I recommend backyard astronomy as a hobby. It is a good way to keep human affairs in their proper prospective. It is a reminder that there is still more mystery than knowledge.
The universe is quite beyond human comprehension. Our experiences all involve time and limits, but in space, time and limits don’t exist.
Time, after all, is a human invention, like the donkey cart. It was invented to better organize human activity. Yet Earth spins and revolves around the sun whether anyone counts its revolutions or not. As for limits, so far as we can see, there is no end of the universe. And if we found what we call an end, the question would immediately arise, what is on the other side of the end?
It’s like the big-bang theory, which begs the question of what existed to go bang in the first place. We simply don’t know. We are mites on a cinder, spinning around a third-rate star in a galaxy that is one of billions of galaxies. Much of what we see in the night sky might no longer be there, since it takes light so long to reach us, even traveling at 186,000 miles per second. Distances in space are quite unimaginable.
We have reached our own moon, and one day we might reach Mars, the closest planet, but beyond that, space travel is a vain, human fantasy. The closest star other than our sun is four light-years away. That’s the distance covered by light at 186,000 miles per second. We have no conceivable way to reach anything approaching that speed.
We get puffed up about our own importance because of our very limited perspective. The scientific elites like to suppose that they will one day know everything, but the truth is, what is known compared with what is unknown remains a teacup of water out of an ocean. As has often been noted, modern science, for all its inflated sense of self-importance, cannot even find a cure for the common cold. In fact, it hasn’t been able to find a cure for anything except mild bacterial infections, and that was a happy accident.
Years ago at a Rotary Club meeting, our speaker was a religious man whose topic was exorcising demons. I thought at the time how strange it was to be sitting in a room hearing about demons while satellites whirled overhead and submarines prowled the ocean deeps. But in retrospect, perhaps it was not so strange, since human behavior is yet another aspect of nature that man cannot fully explain.
We are, so far as anyone knows, alone on our little planet in our little solar system. We have not been in existence for very long. If you drew a line representing the age of the solar system, so far as we can figure it, then the time man has been in existence would be a mere dot on that line.
And, if you calculate how long it has taken us to learn simple things, like how to grow crops and how to stack stones on top of each other for buildings, you would have to conclude that as a human race, we are not all that smart. It is an open question whether we are smart enough to survive much longer.
We have constructed a civilization entirely dependent on petroleum, the production of which is estimated to peak in about six years. What will happen after that is an open question. If all of mankind worked together in harmony, the problem might be solved, but we are still engaged in tribal fighting, much like our ancestors who lived in caves. Our so-called civilization is a very thin veneer.
In the meantime, we are upsetting the natural balance that makes human life possible on this planet. If I had to bet, I’d bet the human species will become extinct as a result of its own stupidity.
But in the meantime, buy yourself a telescope and look at the stars. That will at least teach you not to sweat the small stuff. And all human affairs, compared with the universe, are small stuff.
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner.
© 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.