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It's Not About You

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And now an uglier, less twinkly side of the little stars. First up, aliens. Despite our endless fascination with them, Tim Ferris, author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way , will tell us how unlikely it is that we'll ever encounter life in the universe. There's just too much distance and time floating around out there. An idea which makes us suddenly scratch our heads and ask, what is space, anyways? We talk to physicist and mathematician Brian Greene , author of The Elegant Universe to try and sort it all out. And then, to really put things in perspective, we'll see how big space looks when compared to the tiny little spec that is you, or me, us humans. When Copernicus shifted the center of all creation from this planet to the sun, he set a chain of events in motion. Neil deGrasse Tyson tells us about the Copernican Principle, which says, if you think it's all about you then you are probably wrong.

Comments [4]

Lander Hultin from Fort Collins, CO

I was also struck about one comment during the "insignificance" section. It was mentioned that artists are the ones to bring back our egos, to find ourselves of worth, and scientists are the ones who annoyingly say "no, we're really not that important."

So, two things. One, I don't think the artist/scientist distinction holds up. The work of Cormac McCarthy, an American author, has often been interpreted as an offense to our anthropocentric tendencies, authoring landscapes and natural worlds that estrange, overpower, and belittle his characters. Now, his corpus ends with The Road, which seems to have the opposite set up, yet I do think that artists such as McCarthy explore human insignificance in just as real a way as scientists. My hunch is that what scientists see and what artists see are not mutually exclusive in this respect.

Secondly, I would also guess there is something to the scriptural words of various religions. Both in Buddhism and Christian scripture there is a sense of a mystical self-emptying as the path towards becoming one with the One. And for all the talk about the "nothingness" of space I would say that that process of becoming very well should and does include space's vastness. Along those lines I wonder if it is not really that bad to consider oneself, or even one's world, insignificant.

Thank you for the excellent show, it was captivating, puzzling, and wonderful.

Jul. 16 2009 06:38 PM
Eric Hamell from Philadelphia, PA

Your discussion about our "insignificance" seemed very silly and illogical. Recall that it starts out with a segue from the part about the romance of what Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan sent out on Voyager, in which it's suggested that it's unlikely anyone extraterrestrials will ever find it. Yet almost everything that follows suggests that we are not unusual in the Universe, which may furthermore well be infinite. All of this increases, not reduces the likelihood that someone will find that message and understand it.

More generally, it's implied we should be depressed because we're not "important" -- yet what that really means is that we're probably not alone. I, for one, find it much happier to think there a lot of potential friends out there, than to suppose I'm more "special" because there aren't.

May. 28 2009 09:49 PM
Nathan Breitling

I can only hope so.

Sep. 09 2007 11:30 PM

So, if the universe is in us, does that mean we're expanding in all directions at all points? :P

Jul. 31 2007 07:56 PM

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