If you have ever set aside the time to examine the universe, then you would have come to the conclusion that the earth, let alone the humans who live on it, is both extraordinarily isolated and incontestably insignificant. The distance to our own solar beneficiary, the sun, is so large that it takes light itself eight and a half minutes to cross the expanse.
If we dare to venture a little further, we can see that the next nearest star is 4.2 light-years away. To put it explicitly, even if we could travel at a brisk 299 792.458 km/s, it would still take us four and a bit years to reach our closest celestial neighbour. In other words, the universe is almost ignominiously huge. If you’re still not convinced, check out this interactive scale of the universe.
Increasing the distance scale even further, we come to the galaxy level. The Milky Way itself is 100,000 light-years across. There are an estimated 250 billion stars in the Milky Way (plus or minus 150 billion), and according to the latest approximations by astronomers, there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. This level of astronomical disbelief is almost like the universe, or whoever made it, is raising an unanswerable middle finger to any sentient life forms that are growing too big-headed.
We can’t possibly argue our own importance in a realm where our existence is a mere inconsequential blip on a zero-fucks-given time scale. The distances of just our own booger of a planet on the universe’s handkerchief were, for much of human history, unchallenged obstacles that only the bravest of sailors would dare to cross.
The suggestion that the earth is important is laughable. It’s not even at the centre of its own solar system, a system which itself is on one of the outer rings of a garden-variety galaxy that’s among billions like it in the vast expanse of space. And on this tiny excuse for a planet we reside. An organism smart enough to harness fire when nature herself had already invented twenty-sided polygons (in bacteria) and gear mechanisms (grass-hoppers) about a million years before we did. We are nothing more than an evolutionary lottery in a game played with atoms, elements and chemicals. We are, for all intents and purposes, monkeys on a spinning rock.
We are, for all intents and purposes, monkeys on a spinning rock.
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of people acknowledge this, How many times have we heard about someone standing over the Grand Canyon, or watching a particularly violent thunderstorm, say how small they feel? This they speak proudly, as if they are content to be humbled by the majesty of nature and the universe. Some people even purposefully seek reminders of their own inferiority and mortality to make themselves feel better: contemplating one’s own insignificance by examining the stars each night is now popularly referred to as ‘star-gazing therapy’, and is another example of humanity’s incessant need to debase itself. In doing so we fulfil Naval Ravikant’s image of ourselves as monkeys on a spinning rock.
Religion too is often cited as the moral incentive for burying one’s face in the mud and flattening our bodies against the earth. Religion originally sought to be a reminder of our place of importance in the universe. Since science has disposed of many of those fallacies physically, such as the fact that the earth is the centre of the universe, religion thus took on a mindset of inferiority promulgation. Deities, scripture and Sunday school all teach to remind us of our paltry and petty existence, of how small we are. Whereas once before we held dominion over the earth, now, supposedly, it holds dominion over us. This is not what religion was meant to be. If there is a God, and I believe there is, would He rather us to grovel and slide through the mud in our efforts to make ourselves as small as possible, or would He like to witness His creations stand up straight, head lifted to the sky, in an effort to achieve something greater?
Even if you aren’t religious, you most certainly should be spiritual. Spirituality is simply a man or woman stretching themselves up to the sky in order to find the answers that simply don’t exist in the mud. It’s not about making oneself small. It’s about living up to the idea that we were made in somebody’s image, somebody a lot greater than us. This image is not one of compromise. Too often we meander through life, sacrificing the integrity of our purpose for the sake of cooperation and mediation that dilutes the pleasure of meaningless activities anyway. How much importance do you place on Netflix? Or trivial arguments at work? And how much importance do you place on finding your life’s purpose?
I’m going to ask you one simple question. What do you believe is your purpose in life? One a few – a very rare few – will be able to answer that question. You might say that it’s okay to not know what you want to do. Some might even contend that life doesn’t have a purpose. However, all I see these as are excuses. Happiness is achieved through dedicating yourself to the pursuit of your purpose, and embracing the little dashes of je ne sais quoi that appear along the way. Thus, spirituality is the expression and the quest for this purpose, reaching up rather than lying down.
Why, then, do we insist on perverting and humbling humanity? Religion provides a veritable host of definitions that reinforce our inferiority: exaltation is the feeling one gets when acknowledging a power much higher than us that makes us feel worthless in comparison, similar to worship and reverence. The connotations associated with these words is that one is on their knees, pressing themselves against the mud rather than seeking to rise above it. Maybe we should flip these definitions. Exaltation might instead be the feeling we get of our own greatness granted by our likeness to a higher power. Spirituality is about rising in stature, not lowering our ideals. I know this synthesis of religion and Ayn-Randian philosophy has often been thought of as impossible. But spirituality and man’s greatness are inextricably linked. Whoever made us doesn’t want us to just be monkeys on a spinning rock.
Maybe that’s why we’re so obsessed with space travel, despite it’s limited economic and social benefits. The thought of us as little monkeys managing to escape the clutches of gravity and jump off our rock is so stimulating that perhaps we’re temporarily elevated to something more than an ape.
It’s no wonder then that a sense of spirituality is so elusive. But really, all anyone needs to have an out-of-body spiritual epiphany is a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and an unobstructed view of the stars. And what is spirituality really other than the ability to block out the noise in order to listen? Spirituality is the noise between the music. It’s the feeling that you could throw up a handful of dust and it would stick on the black velvet of the sky like so many stars. Spirituality is reaching inside of yourself in order to reach upwards and outwards. Spirituality is indefinable through language, because it is the well from which our words spring. Trying to describe it, as I’m so meta-ironically doing, is like using smouldering kindling to stoke a bonfire. Completely superfluous.
“Man is simultaneously a god and a worm.”
So said Abraham Maslow. Most of our lives are spent either striving to live up to our greater purpose, or avoiding the fact that it’s there. It’s hard to attempt to live a meaningful life when nobody will remember us in a few thousand years, no matter what we accomplished. As Ravikant so explicitly put it, we remember entire cultures with one word, such as the Sumerians. None of what they did mattered. Which is quite disheartening. But as Jordan Peterson said, talking yourself into irrelevance is not a profound philosophical revelation; it’s a cheap frame of mind and a dirty trick.
Indeed, some people actively pursue a life where they can honestly say they stood up to the sky, and didn’t lie against the dirt, rubbing their noses in the mud of their own inadequacies. Some people don’t acknowledge the great potential of man, choosing instead to see ourselves as organisms that are swept along by life’s circumstantial current. Most of us spend our lives hovering between those two polar extremes. Choose to be a god. We may be monkeys biologically, but monkeys don’t seek to escape or understand the rock from which they came, and they certainly don’t ask why they were put there in the first place.
Life is too short to be small.