a couple of weeks back, the science channel, as one of the many channels of the discovery network, ran space week. in many ways this is like the long running shark week that we have watched for years, but for the geekier set. while it might be my predisposition to the inner geek, i would still argue that space week is much better (cooler?) and in many ways better.
in HD, the "When We Left Earth" series is fantastic. some of the footage that they found and used is mesmerizing. and the entire 6-hour series is inspired and inspiring all at the same time. i am becoming quite a fan of this format, which has seen heavy use recently in the series "Planet Earth" and "Earth: The Biography". It lends itself well to being the correct amount of time for a series without having to include too much cruft which would be necessary for at 12-26 episode broadcast series.
one of the things that so many of the astronauts noted is the spiritual understanding they gained looking down on our little planet from the freedom of space. how unimportant everything that we stressed about seemed, how we continually seem to sell ourselves short with very unimportant things. a speck, on a speck, on something that aspires to be a speck.
i can see how people pre-disposed to find importance in the human species and our place in the universe have found religion soothing. when you consider how many elements had to line up to form a world in just the right spot for water to be liquid (the habitable zone), to have so much that water delivered by comets, to have a magnetosphere that protects our atmosphere from being boiled off by solar radiation, to have species like the dinosaurs removed from the food chain so that mammals could develop, to survive all the the cataclysms the earth has experienced, the odds seem insurmountable. there must be a god, the odds are just too remote.
that is, until you consider the shear size of the universe. and not just the space we take up, but also the age, we start to get a better grasp on some of the statistics. there are an estimated 100 billion starts in our galaxy. our current best estimate for the number of galaxies is 125 billion. so, start to do the math. that is a lot of places for intelligent life to form, much less the time that we have to develop that life over. we have been on our little rock 250,000 years as a species, but what we would view as society has only been around maybe 10,000 years. considering the age of the earth is 4.5 billion years with recent discoveries indicating water and cooler temperatures present for maybe 4 billion years we begin to hit a statistical probability that life will form, and not just here, but elsewhere in the universe.
now, i am not talking up the likelihood of little green men, just a bigger understanding of our significance, if you could even attach that word to it. so the next time you get stressed out by getting cut off in traffic, just remember that there is very little in this world that is worth getting angry about. and most of the things that are worth any amount of stress are things that you probably don't take the time to think about nearly often enough.