Sorry to break this to you, but not very much.
In the eye of the universe, humans are negligible. Humans aren’t even a microscopic dot on the cosmic scale, since the universe formed about 13.7 billion years ago, and the earliest organism that resembled a human walked our planet a mere 2.5 million years ago. Even relative to Earth, which is 4.6 billion years old, humans have barely scratched the surface of time. And this is just from the perspective of the fourth dimension. In a three dimensional sense, the Sun is the size of 1.3 million Earths, and the Sun is only a medium star.
The Sun, which spans a mere 1.496 x 10^8 km wide, is about 2100 times smaller than the largest known star in the universe, VY Canis Majoris. If VY Canis Majoris were to be placed in the center of our universe, it would extend farther than Jupiter’s orbit…feel small yet?
I’ll keep going. Let’s move on to space instead of objects of mass.
- Our Solar System is a decent sized solar system, located at one of the tails of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
- In the Milky Way, there are believed to be around tens of billions of solar systems
- In the Observable Universe, there are an estimated one hundred billion galaxies
- and we can’t forget about physicists’ theories about the multiverse (infinite parallel universes)…
Here is a cool link that puts everything in perspective, from an atomic level with quarks, strings, and bacteria, to a cosmic level with planets, galaxies, and finally the observable universe.
To me, this is all quite mind blowing. And I can’t help but reach the (arguably pessimistic) conclusion that humans are useless. One day we will all cease to exist, and everything we have ever experienced, believed in, and accomplished in life will be forgotten; this is a morbid and macabre thought, but it is indisputable. When we are all gone and every remnant of human life on Earth has returned back to the universe, the universe will not miss us. Our annihilation will not cause be disruptive on the flow of cosmic life, nor, in my opinion, will our decimation be something new or special in this universe (there is a really cool article explaining artificial intelligence that details the Fermi Paradox: why we think foreign species have never made contact with Earth, since the vast size of the universe would make it likely that at least some other living organism is out there; one of the theories was because the other advanced species have been wiped out by “The Great Filter”).
It’s quite depressing to actually think about how replaceable everyone is; even the phrase “you’re one in a million” means that there are 1,000 people just like you on Earth, since there are over 7 billion people living on this planet currently. And since approximately 107 billion people have ever walked this Earth, and yet only a select handful have ever survived and been remembered through history (I’m talking like Isaac Newton, King Henry VIII, etc. people), the likelihood of you being remembered past a few generations by more than a few people, like close descendants, is highly unlikely.
Despite all of these thoughts that may invoke a feeling of emptiness, there is some degree of uniqueness that lies in every person: the fact that you are actually alive is quite spectacular. You might not be too important, but the probability of you making it to this point in time at this exact instance, reading this blog post, is infinitely small. Evolution had to work a specific way to get you to this point: if Earth in its infant rock stages hadn’t been sucked into the Sun’s gravitational pull at this exact distance, you wouldn’t be alive; if the first cells hadn’t undergone symbiosis, you wouldn’t be here; if the dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct and the Cambrian period hadn’t occurred, you wouldn’t be here; if Hitler hadn’t invaded Russia in the dead of winter, you probably wouldn’t be here; if your parents hadn’t met by some random incident, well, you probably wouldn’t be here.
Although the universe is unbelievably gigantic, and humans are so irrelevant on the cosmic level it hurts to think about, you should still feel special that despite all the insurmountable odds, you’ve actually made it here. Congrats on being alive!