Feeling Small in the Universe?

Well, you shouldn’t be. Yes, you’re just one person out of over 7 billion on Earth. Yes, your lifetime — even if you live to be well over 100 — is just a fraction of a flicker of a blink of a tardigrade’s eye (do tardigrades blink?) compared to the 4.6 billion years of the age of the planet. And yes, Earth is only about a third the age of the Universe… which is filled with billions of other galaxies each with stars and planets of their own. Space is just so awfully darn…big.

But, as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us in the video above, so are you. So is everyone, in fact. And why? Because we are all a part of it. We’re a part of the Universe… each one of us an inexorably inseparable part of the big picture, a connection between past, present, and future in the most elemental sense possible. As Tyson famously stated once before, “we are in the Universe, the Universe is in us.” And it’s true.

So if you have an admittedly large and heavy ego, put it down for a moment and check out the video. You may come to realize it was weighing you down a bit.

“Those who see the cosmic perspective as a depressing outlook, they really need to reassess how they think about the world.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

Video: Big Think

20 Replies to “Feeling Small in the Universe?”

  1. Ahem. “Big Think” is a Templeton Foundation vehicle to insert religion into science, which the otherwise meaningless keyword “Purpose” indicates.

    But I assume Tyson refutes their overt interest. (He is not a favorite of mine, so I have two reasons not to listen.)

    a fraction of a flicker of a blink of a tardigrade’s eye (do tardigrades blink?)

    As Tardigrade is an early occuring Ecdysozoa (animals that shed their exoskeleton) along with Nematoda, I didn’t think they had eyes at all.

    But what do you know, it seems some have! “Many species possess a pair of rhabdomeric pigment-cup eyes,” [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrade ] I assume it is an ancestral trait after all.

    1. I’ve read your posts on UT more than once and one thing that strikes me directly is the gargantuous disgust you seem to have for religion. It’s also quite evident that you are a scientifically enabled individual (although i could be wrong) but i can’t stop wondering why you hate religion so much?

      Surely not all religions are anti-science the way science is anti-religion nowadays? Apart from that, religion(s) are the only phenomena in the world that have a pretty sound theory on how everything came to be which hasn’t been disproved by science.

      And yes even though the word PURPOSE is a part of that theory, science is not able to disprove it no matter how loud they scream that intelligent design is absent. They have their theories; multiverses, infinite history, bla bla, but none of this can be tested or reproduced. Moreover, scientists are not able to step outside of the (insanely fine-tuned) physical boundries all creation is limited by.

      Perhaps i’m the primitive one here, but man, this science and not God propaganda starts to seem a bit communistic to me….

      1. Tony,

        The general state of your thoughts (read showing your ignorance here, but I say this in a non judgemental sorta way) behoves me to share with you a few thoughts.

        You seems to misunderstand what the word theory means in science and take it to mean what the detective shows indicate, i.e., an assumption they are trying to either prove or eliminate. In science this is called an hypothesis, just like you might have learned re: the scientific method in elementary or middle school.

        Going from there to your other egregious point, that religion(s) are able to prove anything.

        Surely not all religions are anti-science the way science is anti-religion nowadays? Apart from that, religion(s) are the only phenomena in the world that have a pretty sound theory on how everything came to be which hasn’t been disproved by science.

        The case(s) you posit simply do not jibe with the reality please explain what religion(s) have proved, other than this very obvious point – a fool and his money are soon parted – would you do that for us please?


        Including the order of things text file – I can’t remember the author so if someone knows could you post that datum?

        The Order of Things

        The order of things that science takes note of, are, from lowest to highest:

        1. Facts. A dime a dozen, and without intrinsic meaning.

        2. Repeatable observations. These are more interesting, because they can be repeated by oneself and by others.

        3. Hypothesis. This is a way to explain observations.

        4. Models. This is a mathematical way to describe the hypothesis, and provides a basis for a test bed before any physical testing.

        5. Experiments. These test predicted observations, and should result in some more repeatable observations.

        6. Laws. These are verified summaries provided by the mathematics in the model, and borne out by observed data that was obtained by the mathematical model and subsequent experimentation. These laws are only artefacts of theories, and do not control reality. Rather, laws describe reality as best as the theory from which they came can describe it.

        7. Theories. The highest level of anything the scientific method can produce. This will be a set of observations, laws, models, and explanations for the same, along with predictions of what might happen or be observed in certain situations. We are still testing aspects of the Theory of General Relativity, although many aspects of it has been verified in different ways, in different experiments, and by different groups of people.

