My last post prompted some very thoughtful responses. Tesh was even kind enough to link to a terrific website called http://www.gigagalaxyzoom.org/ that has absolutely terrific zoom-able pictures of our own Milky Way galaxy.
When confronted with such immensity it is hard not to get a tad philosophical. How can a mere human mind cope with all this immensity? Even if you do somehow come to terms with the awesome vastness of the Milky Way just cast you eyes back to the deep field picture and realise that every dot in that picture which itself is but but a tiny speck of the sky represents an entire galaxy. If those concepts are not enough to completely overwhelm your mind then consider that there is a parallel immensity at lower scale. Every pebble on the Earth is itself an entire universe of atoms and the atoms are comprised of a plethora of sub atomic particles. Every time we probe deeper we seem to discover yet another layer of structure beneath that which was already known.
My own personal reconciliation with all of this immensity is to try and accept that the universe we live is has a kind of fractal nature. Not fractal in the sense of self similarity but in the sense of having a complex structure at arbitrarily small and arbitrarily large scales. You can zoom in as far as you like or zoom out as far as you like and you will always find an immensity. Having come to that conclusion the next logical step is to accept that we live at a certain scale and to do our best to master the universe at that scale.
Being human though it is hard to be content with that. One of our great strengths as a thinking species is our ability and indeed our need to simplify complex problems by reducing them to simplified equivalences. I understand this very well because I am an engineer by training and it is a commandment of engineering science that arbitrarily large and complex systems can be reduced to first or second order equivalent models. We understand first and second order systems very well. We can describe their behaviour and we can control it.
This urge to simplify complexity to a level we can comprehend is revealed at the very largest scale in cosmology and at the very smallest scale in the various attempts to come up with a "theory of everything". Both endeavours attempt to reduce the complexity by putting bounds upon it which are within the grasp of the human mind. Both endeavours are probably equally futile. The fractal nature of the universe thwarts all attempts at reduction.
PS: I know that I may be using the term fractal wrongly in the above post. Mathematical fractals have as I understand it a property of self similarity which means that they can be reduced to a simple recursive description. The universe on the other hand does not appear to have self similarity but does appear to have a complex structure at arbitrary levels of magnification. If there is a better word to describe such a system than fractal I don't know it.