Why do people wish for immortality? I don’t know about others, but for me I blame science fiction.
Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and the list goes on. All of those are to blame. I’d love to see the universe and hope like hell it’s like something the crazy free-wheeling type of place we’ve imagined it to be.
I can sit and stare at a full moon and feel despair because we’re not even close to a regular Joe (or Morgan for that matter) being able to visit the closest thing to us, and even if we were the travel time would invariably be in weeks.
I’d love to live to see the sort of travel that makes interstellar distances seem trivial. Where you can jump on a ship and be 37 galaxies across by tomorrow morning.
Ironically, I can barely tolerate say flying Sydney to Heathrow which is about the longest trip by plane you can do. Hell, I can’t stand traveling across the country. Even interstate can be a pain. So it’s with this irony in mind that I sit and wish for a future where I can travel the stars like the heroes of the aforementioned classics.
Seems like a good time to quote one of my all-time favourite novels, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:
Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-boggling big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space. Listen… and so on.
To be fair though, when confronted by the sheer enormity of the distances between the stars, better minds than the one responsible for the Guide’s introduction have faltered. Some invite you to consider for a moment a peanut in Reading and a small walnut in Johannesburg, and other such dizzying concepts.
The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the human imagination.
Even light, which travels so fast that it takes most races thousands of years to realize that it travels at all, takes time to journey between the stars. It takes eight minutes to journey from the star Sol to the place where the Earth used to be, and four years more to arrive at Sol’s nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Proxima.
So expanding on the above, the scale of the universe of baffling. Even if we were to limit our expectations to travelling around our own galaxy, the distances are still so mind-boggling enormous that they’re impossible to comprehend properly.
The time it’d take to cross, even going bat-out-of-hell-warp-speed is still measured in millennia. Such time scales to we who live in ones measured in decades can’t properly comprehend.
And just when you think you’ve got your head around those distances take a look at the vast tracts of distance between galaxies. That’s multitudes more distance, again impossible to even grasp.
Then think of the infinite number of galaxies in the universe, then travelling from ours to one on the bleeding edge. By comparison the distance to cross our piddly little galaxy seems totally insignificant.
But it’s these great distances so many of wish to cross. Us, who find ourselves twiddling our thumbs at a complete loose end with nothing to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon, kid ourselves we’re prepared to take on millennia of tedium as we make our ways across these distances.
We have to though. It’s believing in something greater than yourself, the same thing many religions preach. Though we’ve got a fair idea just how much greater than ourselves it is, mathematically at least.
But to end on a lighter note, you can always hold out hope other nonsensical things could happen.
For an example I suggest reading Finsbury Park, where travelling to the other side of the galaxy can be achieved in seconds.
Distance then may become the least of our worries.