A note on scale
I just finished watching the first two episodes of “COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey” a show presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson as a follow up to Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” from the 80s. Just like Brian Cox’s “Wonders of the Solar System“, which aired in 2010, the new Cosmos series evoked plenty of reaction and discussion on and offline.
Whenever I’d sit and talk about the universe with friends (something I immensely enjoy and do surprisingly often), I’d often hear them say that coming to terms with the scope of the observable universe made them feel insignificantly small. I’ve never shared that sentiment. In fact, trying to grasp myself in the context of the universe has made me feel just as big as it itself might be, for the simple fact that scale is nothing but an illusion.
As I sit here and write this blog post (in my house, which is on a street, in a city, in a country, on a continent, on a planet, in a solar system, in a galaxy), thousands of species of bacteria are living in my digestive system. There’s an entire world of microorganisms living inside my body, and I can scale down to the infinitesimal (from my humble, human perspective) to find ecosystems thriving in our soil, oceans and extreme environments. You might call them “small” and our observable universe “big”, but none of this really matters. Only our stubborn need to put our universe in a human context makes us feel tiny.
You are as small as a protein, binding to DNA. You’re as large as Shoemaker–Levy 9, slamming into Jupiter. You are as massive as the distance between my cat and the outer edges of Andromeda. Think of the smallest thing you possible can; there are things even smaller than that. Think of the largest thing you can possible comprehend; there are things far larger than anything you can imagine.
Scale is personal. You’re only as small and insignificant as you allow yourself to be.