Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Our Lives: Both absolutely insignificant and wonderfully precious

What follows is a short email exchange between Barry Chung and myself. The exchange illustrates an interesting paradox: On the one hand, it appears that all of human life is absolutely insignificant and essentially meaningless; on the other hand, it's equally obvious that each and every one of us is exceptionally rare and precious. We are all literally cosmic lottery winners and our lives are the prize!

Food for thought. What perspective do you take, insignificant or blessed?


ps. Enjoy your prize! :)


Email #1: Barry's message

Science tells us that we are but one among hundreds of millions of species that evolved over the course of three and a half billion years on one tiny planet among many orbiting an ordinary star, itself one of possibly billions of solar systems in a commonplace galaxy that contains hundreds of billions of stars, itself located in a cluster of galaxies not so different from millions of other galaxy clusters, themselves whirling away from one another in an accelerating expanding cosmic bubble universe that very possibly is only one among a near infinite number of bubble universes. Is it really possible that this entire cosmological multiverse was designed and exists for one tiny subgroup of a single species on one planet in a lone galaxy in that solitary bubble universe? It seems unlikely.

For a look at the alpha and omega of the Universe click on:

Drag the sliders at the bottom of this one to understand scale http://htwins.net/scale2/scale2.swf?bordercolor=white
Concept is interesting for illustrating things within things. 

{Note: The first paragraph in the above message was copied from Michael Shermer's blog post on April 24, 2012: http://www.skepticblog.org/2012/04/24/shermer-in-seminary-school/

Email #2: Steve's Response


I really love that alpha and omega of the universe application. It really  provides a fantastic perspective on the universe. Thanks for the link.

Given the vastness of our cosmos and our infinitesimal place in it, it would be ludicrous to think we are anything but insignificant. And of course, it is inconceivable that the universe was designed only for us. Indeed, just imagine what a waste that would be, given our limited abilities to perceive it! 

So on the one hand, in the grand scheme of things, we are absolutely positively insignificant.

But then, on the other hand, take a look at how very rare and special we (intelligent, sentient beings) are. Let's take our solar system as a representative sample. A big assumption, I know. But what else can I do? One can calculate that the amount of matter in our solar system that constitutes a living, breathing, human being is one part in 3.92 x 10^18. (See my notes below for the derivation). Assuming humans are the only "intelligent sentient beings" in our solar system (another assumption, I know), that makes us pretty rare and special. In fact, to add some perspective, by my calculations you are 22 billion times more likely to win the Power Ball Lottery Jackpot than you are to be matter that belongs to a living human being in our solar system!

From this perspective, each and every one of us is incredibly special and a *cosmic* lottery winner!

I suppose it's a paradox of very large numbers, that in the grand scheme of things, we can be both absolutely insignificant and wonderfully rare and special at the same time.

- Steve

+++++++++++++++++ Derivation Notes ++++++++++++++++++++++

1. Total mass of current human population: 5.077 x 10^11 kg  [or 507.7 Billion kg or 1.117 Trillion pounds] (Derived from 1.A & 1.B below)
1.A: avg mass of human: 72.42 kg (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_weight)
1.B: Current human population on earth: 7.01 Billion [or 7.01 x 10^9 ] (src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population)

2. Mass of solar system: 1.992 x 10^30 kg (Derived from 2.A & 2.B below)
2.B: Sun mass as % of solar system mass: 99.86%   (src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_System)

3. Living human matter as percentage of the Solar System Mass: 2.55 x 10^-17%
[or 1 : 3,920,000,000,000,000,000 or 1 chance in 3.92 x 10^18]
(derived from 1 & 2 above).

4. Odds of winning the Powerball Lottery Jackpot: 1 in 175,223,510 (src: http://www.powerball.com/powerball/pb_prizes.asp)

5. Likelihood of winning the PowerBall Jackpot relative to being living human matter in our solar system:
22,371,427,213 [That is, you are 22 Billion times more likely to win the PowerBall Jackpot than to be matter that belongs to a living human being in our solar system!]
Conclusion: We are all incredibly lucky and our lives are incredibly precious
(Derived from 3 & 4 above)