Seeing the World Through an Astronomic Lens

As I was growing up, I saw the world differently than most of my friends and family. I didn’t have a word for it until I discovered the mind-blowing realms of astronomy and astrophysics. The earliest memory I have of feeling completely awestruck was when my father took me to an observatory to view Halley’s Comet back in 1986. I was eight years old at the time and the experience changed my life forever. I looked through a small lens at the base of a giant telescope and saw a ball of ice and rock screaming through space millions of miles away. I left the observatory with an odd feeling of intrigue and insignificance, one that persists to this day.

That spark was the beginning of a new way of thinking. My small world had exploded into the cosmos, bringing a wholly new perspective on life, the universe, and everything. As I matured (and delved further into astrophysics), I began to quantify life through an astronomic lens. Big things got small. Small things got tiny. Time became malleable. When most people think fast, they picture a Ferrari. When I think fast, I picture a light particle. When most people think distant, they picture a city across the ocean. When I think distant, I picture the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image. When most people think huge, they picture a skyscraper. When I think huge, I picture VY Canis Majoris, a hypergiant star over a billion times the size of our sun. But anyway, you get the picture.

As a result, I see the ongoing trials of mankind as somewhat irrelevant, even boring. I recognize that the entire human experiment, from cave-dwelling primates to our eventual extinction, is but a tiny blip on a massive cosmic scale. There are things that I enjoy and things that irritate me, but for the most part, life just doesn’t get under my skin all that much. It’s a freeing mindset, one that allows me to let go of things that don’t really matter. And don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into some hipster life coaching session. To be honest, I don’t particularly care how other people conduct their lives (as long as they don’t hurt others or infringe upon my own). I simply adjust to the current reality and continue my cosmic queries.

I like to describe this mindset as astronomic thinking. While certainly liberating, it’s not without some curious conundrums. And so, I thought it would be fun to delve into these perspectives, at least from a normalized point of view. Without further ado, here’s a sampling of my brain filters.

Birthdays annoy me. Most people see birthdays as special days full of gifts and celebration. But, why? What did they accomplish to warrant a celebration? They were born, then rode a planet around a star X number of times, all without choice or influence. Also, there are 7 billion people on the planet and 365 days in the year. On average, 20 million people share the exact same birthday, making the event decidedly un-special. So, what’s the point? Why congratulate yourself on something everyone does by simply continuing to breathe? It never made sense to me. That’s why I never say that “my birthday is next week” or “I’m doing something fun for my birthday.” It’s just another day to me. I don’t want gifts, or well wishes, or any kind of special attention whatsoever. In fact, the best birthday gift I could ever receive is the complete disregard of my birthday.

Politics make me sleepy. The ongoing battle for power is way too polarized and meaningless for my tastes. We tend to forget that countries come and go on a regular basis. The United States is less than 300 years old. For perspective, India dates back 5,000 years. For more perspective, modern humans date back 200,000 years. For even more perspective, the Earth itself is 4.5 billion years old. Therefore, I just can’t bring myself to care about which humans claim which rocks on this planet. Nor can I get upset at tribalistic monkeys doing what tribalistic monkeys do. Draw your lines and fling your feces, just leave me out of it. All I really want is to live my life in the least screwed-up area. And with the recent election of an unhinged clown stick, New Zealand is looking more and more appealing.

Identity is not something I think about. People just love to stamp themselves with labels, to craft and nurture a public persona. Ironically, some of the most tedious people I have ever met are the ones who can rattle off a laundry list of superlatives. I’m a this, I’m a that, a member of this, a patron of that, an award-winning whatever, blah blah effin’ blah. The modern world forces me to describe myself from time to time, be it for business or casual encounters. I tend to use verbs instead of nouns and I stop once the recipient is satisfied. “I write. I code. I hike. I enjoy awkward silences.” The late great George Carlin once said, “I love and treasure individuals as I meet them. I loath and despise the groups they identify or belong to.” Amen, brother. My current friend base includes a Dutch cook, a Jewish landscaper, and an Asian surgeon. And yet, none of them feel the need to identify as such. They’re just damn good humans who shun social constructs, i.e. my kind of peeps.

