Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On the cosmic insignificance of human life

On backreaction, Stefan discusses the recent finding that the red supergiant star Betelgeuse is shrinking, roughly having lost 15% of its diameter in the last 15 years. Nobody knows for sure what this means. It could be a prelude to the star going supernova.

Betelgeuse, seen in the constellation Orion, is about 200 parsecs away. If it goes supernova, it will rival the moon in brightness. Its effect on earth is expected to be small. Fortunately its spin axis is so aligned that the intense gamma ray bursts that a supernova emits will not pass earth. These gamma rays have the potential of causing a mass extinction.

But that is a matter of chance. Here we are, stupid humans, fighting as we must, in dozens of wars and insurgencies around the world, and at any moment, a cosmic brush might sweep us out of the picture. Of course, at the root of many of our fights is the attempt to find significance to our lives in some religion or ideology. Or to frantically stuff this sixty or seventy years of life with all the things and possessions one can dream of even when it means snatching bits and pieces from the many.

The realization of the utter insignificance of human concerns in the face of the universe, like all truths, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, why make others suffer, let us do the best with the time we have. On the other hand, if human life is insignificant, then so is the truncation and brutalization of human life. (This double-edged nature of the truth is why moksha is ringed with such difficult rules. The truth itself is simple, its applications by one who has realized it are potentially very dangerous to the rest of humanity.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bhaiya you remind me of the initial chapter of the HHGTG.