6. Not only are we part of the universe, but the universe is part of us.

In 2000 the Hayden Planetarium of New York City offered an exhibit called Passport to the Universe, which puts our relation to time and space in the universe into perspective. It shows us that we humans are carbon-rich specks on a pale blue dot in a vast galaxy, and that life on Earth has only been around for the slightest fraction of the universe’s lifetime. In fact, if the universe’s life were a calendar year, human history would only begin in the final seconds of 11:59 PM on December 31.

One Ivy League university professor asked to collaborate with the Planetarium in order to investigate the psychological effects of the exhibit on the public. He found that the majority of the public were depressed by the exhibit, and he himself confided that it was the most demoralizing experience of his life.

The professor’s perspective is shaped by ego and an inflated view of humanity’s importance in the grand scheme of things. This is understandable, given how society tends to elevate humanity, and assign it a significance that transcends the natural order. But it is precisely this, that humanity has a position within the great cosmic chain of being, a role to play, neither more or less vital than that of climates or plants or animals, that we have a sense of significance. We are intimately connected to the universe. Particles of the same water that you drink have passed through the kidneys of Buddha, Aristotle, and Newton. Particles of the same air you breathe have passed through the lungs of Alexander the Great, Confucius, and Bach. We are connected to the very earliest life forms to ever emerge. We are all comprised of star debris whose origin can be traced back to the very beginning of existence.

This cosmic perspective is based upon the solid foundation of empirical knowledge, but it also lays the groundwork for wisdom, humility, open-mindedness, spirituality—not to be confused with religion—and an openness to finding beauty in everything from planets to prokaryotes. Not only are we in the universe, but the universe is within us. Now that is an inspiring thought.

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