Philosophy and Starry Nights
It seems inevitable, sitting around a campfire at night looking up at the stars that some deep philosophical discussion will begin. Someone will say something mildly interesting and within moments the question of our place in the universe, our hopes and dreams, even the reasons that we exist.
So what is it that makes us philosophical when we look at the stars? I suspect it is three things: the vastness of the universe, the timelessness of the situation and the simple fact that we have slowed down enough to think about either of those.
Looking at the stars can't help but give a human perspective. We are so small and unimportant in the universe. Consider this, there are approximately 6000 stars visible to the human eye. That is six thousand suns, with their own solar systems, yet we know this is only the tip of a massive iceberg. There are about 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and there are about 100 billion galaxies according to our best guesses. If only one out of every billion of those stars had people like us that would mean that there were 100 other worlds like ours in our galaxy and 100,000,000,000 civilizations in the universe. How can that thought alone not spark a philosophical conversation? How can it not make you wonder about a God big enough to not only create all of that but to care about a single person on one of those 100 billion worlds?
Beyond that I can't help but think of the deep connection that this moment has to s many others in human history. I wonder if the first humans to ever sit around a fire on a starry night had the same discussion as the animal that would feed them for the night slowly cooked. I think about David, a young Sheppard alone with his flock thousands of years ago looking up at those same stars trying to understand God. I think about all those soldiers who waited around fires like this for morning so that they could fight and die and I wonder what conversations they had. I think of Newton and Galileo who must have looked at those stars when we were just beginning to understand what those lights in the sky were and I think about the possibilities of someone else up there looking at the opposite side of those same stars.
The last of the reasons is perhaps the most important. In our modern world we rarely slow down enough to allow ourselves to think about anything. Yet sitting out looking at those stars there is little to do but think. The human mind in these situations is finally given a moment to ask the questions it has been screaming at us for months while we were in that crowded room ignoring it.
No matter what it is about a starry night that sparks conversation about the deeper issues of life the real importance is that it does and we should find a way to take more of those nights, to stop and see the beauty and majesty of the entire universe once in a while.