Size Matters (Or Does It?) A Discussion of Hubris

All things are relative. When we say something is large, for instance, the obvious question is “compared to what”? Indeed this is going to be a discussion of scale.
Man has created gigantic buildings:



Huge ships:

allureoftheseaVast cities:


So these things and many others are quite large, compared to other building or ships or cities. But how large are they really, when compared to other things? Indeed, how large is everything on earth when compared to everything in space?

earth1Earth. The only planet we really know, or will ever know. It is quite literally the center of our universe. We know of course that is metaphorical, and we really aren’t the center of anything, don’t we? Not always. How “large”are we in the universal scheme of things?


Next to our moon, we’re pretty substantial, but we know that. How do we stack up against everything else in the cosmos?

earthplanetsLooks a little different, doesn’t it? Just lining us up against the other planets in our solar system gives us some relative size. Since we don’t count Pluto any longer, this is earth in the group of four smaller planets versus four quite large ones. Click on any image for a better look.

As far as even our own solar system, we’re a pretty puny planet. Not much to speak of.  But take a look at all the planets compared to our sun:


Notice how we’ve shrunken to a little dot? Take a good look. We’re about to disappear altogether as the scale increases.


Click to expand this photo. Take a look at the tiny little dot on the bottom right. That’s our sun. Think the big star in the photo(Betelgeuse) is big? You ain’t seen nothing yet.



And finally:


Compared to the star Canis Majoris, our sun and our entire solar system just disapear.

We could go on and on, with increasingly larger and further entities, but here’s my point: In the scheme of things, in the larger universe, we are nothing.  As a practical matter on the metaphysical scale, we don’t even exist. We are far smaller than the smallest grain of sand in the cosmic universe. This is but a small part of the universe in a photo from the Hubble telescope:

hubble deep field

Man is the only creature on earth possessing arrogance. Fill with hubris, the self pride of his own invention. No other creatures walks the planet believing they are the most important. No other creature believes it can control not only it’s own environment, but other environments as well.

Some believe we can control the climate when we cannot even predict the weather accurately more than a few days in the future – hubris. We are blessed with intelligence and abilities, but we  let arrogance and conceit turn these gifts into a sense of super power; that we can change and control the forces of nature. We cannot. We are man, only man, and we live on this planet at the whim of forces far beyond our limited imaginiations.

We might do well to understand that we are only passengers on this great ship we call earth. We control nothing, we can change nothing. To put it in the venacular, we really need to get over ourselves.

Tom Wolfe coined the phrase “masters of the universe” referring to the lions of Wall Street, but perhaps Shakespeare describes the hubris of man better in Hamlet:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

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