Oscar Petrov
12 min readMar 3, 2022
Image by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash


Two young fish are swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the [f*ck] is water?”

— David Foster Wallace

Water is everywhere; it surrounds us fish. But it is to our misfortune that human beings are naturally oblivious to the very essence and makeup of its existence. Why? Because human beings seldom stop for a moment and consider their very own existentialism in relation to the grand scheme of the universe. This idea is aptly comparable to Plato’s famous line: “Imprisoned in our cave, [and] with our backs to the light, we can only watch the shadows on the wall.” (Plato, Allegory of the Cave)

Rather than present to you what water is, I would like to present to you another version of the story: the story of your life, of time and the universe; of everything.

Now before we dive into the “meaning of life,” which I’m sure you eager readers are interested to learn, it may be necessary to discuss the universe in its entirety, before I delve into mankind’s relation. For that reason, I’d like you to step into the Narnia of time that is your computer screen, and time travel to the very origins of the universe and its formation. Now I want you to travel even further than the Beginning, and contemplate the universe from before it’s very existence. A moment of nothingness, in which even space and time itself did not exist.

Before the Beginning,

the universe was a still nothingness:

Time was not yet;

Space had not been;

The very fabric of reality was immeasurable,

And isness too;

The word “Happen,” ceased to exist.

Until suddenly,

Like the flicker of a light switch

The universe imploded into existence—

What was then became past;

What was here became there.

Once a hot, dense, singularity,

now a booming cosmos.

Matter stretching,

Energy unfurling,

The universe, in its entirety, becoming.

It’s almost as if a man was trapped in a room of nothingness: with no floors, nor walls, or even a ceiling too. A room void of light, and sound, and particles and energy.

When all of the sudden, man opened the invisible door, from which light, and matter, and energy, and space and time all fused into the room, into existence.

Photograph from ResearchGate

Matter essentially inflated space like a balloon and time initiated itself, like a stopwatch that started its own timer. In this early stage of the universe, dense, high-energy particles began colliding with each other to form bonds only to find themselves becoming decimated the next instant due to the overwhelmingly high amounts of energy. Then, as space continued to expand and the universe cooled, conditions became just right to allow for the formation of the building blocks of matter—quarks and electrons. Over time, those quarks combined to become protons and neutrons, which then subsequently became nuclei. Some 380,000 years later, electrons became fixed to these nuclei, forming some of the first atoms of our universe. And after some many millions of years later—i.e., of atoms forming, clusters aggregating, space expanding, and time unfurling—some of the first gas clouds came into existence.

These very processes were ultimately repeated over the course of the next 13.8 billion years, eventually creating what we now see and regard as “the cosmos” today.

Then Earth was built4.6 billion years later

And it wasn’t until nearly 200,000 years ago, that human life finally came into existence. You might think that expired stuff in the back of the refrigerator that your family never gets rid of is old, but wait till you realize that every atom in your body is basically 13.7 billion years old!


Now I’ve mentioned a lot of big numbers in the last couple of minutes, and chances are you absorbed those numbers with a fair degree of comprehension.

But if one thing’s for certain, it’s that humans aren’t great at putting things into perspective — especially when it comes to space (which humans often simplify to distance here on Earth) and time.

Now I don’t mean to say that humans are unable to estimate how far away the kitchen is from their bedroom with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Nor do I mean to suppose that humans can’t count the individual ticks that go by as the second-hand revolves around the dial of their watch.

What I mean to suggest goes a little something like this:

Let’s imagine an American-Football field…

  • You start on one end of the football field and put down a beach ball right at the center of the endzone — that ball there represents the sun.
  • You begin walking in a straight line across the middle of the field towards the other endzone, and at about the 30-yard line you place a marble — that marble is the home which we live in, the Earth.
  • Now keep walking, all the way until you reach the other goal line, 100 yards from the beach ball on the other end of the field. At that location, you drop a golf ball — that’s Jupiter.

The Football field should look something along the lines of this:

Edited image from Wikimedia Commons

Now if you keep walking forward on that straight line, in fact, if you walk all the way to the other side of the Earth—from America to Russia, for example—the distance traveled would equate to roughly one light-year.

It’s one thing to think about humans in comparison with the Earth, but let’s take the cosmic microscope and actually zoom out a little. You eventually discover that the Earth resides in a complex, gravitationally bound system that holds the sun and (now) eight orbiting planets (sorry Pluto 😔). Zooming out even further, you may find that the solar system is actually one of many more millions of systems like it, all residing within our Milky Way Galaxy. And if you look closely, you may then be shocked to discover that the closest star to Earth — which is Proxima Centauri — is located almost 4 and a half light-years away! How’s that for scale? 😲


I hope that by scaling the universe down to a more spatially relatable standpoint—like that of the Earth—I was able to provide a different, and perhaps more understandable perspective on how our very lives compare to that of the Universe we are so intimately engrossed in.

But if either one of us is to truthfully declare that we understood the prior metaphor in its entirety, then that would be indubitably fallacious—the reason being, not because we humans are intellectually inferior when it comes to attempting to grasp large numbers, but because of the nature of evolution.

As numbers increase in magnitude, or more relevantly, as the limits of space and time grow larger and larger in magnitude, humans eventually (and fairly quickly, to be frank) reach a point where they can no longer fathom how big or old or far something actually is.

Let’s take an example from baking.

An avid cook person trying to learn how to cook the “perfect brownie” may attempt to do so by watching some of Chef Gordon Ramsay’s famous youtube videos. Somewhere throughout the video, Gordon Ramsay may explain that you should take 1 cup of flour and whisk into a bowl. That’s simple enough. 1 cup of flour can be easily be measured. But what if Gordon Ramsay actually told to put 5 million particles of flour into a bowl. Wait… what? How many particles of flour are in a cup of flour?

