Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters?

What Matters?

Henry Openshaw

Year 10, Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School

What Matters?

Nothing.

Nothing matters. The universe has been around for over 13.8 billion years, and humans have been walking this earth (which is 4.5 billion years old) for approximately 195,000 years. This means that humans have been around for just 0.0014% of the history of the universe. It is an unimaginably vast place where physical matter like us makes up less than 1% of it. Is it really possible then for an individual human that lives for less than 100 years to be able to influence the universe in any way? Sure, someone can become famous and change people's lives, but they are limited to our tiny little rock that has just seven billion intelligent life forms in a boundless universe which likely has quadrillion more that we will never meet. The furthest we have ever been from our tiny blue home was just 382,000km, which was a quick drop by our hospitable, uninhabitable best friend, the moon. If that was our best fifty years ago how much closer are we to escaping the confines of our own solar system? One day if we don't manage to blow ourselves up, we might do that, but will you be remembered?

Probably not.

Many might dismiss the idea that nothing matters and argue that we have a purpose, but what is purpose? A humans idea, of course, it's a social construct that was inorganically created to allow us to ignore the fact that we are just sentient blobs of meat who are lucky enough to have clever hands. Most of human history we were a simple subsistent hunter, gatherer society and only recently have we rose upon those first practices and start tailor our own environment to create a utopia, ignoring the fact that we probably further from it. Purpose is such a uniquely human idea that we could not even begin to argue that it is anything besides a purely abstract concept that stops us going insane, so what gives it merit? Really not much except our own denial. We just do not want to think of ourselves as tiny little, meaningless particles floating around the emptiness.

 Just like purpose, the idea of everything being meaningless is not a new idea, one interpretation is 'nihilism,' in philosophical terms it is the idea that nothing actually exists, or values are meaningless. There are many branches of Nihilism in which one is 'Existential Nihilism', this is the one that we want to focus on, it states that a singular human or even an entire species can make no difference when compared to the entirety of the universe. This idea has been discussed amongst philosophers since the 4th century BCE, and I would argue this was the point in which philosophy and human awareness peaked as we realized that we are no longer the centre of the universe (even though we thought the earth was the centre of the earth for around 1800 more years). This was the first step to realising our place in the universe. It's in almost every animal's nature to put survival before anything, this comes in multiple forms such as self-preservation and utilitarianism. Therefore, when we started to think beyond our own survival and speculate on a scale that cast our own mind in the universes shadow, we ascended to a higher plane of intelligence.

Basically, the universe is really big and really old, humans are fragile little blobs, who are, admittedly, a bit clever but we live, in a place that could miss our entire species in the blink of an eye.