Friday, 18 May 2012

When The Comet Swings By

Halley's comet visits the Earth once every 75/76 years. Its last visitation was in 1985, and it won't return until 2061. The world renowned scientist Richard Dawkins recounts how he took  his baby daughter outside one night when the comet was visible and held her up to see it. He told her that he would never see it again, but that she would.
I find this anecdote strangely moving. It captures something of life's astonishing journey. If we are fortunate we may live for several decades before the lights go out and the torch is passed to the next generation. I often ask myself how I want to spend my time, because to the best of my knowledge this is the one life I can be sure I have. I've long since evolved beyond religious falsehoods, but I retain a sense of wonder at the secrets our universe is yet to divulge. I want to be open to new experience, willing to think beyond my own biases. I never want to assume that I have ultimate knowledge, or that I'm anything more than an ignoramus fumbling in the dark. What the human race has achieved is stunning, and yet we occupy such a tiny part of a universe so immense that it defies comprehension. What other civilisations, if any, are out there? How has life evolved on other worlds? Our powerful telescopes are now regularly identifying planets with the potential to harbour life, and as our vision extends who knows what we may uncover?  One of my dreams, before I close my eyes forever, is to have it confirmed that there are indeed other worlds with similarities to our own. That would move me and inspire me so much. This planet is a jewel in the darkness, no matter what terrible things we have done. It's a pale blue dot spinning in the void, an oasis in an otherwise hostile immensity. I want to learn about these other oasis, because on the balance of probabilities they almost certainly exist. To think that right now alien eyes could be looking up at other moons, other suns, and perhaps even reflecting on the nature of their existence sends a shiver down my spine.
Reality is amazing. Reality is truly magical. Let's embrace it and cast our small minds further from our own mental shores. See where it takes you. See what you learn. Bon voyage.

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