        Light is fast. Light moved at C. Those are facts. Great. They’re true. So what?

        In the hierarchy of importance, facts are at the lowest level. They are therefore unimportant.

        Theories, such as the Theory of Relativity, are at the highest level of importance.

        If you think my statement is ridiculous, it’s because you have previously held beliefs, in which facts have value, and theories do not have value, because you deem theories to be unproven, while somehow facts are proven and therefore you think – completely incorrectly – that facts have value.

        But facts have no intrinsic value. Only theories have value, because theories can explain things, and also predict things.

        Facts, in the scientific method, are the least important things of all.

        Obviously we cannot create a theory that goes against facts. But facts are just reality. We expect facts to exist. Facts are unremarkable. We need to understand and explain reality, however, and for that we need to progress far beyond mere facts, and to the ultimate goal: a Theory.

      2. Mary, Thank you for your lengthy explanation and your (not so) kind words as to my scientific vocabulary. Even though your response is a textbook example of responses given by any militant atheist, i never claimed i was an authority on anything scientific nor religious so the cutting of some slack regarding terminology would be appreciated.

        What have religions proven? Apart from that not having one creates societies of self destructive, mind numb, consumer addicted, individualistic zombies, religions have the most logical explanation as to how everything came into existence (i.e.: Intelligent Design).

        With that said, religion has proven about as much as science has when it comes to the origin of everything.

        In your order of things you mentioned “Repeatable Observations” and that’s all hunky dory but the question remains: What can you observe? Science is not able to observe anything outside of the realm of physical existence let alone repeat that observation.

        Being unable to observe invalidates pretty much all the other steps on the ladder you posted since you can not go outside of “creation” and hypothesise, model, experiment etc etc. That should be a pretty big problem for any click claiming that God does not exist.

        Science has sent some cool gadgets up in space and learned a few things which is fine. However, claiming to have disproved the God concept while not being able to send man further than the Moon – or accurately predict tomorrows weather for that matter – is pretty bold.

      3. “… religions have the most logical explanation as to how everything came into existence (i.e.: Intelligent Design).”

        Religious theories do not explain reality, they simply deny it. You can claim that a guy in space created everything but I can claim that a flying spaghetti monster did it. You have no proof that this flying monster does not exist. What can we do to convince you that this is all made up? Will the discovery of alien intelligent life convince you? You will then probably claim that the ‘Creator’ created different species but that humans was his best try. I also wonder who created the Creator.

        For all clarity I do not believe in such monsters, I believe only in things that the scientific method can explain. The scientific method has come up with a theory that explains the beginning of existence (evolution, big bang, etc…). That theory may still have mistakes and some odd parts but it is the most logic theory we have for the moment (because it is based on observations and with no predetermined belief in mind – unlike the religious method). The cool thing about science is that it can only be proved wrong by science itself.

        “Science is not able to observe anything outside of the realm of physical existence let alone repeat that observation.”

        What else is there to observe appart from the physical? The supernatural? The supernatural is mind-created concept and therefore it is useless to find an explanation for it. For as far as we can prove, there is nothing more out there then the physical, wether you want it or not. I agree that we cannot repeat the Big-Bang so your claim that science cannot repeat an osbervation is correct…

        The frustrating thing about religious peoples is that they cannot be convinced that their artificial religious theories are false (so in some sense my answer to your post is useless). This reminds me of Russell’s teapot (google it, it’s funny). The Epicurean paradox is still my favorite religious quote though.

      4. Love your reply and i mean it!

        My issue is not what the creator looks like, but whether he/she/it is the cause of the universe
        a.k.a. creation. For all i know it could indeed be a flying spaghetti monster even though the scriptures
        would not agree with this 🙂

        With observations outside of the physical i meant looking beyond the point of creation (i.e. before the occurence of the big bang when all physical laws came into existence).

        As to the question of who created God, that is indeed a difficult one. According to the Torah, the Bible and also the Koran; God is eternal. This implies that it never was created but that it just was and BELIEVE ME i fully comprehend the difficulties of this proposition.

        On the flipside, suppose humans created a living thing together with its enviroment. The creature would have an average life span of about three years. We create it with limitations, we create a set of rules according to which it will live and die and we take care of it from birth till death.

