“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon” – Woody Allen
You’re lucky to be alive right now. Oh sure, odds are we’ll all die in nuclear Armageddon, succumb to an incurable plague, or get wiped out by one of the myriad extinction-level events that scientists and deep thinkers keep warning us about (from errant asteroids to AI coups), and that must look grim from an individual standpoint, but really now, you’re just being selfish. We have the privilege of living in a Golden Age, cosmologically speaking.
If the universe were a tenth of it’s current age, it would be filled mostly with hydrogen and helium, lacking in metallicity. That is to say, the fun elements like carbon would not have built up in sufficient amounts to support carbon-based life. One must excuse my obvious carbon chauvinism, but gosh darn it, I just like the stuff. Wouldn’t have good pencils or light bulbs without it. If the universe was 10 times older than its present age, most of the main sequence stars would have dwindled to white dwarves, from which it is not only difficult to get a tan, but also particularly hard to maintain a stable planetary system around.
So here we are in this sweet spot in universal age between 1.38 and 138 billion years, wondering why its so quiet out there. Add to that the weird coincidence that all your favorite physical constants, from the “fine-structure” constant to the cosmological constant that prevents universal vacuum catastrophe appear to be finely tuned to support the existence of living observers. A little nudge in values and we or anything resembling us doesn’t exist. Given this, one might easily be forgiven for believing in the Anthropic Principle of the Universe.
The Anthropic Principle, simply stated, suggest that the fundamental facts of the universe must be compatible with the consciousness that observes it (“I think, Therefore it is” – Cogito, ergo est, if you want to get your Latin on). This sounds suspiciously like that whole extreme observer creating reality nonsense that gets bandied about when folks want to marshal quantum physics in the service of mysticism. Don’t get me wrong. Reality is illusory, simply thinking can make it so, and existence is just another link in the chain of waking nightmares we call life, but that’s truly just more of a philosophical perspective.
But one thing bothers me. Okay, lots of things bother me, but one in particular. Given a universe and a time that seem so perfect for conscious creatures to be skittering about the galaxies looking for other critters they can Facebook friend, it does seem a little lonely out there among the stars. I mean, we all like peace and quiet, but this has gotten ridiculous. We should have been overrun by alien hordes by now, or at least offered a subservient role in somebody’s galactic empire.
Yes, we get reports of unidentified flying objects, strange beings that abduct people and poke them with things, and a robust literature about ancient aliens screwing with us for millennia, but one has to figure some klutzy species would have tripped over themselves and spilled the beans to a wider audience about the veritable universal menagerie our models predict should be populating the universe. There is no requirement, even among anomalists, that such beasties as we might inexplicably encounter here on Earth be extraterrestrial. It would be a sufficient, but not a necessary explanation for the bizarre encounters we’ve been muttering to ourselves about lo these many years.
So, why all the deafening silence in the cosmos. Its true, Quasars are cool, but you can’t dance to them. The troubling thing is that here we are, in a universe that by all appearances seems perfectly designed for our kind of consciousness, and it looks empty. This is a sad affair with a whiskey glass. It’s a tragedy in the heavens.
Let’s try a theory on for size. The universe is finely tuned to be observed by our consciousness. Our consciousness. Nobody else’s. If there are conscious messiahs and monsters out there in the dark, they have their own universes, and never the twain shall meet. We would thus not only be terribly alone, we would be terribly alone forever and ever, until the end of time. Or maybe we should call it our “golden solitude”, for as Paul Tillich observed “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone”.
Lets just face it. We are all in hell. And what sort of a creator constructs a universe where everything consumes everything else? The whole conception of the Universe is monstrous. We live in the hope that when we die, it all comes to an end. Yet, we are continually tempted by the thought that there may be something better, at the end of it.
The idea that we live on, as spirit, is not something to which I am happy with.
And this is why I am destined to become a ghost. For; ghosts are those who cannot accept existence, either in life, or at death. As in substance or in spirit. I know this is my fate, for; it was told me by a very high authority. Love, hope, charity: it is all a vanity. There is no escape. We cannot die. The spirit lives on. It is better to sleep for an eternity.
