The subject of my insignificance in the grand scheme of things is something that I think about often. Looking up into the vastness of the night’s sky always reminds me of how small I am. To think that the light from the stars originated long before I was born makes me realise that my time here is extremely short.
Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” describes Earth’s 4,500-billion-year history on a timeline of a single day. Bryson writes, “humans emerge one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight”. In a different context, Bryson compares the Earth’s history to a human’s outstretched arms. If fingertip to fingertip is the extent of Earth’s timeline, human existence is the equivalent of the thickness of the skin on your fingertip. Both examples illustrate the fleeting nature of humans on Earth.
To go with this fleeting existence, Bryson points out that the odds of your existence are so minute that it is a miracle that you even exist. The following quote describes what your ancestors had to navigate for you to arrive here.
“Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result — eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly — in you.”
When I think of my existence in this context, I am confronted by cognitive dissonance. The dissonance is about how valuable my life is since the miracle of my existence is so incredible. Adjacent to the miracle is the insignificance of my time here when measured against 4,500 billion years.
How best does one do justice to the miracle of existence while considering the insignificance of our exceedingly short time on Earth? This is a question for each of us to answer if you have the privilege to consider it. For many, the challenge to survive may not afford them the luxury of time and space to consider these existential questions.
I often get lost in the hectic nature of life. The stress of earning a living and providing for today’s needs and what might be needed in the future can be overwhelming. The pressure of a deadline and the consequences of missing it seem so stupidly laughable in the face of our ultimate insignificance. We impose these arbitrary constraints on ourselves, which appear so immaterial when seen through the lens of a multi-billion-year timeline. Let this not be an excuse to break the agreements you make with others because no one will care in the billion years. Let this instead be a perspective that you consider when you make your agreements. Let it also be a consideration with whom you make your agreements.
Embracing your insignificance is the realisation that, in the long run, absolutely nothing matters! Therefore, in the short run, choose to do things worthy of giving you joy when you do them.