Cosmic toast

May 16, 2012 | By | Reply More

I was briefly enjoying the company of several friends yesterday when I decided to make a spontaneous toast. The reason for my spontaneity was this: it occurred to me that we were each extraordinary organisms in that we were each a modern day survivor of a long long line of ancestors.  Each of of our ancestors somehow sidestepped numerous dangers (including predators), surviving long enough to launch the next generation. If one went back a few hundred years, the odds that any of the four of us would have been born, much less that we would be friends enjoying each others’ company in the same room, were remote. If you went back thousands (or better yet) millions of years (when our ancestors of other species), the likelihood that any of us would ever exist today would be closer to zero than one could imagine. It would be so close to zero that the fact that any of us actually exists (much less all of us) is best conceived of as a statistical miracle.

So there we were yesterday, all of us impossible-people sharing a place and a moment, as well as sharing stories and more than a few laughs.  It seemed to be a good time to recognize that moment. My words were brief; I recognized the grotesque unlikelihood that the four of us would have ever shared a conversation in the same room.

As I write tonight, it occurs to me that most amazing thing yesterday was that our journeys had been for more momentous that I suggested.  Each of us traveled more miles to get to Earth than the human mind is able to comprehend, except through great effort, wild metaphors and clever thought experiments. The problem is that we came from different stars, and it gets even crazier than this. I should have included the words of Lawrence Krauss in my toast.

I’m waiting to see whether anyone ever in my lifetime tells me any story of the origin of human animals, no matter how fantastic, no matter how detached from reality, no matter how dependent on supernatural beings, that is more spell-binding than the truth.  The upshot is this:  If you want to tell an amazing story, you only need to stick to the facts. If you want to make an incredibly memorable cosmic toast, there’s no need to exaggerate or pretend.  There’s no need to express one’s thoughts in vague poetry.   And nowadays, thanks to the Internet, there is no need to invest much time to learn or understand these overwhelming and disorienting truths.   A cosmic toast is the intersection of well-established facts with the courage to embrace these facts.  May we all consider giving cosmic toasts more often, to keep each other humble . . . .


Category: 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.

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