Total Perspective Vortex
As a child I read about the Milky Way but never saw it. I didn’t realise that living at latitude 52N in a country where the sky is always lit, meant that I couldn’t easily see it. Last week, looking up at the pitch-black midnight sky from a beach on the desolate Northeastern Tanzanian coast, I was suddenly aware that that long and narrow cloud stretching out over the sky, wasn’t a cloud after all.
It was the Milky Way, and it’s actually milky. It’s a diffuse cloud of uncountably many tiny lights! I used to think that I had a good sense of how incredibly many stars there are out there, but this just blew the lid off my perspective. Here I was on a mostly harmless little planet orbiting its star, looking at the other 100,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy.
Once you’ve grasped that perspective on Earth’s sheer tininess and somewhat come to terms with our galactical insignificance, let’s put that perspective in perspective: the 100,000,000,000 stars you see are only our galaxy. There are 200,000,000,000 galaxies just like it.
Having seen Earth in its place relative to the universe as a whole, take a look at the place of us humans vis-a-vis all other life on Earth. A number of web sites catalogue the so-called Tree of Life, the evolutionary tree branching out into all known (and many more unknown) species. OneZoom does this in a very pretty way.
Spend some time navigating the tree, then try to find us, homo sapiens. You probably won’t, it’s a long way down. Welcome to the Evolutionary Total Perspective Vortex.