important.
The human (or possibly alien) brain, is probably the most complex naturally occurring structure. True, it is physically minuscule compared to the Milky Way. A child is a speck on a speck whirling around a speck out near the rim of one galaxy among the billions that we know of. And yet, one child’s life is worth more than an infinite number of galaxies in a universe where life will never occur. Now, doesn’t that make us special? Relative to rocks and hot gas, yes. But there’s still the issue of our place in civilization, in relation to the human race and life as a whole, and gods willing in the galactic federation.
On a nerdy note, I want to say that I have always been bothered by the part in Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan claims that lifeless Mars is superior to Earth life. It’s a bunch of pretty rocks! And they’re only pretty because he’s looking at them. And that crystal thing of his is way less interesting than all the crap going on here. Get over yourself Dr. Manhattan!
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