Thursday, September 26, 2013

The blink of an eye

Sir Richard Dawkins is my kind of thinker.  Not that I am capable of carrying on more than a glancing, half-assed conversation with such a person, but I know enough to understand that he is hyper-aware.

Deep thinkers always conjure deep thoughts in my mind.  One of the oldest philosophical questions we've asked as a species is, are we alone?

The easy answer is, of course not, I don't know of a scientist of any repute who believes we are.  Then why do we feel so alone?  Maybe the answer lies in a theory or concept we haven't yet considered.  And it's not a comfortable one, so maybe you should sit down.

I share Dawkins' theory about the evolution of intelligence.  It goes something like this: Given the limitless nature of time, the vastness of this (and perhaps more than just this one) universe, and the relative short scale upon which evolution works, there have been ample opportunities throughout history for intelligent beings to evolve to a point where they would be capable of tackling the challenges of time travel, or distance travel, or simply devising a method of communication that even the youngest fledgling civilizations (such as us) could perceive.

After all, our own high technology era is hardly more than a century old, yet already we know that in the universe, particles can be 'connected' over limitless distances. In fact, we are learning things that may render distance irrelevant to exploration. (Distance and time only really matter to us as a point of reference - but that's a subject for another discussion.) Given more time, say thousands or millions of years, intelligent, self-aware beings would surely find ways to communicate, and would likely do so in a way that we, even with our comparatively rudimentary technology, could see, hear, or sense.

So where are they?  Why haven't we heard from these neighbors?  Considering the known age of the universe, they've presumably had billions of years, and in that time, tens of trillions of opportunities to appear and develop.  What's the deal?

Perhaps, Dawkins says, the reason we haven't heard from another intelligent civilization in the universe is that there is a very limited time that a being can be self-aware, and possess intelligence, before it inevitably extinguishes itself.  Either by accident, or on purpose.  We have only been aware of our surroundings, our own intelligence, and had the ability to really do something with it, for the blink of an eye.  Of the approximately 4.6 billion years the earth has existed, only for the last fraction of a fraction of a fraction of that time have we even known what an 'earth' really is.  Yet already, we possess the technology to eliminate ourselves from existence.

Think of it.  It has been predicted by British Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees that humans have only a 50/50 chance of surviving the 21st century.  Common sense dictates that if we are capable of doing something, given time, we will eventually do it.

We will inevitably kill ourselves.

Perhaps that is part of the nature of being self-aware.  Intelligence may be a fleeting and deadly thing.  And perhaps that is a universal truth.

Maybe that's why our 'neighbors' haven't dropped by with cookies.

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