Both this semester and last I have been enrolled in Astronomy classes at school, and it has definitely given me some sharp perspective on the world we live in.
Now a fair amount of this knowledge I had already known prior to the courses, but only in the most basic and uninformed ideas as to why everything I knew was considered a studied science. I knew Pluto was no loner considered a planet, but I didn't know why. Now that I understand the science and observations behind it, I firmly believe that Pluto should have never been considered a planet to begin with, regardless of what I was taught in elementary school. This exposure to constantly changing information has me reading more of everything, not just science based stuff. I am starting to learn reason in purpose behind many things, like color theory in art, the pain staking process that is food, the idea of predicting a baseball game based solely on statistics. Astronomy has re-kindled my love for knowledge.
The other big paradigm shifting knowledge I have acquired is probably the most shaking. Everything I do, even this blog and all my writing, is insignificant. The one thing I have taken away about Astronomy is scale. Scale is so important. It is fundamental to understanding everything. Given the vast amount of space out there, humanity and all of its 7 billion people is abysmally small. The Sun itself can fit 100 Earth's side by side to cover from one side to the other. That doesn't count volume. Or density. Or mass. We are that tiny. And that is just compared to something else inside our own system. Our system itself is small compared to that of a galaxy.
Which brings me to my next thought: Humanity is probably not alone, but we probably always will be. Probability says that there is probably intelligent life somewhere else inside our galaxy (Heck, it is tough to be convinced there is intelligent life on this planet. I mean seriously, why were both Arrested Development and Firefly cancelled and yet Jersey Shore and The Bachelor continue on?). Considering estimates say there anywhere between 200 billion to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, each with the possibility of having planets, with each planet having the possibility of life, life is bound to pop up a few times. But here is the catch: interstellar travel. Humanity has beat off most diseases and medical troubles and we now have an average life span of about 80 - 90 years. The Voyager space probes were launched in 1977, and only now in 2012, 35 years later, are the two probes exiting our system. That is just over 1/3rd of an average humans life span just to get outside of the Solar System.
The next closest star is Proxima Centauri, roughly 4.24 lightyears away. So, even with speed of light space travel (which we don't have) it would still take around 48 months to get to the next closest star. Let me reiterate: We would have to develop fast as light travel to make the trip in four years. A trip to Kansas City from Denver takes around 7 hours and I hate that. I couldn't even imagine being cooped up for 4 years to get from one place to another. Not only are we bound by these restrictions, but other societies are bound by these restrictions as well (unless they are super advanced and have faster than light travel for entire creatures. Moving one particle faster than light seems more feasible than moving an entire object faster than light). This also assumes that these visitor's haven't wiped themselves out before they could discover interstellar travel.
There are just too many things stacked against humanity and others trying to discover the universe. If humanity was replaced with say... Elves, who had a life span of a thousand years, then yes interstellar travel would probably higher on our overall to-do list. But with such small lifespans we are pretty well grounded to our own system (and even then once you consider possibilities other than Mars it gets even more troublesome. Stupid atmospheres!).
So how has learning I am pretty much invisible in the grand scheme of thing effected my life? I smile more. I say hi to strangers. I laugh. I cheer. I high-five. I dance. Life is too short and too precious to waste away arguing or fighting over who is right about what. Humanity is here to stay. And if we want to make contact with others out there, or have them make contact with us, we have to start conducting ourselves in a manner fit for an intelligent and harmonious race. I have stopped squabbling over race, over sex, over political views, over disagreements, over different languages, over money. I want my generation and the generations to follow to stop being petty.
I don't want to be a part of American society. I want to be a part of the Human society.