I saw the following on Twitter yesterday:
I could see the logic if I were a galaxy or a star. There are loads of them. In fact, if there are that many galaxies, just imagine the sheer number of planets across them combined. So many they are almost utterly unimpressive on their own.
But we are not galaxies, stars or planets. We are people. And, to our knowledge, we exist on the only life-permitting planet in the universe. Far from there being 200,000,000,000 of us – or 2e+22 if you consider the people equivalent to the stars – there is only one planet with any of us on it. And even then, only 7,000,000,000 of us. Which is far less than 2e+22.
It is all very well saying that planets and galaxies are not special because there are just so many of them. But by that same logic, the only life-permitting planet in the universe does seem pretty special in the end weighed against those numbers. There does seem to be something special about this particular planet. And it just so happens it is the only planet that has people on it – there is surely something unique about that.
Far from the size of the universe making us seem insignificant, it is the very thing that implies our significance. Sure, we may be small and unimpressive when weighed against the sheer vastness of the universe. It is much bigger than we are. But that we are the only planet of our kind, and we appear to be the only people in the entire universe of 200,000,000,000 galaxies and the multiple times over planets that exist within them, that minimally makes us unique, doesn’t it?
The argument in the tweet reads a little bit like saying there billions of tons worth of precious metals in the world waiting to be mined, don’t you dare ever think the crown jewels are especially valuable. But the fact is, they are special. Sure, there is more gold and precious gems in the world than appear on the crown jewels alone. But there is only one set of crown jewels. It is their uniqueness, at least in part, that makes them special. That they are one of a kind and have been crafted into something special.
By the same token, we may be one insignificant planet, and even smaller as individual people, when weighed against the vastness of the universe. But the fact that we are the only life-permitting planet, and indeed the only one with any people on it, does make us unique. It is almost as though we have been crafted into something special, unlike all those hundreds of billions of other planets with nothing on them. When we look at the vastness of the universe and see only one planet with people on it – and hundreds of billions of others with none – all of a sudden, the vastness starts to make this little planet, and we insignificant people, seem a little special after all.