Sunsets do not fill me with awe and wonder. Yes, they can be pretty, but that’s an entirely subjective conclusion based on a tiny sliver of the color spectrum that humans can actually see. Fun fact: countless creatures have much better eyesight than we do, including shrimp. A lot of people like to invoke the divine when they see something naturally beautiful. Not me. When I see a sunset, the first thing that pops into my head is “thank goodness we don’t live on Venus.” All those pretty colors are little more than light particles refracting off the atmosphere and into your rudimentary eyeballs. Our planet is downright boring compared to the rest of the cosmos, which will kill you dead any chance it gets. Our own damn solar system is a terrifying place to live. Venus is a hellscape of scorching rock and sulfuric rain. Mercury swings over 1,000 degrees from light to dark. Jupiter is a raging cauldron of ammonia storms and powerful magnetism. When I see a sunset on Earth, I don’t gasp in wonder, I sigh in relief.

Religion rolls my eyes. Speaking of the divine, I am not a religious person. Shocking, right? I grew up in a conservative religious household, but the indoctrination never stuck. I tend to question everything and that doesn’t go over well in the church. And so, my ongoing hunger for education snuffed out my spirituality. History taught me that thousands of religions have existed. Psychology taught me why humans needed them. Astrophysics taught me that space and time are infinitely greater than humans could have ever comprehended before modern science. Subatomic Chemistry showed me just how little humans knew about the world before the scientific method. Combining them all, I realized that the average child today knows significantly more about the universe than the most brilliant minds of the Bronze Age. Ergo, I just can’t take religion seriously.

Calendars make me laugh. Whenever someone says “the Xth Century” or something similar, I giggle inside. In reality, we’re closer to the 45 Millionth Century, assuming we’re going by Earth’s orbital cycle and not the latest religious craze. Furthermore, it’s not like people in the BC era were counting down to anything. They used their own timekeeping systems based on their own wacky beliefs. Hell, the Gregorian calendar we use today wasn’t introduced until 1582. And one day, it will be replaced by something else (ooo, let it be Scientology, that would be fun). Anything non-radiometric is an arbitrary placeholder, nothing more. Saying “the 21st Century” is about as meaningful as saying “Xenu’s Wonder Era.” And to be honest, I prefer the later.

Aging doesn’t bother me. My brain is immune to products and advertising that exploit the fear of aging. I have never used anti-wrinkle creams, botox, chem peels, or any other bullshit vanity product. I embrace scars and imperfections. In fact, the people I gravitate to the most are the battle-scared warriors who have enjoyed a taste of real living. Celebrities and supermodels do absolutely nothing for me. I do like particular styles, but only because I enjoy the cultures they exude. I eat right and exercise, mostly because I fear the American healthcare system. I recognize that the handful of years I get on this planet are infinitesimal on a cosmic timeline. I do not intend on wasting them by denying myself the pleasures of life or obsessing over something skin deep.

Meaning is meaningless. I know that sounds like the start of some candlelit emo rant, but I assure you it’s not. I just don’t ascribe meaning to anything. I stop short of pure nihilism because I do uphold a core morality, but concepts like fate and destiny make absolutely no sense to me. I understand why some people like to believe there’s meaning behind everything, but I see that as a destructive mindset. If you believe that everything happens for a reason, then what motivation is there to improve your situation? I refuse to passively accept everything as preordained. I will always work hard to better my life. If I try something and fail, I don’t shrug it off as fate. I grit my teeth and try again.

Death is not something I fear. I think about it a lot, but I see it as a motivator, not a stress point. Neil deGrasse Tyson summarized it beautifully in an interview with Larry King. In fact, I’ll let him take it from here…