Before & After: Stuck In The Middle With You

"This year marks the 400th anniversary of the year Galileo turned his first crude telescope to the heavens. Through it, he observed spots on the sun and shadow patterns proving that the moon had mountains and valleys. These visible "imperfections" helped overturn thousands of years of traditional belief that everything in the heavens must be smooth, perfect and unchanging...

One need not be religious to see that a cosmic perspective gives some universal meaning to our lives. We may be only a tiny part of a vast universe, but we are here, and, as a species, we have accomplished great things. We have created staggeringly beautiful works of art and music, we have performed acts of love and generosity that make even the most cynical among us quake with emotion, and we have developed mathematics and science that have enabled us to learn our place in the universe.

These are achievements of consequence. But the cosmic perspective also should teach us some humility, because the central lesson of Galileo's discoveries is that we humans are no more central to the universe than our planet or star. Future generations and alien civilizations may enjoy our human creations, but no one will come running to our rescue if we choose to destroy rather than to create.

Sadly, this lesson in humility seems not to have taken hold, despite the 400 years we have had to absorb it. Nearly everyone is now aware that we are not the center of the universe. But emotionally and behaviorally, our species still acts as though the whole of creation somehow revolves around each of us personally. How else can we explain tyrants and dictators? Or religious fanatics who believe that their God actually wants them to kill those who think differently? And before you let yourself off the hook, ask yourself honestly if you don't at least sometimes think that those who are poorer, sicker or otherwise less fortunate than you are also somehow a bit less central to the universe than you are..."

Jeffrey Bennett