We live in an amazing time. Within your lifetime we may no longer be dependent upon fossil fuels. By 2040 we’ll be driving electric cars or something even more magnificent. Tankers and cruise ships with futuristic batteries and entrepreneurs farming the plastics in the ocean for profit. Someday, in the not too distant future, they will know how to move your consciousness into something permanent and that generation will get to live forever. The capacity for humans to grow beyond biological dependence will afford opportunities for knowledge that confound the imagination. If we can survive the 2100’s there is a decent possibility that we will possess the technology to populate our galaxy. We’re planning to send people to Mars, right now. Global warming may kill us all but if it doesn’t, it appears that we are only at the beginning of what humankind may be capable.
It is entirely possible, though not popular to admit, that we are entirely alone in the universe. Scientists postulate that it takes just over 3 billion years to develop sentient life, and the universe is far older than that. Why is it so quiet out there? With 70 sextillion suns in the universe we should be swimming in Klingons by now. In a universe that is over 13 billion years old there has been ample opportunity for distant planets in distant galaxies to develop to the level where they can send out a message that we should be able to hear. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the recent technological advances in fields like astronomy are staggering. Science can now look at the beginning of the universe. Think about that for a moment.
And the news just gets worse. While most of us would like to believe in a Star Trek Federation, some very smart people have realized that enough time has passed that any civilization which may have developed in the distant past on other planets may be dead by now, if they existed at all. At the other end of the spectrum is the notion that life did exist, but it’s done by now. As hard as it is to imagine, there are solar systems much older than ours and countless fruitful planets could have invented gingsu knives literally billions of years ago. Billions. Logically we must assume that all games must end, and even a successful planet that started even a few hundred thousand years before ours would potentially, based on what we know about how stupid thinking beings can be, have blown themselves to that alien lizard hell a thousand times over. We’re not even mentioning the hundreds and thousands of happy accidents that randomly kept the idea of evolutionary growth alive in spite of seemingly impossible odds.
Imagine the technology we will possess in 100,000 years. You can’t. Think how far we have come since the Renaissance. We are alien gods to the people of the 14th Century; one look at your iPhone and good teeth would be enough to have you burned at the stake for most of our recent history. It is entirely apparent that we are only at the very beginning of human potential, we’re still the hillbilly predecessors in the eventual story of the growth of our species.
In over 13 billion years, it has been postulated, life should have evolved to the level where someone out there could hear or see us – somewhere among those hundred billion stars (and that’s just this insignificant galaxy). Any civilization that has even a few tens of thousands of years head-start could be smart enough to develop technology beyond our imagination. We may not survive the next hundred years if we can’t get those damn corporations and governments to take their heads out of their asses, can you imagine the opportunities for self-destruction we will have in the next couple hundred thousands of years? Can you envisage the potential for self-destruction we will experience in the next five hundred thousand years?
So tell me again, why can’t we find any signs of life out there?
I’m not even mentioning the apocalyptic fears around how such an advanced society would feel about a new upstart in their neighbourhood. Don’t even go there. If this twitches your geek muscles just google Fermi Paradox.
We seem, all over again, to be on the edge of incredible technological advancement. People who are alive right now could have grandchildren from Mars. We still have no idea how the Big Bang works or whether or not dark matter and dark energy even exists. How are photons in two places at one time? Are there really 11 dimensions of existence? How does something start out of nothing? Did Michael Jackson really not see that he looked super creepy and weird? So many unanswered mysteries still await us. Constraints such as the limitations of travel based on the speed of light, or our current understandings of Newtonian and Einsteinian physics, may someday seem quaint and archaic, products of a pre-enlightened understanding of reality and science.
So it may not be that monumental of a stretch to say that we probably don’t yet have all the answers. While it is tempting to believe that we are the absolute pinnacle of human evolution, it may be worth remembering that every generation before us absolutely believed they understood how the world worked and what mattered in life. Priests and prophets and generations of ignorants were convinced that what they believed was the undeniable truth. They were certain.
Just for fun, let’s rip apart the notion of Atheism. One could argue that the belief that there is no possibility for anything beyond one’s limited understanding of reality (and meaning of life) is in and of itself limiting, predicated upon the fragile notion that we are even remotely capable of understanding the depth of the human experience at this early stage of creative evolution. Atheism is predicated on certainty and certainty could be, and don’t hurt me here, a little naive at this juncture.
Putting aside the limiting definition that “this is all there is or can ever be” allows me to leave room for wonder. Perhaps there is something out there beyond my understanding and some day another Einstein will help us understand life on an entirely different plain. Words like faith and fairytale definitions of eternity become possibilities, not because there is any rational proof right now, but based on the fact that we have not yet learned everything there is to learn. Certainty based on our current understanding of physics and reality may just be a touch premature.
And who knows, there might even be aliens.