Happy New Year! A Grand Illusion?

I apologize for being philosophical and rambling on, but I am prone to do that as my years accumulate and future years become less certain.

Today is January 1, 2015. It’s important for us to recognize this day, the first day of the calendar year. It is significant in human terms, celebrated across the civilized world as proof the old year is gone and a new one is beginning. In this context, it represents the start of a new term, a span of life that holds promise along with likely disappointment.

On another level, it is such a short span as to be essentially irrelevant, so indistinguishable from other time spans as to be almost an illusion. Is it real or is it just our imagination?

Astronomy and the cosmos have long fascinated me. Not as a scientist with expertise and authority, but as an observer and someone who chooses to spend some of that time referenced earlier thinking about the implications. Questions about why I am alive today, as opposed to millennia ago or at some point in the millennia to come. And in the grand scheme of things, how significant is a ‘millennia’ anyway.

On a certain web site I follow, articles about astronomy and the cosmos by a Phil Plait appear from time to time. Here is a link to what triggered my thoughts today: The Beauty of a Grain of Sand on a Cosmic Beach.

The writer includes this image of a distant galaxy, similar in size and shape to our own milky way galaxy. He says it is roughly 85 million light years away, has about a billion stars with probably an equal number of planets. He reflects that it is not unusual in any way, has been written about in astronomical literature only once that he can find, and suggests it is but another grain of sand on a cosmic beach.

If you’ve ever been to a sandy beach, or walked on sand dunes somewhere on this planet of ours, you know the immensity suggested by trying to identify a single grain of sand, much less grains of sand that might exist on other planets, spinning around an unknown sun, one of mega-billions that exist across the cosmos among billions of galaxies.

I’m very aware that shortly after I woke up this morning, I climbed out of bed, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, got dressed and went for a walk. Something I do almost every morning. I was aware that it was January 1st, that I had gone to sleep before the magic moment arrived when the calendar shifted from 2014 to 2015. As I write this a couple of hours later, it all seems very real.

Until I start thinking about that image of a galaxy identified as NGC 1169. And on that level, my getting up and going for a walk, fixing a cup of coffee and reading the paper seems illusory. Did it really happen? Does it really matter? Why am I having these thoughts? Are thoughts like this real, or are they the figment of someone else’s mind? Are there life forms somewhere across those trillions of planets thinking about the same things we think about? For me that seems to be very likely. So on this level, what I seem to get done today, indeed this year, is essentially irrelevant.

But on our level, that is you and me, as two of several billion functioning human beings on what we call planet Earth, what we do this year is important. Knowing that existence for us can exist on different levels helps me eliminate the notion that what I do today is not an illusion, that it does matter. So I have some goals that I will try to achieve this calendar year.

And in the spirit of our existence as functioning humans on this spinning pile of rock somewhere in the cosmos, Happy New Year!