Humans trying to measure an absurd amount of some substance for baking purposes is just as crazy as a computer trying to correctly pronounce 120 digits of some random number. What’s even crazier is that according to the multiverse theory, some idiot out there really is measuring out 5 million particles of flour. 🥴

Let’s try something else. Say an asteroid is passing by the Earth and it’s currently a million miles away. How far is that really? And does it really make much of a difference if I said it was a billion miles away? Or a trillion? A quadrillion?

So, why is this?—why do large numbers provide such little meaning in the scope of human lives? The answer revolves around the idea that it is simply not useful to us; it’s a result of evolution. Why would it be useful for the nomad to look up at the sky each night and declare that “this part of the sky has 17,382 stars which are visible, 427 less than yesterday”? Humans have developed to adopt other more useful traits, such as an oversized part of the brain dedicated to logistical reasoning and decision-making so that we may confront the buffalo with a sharpened spear.

The simple reality of it is that humans, however intelligent you may like to view us in comparison to other species on Earth, are actually not all that intelligent — No offense ;). And that’s not a bad thing at all.


How old are you? Yes, I’m aware that’s a weird question considering the title of this article, but just roll with me here.

You may be fourteen, twenty, twenty-seven, thirty-six, or even forty-two. If not, well this article doesn’t pertain to you, so… I’ll wait.

I’m just kidding, jeez….. Anyway, chances are you’re somewhere near that age demographic (15–40).

You may be wondering why I brought this to your attention. It’s because I would like to give you a little perspective.

The current average life expectancy in the US is about 80 years old. That’s old right?! Well, that really depends on your definition of old. A quick google search defines an old person as someone who has “lived for a long time.” I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of vague, so…

Let’s try to visualize it.

Wow, the boxes between me and my parents are far apart!

But wait, if you think my parents are old, check this out… 😉


Wait, so you’re telling me that the universe is 717 boxes old and I don’t even make the cut for a single box. Well, that’s quite disappointing.” It is. And if you were hoping to get that first box checked in, you would need to live for a little over 19 million years longer. 🙂

If I’m never gonna make the cut on that list, what’s the point of it all?

If my life is so ephemeral compared to the grand scheme of things, is it even worth living at all?

There is a wave out there that pushes the ocean forward for only a moment — a beautiful, fleeting existence. For that one moment that it rises above the surface of the water, the wave glistens like no other, like a soloist in an orchestra. Another moment later, the wave eventually subsides into a bitter nothingness again. But it wasn’t nothing; it was something. For if that wave didn’t push that next wave forward, then all the other waves after that one wave would cease to exist; and thus, the flow of nature would ultimately cease to exist. It is believed that stars live for millions upon millions of years, but even they die one day too — into a nothingness that was once something.

Man who reads these very words off the screen before them ultimately becomes a something in the midst of nothing; a someone. There are many things in life that come and go ever so silently. There are the cells in your body; the blood in your bones; the thoughts and the happenings and the ideas that pass by your ever so beautiful mind. But there is one thing that remains in the midst of it all — that which is the witness to it all. It is a knowingness that you yourself possess like no other does, and it is such which makes your fugitive hours matter. A deathless knowingness that bears it all before them, the transient nature of things.

“You do not consist of the elements — earth, water, fire, air, or even ether. To be liberated, know yourself as consisting of consciousness, the witness of these.” — Ashtavakra Gita Scriptures

The understanding that life is worth living even when one is rooted in the changeless is the most powerful understanding to possess. It is through this knowingness, that one may face the fear of death.

And on that note, I come to conclude my final paragraph:


Influenced by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysisa premise that humans have a “will to pleasure”and Alfred Adler’s individual psychologya Nietzschean-influenced belief that humans have a “will to power” (they strive for superiority)—Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy is a form of psychotherapy centered around the idea that human beings are driven by a “will to meaning”— i.e., an innate, inner urge to discover meaning in their life.

Viktor Frankl briefly, but diligently, explains his philosophy surrounding Logotherapy, in his most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning. In this book, Frankl develops his theories by taking examples from his very own experiences in the Holocaust, and how his theories helped him to survive on a spiritual level. Later on, he develops the Meaning Triangle, a pyramid of 5 layers that oversimplifies, but encapsulates the essence of Logotherapy.

There’s only one thing you need to discover the meaning of your life.

The meaning of life, itself, is meaninglessness; a fiction.

The meaning of life is not a simple question, and thus, it cannot be answered in simple terms. Why is it a difficult question?—because the meaning of life differs from man to man, from woman to woman, from person to person. Victor Frankl, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, explains that expecting a simple answer from such a question is comparable to that of a novice asking a chess champion: “Tell me, what is the best move in the whole world?” As you can see, it’s absurd to ask such a question, as there is no best move in chess. It’s even arguable that there is no good move in any given moment in a game, as that may be influenced by a chess player’s unique style and personality (whether that style is an offensive one or a defensive one; active or passive).

On that note, the meaning of life is not something that one ought to pursue; for it must ensue, and do so in the face of all odds. A human being cannot be characterized as one in pursuit of meaning but rather in a quest to discovering the reason for their life’s meaning. In more direct terms, it presents itself through the discovery of one’s purpose, and the onset of taking that responsibility upon ourselves and others.

And when you do find your “why,” the issue of “how” simply becomes irrelevant.

For as Douglas Adams writes in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

Author’s Note:

I hope you enjoyed this article.

If you have any questions, comments, disputes, or anything of the sort, reach out via email.




Oscar Petrov

A curious manifestation of billions of exploding neurons. I like to think about brains + the universe. Also passionate about ethics, philosophy + human rights.