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The universal perspective

Protzmann is a first-year philosophy major and can be contacted at kevin.protzmann@drake.edu

In September of 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 space probe on a course to photograph the planets of Jupiter and Saturn and to chart the edges of our solar system. Thirteen years and nearly four billion miles later, the spacecraft rotated around to take a long distance snapshot of our planet. The picture sent back to our scientists was almost entirely the empty void of space with the exception of a tiny point of blue light. That little pixel was Earth.

Most of you may wonder why this matters. Indeed, the affairs that bring joy and suffering to astronomers may seem completely foreign to us laypeople. There is, however, a powerful truth to be found in the photo. The idea that is represented in the Voyager 1 picture of Earth is the concept of “perspective,” a word that has such a meaning that few take the time to contemplate.

In our daily lives, we view the world around us with only the eyes of our own. Occasionally, we may be challenged to change our perspectives in a class studying art, sociology or foreign cultures, yet these are not enough to grapple the idea of perspective when faced with the pale blue dot–the immensity of our insignificance in the eyes of the universe.

To speak metaphorically, our perspective on our own existence is akin to a person permanently hunched over, eyes boring into the ground without realizing that there is an entire universe hanging above his or her head. When you walk the world, you concern yourself with affairs that are of an immediate nature; waking up to go to class, conversing with your friends, worrying about your assignments, making plans for the weekend and the like. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the small, immediate tasks of daily life, there comes a time when we must step back and appreciate something more than just the here and now. We must at some point lean back and lift our eyes up to the sky above us and witness the complexities of existence beyond the small activities that we occupy ourselves with.

For example, when you are walking to class in the morning, do you ever appreciate the intricacies required for something trivial like the breeze on your face to be happening? Do you ever sit and wonder how infinitely complex the atomic structure of the desk in front of you is? Do you ever contemplate the billions of years it took the material world to arrive where it is now and the possibly infinite time it has left to work its wonders without you?

I like to call this the “universal perspective.” If you transcend your own self and bear witness to the miraculously complex scheme of things through the eyes of something greater than humanity, it allows you to put your own life into “perspective.” Your worries about grades, anxieties over what others think of you, stress over material and emotional security in your future are understood for the diminutive reality they truly are.

Try to live with the universal perspective for a day. Try to understand that the world around you is more than what you perceive with your own senses, but rather an independent, infinite reality that you are lucky enough to inhabit. If you do so, perhaps you will realize that the little fears and worries that you occupy yourself with are not as important as you once thought they were.

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