At an impressionable age in a hallway in the UCLA Department of Philosophy I saw a placard that read…
“We need never doubt those things about which no one is certain.”
It’s a thought that comes to mind often these days when I reflect upon horrible deeds, justified by mean-spirited assertions based upon preposterous sacred-cow assumptions.
In light of the extraordinary uncertainty of pretty much every aspect of existence, I wonder if I might do well to willfully doubt all the explanations humans have formulated for themselves in the past, and consider instead the possibility that each of us is wholly, completely and utterly responsible for what we do.
While I’m at it I should probably also consider putting aside the idea that someone, or some institution, or some creed, has the authority to “give me permission” to do hurtful things to others. Perhaps I might even try on the idea that every cruel act I perform is one that I, and only I, choose to perform.
These thoughts incline me to contribute to the great pool of creation myths the suggestion that a long time ago…I mean, a VERY long time ago…at a distance so far from Earth that all the stars in that remote region have been dark infinitely longer than they ever sparkled…engineers experimented with a mechanism that could configure various chemicals in such a way that animate forms emerged. This mechanism was so cleverly crafted that when placed in a large body of water it could, over time, automatically reconfigure itself to achieve ever-greater variety and complexity of animation.
But the original experiment came to an abrupt end when a meteor collided with the planet, causing immense volumes of water to be blasted into space and instantly frozen. Encased in great chunks of ice, the mechanism tumbled away for an eternity in all directions until, by chance, a chunk eventually collided with the Earth. And some remnants of the original experiment resumed development of varied and complex animated forms, unobserved by anyone.
Spoiler alert! If you have not already seen the movie “Prometheus” you might want to check it out before proceeding.
Last night (10/8/2016) I watched “Prometheus” for the first time. I love the first two “Alien” movies (“Alien” and “Aliens”) which I still experience as wonderful entertainment. I was deeply troubled by “Alien3”. It was directed by David Fincher and masterfully puts forward a harsh idea that rang true for me: Sometimes you have to do the right thing at great cost to yourself, and the only thanks you get is that everyone else is pissed off with you. “Alien3” seemed to me a shift of the center of gravity for the “Alien cycle” from entertainment to message. Perhaps because I hoped for a return to the action and adventure of the first two films I was very disappointed with the fourth installment “Alien: Resurrection” which I experienced as a big-budget and rather yucky B horror flick that diminished the overall prestige of the franchise.
When “Prometheus” was released I had heard that it was a prequel to the “Alien” movies – a circumstance that was, for me at that time, not necessarily a plus. Then my sister Nanno and our mutual pal Kent saw “Prometheus” and both responded with shaking heads and thumbs down. So I did not check it out until last night, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed and liked the movie a lot. But I was also more than a little startled to see, in the first few minutes of the movie, a rendering of a creation myth that has lots…I mean lots…in common with the myth I offer above. And later in the movie the word “engineers” was used exactly as I used it above! Yikes!
One of the differences between the “Prometheus” myth and the myth I propose is “intention.” In “Prometheus”, as a consequence of purposeful decisions, DNA of alien origin is introduced into water on Earth. Something I especially like about the myth I propose is the accidental randomness by which that introduction occurs.
It seems to me that until relatively recently ideas about origins were largely inherited from previous generations, and for the most part not questioned. One of the most persistent of those ideas, I think, is that there is an origin. But what if there isn’t?
For example, what if the natural state of the universe is eternity? What if the “Big Bang”, or something analogous to it, is an ongoing event? What if the universe turns in upon itself, renewing, refreshing and revising itself always? What if the idea of origin has occurred to us because we are aware of our own experience, and the common perception of that experience is that individually each of us has a beginning and end? Could it be that for a fleeting instant in cosmic time, each of us embodies a configuration of chemicals that is capable of visualizing itself as “an individual” separate from everything else that is?
It is reasonable that we might see things that way. We look separate. We move about independently. Go to movies, fall in love, concoct wild theories.
I’ve recently been exposed to “String Theory.” As I understand it, what that’s about is that for a long time there were competing theories about how things worked. One theory focused upon the behavior of particles, the other on the behavior of waves. Both approaches seemed to work. And over time it became clear that to get a really good understanding of anything you had to study it two ways. This annoyed some folks who began looking for a theory that explained and/or encompassed both the particle and wave approaches. They began visualizing a unified theory that might be applied successfully to the study of any phenomenon. As I understand it, they worked backwards from the proposition that such a unified theory could exist, asking themselves, “How would that work?”
What they are coming up with is the idea that everything, including energy, is composed of a single “something” that they refer to as a string. If there is indeed such a thing, a string is so small that if a single atom where expanded to the size of the Earth, a single string would be only as big as a single tree. And the way these tiny strings form different “stuff” is that clusters of strings vibrate at different frequencies. In other words, the strings in an atom of lead vibrate at a different frequency from strings in an atom of gold. And that difference in vibration is the only difference between lead and gold.
“But,” the string theorists asked themselves, “how would the universe have to be structured for this to work?” After lots of noodling and experimentation one group of string theorists has come to the tentative conclusion that if strings are indeed what everything is composed of then there would have to be ten dimensions. Another group proposes eleven dimensions. And a third group proposes twenty-six.
With all of the above in mind, it seems likely to me that somewhere, sometime, in some dimension or other, self-awareness experiences at least a little like ours have previously occurred and will occur again as the universe eternally munches on its own tail. Perhaps in one or more of those dimensions self-awareness can emerge without engineering, and during one or more swirls of universal renewal, those self-awarenesses tinkered in the dimensions of length, width and depth, and we are one of the temporary products of that tinkering.
When I indulge this line of thought I find myself inclined to suspect that what we are experiencing here on Earth is the remains of a forgotten experiment, and one that has been percolating unattended much longer than its other-dimensional engineers anticipated. Of course, these are musing, not beliefs. They are, for me, currently scenarios that simply seem much more likely than those proposed by religions and other collections of thought inherited largely unquestioned from prior generations. Something that inclines me in this direction is optimism arising from the hope that if we, and everything else, are all the same strings vibrating at different frequencies we might be moved by compassion for our shared circumstance. That we might appreciate our time together.