        As far as that creature is concerned we are it’s divine creator that is, always has been and will be when the creature is gone. To explain to the creature how we ourselves came to be would lead to absurdities and would go far beyond what that creature would be able to comprehend. Instead we tell it that we are eternal.
        Has this creature a choice in it’s beliefs?
        Why would the above be more or less weird than “God does not exist because we can’t calculate it?”

        Lastly the epicurean quote is, in my opinion, very simplistic thinking which makes me wanna bang my head on my cool mousepad right now. Also, considering Chris Hadfields videos it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if we really had a teapot orbiting in space now 🙂

      5. I appreciate the fact that you love my reply :-). I also appreciate that you remain civilized (I hope I was too).

        The reason because there isn’t much proof for the existence of the flying spaghetti monster is because he has the power to let all proof of him vanish without a trace. Yes, he is truly a remarkable creator.

        In my serious opinion I don’t care what caused the existence of the universe. I even would say that it is irrelevant. But what I am sure about is that it is probably a consequence of a physical phenomena rather then of a magical one. The creator story generates more questions then it solves in my opinion (how, why, …).

        I cannot see the relevance of the story about the 3 year life span creature. If that creature has knowledge of the scientific method he would probably start looking for an answer himself. If he doesn’t, he will indeed accept his creators as divine but that would be because of ignorance rather than choice.

        If science proves the existence of a creator then I would be the first one to admit it (that would be cool, I have so many questions for him/it) but all facts point into the other direction.

        Although I believe in the power of the scientific reasoning I do not believe that science is everything. I regard it as a tool to investigate the real state of reality, nothing more. For example it is useless in ethics, which is in my opinion a more important knowledge.

        The epicurean quote is simple indeed, but so is admitting that a creator created everything and then stop asking any questions about it. And yes, seen the huge amount of space debris it would not be a surprise if there is a teapot orbiting the sun…

        Anyway, as long as you do not start convincing others with your religious beliefs I’m cool ;-). Faith is a personal thing (if you need it).

      6. “What have religions proven? Apart from that not having one creates
        societies of self destructive, mind numb, consumer addicted,
        individualistic zombies, religions have the most logical explanation as
        to how everything came into existence (i.e.: Intelligent Design).”

        Maybe you should read the papers more. Religious people are killing other religious people daily. They even blow up their own religious places. Religious people hating people that are different to them.

        A logical reasoning means nothing unless it is checked with reality. Reality disagrees with your logic.

        Also the creator of this universe is Amelia Pond. Every single being and molecule in his universe has been created through the imagination of Amelia Pond. As described in the blue book that tells the story of the greatest being in the universe.

        A quote from the blue book:
        ” He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe. and… he’s wonderful.”

      7. Hey Olaf!

        You are absolutely right when pointing out that people are hurting other people because of religion. But can the teachings of a certain religion be judged by the acts of it’s followers or are the followers supposed to be judged by the religion?

      8. Which was 1st. The chicken or the egg? How did all earths H2O get here? Curious minds need to know. Enlighten us please ;-).

      9. Hey Tony! How are you? I am well 😉

        Religion is spiritual. Not material. Even with saying that. It is incredibly hard to join the two together, never mind talk about it. Respect is so very crucial. The human race cannot perceive a thing, …yet. Our technology is useless in this point in time. Having an open-mind is key also for both sides. It is asking questions and trying any experiments no matter how freaky it may be for either side of this.

        Never ever stop seeking the *-possibilities*- !t may be in plain sight.either way.

      10. Planemo,

        The problem with your apologistic post – it does not address those who with greatest respect, from their own point of view, act on the religionist side of these conflicts which even Tony agrees are as a result of religion.

        All you are doing is allowing and facilitating the continued hurt, killing, terror of all religions.

        Additionally, you state that “Politics comes in a close 2nd”. You are aware that civilization is driven by man in reaction to environment and that religionist such as yourself are a part of that environment.

        “Trouble follows blind faith like tails follow monkeys…” – uncredited quote.

        Following: a quote from Frank Herbert:

        an extract from Robert A Heinlein’s first unpublished novel, which extract is often paraphrased in his many other novels.

        Taken from For Us, the Living by Robert Heinlein, written in 1939 but not published until well after his death in 1988.

