The Real Way Science Empowers Us

Seeing the universe as it is gives us strength rooted in humility.

Illustration by Azamat Akhmadbaev

Science has made us the masters of the universe we’ve always dreamed ourselves to be. We hold all of human knowledge in our pockets, billions of times the catalog of the Library of Alexandria. We fly around the world in mere hours and are annoyed by the lack of legroom. We have invested objects with intelligence. We rewrite the code hidden in our very cells. We visited the moon, and then stopped going because we got bored. Our conversations, music, and culture have forever broken the constraints of physical proximity. We have subdued famine, plague, and pestilence, and while we have not yet conquered death, we have dramatically extended life.

And yet, even as science has apotheosized us, it has revealed our fundamental insignificance.

We are not made in the image of an all-seeing god. We are as much a part of nature as amoebas and made of the same stuff. Turtles have been around more than a hundred times longer than uppity Homo sapiens. Our sacred texts do not describe natural laws. They are, at best, popular science fiction. Our intuitions are wrong. The Earth is round, time is mere illusion, and we are but one of myriad results of millions of years of evolution. We are not the center of the universe. We live on a tiny rock orbiting a random sun in a backwater solar system in a nondescript galaxy in one expanding universe among many. That same scale is mirrored in the complexity of the subatomic world. For countless generations we believed we were special, but science has shown us that we are only as special as everything else.

Is this a paradox? Maybe not. Maybe science’s greatest gift is how it forces us to confront generations of hubris. Maybe we can learn to use our shiny new tools with a humility rooted in awe at the vast universe we are lucky enough to inhabit. Maybe stripping away the delusion of power is the most empowering thing of all.

Eliot Peper is a critically acclaimed novelist, blogger, and strategist. His work grapples with what it means to live a good life in an age of acceleration. Get his reading recommendations here.