“Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.”
Today, I was considering the question of whether or not life is inherently good. I closed my eyes and wondered if we were special, if what we were doing here was somehow exceptional. For people of strong faith, God is the key that gives our lives a special essence of grandeur. Although I do believe in a higher power, I wanted to dig deeper. I am an optimist, and I wanted life to be precious. In my mind, the major objection to our existence being more than inconsequential is how small we actually are. I have watched a few videos on this topic and have heard the facts about the actual size of the universe and the relative size of our planet. Although I probably have not fully wrapped my mind around the true extent of 14 billion lights years, the estimated length of the universe, I have given due consideration to just how microscopic we Earthlings seem to be. In order to further my understanding, I dreamed up this analogy.
Imagine God in the form of an old man. He is wearing a white robe and has flowing silver hair with a matching beard. He is perched aloft on an elaborate scaffolding about 100 feet above ground. The scaffolding is situated next to a massive glass orb that is about 200 feet in diameter. Within this orb lies a brilliant jumble of swirling light and color. This breath-taking masterpiece is our universe. About halfway up the orb, on his scaffolding, God is looking into some sort of contraption that is not humanly possible, but his great omnipotence has allowed its existence. It consists of the Hubble Telescope, an electron microscope, several magnifying lenses, and a pair of super-binoculars all seamlessly spliced together to form a machine capable of viewing the tiniest of the tiny, the smallest specks of nearly undetectable pieces of nothing in the universe. Take a moment to picture the ridiculous spectacle of this elevated old man examining a monstrous orb through this otherworldly apparatus. God is aiming this device at one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way Galaxy. Within the massive glass sphere of the universe, this spiral arm resembles one of many sparkling hairs flailing from a shimmering ball of light about the size of a pea.
God peers into his extravagant viewing device, zooms, and adjusts the picture. Within just this hair-sized arm of our galaxy, the image whizzes past millions of stars, many of which are thousands of times larger than our sun. It approaches our modest solar system, whooshes past the outer planets, and reaches its destination, a bluish-green sphere moving humbly about its elliptical orbit. As God adjusts his apparatus to peer in just a bit further, his view flies through the last 70 miles of the Thermosphere, Mesosphere, Stratosphere, and Troposphere, arriving at the surface of our planet. God glances at a herd of elephants at a watering hole in Africa, a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins leaping playfully in the South Pacific, and finally shifts his gaze to New York City. His eye sparkles as he soaks in the thriving civilization that one of his favorite creations has erected.
God exclaims, “Wow, those humans have really outdone themselves in the last couple hundred years. Incredible, what magnificent cities and technology they have established on such an infinitesimally minute celestial body. It is absolutely spectacular that they are able to engineer such marvelous scientific innovations and conceive of the vastness of their universe from such a seemingly insignificant blue dot. They are quite the special example of life’s magnificence, indeed.”
This anecdote is from a religious perspective and is idealistic in its inclusion of the existence of God. However, even if you are not a God-fearing person, the story still serves to shed light on our place in the entire scheme of things—a point as irrelevant to the totality as an atom within a molecule within a fingernail cell of the thumb on your left hand. This can be a rather depressing sentiment in the eyes of many people. For people who believe in God, it is comforting to think of an all-seeing presence that is watching us and cares about our lives. People who are unsure of religion, on the other hand, often view our utterly diminutive presence as a testament to our mundane existence. However, I would like to contemplate a different perspective on the matter.
The universe is clearly non-living, first and foremost. The enormous majority of all matter in the universe does not experience the sensation of being alive, which most would agree necessarily means that they do not experience anything at all. Furthermore, the odds of the universe seem overwhelmingly stacked against the possibility of life. The near-vacuum pressure and distressingly cold temperatures throughout most of space make it difficult to merely conceive of something actually being alive if not for the fact that we have ourselves and other life on our planet to prove that life is possible. For life to inexplicably appear and subsist on any planet, an implausible combination of factors must first manifest themselves in unison. Most notably, life requires the presence of a solar heat source with a proper amount of insolation—moderate but not excessive. Additional vital persistence conditions are a steady supply of liquid water, elements needed for metabolism and reproduction, and a suitable environment.
This description of the conditions necessary for life is admittedly simplified in nature. Countless other complicated factors were unquestionably at work over hundreds of millions of years for the evolution of life to culminate in our specialized and self-aware human form. My point is that against remarkable odds, life appeared on planet Earth. Defying enormous unlikelihood, it endured and progressed for thousands of millennia. The end result of this impossible sequence of events was humanity, a race of beings of unparalleled sophistication. Our intelligence and dexterity are so advanced that we have been able to eradicate many diseases, prolong our own lifespan by decades, build ships capable of space travel, engineer weapons of mass destruction, and even map the nearly infinite universe in which we are so haphazardly situated.
Some people would say that this unlikely series of events in question is strong evidence that the miracle of life was conceived and facilitated by a divine Creator. I humbly suggest that this is a mute point. Even if our existence was not part of some plan, I feel that it is still grounds for celebration. Although I may be too optimistic for some, I’d like to think that we, as a race, won a cosmic lottery. We hit a jackpot of immense proportions. As far as we have discovered, intelligent life is non-existent elsewhere in the universe. Even if it has emerged somewhere else in our multi-billion light year backyard, it is clearly an infrequent spectacle.
Take a minute to reflect upon the undeniable probability of non-existence that you overcame to exist in this universe. Stumbling upon life in the universe is comparable to unearthing a priceless gemstone. We are not so much small as we are rare, and our experience is unquestionably valuable. Having been made manifest as intelligent life, we have been given the opportunity to fall in love, taste superb cuisine , skydive, drink wine, ride roller coasters, explore the depths of space, make lifelong friends, walk a dog, laugh uncontrollably, read great literature, go down a waterslide, admire artistic masterpieces, climb mountains, gaze upon the oceans, look upon a sunset, hike through forests, fly in airplanes, scuba dive among marine animals, discover the laws that govern our world, feel the warmth of a bonfire, realize our passions, create and enjoy music, play sports, cherish your family, start a movement, begin a legacy, travel the world, and watch other people living life alongside us.
When I consider this, I cannot help but feel that life is a good thing, intrinsically. Of course, life does not come without pain and suffering. For some, life is a hardship from the get go. Some people even commit suicide, seeming to say that they would have preferred to have never been born. I believe that these people are severely misguided. If they considered the countless pleasurable and fulfilling experiences that life has made available to them, they would realize that the good far outweighs the bad if they simply adjust their attitude. To quote Groucho Marx, “Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself; I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”
Marx spoke wise words, indeed. But moreover, we would never appreciate the beauty and goodness of life if not for the times when we feel that life has beaten us down. Evil and bad feeling exist so that we can revel in its absence. If a ruler of the universe does not exist to give us a higher purpose, then I am thankful for the most marvelous accident in the history of everything. Even if our presence on this little planet is trivial to the universe, we should treasure and cherish our lives for their inherent value. I encourage you to stop looking for the gold at the end of the rainbow in your life. Stop worrying about perceived imperfections. Refrain from mapping out your life as if it were some path to reach the fabled promised land of wealth, success, and retirement. Stop preparing for life and live it. Realize that life is the prize. In your birth, you won a coveted gift, and now, it is time to celebrate.