Are We Alone?
Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Survival / Evolution /
Mission: to celebrate and promote diversity
Bravo Maeve Leakey! Bravo all Leakeys! She’s found another human ancestor, one that shows that the evolutionary tree of which Homo is a part is bushier than we’d thought. I recently finished a book by Stephen Jay Gould in which he argued that everything is bushier than we’d believed. Human consciousness about evolution has been as wrong as wrong: wrong-headedly so: with a (falsely) self-congratulatory religious agenda as driver.
I’m merely going to start today with a fast point or two. In The Sound and the Fury Faulkner’s Benjamin experiences his life as the center of his universe: the infantile perspective remained with this poor idiot into adulthood. We ride in a car; Benjy has leaves brush his face, then go away. His relationship with his niece is the same as it had been with his sister, her mother, years before: he’s still a child.
Maeve Leakey’s discovery is still more evidence that should help us all grow up: grow out of the world in which we’re the center and purpose of everything into the universe in which we are part of a complex set of things: very bushy: where there’s no such thing as “the” “center”: at least not by any of the old meanings.
Our present is yesterday’s future. Too many of your presents (and futures) are some of our pasts. SETI spent our money trying to see if “anyone’s” out there. Meanwhile, biologists, archeologists, anthropologists … have been finding increasing genetic riches in our past. Our family is larger and richer than forty generations of begats.
What about in the other direction? Where are the aliens?
I’ve long maintained that it’s ridiculous for us to assume that we’d know them if they stood next to us and bit us. Most of our relatives right here on earth are far too small to see. Or, if visible, we don’t deign to notice. Sir Fred Hoyle hypothesized decades ago that evolution on earth was driven by comet-borne viruses from general space, that life is far older than the four point six billion “year” age of our planet. Since then Fred’s thought he’s seen light-year long strands of organic material in space. Now it’s a commonplace (though I don’t hear his name mentioned as our teacher and corrector). Sir Fred lambasted the “scientists” who suppressed a 1940’s hypothesis that marks on a meteorite were alien fossils (bacterial). Now I hear such evidence referred to regularly (again, without mention of the original).
We stand in a “present” where science fiction becomes old news. I’m not holding my breath till some green man says “Take me to your leader.” I find it offensive that Hollywood makes him a man, a him, green … (and that he defers to our leaders). A cartoon I would have drawn decades ago (if I could draw) would have shown bee-sized aliens studying a spider and proudly announcing that they’d found intelligent life on earth. In the background, invisible to these scientist/explorers, we recognize a human pants leg and shoe. When I remove the hook from a bluegill’s mouth, I don’t think he sees “me.” He sees something huge, monstrous, mortally terrifying, but not “me.”
If there are one-celled (or even no-celled) creatures everywhere we look whether we’re looking through telescope or microscope or (fossil-scope), I think we’ll find much of it “related” to us. Some day some alien multi-celled creature may show up, pull a “ray gun,” and “speak” some “language.” (Though I’m in no hurry to meet him.) It won’t bother me in the slightest if I learn not only that “life” didn’t originate on earth, but that sex, competition, violence … didn’t originate here either. I’ll be devastated if I learn that kleptocracy didn’t start first here. (As it is, I’m devastated to see Star Trek blandly assume kleptocracy to be universal: struggles to contain imperialism galactic.)
Meantime, the wise lesson seems to be that we’re a twig; not the bole: not the root. We’re a neat twig, a fabulous twig: on a fabulous bush: full of twigs: and more than twigs: in a fabulous, very bushy, ecology of bushes. And the universe, if it is “about” anything, isn’t all about one particular twig on some particular bush.
I first put this piece in my “social evolution” folder. It’s predecessors are more about psychology and evolution. This one seems to relate to more familiar evolutionary concerns: but it’s about psychology too, you’ll notice.
@ K. 2001 03 22