Space and New Thinking
Thanks to the success of new Mars Mission headed by Firouz Naderi and also because of GW Bush's new space policy, I am glad to see the space to be on news headlines after so many years. Thirty years ago when first humans stepped foot on the moon, a long held assumption of all our Earthbound thinking was shattered.
What do I mean by Earthbound? True that with Copernicus' Heliocentric theory, the Ptolemaic Earth-centric view of the universe was discarded, but still unconsciously on our mind, we had the effect of Earth's gravity . If before Copernicus, we were worried about falling off the edge of the Earth, after him, we still were worried of falling off the edge of the universe, when thinking of limits of time and space.
Moreover, Earthbound always meant being bound to some location on Earth, a village, a city, a country. In 1969, when Neil Armstrong looked at the Earth from the moon, he was not bound to any location on Earth. In other words, seeing Earth as one, a global view of Earth, is a normal way of seeing it from space, a vision which can be the basis of our values in a postindustrial world.
Human thought has basically been Earthbound and anthropomorphic for Millennia.
Anthropomorphic or anthropocentric meaning that we try to understand the universe in human terms. As I explained in Metaphysics and Religion, we use terms like *creator* and *created*, because humans ever since tool-making were *creators* who could use tools to make things, and the resulting product was something *created*. Thus extrapolating this view to the world in various philosophical and religious systems.
With the advent of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, the anthropomorphic view of the world is beginning to change, and this is why metaphysics of Buddhist view of the universe is getting more acceptance in more advanced countries, than the metaphysics of Abrahamic religions, which were more anthropocentric.
Space travel, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are changing our views of the world, and of ourselves, in the coming new civilizations. Of course these new technological upheavals have impacted our lives technically as well. Without the endeavors for space travel in 50's and 60's, there would not have been all the communication satellites that we have today, which have made global television broadcasting and international phone calls possible, and even mining asteroids and manufacturing some materials in space are not far-fetched science fiction dreams anymore.
Nonetheless my focus here is on how the meaning of life for us is changing with these new developments. Let me first reiterate how currently science views the origin and future of the universe.
Today basically there are two cosmological theories about the origin of universe. One is the Big Bang theory which has been with us since the 30's and the other one is Steady State theory which has been around since the 40's. Big Bang is the favored theory at this time, which in contrast to Steady State, sees a beginning and end to the universe, and as Stephen Hawking puts it, asking what was before Big Bang is like asking what is North of North Pole, a meaningless question.
Needless to say that there are scientists who take issue with it, and think it is possible to ask what was before Big Bang, because they do not see the Big Bang as a singularity, and by string theory they try to define it. But the current scientific data is still more consistent with the Big Bang theory.
In 1989, I wrote a paper entitled "Meaning of Life". I mentioned the work of cosmologist Eric Chaisson from his book entitled Life Era that had been published at the time. I still think what he had proposed is the most interesting theory to understand the evolution of cosmos. He saw three eras, as noted below, in the development of the world since the Big Bang.
The first era was Era of Energy, right after the Big Bang, about 14 billion years ago, when most of the universe was still energy than matter. The second era was the Era of Matter when galaxies and stars and other celestial objects were formed and the third was Era of Life which is the most recent one. True that at the same time we see all energy, matter, and life forms of existence, but the era of matter is what is dominant now, and the Era of Life which has started about 5 billion years ago, is gaining more strength.
For Chaisson, human intelligence is the capability to reflect on the information that is already inherent in the cosmos, even before the energy era, but as the complexity of the world increases through these eras, the intelligent life is born which is able to reflect on itself, and he hypothesizes that Life Era should have started in other parts of the universe around the same time, as where we are located on Earth in our solar system, and thus he supports extra terrestrial life and intelligence, with more reasons than Kepler, who lived centuries ago.
Chaisson thinks Sputnik of 50 years ago was the first major occasion that other advanced civilizations in the universe could have seen an artificial object around the Earth, and it would take 50 light years for the sign of the event to reach those that are 50 light years from us and if they try to contact, it will take another 50 years for their message to reach us. As far as we know, the nearest stars with a planetary system are more than 50 light years away from us, so even if they had an advanced civilization, not having heard from them is not surprising.
In the recent years, the works of Ray Kurzweil about the development of AI and its impact on the universe are also pace setting because he has shown how artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are basically remaking the world. Kurzweil has shown in his Age of Spiritual Machines, the details of the new level of complexity of remaking the world intelligently.
I think if one is going to adopt Chaisson's model, Kurzweil and Drexler's intelligent remaking of the world should be called Intelligence Era, which will bring a new level of complexity to the universe. It is true that Chaisson also had noted *mind* to be the paramount achievement of the Life Era, but I think remaking the world which AI and Nanotechnology make possible, is beyond what mind as a natural evolutionary process is envisaged to achieve, and they have a lot of new ramifications for the universe.
There is a lot to sort out to make sense of the world in light of the new developments which have been depicted by visionaries like Kurzweil and Chaisson, however one thing is clear, and that is the reality of humanity passing the times when we were limited by anthropocentric and Earthbound views of the universe.
The ending of the anthropomorphic view means that the world can no longer be understood by a creator and created model of humans, who were able to create things with tools and extrapolated that to the understanding of the universe. Contemplating on the universe from the new perspective will help us to create a more symbiotic relationship with each other and the world at large, based on resonance, rather than viewing ourselves as the masters and the nature as our slave, or as some ideologies believe, to have God and his representatives on Earth to be the master and people to be the slaves.
The ending of the Earthbound view means that we should come to terms with ending a view of the world with gravity and attachment to some place on Earth, and instead of worrying to fall off the edge of time and space, and attaching to some nationalistic view of the world, to be able to have a more global view of ourselves and reality. Of course depending on each individual's background, s/he may be more effective in a specific location and love of that area does not mean nationalism.
The fact is that the nearest exo-planets, i.e. planets of solar systems beyond ours, that may support life, are light years away from us, and it will be some time before space travel to such destinations could be possible. But we are lucky that Mars, and Europa, which is a Jupiter's satellite, may have life, and they are in reasonable distances for human travel at this time. Creating human colonies in those locations, not only can add to the technological advancements like factories in space, but having such human communities, can change our whole view of ourselves and nature.
This is an effort for humanity and not just one nation as we saw the death of an Indian woman astronaut in the last shuttle tragedy, and as we are seeing an Iranian-born program manager at the head of the current Mars project. This shows why this topic is important for any nation including Iran and Iranians. It is the pride for any nation to see efforts of its compatriots in organizations like National Space Society (NSS), to push the frontiers of human civilization, as envisioned by authors like late Gerard K. O'Neill, in his pioneering works about space colonialization, over thirty years ago.
Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher
January 16, 2004