Even wordsmiths have difficulty describing the immensity of the universe. After all, our sun is 1,000,000 times bigger than the earth and our galaxy contains approximately 300 billion stars, but there are also 100 million galaxies in our observable universe. Moreover, our observable universe, which is 13 billion light years away (1 light year = 6 trillion miles), may not be all there is. It’s quite possible that the universe is infinite in size, and quoting Carl Sagan in his famous Pale Blue Dot speech, the earth is just a “mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam”.
We can all understand Sagan’s plea for everyone on earth to be kind to each other, because looked at from one perspective, we all share the same home, mother earth. But looked at from another perspective, it’s no more than syrupy sentimentalism. If we are, in Kahil Gibran’s words, “but a grain of sand upon the infinite shore of an infinite sea”, then beyond our world there is no reason to believe that our mind is anything but the most insignificant accident in an indifferent cosmos. Why should existence outside of humanity’s parochial neighborhood give a hoot about essentially human qualities such as honor, love, charity, truth, faith, autonomy and respect?
We have a tendency to put the human mind at the center of our world, which social scientists tell us we construct by our own language and categories of thought. Religionists and scientists alike see humanity as being special, even unique in the universe, either because God singled out humanity for special treatment or because we are a tool making and technology creating species, maybe even capable of changing the speed and direction of our own evolution. But what if there was intelligence in the universe so far above human intelligence as we are above ants? What would we make of such creatures, as unconcerned at extinguishing our lives, as we are uncaring about the killing of ants? This intelligence doesn’t need to be malevolent, just supremely indifferent to our interests.
H.P. Lovecraft, perhaps the world’s greatest horror fiction writer, envisaged such a world and by doing so he helped undermine the idea that humans are at the center of the universe. Lovecraft invented gods of such great size, age and general indifference to humanity that the overall effect is terrifying. His mythos includes the supreme entity Azathoth, a “blind, idiot god,” who resides at the center of the universe where he/it “gnaws shapeless and ravenous amidst the muffled, maddening beat of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes.” Cthulhu, the high priest of the elder gods, is a monstrous entity who lies “dead but dreaming” in the city of R’lyeh, a place of non-Euclidean madness sunken below the depths of the Pacific Ocean. He is portrayed as being beyond the reach of words: “The Thing cannot be described – there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.”
“The most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage so far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
H.P. Lovecraft, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’