At the start, we humans thought we were the center of the universe. How naive. We thought this lie to be a universal truth that granted us special status in the universe, we were at the center of God’s creation, and thus the most prized of his inventions. Then, the heliocentric model placed the Sun at the center of the universe. In what was a huge blow to human pride, we came out as self-appointed winners on the basis of us still being God’s cherished inventions. We then learned that the Sun wasn’t the center of the universe, but instead the center of one of trillions of Solar Systems in constant revolution around the Milky Way center. Then, we found out that we were just another planet around another star in another galaxy that was one of trillions upon trillions. Now, there is a fair chance that we may just be one of quadrillions of universes.
While our insignificance in the cosmic scheme of things has nought but grown, we’ve still found ways to make ourselves feel unnecessarily special. The first of these is the proclamation that we’re the only known form of intelligent life in the known universe. Now that might hold true what of what importance is being intelligent when regardless of its existence, the horsehead nebula still remains untraveled, the TRAPPIST system remains unexplored, and the flat earth theory still remains believable to an absurd number of people. We’re intelligent relative to the natural life on Earth (although maybe not, octopuses display far more intelligent behavior than us). On a cosmic scale, the human species is to the universe what the the flutter of a butterfly’s wing is to storms on Jupiter, irrelevant. In fact, the argument that being intelligent is being special is in itself flawed; an intelligent species wouldn’t knowingly harm its ecosystem and put politics above science.
So, one may ask, what does make us significant? Is it love? friendship? Science? The former two make individual lives important, but not an entire civilization. Love isn’t a metric for progress, scientific progress is, and its measured by the Kardashev scale. The Kardashev scale measures a species’s technological progress. I denotes optimal utilization of all planetary resources. II denotes optimal utilization of host star’s energy output. III denotes optimal utliization of your entire galaxy’s energy resources. We haven’t even reached point I yet, and there’s no saying we ever will given the way we’ve used our planet’s resources is destroying it. The only way to become significant in a cosmic sense is to expand our barriers and become a space-faring civilization. Our solar system provides a variety of environments, everything from the hellish landscape of Venus to the subsurface oceans of Europa, populating them is both an engineering challenge and a stepping stone to going beyond.
Having a measurable impact requires scientific progress, but humans would rather continue playing tic-tac-toe rather than switch to Minecraft. Rather than adopt incredible challenges in the form of navigating the harsh environment of space and settling humans on other bodies, our politicians choose to fight and debate and argue endlessly. That’s because the entire concept of modern politics is somewhat flawed. Politicians can’t make decisions that balance on the scale of decades, even centuries. They cannot comprehend the importance of science, because anyone who is mildly scientific would never go into politics, and fixate themselves on which country did what and their endless agendas rather than the one big agenda that should occupy their mind: what is our place in the universe?
And it goes without saying that space offers more economic potential than anything else, so the entire notion of immense space exploration budgets drawing money away from the economy and facets like healthcare and education is founded in quicksand. Asteroid mining offers returns on the level of trillions of dollars, if not more. Lunar colonization offers dramatic reductions in the cost of space exploration and a gateway to other bodies in the Solar System. Europa and offer the chance to find life beyond Earth, or at least understand how modern Earth came to be. Space offers a dizzying array of possibilities, but we ignore them all.
As the Ancient one put it, we’re a “momentary speck within an indifferent universe,” having an impact requires understanding of just how important technology and science are.
But then again, do people really get that any longer? Ancient humans had access to the universe via a tool that is ironically useless today, the naked eye. Looking up offered a window into a larger world, unlike today where the night sky is pitch black like in all of Enid Blyton’s stories. This sparked curiosity, it led to the development of calendars and timekeeping and birthed the concept of studying, which has historically been awesome. Even astrology came into being, one of our first attempts to explain how the universe impacts us. We’ve lost sight of that burning curiosity now. People think they have access to a whole new world through their smartphones, but no one realises what we’ve lost along the way. We’ve lost the reason why we began being intelligent: the night sky.