16 February, 2013

my 'a-ha!' moment!

do you know where your towel is?
"Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." - Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy)

i saw a question on Quora that asked something like, "what is the most 'a-ha!' moment you have ever had?"

i thought i should share my answer here:

it is funny that though i have had my share of a-ha! moments with science (a lot of which are described in all the comments before me in much better ways than i could ever) and arts (my first poem, one that actually rhymed, blew my mind), the one gobsmacking-awe-inspiring-kick-in-the-shin-punch-in-the-gut moment for me was something i cannot possibly begin to commence to think about starting to describe in any way a third party will understand...if i were not a rationalist, i'd call it a 'religious' moment:

i was an amateur astronomer as a kid and even later, i was (still am) fond of looking up at the sky when i could. one day in the late 1980s, i was sleeping on the floor of my terrace on top of my residential apartment complex of 7 floors, looking at the mumbai sky, and it struck me: THE UNIVERSE IS HUGE

nikon's depiction of scale: the universcale
that was it. it was an epiphany. everything i believed in, thought about, said and did changed that moment. as i said, i can't describe what i felt, and i cannot explain it. but i am sure there are others here who have had a similar experiences. just with this basic understanding ('the universe is huge'), one can build an entire philosophy

it follows that: we are small and unimportant and our actions, thoughts or words are irrelevant in the long term (long term being defined as at least a billion years), that religion is hocus-pocus, that class & caste are man-made, that nationalism is an accident, that any amount of knowledge is always incomplete, that most things i possess, act on, believe in and adhere to are social constructs which have nothing to do with the truth, that in fact there is no such thing as the absolute truth with a capital 'T', that life is so common across the universe that we must be amazingly na├»ve, stupid or arrogant to assume there is something special about us...or the earth, that the more we discover the various fundamentals on which this universe is constructed and operates, the more we are going to be confused, and that frankly, it does not matter anyway in the 'long' run!! of course, that does not mean we lay down and die. quite the contrary. i have covered this in my earlier post 'perspective'

later addition: +Marco Afonso, a G+ friend of mine, posted something beautiful after i had uploaded this post. here it is. thanks marco, this is such a beautiful way to put things in perspective!

i know, this is too long a post for such a simple a-ha! moment....but let me repeat it, because it cannot be said too often: the universe is huge

and i know it is tough to get your head around it the first time, or in fact, any time, unless (as the spiritual ones would say) you are 'ready'....but honestly, i do not know how to prepare for this moment...or how to explain why this is a big moment...anyway, there it is!

notei have had another a-ha! moment in the recent past where i realised that EVERYTHING can be explained by evolution/natural selection, and the understanding of such a simple statement changed my life. but i shall reserve that for another post. so i'll leave it there