Laddie, it sounds like you’re still nursing a New Year’s Eve hangover. The argument that “some klutzy species would have…spilled the beans” about intelligent extraterrestrial life to human beings by now trips up on the assumption that a klutzy species would last long enough to master interstellar travel. I rather doubt it. It would be more reasonable to assume that there is a klutz filter in the evolution of civilizations–a filter which we don’t seem likely to pass through. This is not to say that accidents and mistakes do not happen after you’ve achieved a certain technological sophistication. Error after all is a defining characteristic of living things. But we’re talking about an error of the sort that would induce an extraterrestrial being to invite Neil deGrasse Tyson to dinner (which appears to be the only sort of evidence he will consider). Apparently, extraterrestrial visitors prefer not to undermine plausible deniability and that policy is probably wise even if it’s exasperating for us.
By the way, I’m still trying to come up with a response to your September 12th Turtles post in which you cite the practopoietic loop of causation. It’s a tough nut to crack.
Ah, you know me…I go straight to the most dismal prospect. Even when I’m not nursing a hangover.
Speaking of dismal prospects, a rather disturbing one has just occurred to me. You’ve never invited me to dinner. Therefore, applying the Tyson rule, your ontological reality is suspect. As an ontologist, I trust you will correct me if I’m misinterpreting the Tyson rule. Of course, if you don’t exist I’m going to look rather foolish.
Sadly, my cooking is itself dismal. We’d have to order out
When you eventually die; does life go on? We live life as though it does; providing for our offspring. Yet; is this an illusion? Unless there is spiritual survival, then it must be illusory. In that case, when one finally sheds this mortal coil; not only does existence die with us: it never actually existed. It’s all a figment of our imagination. I never existed; nor did you. This is a plausible denial of life. Yet, is it wise? And where does this imagination come from? Am I God? Are you God? I think that I am alive, therefore; I must be? Do extraterrestrials have the same dilemma?
I wrestled with this same conundrum for a very long time, but recently found a sort of middle ground that may also resolve the issues between idealism and naive realism, predicated on the consciousness of all living things and their possible prevalence throughout the universe. Perhaps all things reside within consciousness, but to be anthropocentric about it is just short-sighted and (frankly) rude. Here is my recent piece on it.
What if life was deliberately created (by some higher being) to help correct the defects in the universe, if any? Then the fewer the defects, the less life as we know it would need to exist.
Moral of the story: you can’t have many cosmic neighbors and expect to live in a very perfect universe. This idea may also apply to the 7.5 billion humans on the planet – some would like to reduce that number down to 500 million according to the Georgia Guidestones to make human life on earth more perfect. It appears that the old saying “misery loves company” probably applies in this instance.
Defects are in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, those who disagree about what is defective will be at loggerheads. The end will probably result in armageddon. And then what? Having less enemies to contend with, society turns in upon itself: looking to refine the definitions of what constitutes defectiveness. It will then continue, in ever decreasing circles, until such time as only ‘one’ is left. That ‘one’ who is left, will then have to convince the creator that everything is now perfect. Yet, being alone; the one cannot survive. The one needs a mate. Somehow, that seems as though we’d be back at the beginning? And, the creator would never be able to achieve the objective?
I respectively suggest, therefore; that the idea that ‘life was deliberately created (by some higher being) to help correct the defects in the universe,’ must be flawed.
In this case the defects are determined by the higher power, not by man. Man would be created to remedy defects existing long before its own creation. These defects may be relatively small and localized, not justifying a personal intervention by the higher power. After correcting the defects there might not be sufficient reason for the human species to continue physically inhabiting the earth. But opportunities may exist on other planets in the galaxy. As they say, good help can be hard to find.
I think Thomas Ligotti said it best in his book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race:
“We are gene-copying bio-robots, living out here on a lonely planet in a cold and empty physical universe.”
I’m still inclining to the theory that we on Earth are left alone as a sort of combination monkey-preserve and open-air looney bin. Visitors are encouraged not to leave or take anything from the nature preserve, and to humor the solipsistic delusions of the inhabitants.
I share your view, floodmouse. And if we are living in a nature preserve I wonder if this is a purely passively managed preserve. It would be nice to know what the rules are, viz., to what extent are visitors permitted to intervene should one species behave in a manner that threatens the stability of the system.
I suspect it is a commercial “nature” preserve, so will be managed according to marketing best practices to preserve the tourist and souvenir trades.