Friday, July 24, 2015

You Are Unique, A Miracle -- Get Used To It

Today, I turn 71 years old -- my 71st yearly trip around the sun. On my birthday, I like to think about how I got here.

I know that for everyone there are some days when you just can't win. But when you feel insignificant in a world of 7 billion people (as of 2013) who live on a small planet that orbits an average star that is only one of a hundred billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy that is only one of a hundred billion galaxies in the Universe -- consider this:

The odds against your existence are much much greater than the number of atoms in the Universe. In fact, probably greater than all the subatomic particles in the Universe.

How could that be? Well consider how unlikely it was that your mother met your father. And then consider the chances of their particular combination of sperm (out of the many millions your father produced) and egg (out of the hundreds your mother produced) that created you. Now take that same unlikely event back in time to your four grandparents, your eight great-grandparents, your sixteen great-great-grandparents etc. etc. to primal beings billions of years ago that started this chain of events.

Still don't believe me -- well, do the math:

Here is a link to a detailed explanation of the calculation: 

Dr. Ali Binazir -- on the above web page -- computed the numbers.
"The number of atoms in the known universe is estimated at 1080 " [ED: 10 followed by only :) 80 zeros.]
"The probability of you existing at all comes out to 1 in 102,685,000  — yes, that's a 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeroes!"  

Now I know we are often told told how insignificant we are. For example,  consider Carl Sagan's famous statement about the Earth as a tiny pale blue dot in space:
Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. 
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. 

 "This is the "Pale Blue Dot" photograph of the Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on July 6, 1990. The Earth is the relatively bright speck of light about halfway across the uppermost sunbeam."  (
Quoted from:
The original NASA caption reads as follows:
"This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed 'Pale Blue Dot', is a part of the first ever 'portrait' of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from a distance of more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. From Voyager's great distance Earth is a mere point of light, less than the size of a picture element even in the narrow-angle camera. Earth was a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. Coincidentally, Earth lies right in the center of one of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the sun."

 Carl Sagan's famous Blue Dot quote emphasizes the smallness and the delicateness of our existence -- which is also true.  Yet this does not take away from the miracle of your existence.

As we all know, people walking along the sidewalks of New York City look like ants when viewed from the top of the Empire State building, but that does not diminish or change their value as people. And when we are back down walking along the street, we see these people quite differently.

Where we live is fragile, isolated and alone in the Universe as far as we know. Which is all the more reason to value it, hold it dear, celebrate it - protect it. And all the more reason to realize that we are unique. 

The Blue Dot and its fragility, "underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." Carl Sagan added.

So take a break. Look at the sunset. Enjoy the moment. Build a better life for your children and grandchildren in the future. 

You and those who follow you are unusual and quite unlikely.
I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.  [ED: Please note the word "immortal"]
William Faulkner
Nobel Prize Speech
Stockholm, Sweden
December 10, 1950 

Not only is each person unique but so is our species along with its wonderful curiosity. 
Just a few days ago the NASA New Horizons spacecraft did a flyby of the planet Pluto -- which completed a full exploration of all the major planets by human spacecraft -- a quest that began about 50 years ago. This marks a milestone in human achievement.
While Pluto has been technically downgraded to a dwarf planet, Pluto is extremely important because its discovery opened the door to an entirely different view of the solar system. The discovery of Pluto in 1930 led, 60 years later, to a major new understanding about our solar system. Pluto is the largest -- as far as we know -- and first known object of the Kuiper Belt. This large unexplored region, only discovered in 1990, contains perhaps 100,000 objects on the edge of our solar system. 

So as we learn more and more, we realize we have just begun to learn. And we also become more aware that we as a species are remarkable and unique because we can ask these questions, explore, and build devices that take us even further.

Until the New Horizons flyby, this view of Pluto and
its largest moon, Charon was all we had from the hi-tech Hubble space telescope. (

The New Horizons spacecraft shot this view of Pluto
- showing us a world we never imagined.

This is a photograph of Pluto's moon, Charon -- never seen before. (

This closeup of Pluto's surface will probably be studied for decades
and yield new ideas about our solar system and our life on Earth.

But wait there's more!

The voyage of the New Horizons spacecraft is far from over. It is now headed into the heart of the Kuiper Belt which may give us new information about this huge and virtually unknown region.

Images of the Kuiper Belt and caption from: