picture this

Y'know how Spider-man had that "spider sense," where he could tell when something probably large and no doubt painful was about to smack him from behind? Do you ever get that feeling?

Maybe it's just me. And radioactive spiders, of course.

Anyway, let's try a little experiment:

Take a look around... maybe you're sitting at a desk, maybe you're in bed, maybe you're on a boat or a bus or a plane or on horseback (you'd better not be driving, though... there are laws against reading science blogs while driving cars or operating horses). Memorize your surroundings, looking at the people and the things around you, how big they are, and how far they are away from you. Without sounding too much like a hippie, I want you to close your eyes and try to "feel" the distance between you and your computer screen, between you and the closest light, between you and the nearest exit in the event of an emergency. Maybe you can picture in your head what it would look like from outside your body, to see the distance between you and that thing. Go ahead, try it out, close your eyes. Feel it.

Okay, now, open them.

Um, open them.

[This is a problem. Perhaps I should start video blogging...]

Well, I'm going to assume you're all here, with eyes open again. That was lovely, wasn't it? I could picture in my head the things in my room, almost sensing their presence and proximity to me.

Let's go up in scale a bit, and picture yourself inside your house, or your apartment, your boat, your office building, or your horse paddock. Picture how big (or small) you are relative to those things, how you might look to the bird up on the telephone pole. Now picture how big you'd look if someone could see your entire town, or city, or if they were flying overhead at a few thousand feet. You'd be pretty tiny, right?

Now picture yourself, your big muscles and your fine tall stature that your grandmother is so proud of, relative to the size of the entire known universe.

Can you do it? I can't. I think my head would explode.

Maybe this video will help. It was created by the American Museum of Natural History to demonstrate just how big the universe as we know it really is. Using sophisticated computer technology (probably Mathematica on a Mac), they've created a scale map of everything in the cosmos we know about, starting from the Himalayas (tallest mountains on Earth, in case ya didn't hear) and zooming out to the remnant energy of the Big Bang.

What I find particularly interesting is that they've shown just how far out our first radio waves have broadcast. They should be hearing Al Jolson over at the center of the galaxy in the next 70,000 years or so.

Stuff like this makes me want to cry a little bit, for a number of reasons:
1. The universe is so impossibly large, with so many stars and so many planets, that I can't believe that the evolution of life as we define it is unique to our planet,
2. Even if there are other "civilizations" out there, we'll never meet them, as they wouldn't even pick up our earliest radio waves for another couple billion years, and
3. By that time, the Sun will have swallowed up the Earth.
4. Furthermore, on the scale of the known universe, where it takes light so incredibly long to travel between two points, and our own galaxy is but a mere speck in the sky from anywhere else, it really doesn't matter if your socks match today.
5. And your life comprises such a short time on such an inconsequential ball of dirt (during which light will travel practically nowhere), that your existence will have essentially no impact on the history of the universe, so it really doesn't matter if that really cute and popular girl with the blond hair and braces snubbed your request to go to the middle school dance with you. Get back to work on that FTL drive in your mom's basement.

In sum, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvpcOqSK7YU


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