“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”.