        In the New World, since it was first settled, there have been two strongly dissident elements in the social body. One was anarchistic, and tolerant; the other sternly authoritarian and fanatically moralistic. It is a mistake to believe that our forefathers came to this continent in search of religious freedom. On the contrary they sought a place in which to exercise their own brand of religious totalitarianism. It is probable that the religious persecutions and moralistic intolerances practiced on dissenters by the colonists of New England were more severe than any from which they had fled. It is surprising that the Constitution contained an apparent guarantee of religious freedom. This seeming oversight may be attributed to two things, the mutual suspicion with which each colony viewed the other, and the staunch feeling for liberty felt by Thomas Jefferson who wrote the provision. It is very significant to note that the religious freedom clause was an injunction to the federal government. It did not limit the states. At one time the State of Virginia had an established church, and religious intolerance had been practiced, under the law, in every state in the Union. In addition to the puritanical factor in the American culture, there was the Roman Catholic strain, strong in some parts of the country, which supported many of the same intolerances as the Protestant churches.

        “All forms of organized religion are alike in certain social respects. Each claims to be the sole custodian of the essential truth. Each claims to speak with final authority on all ethical questions. And every church has requested, demanded, or ordered the state to enforce its particular system of taboos. No church ever withdraws its claims to control absolutely by divine right the moral life of the citizens. If the church is weak, it attempts by devious means to turn its creed and discipline into law. If it is strong, it uses the rack and the thumbscrew. To a surprising degree, churches in the United States were able, under a governmental form which formally acknowledged no religion, to have placed on the statutes the individual church’s code of moral taboos, and to wrest from the state privileges and special concessions amounting to subsidy. Especially was this true of the evangelical churches in the middle west and south, but it was equally true of the Roman Church on its strongholds. It would have been equally true of any church; Holy Roller, Mohammedan, Judaism, or headhunters. It is a characteristic of all organized religion, not of a particular sect.”


      11. How you woman type really really long posts/letters is beyond me. Actually I do know. Thanks God<==(there He is again).I am a man. After three sentences, I get so aggravated typing! And I know why also. Men and woman are miles apart in mind and body. You know, what I mean, the Mars Venus facts. 😉 Just refer to my last post to you, ok.
        Oh ya, …I would combined all religions best points and facts. Then condense it. I believe you will get the best accurate picture. And NO!! I won't elaborate any more. Why? I cannot type any more. I vaporize! 😉

      12. Tony,

        Your take-away was that I had unkind words for you? Wow, you do know that ignorance is curable with education, correct? It is not like I said you were stupid, or that you were thickheaded. Those indeed are unkind words. I chose the correct words and used them correctly. You, taking offense at that turn of phrase and the image created in your head of what ignorance means to you have, again, shown me you have a false to facts pathway well established or what some would call a knee-jerk syndrome.

        My response was actually brief, the added text, the order of things, was the lengthening item. You did figure out I was not the author of that bit, correct, ’cause you responded to portions of it as if I was the militant atheist you say uses the textbook example I quoted or included. You really need to fix that knee problem I think.

        Demonstrating this really fuzzy thinking, as shown by your initial post, and the reply to my reply, is of concern to me. I want you to try harder to conceive of what I am saying rather than what you think I am saying.

        About that ‘cutting you some slack’. You do know the origin of that phrase and the general meaning and usage, correct?

        1. to give someone a break; to allow someone a reprieve from the consequences of an action.

        So you want me to really do this; ok in that case you admit to undertaking an action or poor judgement which is the source of some consequence or other.



        Still very much in use today and probably thought by most people as being relatively modern in origin, the phrase ‘give me some slack’ or ‘cut me some slack’ (meaning make allowances to complete something) is actually hundreds of years old. Tying a ship to a pier was no easy feat and took two teams of men armed with mooring lines. As one line was pulled to haul the ship closer the other line was released or ‘given slack’. The process would go on until the ship was properly aligned.

        Now back to what you were saying…

        Religion is a civilizing, actually, that is not your point. Your point is that lacking religion gives us no explanation for the origin of everything. I take exception to this. Your ghod seems to be a gap tender if this point is the best you can do. I willingly dismiss your contention that lack of religion makes anyone self destructive, toward self or societies, numb of mind, addicted to consumerism. Additionally you point out that individualistic-ness is a bad thing by linking that term to zombie, which I take to mean, thoughtlessly following a herd. Which are these folks of which you speak, self oriented or other oriented. A herd person or a free thinker?

        Science has never said there was anything before the singularity of creation, or that there was anything which caused this singularity.

