Howard A. Smith, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard‐Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a lecturer at Harvard University, wonders whether humans might not be as insignificant as scientists think.
People today, if asked about humanity’s place in the cosmos, would probably echo the sentiment of Carl Sagan: “We live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy, tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe.” That is to say, humanity is ordinary, cosmically speaking, just one of countless examples of extraterrestrial intelligence spread across the universe. This view reflects an appreciation of the remarkable successes of science that show that the universe is vast and about the same everywhere. But there was a time when astronomers placed the Earth at the center of the universe and humanity, too, was seen as being cosmically central. Once Copernicus showed that the Earth was not the center of the universe, we demoted ourselves to being ordinary. The idea today that we are commonplace is sometimes called the notion of Copernican mediocrity.
As a research astrophysicist, I can say without exaggeration that a day never goes by when I am not impressed by the amazing explanatory power of modern science. But I am also trained to be open to the world as it presents itself, not just as I would like it to be. So it is worth calling attention to two recent discoveries that suggest our place in the cosmos needs reconsideration. We might not be ordinary at all.
Imagine that, huh?