I believe life in the universe is so improbable, so rare, that our existence compels us to make the most of it.
Have you ever looked down from the cabin of a darkened jetliner at night to see a solitary light shining faintly in a vast darkness below, and wondered, “Who lives there? What is their story? How did they get there, of all places?” That is us. That is our world, Earth, a tenuous outpost of life in an unimaginably big, mostly empty and uninhabitable universe.
Scientists have been peering into the inky vacuum of space for generations without seeing so much as a glimmer from another porch light. They’ve had their ears pressed against the void for decades without hearing the faintest “hellowwww” echoing across the empty light years. And yet here we are, improbably, our porch light on, our radios blasting into the night. How remarkable.
Some people look into the void and feel despair. I look into it and feel a thrill. Our existence is so improbable that I am awed by it. We take on significance simply by being so exceptional. What a rare opportunity this is, to live with self-awareness amid so much emptiness.
Whether you believe we came to occupy this remote corner of the Milky Way Galaxy by design or by accident, we know that being here at all is something special. So what should we do with this improbable opportunity? As much as possible.
In a million years, Earth may be as barren and lifeless as Mars. It may not make any difference that humans built magnificent cities, created beautiful art or explored the solar system. The odds posted in the fossil record don’t give us much hope of enduring. But we already beat the odds once by just being here, so I’m glad we’re doing those things – building cities, creating art and exploring. If we do go the way of the dinosaurs, we at least once spat in the eye of an empty universe and tried to make something of ourselves.
And who knows? We could be the bedrock civilization of a species that endures and inhabits worlds beyond our own.
But first, we need to get through today, tonight and tomorrow. If our descendents are to reach for the stars tomorrow, we must rise to the challenges of Earth today. Our part in this great adventure is to preserve this extraordinary home in space and build a civilization that sets the stage for the next generation to advance. We do that each day in a thousand small ways – by caring for children, teaching them about science and literature, planting trees, saving other species, inventing new things, creating art, enacting and enforcing just laws, and working for peace and shared prosperity.
When we do these things, we defy the void. We say to the empty chaotic universe that here, in this place, for this brief moment, however improbable, there is life and there is hope.