Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Human Condition

Every living thing that has ever existed, and all the living things we know to exist, reside on the same irregular ball of rock, water, and gas, circling an average yellow star, at the edge of the arm of a typical spiral galaxy, which is part of an ordinary galactic neighborhood, streaming ever onward through the depths of space. Through all recorded human history, life has been found to exist in many places we thought it could not on our world, but nowhere beyond our atmosphere. Our scientific knowledge tells us that the chances are good, since the constituents of life as we know it are found strewn throughout the cosmos, that other life exists elsewhere, but we do not know where.

We, and everything else with us, are built of the remains of dying stars, the end products of nuclear fusion and titanic explosions, releasing torrents of energy and flinging heavy elements throughout the galaxy. Those elements pooled together to form the Sun and the planets surrounding it, and on our planet, the force of gravity and heat and energy from our solar furnace stirred the elements, and as they began to cool, helped promote the formation of more complex molecules.

Our pocket of life, insignificant against the backdrop of the universe, is not unlike a tiny pool on the forming Earth billions of years ago, where molecules began the dance that eventually led to their ability to replicate themselves, driving the engine that began the creation of humanity. Our existence is currently a footnote to the life of the universe, trapped as we are on our planet. We have only just managed a foray to our nearby lunar companion; no human has set foot beyond the immediate sphere of the Earth's influence.

All we are, and all we have, is here with us. The Earth is our home, our power supply, our breadbasket, our resource depot -- we are nothing and we can do nothing without the fruits of our world. As our population grows, our technology becomes more sophisticated, and the distances on the globe shrink, we become more and more dependent on the limited resources available. The Earth is of a finite size and a finite mass, and as resources are consumed they are no longer available, and by-products are created that we must live with, as they have no other place to go.

Given our size relative to our home, our resources may seem infinite, and the surface still capacious. The truth is, that the resources that we mark as most precious (oil, coal, natural gas, gold, diamonds) will all run out some day; the resources we need for life (food, water, air) will exist, but become increasingly unable to sustain us. We may very well strangle ourselves, bereft of necessary energy and lacking proper life-sustaining materials in sufficient quantities to support the full human milieu.

It does not have to be this way.

The inherent problem is that most human beings, despite a powerful imagination, cannot see the big picture. They do not see the totality of the effects wrought by their actions, socially, economically, or physically. They act as if the future is always far away, as if the resources that are here now will always be here, as if the refuse they create magically disappears. They do not see how their actions toward others affect social systems or physical systems. Human beings are very egocentric, their world revolving around them, the rest of humanity simply there. This explains the rise of patriarchal religions, feudal states, and totalitarian regimes, as some humans decide that their continued existence is more important than the sum of humanity's.

There must come a point, now, with the rise of interconnected global communication, the free exchange of ideas, and access to the full range of resources, that we must accept that the minuscule divisions we have sought to carve humanity into, serve no purpose now. Whatever differences there are, are differences imposed by human thought and societies, not by the universe. We must strive to reach beyond the discrimination imposed by the evolution of a human brain geared for survival of the individuals of the species, and harness our neural power to new ends. We must accept that whatever social systems and organizing principles we have used in the past, which have allowed us to reach this point, must now be superseded by a greater set of principles geared toward the survival of humanity.

All the eggs of life are in one basket, a basket that drifts through the coldness of space, subject to the vagaries of forces beyond comprehension to a species that has developed thermonuclear weapons, which seem puny in comparison to hurtling asteroids, whirling black holes, supernovae, and gamma ray bursts, to name a few. Even our own world continues to heave and roil beneath our feet and above the ground, hurling death at us through earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and hurricanes. The grip of our species on life is tenuous, though we may not know it to look around us.

If humanity is to be more than simple footnote to the history of the universe, then it is up to us to cast aside misgivings, mistrust, and misunderstanding, and put our energies toward fortifying our hold on life, and moving away from the cradle, to spread our seed amongst the stars. Only together, can we ensure that humanity continues its existence, and is not merely marked by the remains and relics left behind on a quiet, dead, desolate world, spinning disregarded through the void.


  1. Wow. I don't really have a lot to add to that, but this was beautiful, and ended someplace very different from where I thought you were taking us. Lovely.

  2. Thank you. Strangely, the big picture is what I tend to see all the time. The petty concerns of humanity pale in comparison to the universe in which we are ensconced. If we're not careful, humanity can become an afterthought.