There are two truths about our place in the universe that we humans have a tendency to deny. The first is that our personal existence has virtually no measurable or lasting consequence to the world. The second is that planet Earth is quite inconsequential to the universe. Both of these truths have a long history of cultural beliefs that reject them. Our myths and religions have consistently placed humanity at the center of creation; at the peak of it all. Everything, according to these myths, was created with the intention that it was all for humanity. It's all about us.
And what's more, it's all about me. All my life I have believed that the universe revolves about me. Babies naturally feel that way, due to their initial constricted view of life. And we never quite grow out of that view. Every moment of every day my senses tell me that it's all about me.
Both of these myths have been shattered by science, which is a major reason why religion has long been at odds with science. The first blow to the human ego came with the so-called Copernican Revolution—when science clearly demonstrated that the Earth is not at the center of the universe. In fact, in another couple of hundred years science showed that even the sun is not at the center of the universe. No, our sun is at the outer rim of an ordinary galaxy containing hundreds of billions of other suns. Furthermore, our galaxy is only one among hundreds of billions of other galaxies.
Where does that put little Earth? Somewhere far from the center of it all. What's more, recent discoveries have found thousands of planets in our local corner of the galaxy—suggesting that there likely are countless planets across the universe. And one final blow: science appears to be on the verge of discovering that Earth is not the only planet where life exists.
So much for Earth ego. Then how about my individual ego? Doesn't my existence mean anything to the universe? No, probably not. But wait, how about my people or my local corner of the planet; don't I mean something to them? Not likely. Can anyone have a lasting impact? You could argue that Jesus and the Buddha have had a lasting impression on humanity, but most of us fall immeasurably short of them.
Does that mean when I am gone I leave no lasting trace? Not for long. Before I was born I had no impact on the world—by definition. How long after I'm gone will I be remembered? Not long. A very small number of people upon whom I had a little influence may recall me and what I did, but even that memory will soon fade.
These truths are nihilistic thoughts for most people. These truths suggest to some people that our individual existence, as well as Earth's existence, are meaningless. We amount to nothing. It's a real downer for them.
I strongly disagree. It only appears purposeless if you contrast these truths to the false myths that the universe revolves around us; that we are so special. To realize that we are really quite ordinary is a huge comedown.
I think we put emphasis on the wrong things, however, when we buy into these falsehoods that feed our egos. Instead of thinking that we are unique and special, we can accept the truth of our ordinariness. Get over it. What gives life real meaning is what we each can do to help those around us—our local community—in our lifetimes. What can we do to make the lives of those around us (humans, animals, plants) a little better? There's an expression that has pretty much become a cliché, but is relevant here: “Think globally, act locally.” What really robs life of meaning is not that we are nothing special, but to waste the precious opportunity we've been given (this existence we have) on trivial thoughts and activities.