The universe is on a scale that is literally incomprehensible to the human mind. We can convey it mathematically of course (which is itself a remarkable feat), but our imaginations can scarcely piece together just how big it is, and how much is contained within its seemingly infinite expanse. This chart, a bit difficult to navigate given its size (go figure), gives just an inkling of what I mean.
How does one visualize an area that is 10 billion light years in its dimension? Indeed, how does one even visualize a light year in the first place: the number itself is unreachable by normal cognition. Moreover, how do we envision the billions of planets, stars, and galaxies that compromise this universe when can’t grasp even a single example of these? The size of my city is huge enough, yet my state, country, continent, or planet are each well beyond my mental faculties.
This chart, which is itself to large to post here, greatly illustrates what I’m talking about. First you have planets, then solar systems, than a collection of millions if not billions of these solar systems as galaxies, than a collection of all these galaxies known as nebular – and so on and so forth, with one indescribably large unit of stuff comprising even more indescribably large units.
I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps our universe is itself a component of an even larger unit. Not only could we have multiple universes, but these can each be part of something else entirely. Given what we know about the structure of matter, is it really to unlikely to consider such a possibility? Consider the history of the human understanding of the world.
Early humans knew only of the immediate geographical area they lived in. Most people that have ever lived didn’t see much beyond their town or village, let alone know of the existence of other communities elsewhere around the world. Even the nomadic types could only see so much within their lifespan. As empires formed, the world as those societies knew it grew, though it often extended a little bit beyond the borders. It took generations of gradual technological innovation, exploration, and expansion to shrink our planet enough to even realize it existed.
Thereafter, we began to finally probe the distant “heavens,” only to realize with time that the confines of what constitutes physical reality was larger than we thought. We keep pushing the limits of what we once thought were our confines. Who’s to say we will not somehow manage to shrink the universe itself?
Going into the other direction, there are infinitesimally small objects that form everything around us: with regards to organisms, there are cells that in turn have organelles, which in turn have molecules, which in turn are comprised of atoms, which furthermore contain sub-atomic particles, and so on. No matter how you slice it, it seems everything is constituent of something, and many of these units are beyond our level of analysis, whether they’re too big or too small.
It wracks my brain trying to comprehend these things in the first place, let alone trying to articulate it in writing. My physical size and perceptual scope relative to the grand reality around me can be both awe-inspiring and nerve-racking. My body is compromised of trillions of smaller objects that all come together to form the fully functionally and living being that I am. This body is in turn part of a larger system, including billions of other organisms who share this planet, and billions of other planets – perhaps some with organisms of their own – that make up this universe.
It’s this sort of realization of our reality that makes existence itself almost magical.