I’m going to pick up on something from Monday’s post.
Or rather I’m going to launch on a tangent through it.
For anyone new to the site Maki and I take turns doing posts on Sci-ence and are two unique individuals with unique and individual* takes on the world. At least, that’s what we thought when we started. Unfortunately, as it turns out, we don’t seem to be able to disagree on anything that counts, which doesn’t give us a great chance to do a back and forth. If either of us was a rampant bigot, racist, on the fence, had religious inclinations, didn’t care about factual accuracy
or was just an asshole, then we’d have something. What we often can do instead is discuss nuances or pick up on where the other left off, if necessary, so I think that’s what I’ll do today. Why am I telling you this? Because I was going to do a totally different post but then I felt like I had something to say. I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY! tangentially.
In Mondays post Maki quickly dismissed the ‘love can’t be explained’ argument, as I agree with and dismissed early on in the site as well. There’s no point in arguing about love, even though no one can agree on what they mean by it, if it even exists as a singular concept, which let’s face it, it doesn’t. It’s just a blanket term for varying degrees and stages of ‘like’. Otherwise we wouldn’t say things like ‘I like you’, ‘I like like you’, ‘I love you’, ‘I love you so much‘, ‘I love the crap out of you‘, and ‘am I paying for this or are we splitting–no it doesn’t matter, I got it, I was just asking’.
The science of love is awesome and interesting and conceivable without any appeals to magic. But it seems people have a need to feel grandeur and don’t like the notion of not being super special all the time and what’s worse are ready to reject fact in favor of this feeling. This happens when anything worth gushing over is scientifically explored (rainbows, magnets, bra sizes) but I never see it so much as when the cosmos comes up. This has led many scientist speakers, correctly I think in respect to their goals, to adopt a strategy of reassuring their listeners that they indeed remain special despite the overwhelming insignificance the vastness of the universe (and possible multiverse) may impart on some.
Sugar coating knowledge and presenting it in a light that is favorable to ones ego, for those who cannot do this mind bending for themselves, in order to get the facts accepted is fine by me. Because it doesn’t distort reality. I just happen not to care about your feelings when it comes to facts. If something is true about the world, then that’s what it is. Deal with it on your own, I don’t care if it makes you or me or anyone else feel small or humbled.
So here are some facts folks: You’re NOT special! Your cat isn’t special either. in fact, no one you know is special.
The multiverse wouldn’t even shrug it’s shoulders in apathy, or ennui even, if we ceased to exist entirely. Or never existed to begin with. The whole Milky Way, with its six hundred quadrillion mile wingspan, 400 billion stars, and balls-to-the-wall supermassive black hole, could blink out of existence and the universe wouldn’t even wave goodbye. The best we could hope for is Andromeda looking on and being all ‘aw man, I was so busy laying down the groundwork, I missed my chance to tap that’. To which the Triangulum galaxy would say ‘dream on Andromeda, there aren’t enough stars in the Virgo Supercluster to make you look hot”.
Ok back to my point. We’re all insignificant. Cosmically. But so the hell what? I just don’t understand how that knowledge has ever bothered anyone personally**? As Carl Sagan pointed out, more gently, kindly and lovingly but seriously, everything we’ve ever cared about happened here on this tiny speck on a speck on a mote of dust planet Earth. Short of ruining your plans of becoming Master of the Universe (with an inexplicable pink vest***) how does the varying breadth of the cosmos bring you down? If anything it should blow your mind with it’s flabbergasting vastness. You’re part of a universe that is more stupendous and brilliant than anyone in history before us could have imagined. In their wildest dreams. And the best part is it doesn’t require that you do any work to be part of it. You don’t have to be a cog in the machine the way your local society demands. You can just tag along and enjoy the awesome ride, just because you’re here.
I’m afraid that I may have appeared to contradict myself by doing the mental gymnastics I said I was uninterested in earlier, by sugar coating your insignificance. But that’s just how I feel, so technically I didn’t****.
The point is you’re as important as you and others around you make you out to be. You may not matter globally***** and you certainly aren’t worth a crap cosmically, but you only exist locally, so your sense of grandeur only matters locally.
When your mom told you you were special, she was only lying in the cosmic sense. When she told you you were smart, she was only lying statistically. And when she told you you were pretty… well, I’m not saying she was lying, but she must have been drunk or very heavily medicated.
Ah HA! We did it! Intellectual disagreement! No, no, it has nothing to do with what Nadir said above. I do believe there are ways in which we can feel good about ourselves, but this retort is running a bit long as it is.
No, I have a bone to pick with Nadir’s Hans Gruber quote. That’s right, the quote in today’s comic seems to stem from the movie, Die Hard. But if you know Nadir, this really makes perfect sense, and I cannot genuinely malign him for his choice because it’s not like Gruber finished by saying, “-George Washington.” It’s just a great line from a film. Likewise it is a great anecdote to outline Alexander’s thirst for power.
When Alexander heard from Anaxarchus of the infinite number of worlds, he wept, and when his friends asked him what was the matter, he replied, “Is it not a matter for tears that, when the number of worlds is infinite, I have not conquered one?” -Page 292, § IV
In this version, Alexander of Macedon is well aware that his conquests are cosmically irrelevant, and weeps not for a lack of worlds to conquer, but for his inability to conquer one of an infinite amount. In this account, he actually shows great, if not frustrated, humility over his accomplishments. For that, he gets the Citizen Kane Slow Clap.
Wait, Anaxarchus told Alexander what? I have to quickly point out that the ancient Greeks did not have some sort of advanced knowledge of the multiverse. But the idea that space and reality as the Greeks knew it comes from Democritus’ early atheistic views. In some of his translated writings he states that because there was no creator, the universe could not have had a beginning or an end.
It’s worth mentioning that this is the same Democritus who postulated that everything is made up of atoms. In fact, if you take his writings at face value, he makes some frightening predictions about the attributes of atoms and solar systems alike. Now, one must take a step back and remember that words such as “atom” and “worlds” did not mean the same thing as they do now. Fans of Ancient Aliens often use his second-hand translated texts to conclude that Democritus is talking about exoplanets and has some sort of advanced knowledge of physics.
My guess? Fucking time traveller. They called Democritus the “laughing philosopher” not because he was cheerful in his humble, cosmic sense of reality, but because he laughed at the follies of mankind. Time travelling internet troll. But I digress…
This post was brought to you by Einsteinium (Es).
* ‘Individuality is an accumulation of poorly interpreted data’ – I first said it in this post (which is probably due for an update in information and comic) and I still think it holds true.
** I get the biblical “you’re so much fucking cooler than anything else forever!! And I’m God so I should know!!” argument being pissed on historically, but nowadays that’s no excuse, even at the elementary school level. I mean, heavens to betsy, the dude got the value of Pi wrong.
***He-Man reference for anyone too young. Though there was that revamped version… did he still wear a pink vest in that?
****Perhaps it’s never just a strategy when others do it either, I don’t know.
*****This self worth argument should obviously be kept well separate from any welfare argument, in which we all share concerns at a global level.