Does the Universe seem entirely dull to you? Is it a real drag? Are you just plain bored of it all?
It can happen. After all, we view the infinitely vast universe through the incredibly narrow lens of our ego, or our personality. And this lens is often limited by our day-to-day experiences. All this makes it very easy to fall into a rut and then just be maniacally bored with EVERYTHING. The whole fucking Universe even.
Of course, if you are truly bored of it all, if you cannot be in absolute awe at the marvel that is this Universe, then you’re fucked because you have nowhere to go. Not even death will free you. Where will you go? This is everything after all, right? So, now what?
You can’t change the Universe. You can’t even change a tiny part of it. You know this is true, because you have seen people go mad trying. Pretty much the only thing you can change is the lens through which you view it.
The reason (or one of) that most of us are bored with the Universe is because we simply don’t understand it. If we were to understand something, we could appreciate it. Consider a cricket match (or any sport or art). If you don’t know the rules, it can seem to be the most boring thing in the world. But as soon as you learn how the game is played, suddenly you can get involved in the excitement of a team chasing down a runs-target. Further, if you try your hand at actually playing the game you get a whole new world of understanding. Now you can understand the skill it takes for a batsman to slice a ball between two fielders and make mad dash for that extra run. What changed? Nothing. The rules of cricket are still the same, the only thing that changed was that you actually took the effort to understand how it works. Then you were able to change the way you view it through the lens of your experience.
We model everything, meaning that we construct “mental models” of things. Mostly, our models are hopelessly insufficient and poor to truly describe the thing we are modelling. This world itself is FULL of miracles. But we just don’t understand them. For example, millions of tons of gases and vapors are churning about just above your head, but you look up and say “Oh, just a bunch of clouds, who gives a fuck?” We urge you, however, to try and learn a bit about how weather works, or how wind works. Can you imagine the scale of those things? It’s difficult because most of us are very good at boxing things into packages we can comprehend, putting them in mental cages that we call models.
The scientific model is a good one, however, because it takes an empirical look at things and uses what we know about matter and the fundamental forces of nature (discovered so far) to formulate an explanation of how things work. And thus the sun is no longer a mere ball of gas that rises and sets and occasionally makes the weather too hot, but it is a massive nuclear furnace the formed when interstellar particles from some other part of the galaxy came together under the influence of its own gravity to create temperatures that are so high (10-20 MILLION degrees) that they overcome the electromagnetic repulsion of protons to cause fusion reactions that release so much energy that they can make the weather unbearably hot on a rock 93,000,000 miles away. That is beyond incredible.
Yet, we know this, and we are not impressed. Why? Well, because we cannot really understand 93,000,000 miles, for one thing. It’s a distance that doesn’t really make sense to us. In fact, the longest distance we can travel on Earth in a straight line without passing through the same point twice is 24,901.461 miles. That’s once around the entire world, which is difficult enough to fathom. The Earth is 4 billion years old… but what does that mean to us? Can we really imagine what that vast expanse of time means, we who barely live to see 100 years? Our brains just can’t do it, they’re not wired to. We may try, but what we do is model things. Most of us can’t imagine these vast distances and durations, so we make approximations. In fact, in school we probably saw a diagram of the solar system like this, which doesn’t come close to representing it at scale.
And THIS is largely why we are so bored! There are so many day-to-day occurrences around us that are nothing short of miraculous, but our modelling of these occurrences are apathetic approximations, or we don’t “care” at all. The Universe is INFINITE, but again, infinity is a model, it is not something our finite, puny human brain can comprehend. We model it into a nifty little symbol and tuck it away in the back of our mind, filed under “Interesting, But Useless.” Only when you take the effort to learn and understand something new will you “get it” and see the miracle that is life and experience.
When we are bored, that leads us to look for any outlet. We get bored with our clothes and have to buy new ones. We get bored of the food we eat and eagerly await the next great packaged good to hit the shelves, and we lap it up. This attitude creates a culture of consumer-fetishism, which then necessitates an entire industry of mass-production and competition in order to provide for all the different tastes and desires in the world. The effect this has on our environment- on the one thing that is really sustaining us- is DEVASTATING. Newer and newer things keep getting made and we get bored of them faster and faster, because they are not really addressing the thing that we really want. Then we run back to our phones and laptops, and consume the next grotesquery of media garbage or look for the latest sale on whatever, thereby creating a vicious circle.
This entire circle can be broken simply by changing your lens, by looking at the Universe with a new and informed perspective. What we really want is to be in the presence of magic. And the easiest way to do this is to LEARN about Nature and reconnect with it. You don’t even need psychedelics or spirituality, you only need a child-like curiosity and longing for magic. It is all around you, we promise. You just need to know not where to look, but how to look.
Where to start? Well, we like the Carl Sagan Cosmos series, which is completely available for free on YouTube. The Neil de Grass Tyson Cosmos series is even more technically adept, and currently available on Netflix. Another great channel to follow is Vsauce, which will shine a new light on a lot of things. This video where they describe what it would look like to go into a black hole is absolutely fascinating. It will give you a new found respect for these mindboggling entities.
Remodel your Universe. Get a sense of the scale of things. Be amazed, be surprised, and ultimately humbled that you are in the presence of such creativity and wonder. Here is a diagram of the solar system that actually is to scale, considering the moon as 1 pixel. This will give you an actual idea of the massive distances between the planets of our own solar system. It is ever so humbling to realize that the sun is actually holding it all together, and that you owe your existence to the fact that everything is where it is. And it’s super fun scrolling between the little dots that represent our planets. In between the planets is a vast amount of space, distances we never consider. Luckily, the creator of this model has put in some philosophical text to entertain us, and here is some of it. Enjoy, learn, and be in awe.
We need to reduce things down to something we and see or experience directly in order to understand them. We’re always trying to come up with metaphors for big numbers. Even so, they never seem to work. It’s easy to disregard nothingness because there’s no thought available to encapsulate it. There’s no metaphor that fits because, by definition, once the nothingness becomes tangible, it ceases to exist. All this emptiness could really drive you nuts. The brain isn’t built to handle “empty.” Neurologically speaking, we really only deal with matter of a certain size, and energy of a few select wavelengths. For everything else, we have to make up mental models and see if they match up to the tiny shreds of hard evidence that actually feel real. The mental models provided by mathematics are extremely helpful when trying to make sense of these vast distances, but still… When you hear people talk about how, “there’s more to this universe than our minds can conceive of” it’s usually a way to get you to go along with a half-baked plot point about UFOs or super-powers in a sci-fi series that you’re watching late at night when you can’t get to sleep. But all this empty space, these things of a massive scale, really are more than our minds can conceive of. The maps and metaphors fail to do them justice. Emptiness is everywhere. It’s something like 99.99999999999999% of the known universe. Even an atom is mostly empty space. If so much of the universe is made up of emptiness, what does that mean to people like us, living on a tiny speck in the middle of it? With so much emptiness, aren’t stars, planets, and people just glitches in an otherwise elegant and uniform nothingness, like pieces of lint on a black sweater? But without the tiny dots to stretch between, there would be no emptiness to measure, and for that matter, no one around to measure it. You might say that so much emptiness makes the tiny bits of matter that much more meaningful- simply by the fact that, against all odds, they aren’t empty. It seems like we are both pathetically insignificant, and miraculously important at the same time. Whether you more strongly feel the monumental significance of tiny things or the massive void between them depends on who you are, and how your brain chemistry is balanced at a particular time. We walk around with miniature emotional versions of the universe inside of us. It’s reassuring to know that no matter how depressingly bleak or ridiculously momentous we feel, the universe, judging by its current structure, seems well aware of both extremes.