This question (‘Is anything significant?’) can be fleshed out a bit…
We could ask, “Is everything equally in-significant?”, or we could ask, “Is everything equally highly-significant?”
What makes something (an event or object [which can quite rightly be said to be ‘events’ in themselves]) significant, and another thing not so?
We often think for example, that solar eclipses are significant (especially the nearly-perfect eclipse we see when our moon –almost exactly– blocks out our sun). We are amazed at the significance that the apparent size in the sky of the sun and moon are –almost exactly– the same. The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, but is 400 times further away. Significant, huh? (Thank-you to Damian for a great chat about this, and to Luc Viatour for the image of the eclipse)
But why do we attach significance to a (near) perfect solar eclipse of our sun by our moon, and not –for example– the blocking out of any other far, distant ‘sun’ (star)? Why do we not find it significant when our moon blocks out hundreds (thousands? more?) of distant ‘suns’ (stars)?
The logic of ‘insignificance’ (that’s a nice phrase) goes something like this: It is as improbable for (a) our moon to block-out our sun/star in the nearly-perfect way it happens to, as it is improbable for (b) our moon to block out any other object in the universe in the (whatever) way it happens to. In other words, why are we amazed at our moon blocking out our sun, and not any of the countless stars that it blocks out from time to time? To go hypothetical, why would we (probably) not be amazed if our moon was slightly further away from us, and only ever partially blocked out the sun?
There is another significance-scenario which I find interesting… that of poker hands in playing cards. You can look up the range of probabilities for various hands (from a ‘no pair’ hand through to a royal [10 through Ace] flush. Royal flushes are very rare – a 649,739-in-1 chance; while a ‘one pair’ hand is much more common – a 1.37-in-1 chance.
Again, the logic of ‘insignificance’ says: it is just as unlikely to draw a particularly specified royal flush (say, 10-thru-Ace, all in spades) as it is to draw any other particularly specified selection of cards (say, 2 diamonds, 4 spades, 6 spades, Jack hearts, and Ace clubs). Make sense? If you were looking and waiting for either of these ‘hands’, you would wait a long time…
So then… Is anything significant? What’s going on here? Why do we find certain things significant and others not???
There is a concept that I think will help us immensely…
I’ll use the card-hand analogy to explain.
There is a profound difference between what we (rightly in my view) call a ‘random’ selection of cards (i.e. 2 diamonds, 4 spades, 6 spades, Jack hearts, and Ace clubs), and (for example) a royal flush (10-thru-Ace, all in spades). The difference is in the way the cards are related to one another. In a royal flush, the cards have a higher level of relation to each other. The 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace are sequentially related – as opposed to non-sequential relation. 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace are more closely related than, say, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 10. Also, in the case of a royal flush, the five cards are all ‘related’ due to their ‘sharing’ of the suit of (for example) spades. A hand of all spades is more ‘suited-ly’ related than, say, two clubs, two diamonds and on spades. Now, the ‘random’ hand consists of cards which have no (or less) relationship to one another. There is not the same sequential relationship, nor shared suit. It is, a relationally less-significant hand than various other ones.
In our eclipse example, there are several ‘relational’ aspects, though (since the categories of ‘suit’ and ‘number’ are non existent here) differently discerned. There is a relationship between the locations of the three necessary objects; that of the sun, of the moon and of the observer. The three also share the ‘moment’, or timing, of the eclipse. They all three exist outside of the eclipse, but the eclipse brings them together in momentary relationship. Also, the sun and moon both ‘share’ the same apparent size in the sky. And various observers ‘share’ the viewing experience (not to mention the wonder and awe at the sight).
So there you have it. I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest such things, but still, I think the idea of ‘relationality’ does indeed help us understand why some things are significant and others are not. This, perhaps, can apply to all kinds of things. A father and son are ‘significantly related’ in ways that any other two pairings of people are not; they share the male gender, some genes and probably some character traits as well.
I’m sure there are things I’ve missed here, and I’d love some feedback and/or critique. Comments welcome.