Where Do We Stand In The Colossal Universe, By The Way?

by Hunais Khawaja

Look outside the window in the middle of the night and you will see a million stars shining at you. Then, how vast is this universe, how many stars are out there, separated by unfathomable distances. The eminence renders us with fascination and fear. Fascination, for how easily we forget the vastitude that encompasses us. Fear, perhaps, because it makes us realise our insignificance in this ever expanding and existing universe.

At the centre of this image, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, there is an emission-line star known as IRAS 12196-6300. It’s located 2300 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Crux. Unlike Sun, this star is still in its infancy. It’s under 10 million years old and not yet burning hydrogen at its core.

Somehow, in the middle of these wanderings of our thoughts, we almost always stumble (I imagine with a deep sigh) onto the question: What do I even matter? But today, I ask, what does any of us, dead or alive, even matter? For even the greatest; let us say, The Alexander, is dead. What does it matter to him, if today, we build his statues, or spit on them? For all we know, what made him once may as well be an insect today, or even quite literally be shit.

To put things into the perspective, if our world has existed for a year, we, modern humans have been here for just 23.36 minutes. That’s how little our existence has been in this world, let alone the universe. And the universe is almost thrice as old as our world. So where do we stand? Can anyone really do anything that will ever matter in this colossal universe? The universe that is so huge that humans simply are unable to comprehend its vastness.

Let’s look at the most powerful people around us – people, who perhaps run our society. They may seem to matter a lot, but if we look closely we will realise that they are merely the instruments of human evolution. If it wasn’t them, it would be someone else. The thing is that everyone is replaceable. People die and the world goes on. So, what does anyone even matter? And if that doesn’t push you into an existential crisis then let’s add a bit more to the question and make it – if nothing matters then what even is the purpose of life?

William Shakespeare’s famous quote “To be or not be” is indeed the question that follows our little thought experiment; the question, asking for the purpose of our lives, which there seems to be none. But, what if we had a purpose to our lives, perhaps, like Sisyphus had one: to roll the immense boulder up the hill only to watch it come back and hit him. How would it be different? Would we be happy with that? I refuse to believe that such a mundane purpose would entertain any of the intelligent life forms that we are.

But, what is mundane to one may not be the same to someone else. Perhaps, that is why the best thing about life is that it has no purpose, that you can define it to be whatever you want. So, you may define the purpose of your life to be anything that makes you happy.

Life can sometimes be quite disheartening; if you think that you are good at something wait until you compete with other people. No matter how good you are, there’s always someone who can replace you, and for most of us, many that can replace us. As much as you’d like to be a snowflake the fact is that most of us are around the global averages for everything because that’s how averages work.

But here’s the thing: you may be a statistical normality, you may not be the best at kicking the ball or at math or anything at all and you may not even ever matter in the vastness of this universe. But, remember, for all this eternity that the universe has lasted and will last the only time that matters to you is your time. And the only person that matters to you is you. For all, we know the world as we generally believe it to be may not even exist at all. Like beautifully put by the poetess Sylvia Plath in her poem, “Mad Girl’s Love Song” –

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.”

In the search for the ultimate truth, René Descartes did begin with, “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), but that’s perhaps all he could really tell with certainty. Everything that he has built on it, has mostly met criticism from philosophers of all ages. So, do we really know anything except the fact that we exist? What if the world we live in is not real?

Hunais Khawaja

The world that you see is different from what I see or even what anyone else sees. Every perspective of the world emanating from every human being is a different world altogether. And the person creating it is its God in his own right. Just by being you are creating your own world. That’s what makes you so special. That’s why when you look at the sky in the middle of the night the stars don’t just shine, but they shine at you – because you are their God, their creator.

(The author is a Delhi based software developer from Baramulla. He lives in Delhi. Ideas expressed are personal.)

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