(OR THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD. YOUR CHOICE.)
For those who saw “Cosmos.”
Fly an HD camera far enough beyond the edge of the known universe and point it back at us, somehow centered on Earth. Imagine this HD camera can see the entire known universe.
Now take the center pixel of that image — the center PIXEL, which on most HD screens is too small to see with the naked eye — and zoom in until it’s the size of your entire HD screen (which, by the way, increases its area more than TWO MILLION TIMES).
Now your screen will JUST about cover the Virgo Supercluster. About a tenth of your screen is the Local Group, a smattering of about 54 galaxies that include the Milky Way.
You’re still centered on Earth, right? Well, take that center pixel — the one too small to see — and again expand it until it’s the size of your whole screen again. Again, a magnification of more than two million times.
Now you’re in the middle of the Local Group, but if you were looking JUST at the local group and there was nothing else out there, you’d see mostly blackness. That’s because the space between the galaxies in the group is as great, proportionately, as the space between the stars within the galaxies themselves.
Repeat the magnification TWICE more. You still can’t see anything familiar — the Milky Way Galaxy is only TWO PIXELS on your screen.
At this point you’ve magnified, from your original viewpoint, not:
2 million plus 2 million plus 2 million plus 2 million
2 million TIMES 2 million TIMES 2 million, etc. etc.
You’ve zoomed in to a factor of 16 Septillion. Put another, uglier, but easier to understand way, that’s 4 trillion times 4 trillion.
Now do the pixel magnification trick again, but pause for a moment about halfway. The Milky Way Galaxy now takes up your entire screen. Admire it for a moment, then continue your zoom in.
You’ve now zoomed in to a factor of 32 Nonillion. It’s difficult to explain that one with smaller numbers. It’s … it’s really big.
Zoom in one one pixel again, another 2 million times magnification for a total of … you know what? Forget it at this point.
The solar system now takes up one-third of your screen, but you’d never know it. That’s because the vast, vast, vast majority of the solar system, like 99.99999999% of it, is empty space. You’d see the sun from this distance, but only as another star. Your chances of seeing the planets or any other observable phenomena in the solar system are zero.
Zoom in again.
The Earth is about 26 pixels wide on your screen right now. That’s not very big on a standard HD TV. You can make it out, sure, but you probably can’t see any details.
Start your next zoom in, but stop quickly. If it takes you three seconds to zoom in one more time, Earth will outgrow your screen within 16 thousandths of a second.
Now your HD flatscreen, top to bottom, shows 483 meters of the Earth’s surface.
A human shows up as less than 2 pixels. They’ll look like an ant.
That’s after you’ve zoomed in a grand total of …
… wait for it …
256 Quindecillion times.
4 trillion trillion trillion trillion times.
And human minds have difficulty even with understanding the concept of a million.
Here’s the kicker.
Here’s the “catch,” the “hook,” the “twist.”
All of that? Everything we just did?
That was the KNOWN universe.
AS FAR AS WE CAN SEE.
And we have no. Clue. How much more of it there is out there. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
We’re not even a pixel’s pixel’s pixel’s pixel of the observable universe. And there’s ever chance that the observable universe isn’t even a pixel’s pixel’s pixel’s pixel to the WHOLE universe.
In fact, as best we can tell right now, it’s infinite. Truly infinite. It goes on forever in a way we can’t understand.
Remember that when you start having delusions that this planet’s important.
Let’s get off this damn rock, people. Stop caring about who owns what parts of it and figure out a way to get ourselves onto another one.
Because as far as we know, nowhere else is the universe sentient enough to observe itself. Yes, it’s reasonable to assume there’s something else out there that’s achieved sentience. But we don’t know, do we?
Do our little wars and killings and domestic violence and stuff REALLY mean so much to the perpetrators that they’d rather keep doing them than reach for the stars?
Can’t we forget about them, for Pete’s sake? Pete’s a great guy. He has cookies.
And if your troubles ever seem like too much, if they’re more than you can take, I want you to do something for me.
I want you to picture yourself, wrapped up in your troubles.
I want you to zoom out until you’re just a pixel on a flatscreen.
And I want you to breathe.
It’s so much easier to confront them from way up there, isn’t it?
Zoom out as far as you need to until your breaths come easy.
Just don’t go out too far and get lost, or I’ll have to come find you.