Sunday, November 23, 2008

Exosloar Planets, and the question of Good and Evil

(non-political!) Random thoughts: Exosolar planets and extraterrestrial life.

Someone recently posted about planets discovered outside our solar system and that it turns out Hubble has pictures of them. I went to NASA’s web site and after some difficulty found one of the pictures.It’s not much to look at. A red background with tiny white dots and some boxes pointing at the planet “fomalhaut”. I’m trying to imagine aliens stepping out of a flying saucer and saying ”Beep-beep. Greeting earthlings. We are from the planet Fomalhaut. Take us to your leader.”

You can see images of this tiny little white dot, such as it is at:

When you look at this unsexy dull little thing, you have to remind yourself of what a miracle you're seeing. What a privelege to live in a time when we can see the great dream of science fiction, an alien world. A real one.

Eastern polytheistic religions have a way of explaining good and evil by assigning the roles to different gods. The most familiar is Hinduism with Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the creator, sustainer and destroyers respectively. But all the gods in that trinity are regarded as being essential. Without Shiva, Brahma doesn’t have new ground for creating new things. Without the asteroid of Shiva destroying the dinosaurs there would never have been the rise of mammals and homo sapiens, the clever ape that worships. It brings two things to mind.The big mystery with the search for intelligent (technological) life in the Universe is that we haven’t found any by now. There has been small incidents but nothing that meets scientific standards. Why? It may have to do with the Brahma Vishnu, Chesed-Geverah dichotomy. If there is too much benevolence, not enough severity, destruction and death, then evolution stagnates.

Death is the great engine of evolution. When confronted with change the best adapted species resists death better than the less. Nature is not sentimental. Nature goes for turnover. In fact the species that live and die off the most quickly (microorganisms) are the ones that evolve the fastest in response to change. That’s why viruses like tuberculosis and Stapholococcus drive doctors mad, they mutate to resist anti-biotics very fast. You will never meet a microbiologist or a virologist who doesn’t believe in evolution. So if you have a world where there is a benign environment, a paradise, the march of evolution stops. Who needs it? Intelligent life will probably never evolve in paradise. What about Hell?

If you have a planet where life gets a foothold, but is constantly struck down by volcanic catastropes, viral plagues, or by large bolides setting off mass extinctions every few million years, some of them severe, then intelligent life doesn’t get a foot hold either. We exist largely because of the planet Jupiter.Jupiter exists outside our orbit, and has immense gravity. It plays shortstop to about half the space junk that goes falling into our solar system before it ever reaches out orbit. Without Saturn and Jupiter we would have gone the way of the dinosaurs several times already. There was a time, about 100,000 years ago, where the entire population of hominids’ of all species totaled a few hundred thousand, and lived mostly in Africa. If something big had hit Africa then, setting off a mass extinction on the level of the KT or Permian extinctions, there would be no human beings in the world at all. The smartest thing on earth might be a porpoise, and because they live in water they’re incapable of radio technology.

It also brings up the problem of monotheism and evil. All living things resist death. Human beings especially fear death and look for explanations. In the case of a religion where there is one God, you either have to blame evil on that image of God or create a devil as a dump ground for all evil events. This places a great burden for people who want to have a personal relationship with God and yet have to fear his power and judgments. Mysticism sets aside the whole question of evil as being naturalistic, a perceived element of nature, but as illusory as goodness. God is beyond these things the way natural law is beyond these things. I think this is probably the way things really are, but there is no comfort in it, and its power to inspire people to great deeds is very limited.The belief in a humanistic image of a God of love and goodness is the power to inspire faith. Faith is that natural magic that enables our species to bend reality itself.

Now there's a great idea for a story.


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