Revisiting insignificance

November 24, 2011 | By | 6 Replies More

I agree with Jennifer Ouellette that it is healthy to periodically reconsider the extremely small place that human beings occupy in the context of the entire universe. She has collected several of my favorite videos and images in this post at Scientific American.


Category: Astronomy, Meaning of Life

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. Mike M. says:

    What a ridiculous perspective. An illusory, self-loathing, restrictive thought-trap. Believing that human beings are insignificant is akin to believing that Universe is insignificant. Afterall, we are what the Universe is doing. The Universe is “people-ing”, much like an apple tree is “apple-ing”. Human beings are inseperable from Everything Else…All is connected. No part of Universe can be logically or fairly considered more or less “significant” than any other part. Illusions, such as an individualized Ego, can indeed be insignificant–because they don’t really “exist” in space-time.

    “Nothing lasts, but nothing is lost.”
    ~William Blake

    “The world is not as it seems and you are not as you may think you are. Quantum physics enables us to realize that the world is filled with constant change. It shows us that our observations bring the world into existence and as such provide us opportunity to change both it and ourselves.”
    ~Fred Alan Wolf

  2. Jim Razinha says:

    Nice. Not ridiculous at all. Nor restrictive.

    “All is connected.” I did see a connection between her reference to James Randi, who called “What the Bleep Do We Know?” a fantasy docudrama, and Fred Alan Wolf, who appeared in the film.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      It would seem to me that the only people offended by this believe that a Supreme Being created the entire disposable universe to serve humans, that there is no sentient life on other planets, and that the Supreme Being decided to visit us here on Earth because Earth is the moral and spiritual center of the entire universe. How convenient to us that all arrows of significance point to humans residing on Earth.

      I don’t read the post as saying that humans are absolutely insignificant, only spatially insignificant compared to vastness of everything else that is. Obviously, our lives are significant to us, from our usual, day-to-day point of view.

  3. Mike M. says:

    Erich: I can’t really buy into your overreaching presumptions here. I do find it offensive when all humans are labelled “insignificant” as the ‘Scientific American’ writer has done, yet I hold none of the beliefs you listed. The ‘you should realize just how insignificant you are’ suggestion seems misguided and disempowering, very much like Church dogma which states that we are all born sinful and depraved, worthless without “Divine Grace”.

    Humans are obviously spatially insignificant when viewed from a cosmic perspective, but this should be self-evident to anyone with a basic grasp of Junior High School level astronomy so I doubt this was the only angle the SA writer was going for; I find a deeper and nastier overall message. Or perhaps she just chose an unfortunate and imprecise word? “Insignificant” in my Webster’s Dictionary has this definition: lacking meaning or import; inconsequential; not worth considering; unimportant; lacking weight, position or influence; contemptible.
    Must we see ourselves this way?

    And Jim: I’m a big fan of both quantum physicist Fred Alan Wolf and the “What the Bleep..” book/movie. Not a surprise I’m sure, but trying to convince you of their worth would most likely be unstoppable force meets immovable object. Just a guess….

    • Jim Razinha says:

      Worth is relative, and I don’t doubt their worth to you, Mike.

      Quantum and macro physics describe well their respective perspectives, though quantum physics is still considerably contentious. Neither however describes well anything biological. If my perspective that consciousness is individual and any attempts to try to tie such individuality to something more is mystical nonsense, then I suppose that would be the “immovable object.” I’m not sure what the unstoppable force would be, though.

  4. Mike M. says:

    The “unstoppable force” would be the continual unfolding of gnosis. It can be seen as our developing understanding of the ever-increasing information, novelty and complexity in our environment leading to an expanding awareness of ourselves and our place in the Universe. Mystics would call it “Enlightenment”, physicists may call it the search for a “Unified Theory”, Aleister Crowley would describe it as !?!?…*, but I like intelligence evolution or, if I’m feeling old school, Gnosis.

    *(!?!?… would be an endless series of expansions (!), or new information, followed by integrations/understanding (?) of that new information.

    Anti-Spam word “Rock”. HA!

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