I awoke to an image from the James Webb Space Telescope. Looking at the universe at it was 4.6 billion years ago is a humble and terrifying experience. Our universe is so incredibly vast and we are tiny. As we on this planet bicker and kill and destroy, out there something truly wondrous looms. Those tiny pinpricks of galaxies. Our own galaxy so massive that we can’t comprehend it. Our own midsize star large enough to hold more than a million earths. Our own planet big enough that no human being can see it all in a lifetime. What in the world are we fighting for? This image is just a patch of sky about the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length. How many grains of sand would it take to fill the visible sky?
Many people argue that such things are a waste of money. Yes, there are very real, human-created problems right here on earth. The siren call of space, however, has the potential to save us. If we look into that immense universe just out there and realize that we are part of something larger than ourselves, we can stop fighting and hating and electioneering. Keep looking up instead. Costs, after all, are relative. Our entire economic system is arbitrary. We decide what’s valuable and what’s not. We make rules that allow individual human beings to control the lives of countless others based on nothing more than agreed-upon principles. Food could be freely distributed. Medicine could be given to the sick. What’s required is perspective. If looking at the universe doesn’t provide perspective, what can?
I often wonder about life in those distant galaxies. Given the sheer numbers it’s practically impossible that life evolved only here. We’re told that teleological thinking is wishful and naive, but looking at the way life behaves I have to wonder if that’s true. Life may be seeking goals. If it is, than intelligence may be among them. We’ve got billions of years and billions of lightyears to work with. And when I look at the headlines I find those of the James Webb Space Telescope to be the most hopeful of all. Galaxies are all about possibilities. Stars being born where the outcomes may be better than one gender assuming it’s better than another. Or that the “right to bear arms” means stockpiling assault rifles to kill others in a fit of pique. No, this money’s not wasted if only people might listen and pay attention to the stars.