One of the common reactions to the Webb telescope’s debut images is, “wow, makes me feel insignificant.” As an earth scientist, GG is kind of familiar with this concept, as we deal with huge amounts of time but can only participate in a very tiny part of Earth’s history.
On Earth, arguably we are the first species to be aware of deep time; to know something of the different climates Earth has seen, the different biomes, the different landscapes. All that stuff that happened was unappreciated until we came along and started to recognize it. In a way, our appreciation of, say, dinosaurs and trilobites makes their existence somehow less futile and more meaningful. That we can appreciate this vast storehouse of experience is itself a wonder.
So when we look out on galaxies unimaginably distant and in numbers that boggle the mind, the temptation is to say “we are so small.” But so far as we know to this point, we are also the only ones who are aware of all those stars. That a galaxy some 13 billion years ago threw off light we are only now seeing, and that might have gone unrecognized by the entire universe until now, makes our observing of it somehow a confirmation of its existence. How sterile a universe if there was nobody to appreciate it? In a way, you could imagine this whole show of billions of stars in billions of galaxies exists for us to wonder at. Which makes us far from insignificant.
Maybe one day we will learn of other sentient species out there and will have to share the glory in observing the universe. But until then, we’re it, sole spectators to a universal show. Which seems rather more special than insignificant.