Sorry, had to get my Portal 2 reference out of the way.
But yes, space. It’s big. Like…really big. In fact, unfathomably big. It’s so big that some of the things we can see through our telescopes actually occurred thousands of years ago because it took that long for the light to reach us.
So yeah, it’s big.
But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to know everything about it.
Why is that? What is it about this vast expanse of mostly nothing that entices us so? Some might say because we could find resources or other life out there, something that would benefit us as a species. But I don’t think the answer is necessarily that pragmatic.
Think back to when Galileo was gazing through his telescope at the stars above. Was he doing so because he was concerned with the state of the planet’s resources? Did he have a longing to discover alien life? I doubt it. In fact, I think Galileo was looking up there simply because he could. Simply because he wanted to know.
Let’s use a metaphor for more context: say you have a baby with a toy next to them. They haven’t focused on it in a long time and show no interest in playing with it. But the moment you move to take it away, they suddenly turn and reach for it, almost like saying “GIMME GIMME GIMME I WANT IT”. Because sometimes it’s when you can’t have something that you want it the most.
Space is something that, despite our technological advancements, we still have yet to conquer. And that irks us and makes us want to know more about it, as if to say “screw you universe, we’ll learn your secrets someday”. Because much of what humanity has accomplished came to be simply because we could. Fly like the birds? We can do that. Go beneath the waves and enter the world aquatic? Hell yeah bro, we got this. There may have been some crucial discoveries that we made along the way which improved the quality of our lives, but I bet the beginning of all that was a lot less focused. It was about exploration and discovery. It was about the chance not to learn something specific, but to see what we could learn.
I remember when I was younger, I had this telescope that I ended up barely using. Because back then, I was just a kid. My major concerns were little more than when I got to see my friends again and my homework for school. But now that I’m older, I wouldn’t mind getting back into the stargazing hobby. Not because it’s going to be my career or anything, but because I find space so fascinating to think about.
It’s more than that too. Gazing into space gives you a perspective unlike any other, shows you just how insignificant you are in the grand scheme of the cosmos. And while that might sound cold and disheartening to some, I don’t see it that way. I see it as a sign that there’s so much more out there, so much more for us to see and do. That perspective makes me want to safeguard this planet and our species for as long as we can, so that future generations can grow and add to our collective knowledge. Understanding that our planet is a minute speck in the blackness shows me just how petty and stupid our wars are, how inconsequential they are on a grander scale.
I want our future generations to be able to go out there, to see all there is to see and to experience the wonders of the universe. And hey, maybe they’ll run into another species that dealt with those same quandaries, those same problems of war and pollution and resource scarcity. Maybe they’ll meet other creatures who dared to ask that simple, yet haunting question:
Are we alone?
Thanks for reading! Check back on the third Wednesday of next month, and have a great new year.