        Your arguments (read this word correctly please) are based on non-observable, non-falsifiable facts which you have ‘cut from whole cloth’. Again, I add the source of the phrase and some common useage.


        You now state that I am claiming the ghod concept is disproven -and by cool space gadgets and the learning gleaned from them. More of your poorly thought-out arguments and fuzzy thinking here I think. This is indeed a sad state — for your points require support, extraordinary proof, since these are your assertions – not mine.


      13. Unkind? Speak for yourself! Playing God Mary? Don’t! Your doing a horrible job! It was joke. He didn’t respond to me because ‘he’ probably knew what I was saying. No one knows for sure! I like to advocate for or against. Its the possibilities I am referring too!
        Please get your nose out of places and ask ME before playing God Mary. No smiley face? Hope you know what that means!

      14. At least you have a perspective like I do but is different ways. There are “OTHER POSSIBILITIES”. Good for you.;-)

    2. LMAO@egoboy! Not one is a favorite of yours Larsson. Only the me, myself & i within your mind is your favorite. You have two reasons ‘not’ to listen? Neil stuffed your ego like stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey. Forget what science he was explaining. That one word ‘ego’ is all YOU Larsson!. Go shed your exoskeleton ego for starters. It is ok to have your own point of views. I/we grant.that to any human being. But your ego is so unmatch to the reality of reality. Your a one way thinker.

  2. Cannot understand being “terrified” by the “cosmic perspective” (the view of science, and how it presents that perspective, may play in). Overwhelmed by its splendor; humbled by its magnitude; awed by its glory; wonder-struck before its radiant beauty, many of stirred heart, can attest.

    Depressed? Oversized ego gripping a small mind, probably. But it could be as much, a sense of meaninglessness mortality—in light of the endless vastness of the Cosmic-ocean of time overhead. A Universe strewn with colossal galaxy-filaments, swarming with remarkable star-embraced worlds. Many of them, habitable-zone planets, no doubt. Whether worlds inhabited,…?

    (Mr. Tyson’s description of star-world relationship reawakens the wonder of it!)

    The cold majesty seen above, observed from this Life-World below—hot with shuddering crises, shadowed with growing uncertainty, haunted with spreading fear, and stalked by relentless terror—surely influences the meditations of man. That may more poignantly explain any depression felt by some, gazing-out from human mortality, into sky of infinity. It may not be so much, depression induced by the celestial spectacle, but frame of existence, in terrestrial conditions lamentable.

    – Perhaps we are “stardust”, as the Astronomers tell us. But what meaning, or relevance, in that, really, if void of purpose? So what? We are definitely the “dust of the earth”: a conscious moment in eternity. From “stardust” to earth dust? That may inspire some with meaning.

    Well, if we sprang from chance forces, from the immensity of Space; if we arose through fortuitous events, set in motion over vast scales of Time, what of it? Our ultimate end is still the silence of the dust. The prevailing science-perspective of it, can be sort of depressing, in starry night’s panorama.

    Under the heavens of time and space, on a World green with life, no purpose to anchor the soul, in wave-tossed seas. This blue Planet’s coast lands of material Science only extend-out so far. Beyond which shoreline, depths unfathomable may expand, profound and unseen.

    – I can wholeheartedly agree that,“those who see the Cosmic perspective as … depressing outlook, really need to reassess how they think about the world”. Your worldview, will certainly affect your perspective on the Universe. And, perhaps—in context of life—whether it depresses you with a sense, as the real-world waves break around you, “Is that all there is?”

    – We are indeed “connected” to the Universe. And realization of that historical connection could electrify every mind on Earth.

  3. For those who feel depressed and are terrified by the large scale of the universe I would suggest the Forerunner Saga from the Halo novels (if you like to read science fiction novels at least!). It tells about a time long ago when Humanity and another civilization (the Forerunners) controlled large parts of the universe. The Forerunners were a great civilization that had the task to protect life througout the universe. They had reached the highest level of technological evolution which they used to build massive structure that could extend the lifespan of stars or create artificial planets where they protected all lifeforms they found.

    If you read such cool stuff then you don’t feel small or meaningless anymore. Imagine what potential lies in our civilization! We could one day be those gaurdians of life througout the galaxy! Or we could even share this great vastness with other civilizations! As individuals we may be small and meaningless (you decide yourself how meaningful you want to be) but think about all of us together, Humanity! And don’t be afraid to dream about the future (but not too much)!

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