“We contemplate eternity beneath the vast indifference of heaven.” Warren Zevon
Warren had a gift for capturing essential human feelings within a few lyrics. This seems to me to be one of the primary problems with starting a quest for meaning from the scientifically revealed universe. Current estimates say the universe contains at least two trillion galaxies, 2,000,000,000 galaxies each containing numbers of stars beyond our normal ability to comprehend. Our knowledge has grown to expression in numbers beyond our ability to fully comprehend. The central place of earth beneath a canopy of visible stars, which was already a number so large “as numerous as the stars” was used by the ancients to describe things which could not be counted. We learned long ago that the sun and heavenly bodies do not revolve around us. Now we know that they exist in such quantities and at such distances that it is hard to imagine our planet or anything on it is significant when measured against the whole. Unfortunately for us in our desire for meaning, that includes us.
Having become self-aware, we want to believe that our thoughts, beliefs, actions and lives matter. We would like to believe that they continue to exist past a number of decades we can usually count on our fingers. And then we look out at the vastness. With all of its grandeur and beauty, it still refuses to affirm that we matter on our little rock on the sidearm of a rather ordinary galaxy. Who are we in comparison to the size and complexity within our own galaxy, let alone two trillion or more? Looking up can lead to quiet despair at the same moment of appreciation of the beauty. We are really very small after all.
We adopt forms of government and declare them superior to all others. We inherit and pass along religions which allow us to claim to know the power behind it all and to know the one truth revealed for all mankind. We divide ourselves by race, location, nation and belief proclaiming various forms of superiority. We go to war over our lists and kill vast numbers of our own species. We take every resource of the planet and use it no matter how much damage we realize we are causing to the Earth, ourselves, and all the other life forms here. And we want to believe that all of our building, investigation, theorizing, sense making and violence in the name of truth are both justified and have ultimate meaning.
The heavens remain what they are and refuse to speak back the assurance we desire. Only the size and quantity answer and they say, “You are very small and we can continue without pause without you.”