Alone in the Universe
May 26, 2010 § 13 Comments
We live in an imperfect universe, one where the objects that inhabit it are constantly under the strain of outside forces. And while, as was pointed out in the comments from my previous blog, there are moments where systems may work together cooperatively, these systems are just as much under pressure from forces that can easily send these systems out of balance and toward destruction.
When we speak of life forms, all have a finite lifespan. We may think of these lifespans as long, as in the case of the quaking aspen of North America , or short as in the case of a fruitfly, but always relative to the lifespan of a human, but in each lifespan, the organism will eventually fall into a lesser state, that of death, decay and entropy. The one thing that is certain in the universe is change and a general trend from the complexity of objects toward a simpler state.
The fact that we always associate the lifespan of an organism (or for that matter, a celestial body) is an indicator of the human perspective, that we will always, at least on an objective level, make our assessments of the universe around us based on the dimensions, perceptions and possible experiences as a human being.
As mankind has evolved our minds and bodies have evolved too to deal with distances we can travel by foot, amounts or units we can count to in our heads, and ideas that we could somehow relate back to the very familiar. When we were unable to explain something, we would try and work out why something was or how something existed. Being creatures who are forever seeking answers, sometimes the wrong answer was better than no answer at all.
So until recently (let’s say the past few thousand years), humans in general have only ever had to deal with what we were already, at some level experienced with. But more recent developments in understanding of the universe have allowed us to see beyond the blue of the sky, and inside the walls of a cell to see what lies beyond.
A lot of denial of the sciences is based around the idea “What are the chances of that?” or “That probability is so low that it could never happen.” I think that is a fair answer, in most cases. Occam’s razor states that “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily” and is often misunderstood. And many people can use Occam’s razor as an argument against the probability of life forming spontaneously on earth, or against evolution. This is however a misuse of this principle. In actuality, Occam’s razor is meant as a way of keeping things within the realm of the probable and the simple, not to muddy the waters of understanding with the ethereal and the mystical. To say “God did it” is not an explanation at all.
To say that the numbers in the probability of life arising spontaneously are so mind boggling, or that the distance to a far off galaxy are too large, are half the problem. Our minds were never evolved to deal with such astronomical figures. We struggle with the concept of “light years” and “nanometres”. We find if difficult to comprehend the complexity of organisms. We can hardly even fathom how far it is to the sun from the earth.
So it is no wonder then that scientific denialists exist. These unfathomable numbers and probabilities seem like fairytales, and therefore seem as falsehoods. It is human nature to disregard what we don’t understand.
But the human species has done a lot of maturing over the past few thousand years, and with the help of advances in communication and technologies, we have managed to accelerate our knowledge of the universe at an exponential rate. These numbers and probabilities now seem to be within our grasp and our comprehension. And with these numbers and these amazing distances come the human realisation of the isolation of earth form our nearest neighbours. It would take just over 200 days for a man to reach Mars with current technology, and between 2 and 6 years to reach Jupiter. And these planets are within our solar system! Imaginations of travelling to distant galaxies are still so far from our grasp as to make it impossible, at least in one human lifetime. It makes the idea of extra-terrestrial intelligence ever visiting us here on earth seem a little absurd.
We are an immense distance from anything “out there”. The idea of humans moving on in the cosmos, to populate space, is still a dream. We are here on this planet, and the more we learn, it is an increasingly improbable and unique planet.
But we have come this far. We have made the most amazing discoveries and breakthroughs in science, technology and medicine. We can now do things that were mere speculation only a decade ago. We can look back over the path that our little plant has travelled, and w can see our follies and triumphs. Our historical prejudices based around which book is the “the true word of God” need to come to an end. We need to use our collective knowledge, our collective histories and thoughts, and move forward. We owe it to ourselves to see where the human journey can lead.