What if we are not the center of it all…..
Haunted by questions without common answers – It is a default mode of most deep thinkers, provokers of human systems, those who create questionnaires for us in an attempt to challenge our own supposed limits and in most cases slow us down in our frivolous attempt to major on minor missions on this pale blue dot that we call home. It is a strange journey in the world of thoughts to imagine “a world without us” as consciousness has endowed us with the gift or curse (you judge) of subjectivity, merely deriving meaning in the world around us by considering us at the center of it all. But what if we are not the center of it all? Would everything still matter?
Or you want me to ask it directly – would it matter if we are omitted from the equation of existence?
Physics gives us a glimpse of systems that exist with or without our approval, these are laws so to say – perhaps democracy given a chance would have voted gravity out of the constitution but sadly it is objective, our opinion does not matter much. This is probably a nightmare for a highly egotistical species that is bent on the motto “it all is because we are”. This was the source of outrage against Galileo by the Vatican in his teachings based on the fundamental scientific idea that we can interrogate nature by observation and experiment. Even when that discovery disproves what previously esteemed our place in the universe, it does not count it untrue. Until Galileo, the known ideology was that the earth is the center of the universe and everything revolved around it – what a comforting feeling for those who bear our nature. When he turned the first astronomical telescope into the sky, he noticed that planets were revolving around the sun and further investigation which was later cemented quantitively by Isaac Newton was that the earth moved. Vatican threatened the old aged astronomer and sentenced him to a kind of house arrest for the rest of his life for challenging what was a central known ideology of “the faith”. The scientist was right, physics was right, now we know our planet is not the center of it all.
Oh if the earth is not at the center of the universe, the sun is. This means that the sun is our sun. Ladies and gentlemen I hereby submit to you that observational astronomy made it clear that the sun is but one lonely star in an assemblage of suns called the milky way galaxy, far from the center of the galaxy – it is not our sun. Oh well, then our Milky way galaxy is the only galaxy. Mmmm not really, there are perhaps hundreds of billions of galaxies notable in the universe. Biology also does no favor to our misplaced arrogance proving again that our anatomy is different but no peculiar in any form from other species. The notion that we are the most intelligent in the universe is also on its way out with the assumption which science is only now starting to treat seriously that we might not be alone and the statistical data as championed by Nick Bostrom leans towards a positive to the hypothesis. The great demotions argument goes on and on in the Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan and science again and again proves that we are a part of, not the center of everything.
The current mainstream discussion in the scientific society is if we are able to create machines which can equal or outsmart our intelligence. Exponential growth of technologies as presented by the prophet of integrated circuits Gordon Moore has changed entirely our conversation and vision of the future. Long live Moore’s Law ! Not that my wishes of good luck will add anything to the objective law of electronics which has become an objective law of technology as a whole. Technology is on the rise. Artificial general intelligence will soon be a part of our world, billionaires like Elon Musk dread it and has proceeded to create Neuralink , a company whose mission is to integrate the human system with machines – call it science fiction turned science fact. The source of this fear is existential threat, the fear of a future without us and in his article in the Wired Magazine titled Why the future does not need us Bill Joy does a great job of painting this portrait of the coming doom from his conversation with the famous inventor and director of engineering at Google Ray Kurzweil . Technological fears are in two dimensions – one where the machines take all of our jobs and one extreme where we are overpowered by machines and eliminated from the universe. The first one based on how jobs are to many, a source of purpose and means income. The second one being how we matter so much that we need to exist forever. We can solve the means of income part by Universal Basic Income and the purpose part by reinvention of what it means to be human, simply create new powerful, convincing illusionary stories as we have successfully done in the past.
Existential risk baffles us , we cannot imagine a universe without us – nothing can continue if we are not here because we are the center of it all. What a highly misguided approach to our understanding of how the universe works and not even a rationally useful one to take. The chauvinistic obsession of our species has not served us well in relation to discrimination based on race, sex, nationality, religious preference and the list goes on. We are better than them, than anything really!! – what an absurd and extremely sad stage in the human condition. It will also not serve us well, I argue, in our obsession to our centrality in the universe to an extent of not imagining the future without us. I present three cases of the future where 1) we exist but in a completely different form, integrated with technology 2) we hand over the reins to another species with superior intelligence, maybe a species of our own making or extra-terrestrial 3) we go extinct but the universe continues.
All these options are highly probable and if we conclude that either way the universe does not need us to be and is not made for us, then it beckons us to consider how we find a new way to search for meaning in our time. It would have been a foolish, unintelligible joke to mention that the Great Rome will one day fall and almost forgotten but it surely did. History is inundated with species, empires, individuals whose participation today is only in history. Now that there is an argument for our extinction, as surely as a proven argument for our immortality, what really matters suddenly takes a whole new meaning. What does a universe without us require?
I seek not to conclude anything on my attempt to explain a universe without us but would at this point give some guidance to retract from seeking value from our place in the universe because we have no special place, our role in the universe because we have no written role, our biological make up in the universe because it has no substantial difference, our intelligence in the universe as it will soon be surpassed but note this : why we matter does not arise from what is given to us but we give…with our ingenuity, our creativity, our hard work, our kindness, each day we add something small to civilization and I hope as we pass on, our civilization guided by the values of the enlightenment will live on in the universe without us.
May you continue to live in interesting times!!