For many, they simply answer this question, by their profession.
What are you?
"I'm a doctor"
"I'm an engineer"
"I write the terms and conditions page in every software"
Well, every profession is important. Yeah, it is! But did that really define who we are? cuz a doctor is also a father, a brother, a son and an uncle. An engineer is also a mother, a sister, a daughter and an aunt. So our profession doesn’t exactly define us cuz we are much more than that. It simply tells what we do with most of our time. We do multiple roles in our lifetime. So how do we define us?
Do our interests define us?
We can try defining us with what we wish to do with our lives. It comes close, the Japanese had a term called Ikigai (生き甲斐)which means “a reason for being”. It emphasizes us to find a reason to be alive and make our life worthwhile. This is because our life is temporary. We aren’t gonna be living forever and of course, it is important to make good use of whatever little time we were given. Now this tells us to become something in our lifetime but it still doesn’t explain what exactly are we in the first place! Yeah, think about it, the actions you take, the job you do, the food you eat, your experiences all are just things you do in your lifetime! They don’t accurately answer the question “What is you?”. Turns out, this is exactly the question we have been searching for so long throughout our history, in Science.
We are special and also not so special
Just think about it — “We are a group of self-aware beings who are walking on a floating spherical rock, which is hurling through space moving around a giant ball of burning gas”. Now tell me, what are we? Feels weird Nah? I know that feel bro.
Given how a single cell microscopic organism which miraculously appeared on a space rock which is moving around a star which is one among the billions of stars in a galaxy which is also one among the trillions of galaxies in the Universe decided to evolve and then become a better version of itself and over the course of several million years of evolution resulted in us — the people who we are now. We are special. Really special. We had everything. From the right amount of sunlight and to the right amount of moonlight. We started off from a single cell organism. We are now a collection of millions of cells working hard every single day trying their best to help keep the whole entity alive. We also carry one of the most complex individual structures found in this galaxy called our “Human Brain”. We are nothing short of a miracle. We were so special or so we thought until we started looking up at the night sky.
Initially, we thought the sky was for us. The sun was shining for us, the stars were twinkling for us and the whole world was working for us. But soon, after centuries of exploring the sky, we found out that those things were just there. They aren’t made for us but they just happened to be there. Despite being such a miraculous creation, we are watching a story that is not about us. Every event in the Universe just happens. With or without us. This soon caused many people to fall into an existential crisis. Many turned over to nihilism. We found out whatever we do, we are just a group of simple species who will probably never even leave their own local group. Not so special aren’t we now? Hmm, Not exactly. This is where science comes into play.
How science changes the perspective
We are given a role to play in a very short lifetime. By looking back at our creation, we can understand how important we are to this universe. Shortly after the beginning (The Big Bang Theory we came up with), there were simple subatomic particles like protons, neutrons and electrons. One of each combined to create the simplest element called the Hydrogen. However, gravity kept pulling these particles together tightly which put so much pressure on Hydrogen atoms and they fused to produce Helium. Then Helium atoms fused to produce even heavier elements and the process continued with a release of a huge amount of heat and light which created the first-ever stars aka primordial stars of our Universe. Stars give life to the Universe. Because it is the stars that created all the elements we know now. The star’s core will continue to fuse atoms together tightly using the gravitational force and once it runs out of elements to fuse, it will die in a huge explosion called the supernova. This supernova will scatter the stardust through millions of kilometres (light-years perhaps) in space.
Many stars have spent so much energy and matter and have ended up as stardust throughout the Universe. Everything we look around us today was initially part of a star at some point. Biology says 99% of our body is made up of just 6 elements oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus which were also created by the same stardust. We are as important to the Universe as the stars that make up our universe. We are the Universe. We are a way for the Universe to know itself. We are the Universe’s consciousness.
The Universe is constantly changing and evolving, Black Holeseating away millions of stars, dark energy pulling apart distant galaxies away from each other every second and then there is us, a group of people who are living in one of the small floating space rocks. However, we have been given the power of Science. The power to learn about us and the power to explore and enjoy the time we have for us. We can help each other, save lives, create art, master a craft, write a novel, travel to distant places, build cities and towns, explore the space and of course, try and learn more about ourselves through science. We don’t know anything clearly yet and our knowledge of Science is very limited. However, we have been given all of this for free and I’d say it’s a nice bargain.
Our time might be limited but we matter, we energy and most importantly, we stardust.