Friday, 23 October 2009

At The Centre Of Our Galaxy

There is a black hole at the centre of our galaxy, it's about 2 million times more massive than our sun. It sits about 30,000 light years away, and orbiting it is something of the magnitude of 400 billion stars spread across a galaxy that is close to 100,000 light years wide. Surrounding it are several dwarf galaxies each containing billions of stars, and the nearest comparable galaxy is 2.3 million light years away.

To put that in human terms, imagine a hypothetical electromagnetic wave were to reach the earth from the black hole. When this left the black hole, humanity had not yet reached the Americas. No animals or crops were domesticated, homo sapien were still competing in Europe with Neanderthals. No civilisation, no written language, no beer.

Yet this arbitrary point that's signified by it's relative position to us is only a short distance away, yet in the time it would take light to travel from it to us (ignoring the obvious problem with this hypothetical) all that we hold dear about ourselves has happened. The way of life our ancestors lived is now completely alien to us, and the way we live couldn't be dreamed of back then.

We have a vision of eternity in our eyes. How could we not, for how can we experience non-existence? We didn't exist for over 13.7 billion years, homo sapien extends back a mere 250,000 years or so and I extend back 25 years. The mind though incapable of imagining non-existence only exists for a split second compared to how long the universe has existed, and even less compared to what it will exist.

When faced with facts like these, it is to my mind impossible to reconcile that human significance should be essential to the fabric of the cosmos. It's quite obvious that while we are surrounded by humanity and see the significance of what we do, it's not universal. That is to say, in the black hole at the centre of our galaxy it doesn't matter one bit about what we do. Our existence and actions are entirely inconsequential beyond the confines of this planet.

The moon is the farthest a human has gone, just over 1 light second away. Yet we have seen light that is 13.7 billion years old, galaxies over 13 billion light years away. Yet the claims of morality and meaning are somehow meant to mean something, that there is some absolute notion of right and wrong beyond our planet. It makes no sense!

the false dichotomy that seems to be a part of discussions along this nature is that there's a choice between absolute and individualism. That if we don't have a universal we can use then we are trapped in individualism where everyone decides for themselves. As there is no universal, then what do we have to break away from the frightening notion that in the end there is only ourselves?

But there is not only ourselves, we don't live life in isolation regardless of the isolated nature of the self. The connections we form with others, the interaction and the relationships it fosters all work to bring us as individuals into a greater circle than what would be if we were isolated. Communities form, people work with each other and for each other. Thus we achieve a transcendence from individualism, our lives are interwoven with the lives of others.

This is a localised transcendence, falling out of the awareness of and interaction with the existence of others. And this should be all that is needed. We don't need the universe to care about us, the universe can and does get on fine without us. We don't need ultimate significance in order for what we do to be significant. What we do is confined and localised to this tiny region of space, yet what more do we need?

This is what I can never grasp about those wanting transcendent morality or meaning, it makes no sense to think of our actions as being ultimate. They are localised, contingent, and affect those around us. Only 400 years ago it was still widely believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe, now this planet is not even the centre of our solar system, one of about 400 billion stars that currently orbit the supermassive black hole, which is but one galaxy of billions in this four dimensional bubble.

The great asymmetry in our relationship with the universe is we ascribe meaning to objects that don't reciprocate the relationship. i.e. we care about whether Pluto is a planet but our musings have no bearing on Pluto. It shows something about humanity, that is there is an appreciation for something far greater than us, and that we expect that to be a reciprocal relationship.

The point being in all this is that for us to have meaning and morality, we need not look beyond ourselves. Because if we do we miss what it means to be human and run the risk of anthropomorphising reality. Indeed, there's nothing more geocentric than that very idea. And we are geocentric, the earth is our home and our vantage point on the universe. But it is the height of arrogance to assume that because we have a geocentric mindset that the universe should reflect this. We need not ascribe meaning beyond our confines, rather to bring back the speculation to a localised level with localised rules. The brain cannot comprehend just how grand the universe is, and how insignificant we are in comparison. But it terms of this planet, what we do here is critical for ourselves and all that we hold dear.

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