“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
This excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space” carries a certain existential weight to it. Not necessarily because it may feel as though it diminishes our existence to just brief fractals of light on a speck of dust floating on through the infinite with its final destination being a nonexistent edge. Quite the contrary actually, this excerpt from Sagan should make us feel gargantuan.
When measuring the sheer scale of the universe, the act of quantifying it really begins to paint perhaps the most beautiful work of art that ever was and ever will be. Within the Milky Way galaxy alone, our galaxy, the act of counting out all the planets and stars that exist within our cosmic patch of land has proven to be difficult enough in and of itself. Scientists estimate that there are between 100 billion to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way. While estimates for the number of planets range from 100 billion to 3.2 trillion, with some estimates even going as high as 8 trillion. Let’s say we take the low-end of these measurements; that would still be 100 billion stars and planets in just our galaxy.
Guess how many galaxies there are in the universe? The calculations for this number range from 100 billion to 2 trillion. Oh, I forgot to mention that this particular estimate is based solely on what we are capable of measuring within the observable universe. What this means is that even the high-end of this estimate could prove to be a mere fraction of a fraction compared to the actual number of galaxies in the entire universe.
At this point, you might be wondering, “That’s nice and all, but why does that matter?” To answer that question, you need to understand the fundamental building blocks of life. The four most prevalent elements that consist of all organic life on Earth are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. Well, it just so happens that those four same elements are also among the 10 most abundant elements in the universe.
The sum total of all these parts is really simple: what’s happening here on Earth is not “possibly” happening on other planets, it’s impossible that it’s not happening on a virtually immeasurable scale.
As of now, there is no hard evidence proving that life exists on other planets. But as far as the math indicates, it’s just inconceivable to think that out of all the galaxies in the universe, only one galaxy had a single planet within the “Goldilocks zone” of its star capable of providing complex multicellular life. Our own understanding of what we believe are the fundamental building blocks of life is inherently biased. It’s entirely based on the composition of living organisms here on Earth. But for all we know, there could be a race of intelligent sentient beings with their own cultures, ideologies, and religions that live on a planet a billion miles away from their sun whose bodies primarily consist of helium, neon, silicon, and magnesium. Likewise, there could be living creatures on other planets who look just like us, live on planets just like ours, and have societies just like ours. Some of them could be archaic compared to ours, others might be thousands of years more advanced than ours. The point is that Sagan’s quote could very well apply to billions upon trillions of other worlds.
With all of these living beings existing on planets, solar systems, and galaxies so far from our own, there must be some force out there that connects us, right? Well, the answer to that question is every bit as mysterious as the universe itself: consciousness. Much like the universe, the study of consciousness is an extraordinarily difficult area to study because of its subjective nature. Our ability to question and challenge the very fabric of existence as well as the meaning behind meaning itself is a truly unique trait that we often associate as a characteristic for the most intellectually evolved life forms (i.e. us).
The human brain possesses roughly 100 billion neurons which are each accompanied by roughly 10,000 synaptic connections. What this means is that every person on Earth has their very own galaxy of thoughts and emotions that accumulate into what we understand as consciousness. The collective consciousness of all living things on Earth is essentially its own massive cluster of galaxies that acts as a microcosm of what’s occurring throughout the entirety of the universe.
In all likelihood, we are neither the first nor the last living beings that have ever questioned the meaning of life, proposed the idea of a world without war, or pondered the existence of life on other planets. Everything and anything originated as a singularity that expanded out from the crucible of creation into conscious being. We all share the very same molecules and atoms that originated from this singularity that can be found in even the farthest corners of the universe. Despite the fact that we are separated by seemingly insurmountable distances, all living things still remain connected through a metaphysical singularity: universal collective consciousness.
When Sagan wrote that passage in his book nearly 30 years ago, most people believed he was trying to make our existence feel small, but we shouldn’t. Our lives, our wants and desires, our fears and anxieties, our anguish and our joy, are anything but inconsequential. They are part of a cosmic ballad that echoes throughout infinity in both the physical and metaphysical plane. Just remember that when you look up into the night sky and cross eyes with that helium based life-form billions of light years away, the two of you are communicating through a universal language: being.
Hailing from Armonk, New York, James Kotroczo is currently attending SUNY Purchase majoring in social sciences as well as minoring in journalism.
With ambitions to become an established writer, he has had articles published on other media outlets such as 12up, Blasting News, The Globalist, and Salon. In addition to this, he also aspires to have his poetry and short stories published.