Friday, April 1, 2011

An Extemporaneous Explateration on Life, the Universe and Everything…


Last night in northern Connecticut was quite dreary, the woods out back socked in with chilly fog and a nasty drizzle more fitting mid-November than the early Spring. Over the creek behind my Mother’s house coursed a slow moving, pulsing mist, like a zephyr in slow motion. It was occasionally pierced by gobs of sweet water falling from the evergreens and sodden, winter-dead oaks that clung to the decaying banks of the rivulet.
The stars and the Moon where hidden behind a profound haze above. I acutely missed those sign posts to the Heavens. I was reminded of Allan Watts’ wonderful title to his wonderful little book on a westerner’s take on Buddhism, “Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown.
I’m not a religious soul, in any conventional sense, but my inclinations are acutely spiritual in equal proportion to my scientific leaning. Curiosity is a principle motivation is many of my interactions with other folks and the Universe. Science and spirituality are, to me, incomplete when not informing each other in my outlook and pursuits.
As Einstein said; “The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties — this knowledge, this feeling ... that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious men.”
Read that again. Maybe read it aloud to yourself. It’s that good a notion and well put.
Anyhow, in Einstein’s, my own, and no less than the current Dali Lama’s view, Lao Tzu, the man who generated from Taoism the lineage of profound Eastern philosophies that apprehended no central G-d in the Western sense, but are to westerners considered religions, was a superb scientist. Likewise, the ancient Greek practical philosophers, engineers and proto-scientists, those who trod the path of the Mystery Rites, were as divinely religious as our Uncle Al.
But, back to the stars. Peering into the vaporous ceiling occluding distant points in the Cosmos, I remembered an autumn evening lying, with no embarrassment, on the front lawn of our suburban home with my Father. We were staring at what he informed me was the constellation, Orion. I was about six years old. He asked me, “Do you ever get the feeling that somebody up there might be looking back at us, wondering if anybody is looking back at him?” That question has fascinated me ever since. I am not alone in being thus compelled back, again and again, to conjecture on the possibility, even likelihood, that we are not alone.
There was a fellow, another great physicist of Einstein’s generation, Enrico Fermi, who wondered on this same non-trivial thought. He also proposed what is known as Fermi’s Paradox in light of the possibility that we are indeed, against scientific odds, alone as intelligent life in this Universe. After all, if Life and Intelligence is something that is inherently possible across the breadth of perhaps a septillion of stars, a surfeit of planetary orbs circling those suns, many of them amenable to the creation and sustenance of life as we know it from our own limited experience… where are the dang aliens!?!
Surely we should have spied them by now. If they are now buzzing about the heavens in super-tech space craft, if they have ever have even gotten to the point of playing with crystal radios or blown themselves up with atom bombs, they should have left some clue to their presence in the starry bough.
Solutions to this enigma include that they are advanced enough to stay hid, and don’t wish to listen to the wailing of our baby civilization in its crib. They wait and watch, and hope we grow up and fly right. They may be wise enough fear our immature and violent tendencies. Perhaps don’t really give a damn about what seems to them to be barely more advanced the pond scum.
Another possibility, is that we are aliens. Perhaps our good Earth is but a petri dish, and we an experiment by an advanced species possessed of great patience born of billions of years evolution prior to the initiation of our own synthetic creation as drops of water, bits of clay, RNA and a somewhat reliably clement environment. Our theoretical creators might thus someday be back, in their own good time, to reconnoiter the cold hard data revealed in their planetary wet lab. Let us hope we do not then wind up in the cosmic bio-hazard bin.
Enrico Fermi