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What If We ARE Alone?

November 29th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a philosophical musing for my blog, and as I’d like to post one to Revolution Earth I might as well do so now. Having recently finished Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and watched the first episode of the Science Channel’s “Through the Wormhole” (entitled “Is There A Creator?”), I’m in the right frame of mind.

Whether we like it or not, there’s just no way to know for certain whether or not God exists. For every argument suggesting the existence of an omnipotent creator of the universe, there’s a perfectly good counter-argument. One could try to reason that if there were no creator, nothing would exist because something can’t come from nothing. But we can’t be sure that simple logic applies to the whole of reality, or even that there can’t be a chain of causality that stretches back infinitely.

Even if we’ve had personal experiences in which we’ve felt that we absolutely know that there’s more to the universe than particles and forces (and I’ve had such experiences), we can never be sure these aren’t a result of some peculiarity of the brain, some evolutionary response to the anxiety that arose once the human mind became capable of contemplating its own death.

What may be the strongest evidence in favor of creation is the fact that our world seems perfectly well-suited for life, such that the slightest change in conditions would have made the evolution of intelligent beings impossible. On the local level, we know that if the earth were just a bit closer or farther away from the sun, its axis tilted just a little more or less, its rotation just slightly slower or faster, we wouldn’t be here. The counter-argument to this is very strong, but it suggests a rather depressing possibility—that we may be alone in the universe.

If the conditions for life to evolve into complex and sentient forms must be so perfect that the chances of it happening are less than one in a billion, that still leaves a slight chance that on at least one world life has developed, and that we happen to live on that world. Naturally, the only place from which a species could evolve to the point of being capable of asking “are we alone?” would be such a planet. It’s by no means a miracle that we exist on a world in which our existence is possible.

If God exists, that would imply that we are almost certainly not alone. It seems absurd that an omnipotent creator would create such a vast universe solely for the sake of one tiny speck of dust which after billions of years would produce beings capable of worshipping it.

Personally, I believe that conditions on earth are not so special that there aren’t millions or perhaps billions of other worlds capable of supporting life in the universe, but because we have yet to find any we must acknowledge the possibility that ours is the only one. The chances of the DNA molecule coming together purely by a chance combination of particles are infinitesimal, let alone that it would happen on a planet situated perfectly enough to allow it to replicate itself for billions of years, but we know it happened at least once. We just don’t know if it’s ever happened elsewhere or if it will ever happen again.

But a far more compelling case for a creator can be made when we look at the universe as a whole. There are a number of cosmological constants, such as the speed of light and the strength of the nuclear forces, that if altered only slightly would result in a universe not only incapable of producing life, but stars and planets as well. It turns out that the values for all of these constants must be identical or nearly identical to what they are in our universe in order to have a universe in which any form of life could exist.

If we assume that there is only one universe, we might then justifiably presume that something which knew exactly which values to assign to these constants designed it and set it into motion. But if we accept the possibility that ours may be only one of an infinite number of universes, we’re left with the same problem as before. We must accept the inevitability of at least one universe in which life as we know it could arise, and it would be no coincidence that we happen to be living in that universe.

Now, I’m not saying that God doesn’t exist. I’d never presume to make such a bold declaration considering how little we know about the universe and the relationship our conscious minds have to it. Nor would I presume to say that we are the only intelligent species in the only universe capable of producing intelligence. In fact that I think that’s extremely unlikely and that there are probably countless intelligent species on countless worlds in countless universes (perhaps even an infinite amount), but considering just how perfect everything had to be in order for us to be here, I think that we can’t ignore the possibility.

And I think that it’s of the utmost importance that we don’t ignore it. It would be enough of a shame if the human race were to snuff itself out after only a few hundred measly trips around the sun since arriving at the understanding that we even are circling the sun, but just imagine what a cosmic tragedy it would be if we are the only existing beings who have ever even come to such an understanding not only in this universe but in the totality of all of existence!

What if the fundamental nature of reality is such that new universes are constantly springing into existence, each with its own different cosmological constants and laws of physics—being springing from non-being out of the sheer necessity of being? What if this has been going on for an eternity with nothing to be consciously aware of it until now—this precise space and time among an infinite number of space-times?

Then it’s almost as though we owe it to the universe and the greater metaverse of universes from which it sprang to stick around for as long as we possibly can. Consciousness is a necessary condition for appreciation, and if we are the only conscious beings who are capable of appreciating the mind-blowingly awe-inspiring phenomenon that is reality, we ought to be doing everything we can to make sure we’re around to appreciate it for as long as we possibly can.

If the human race manages to survive its current stage of technological adolescence and achieve long-term sustainability, we could conceivably pave the way for millions or even billions of future generations who will not only be able to appreciate the universe as we’ve only begun to since the birth of modern science, but whose own capabilities of scientific inquiry and exploration will allow them to appreciate it even more deeply than we can.

I highly doubt that we really are the only beings capable of appreciating the universe, and I believe that given the size and scope of it there must be at least a handful of species who have reached the point we’re approaching, but if we die out that’s still one less species to appreciate it. Each species would undoubtedly appreciate the cosmos in its own unique way, and what a shame if the human way isn’t among them? All that we’ve accomplished in our entire history will have been for naught. Existence will go on unappreciated by human minds, and it will be slightly emptier because of it.

I only wish that more people would entertain such ideas. If enough of us appreciated just how miraculous and unlikely a phenomenon we are, we would be far more likely to do everything in our power to preserve ourselves.

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