“It’s a big universe, Jerry, and some things in it are talking monkey work. Monkeys, like you.” – the Angel Gabriel (played by Christopher Walken) in “The Prophecy”
You are a speck, living on a speck, orbiting a speck, spiraling about a speck, hurtling through a vast universe. Your life, your thoughts, your feelings, your successes, your failures, your joys, your sorrows, your romantic liaisons, your bowel movements – they don’t matter to a cold, dark, empty, infinite universe.
Consider this: even as you are sitting there, perfectly still and reading this, you are traveling at around 1,000 miles per hour, the speed of the earth’s rotation. The earth orbits the Sun at around 18.5 miles per second, and our solar system spirals around the center of our Milky Way Galaxy at about 515,000 miles per hour. Our Milky Way galaxy is a part of a cluster of galaxies that is moving towards another cluster at around 18.64 miles per second. But all these speeds are relative and measured against other objects flying through space. How fast are we moving through space relative to itself? Best guess, thanks to comparisons to the cosmic background radiation, scientists estimate that our galaxy travels through space at 1.3 million miles per hour (361.1 miles per second). We have no idea if the universe itself is traveling at some rate of speed relative to some other universe, or some truly fixed point in space.
That means every second, you are traveling 361.1 miles, or 1,906,608 feet. Every micro-second (0.000001 seconds), you are traveling 1.9 feet. Angstroms are units of length used to measure waves of light, and in terms of Angstroms you are traveling at 5.81e^15 Angstroms per second, or 5,810,000 Angstroms per nanosecond. A zeptosecond is the smallest measurement of time measured to date, relating to the ejection of an electron from a Helium atom, and equals 1e^-21 seconds. So in terms of Angstroms and zeptoseconds, you are traveling at 0.00000581 Angstroms per zeptosecond. I won’t get into Planck time, the theoretically smallest measurement of time possible relating to the speed at which light travels, but you get the idea.
Sitting still, you are traveling the length of the United States in a little over seven seconds (2,680 miles/361.1 mps = 7.4 seconds).
This is why time-travel is practically impossible. Doc Brown’s Flux-Capacitor would take who-knows-how-long to calculate the precise location within space-time for the Delorean to show up in the exact same spot on the earth 30 years earlier, not to mention one minute in the future. If we ever achieve the ability to travel through time, it will be a trip into empty space. Even the smallest of rounding errors in calculations, the most refined of tolerances, would result in us showing up in the middle of cosmic nowhere with the Earth long since gone from that location.
That’s because most of the universe is empty space. Consider this further: the average density of ordinary matter (not the made up dark matter they conjured to balance their gravitational equations) in the universe is 0.2 to 0.25 atoms per cubic meter, or one atom per 140 cubic feet. That’s a little less than a single atom of matter per cord of firewood. The average human (100 kg/220 lb) is made up of 10e^27 atoms, or 10 billion billion billion atoms, and take up about 0.1 cubic meters. So the average human is 400 billion billion billion times more dense than the average density of the measurable universe.
Cosmic densities, distances and timescales make you realize real quick that you don’t matter. At all. Look up into the night sky and look into the abyss, and the abyss looks back. It is infinitely humbling. So what do we do with this realization?
You don’t matter to the universe. But you matter to your friends. You matter to your family. You matter to your children, and grandchildren. In the very least, you should matter to yourself. What you do will never matter in cosmic timescales, or even a short 100 years if you are one of the most influential of people in history. A century is nothing compared to light-years. But what you do does matter now.
Jordan Peterson in his “12 Rules For Life” challenges nihilism thusly: “…that’s a cliche of nihilism, like the phrase, In a million years, who’s going to know the difference? The proper response to that statement is not, Well, then, everything is meaningless. It’s, Any idiot can choose a frame of time within which nothing matters.”
The truth is, nothing matters. But another truth is, everything matters now, second to second. You are traveling at 361.1 miles every second, arriving at a completely different point in space-time, even when sitting still and doing nothing. That’s amazing. Allow the vast empty space of nihilism and the freedom that empty space entails to take you somewhere, like we are on this speck orbiting a speck, spiraling around a speck, hurtling through the vast emptiness of the universe.
Fuck legacies, the all-encompassing desire of every narcissist. Those history books written about you, their pages will eventually crumble or burn. Even the electronic ones and zeroes that make up your life’s story, stored in some vast computer memory, will be eventually be wiped clean via a human-caused EMP, or a CME solar event, or Windows Version 666 will crash, this time forever. At best, your legacy could remain, broadcast via radiowaves or microwaves forever through the universe, the signal weakening across the light-years, likely lost in the noise of other fading signals or cosmic background radiation created by the Big Bang, an event much much bigger than you, even though you are 400 billion billion billion times more dense than the average density of the universe.
No one is going to give a shit once you’re gone, no matter how many show up at your funeral (no one showed at Thomas Paine’s funeral). You’ll be lucky to be remembered by your grandchildren, tops, and maybe your great-grandchildren if you’re really lucky. So give them a hug and make them smile. Or give your buddy a call to see how he’s doing. Or scratch your dog behind his ears. Make them happy that you exist today.