We’ve told ourselves that people are the greatest for so long, most of us actually believe it. Religious narratives puff us up with tales of being made in God’s image, having dominion over nature and even existing in non-material heavenly dimensions. With tales like that, it’s small wonder we’re impressed with ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; I think people are quite extraordinary, and being born a human being is a rare and remarkable gift. But in the scheme of things – and I mean in the really big scheme of things – human beings are puny.
It’s not our size that makes us puny, though as animals go there are and have been much larger. Nor is it our mind, which by all reckoning is perhaps the most complex and self-aware of all minds on earth. Even our effects on the environment – as profound as they might be in consideration of global warming, CO2 emissions and greenhouse gasses – are puny when placed against one or another natural event in world history. All things considered, the least puny thing about people may be the recent close-up snapshots of the surface of the small planetoid Pluto, a billion mile “pool shot” marking the ultimate convergence of technology and physics.
Our puniness, rather, arises from the sweep of history, the true scale of cosmic reality and an honest reckoning of time. From what we can determine, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, a number so large most of us cannot even relate to it in a meaningful way. In that time, our planet has given rise to uncountable life forms, 99.9% of which are now extinct. Our human lineage, even considering our early hominid ancestors, is but at most one or two million year old, and at that not generally family members we would want to have over for dinner. As for those of us who think Homo sapiens are the greatest; well, we were “also rans” up until about 10,000 years ago, and for all intents and purposes, the last 2,000 years are what we’re proud of. 2,000 years is puny.
Cosmic reality doesn’t help. Though our solar system is very old, the universe is much older, at least three times older if current calculations are correct. And as for scales of size, comparisons are a waste of time. Human beings altogether represent a fraction of the universe so small as to be essentially unmeasurable and the universe is so vast that time and space are self-creating; compare that with our puny Apple iWatch.
This brings us to the honest reckoning of time, which places our self-important, bloated conceptions of ourselves in proper perspective. The human reckoning of time is geocentric and entirely based upon celestial observation. Thus our arbitrary ideas of seconds, minutes, hours and so on are manifestations of local phenomena which we apply to a timeless universe. Past, present and future is time in human terms – nothing more – a puny methodology employed to provide context for our rational conceptions of reality.
We invest thoughts and emotions with arrogant importance and cling to them as if they are the keys to all existence, but to paraphrase Rick in the film Casablanca, “it’s easy to see the problems of us human beings don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy, mixed-up universe.” Like I said, puny…and pretty funny.