Science fiction movies portray the discovery of extra-terrestrial life often as a slimy goo, a microscopic bacteria in an asteroid. Either that or an advanced interstellar civilization bent upon conquest. Believing there are aliens out there is a release, an escape valve. If we are not alone, we’re not that important. Our little planet is probably even quite mundane if you compare us to Pandora. And we are wicked. But that’s OK because we are just one in an entire United Federation of Planets, of which we are not yet even members.
I just finished “The Biggest Ideas in the Universe“, a book about physics (A topic that interests me, though it is well out of my ‘comfort zone’. I even had to buy refresher basic math workbooks to try and keep up, which I failed to do anyway). Physicists refer to “systems”. Interlocking parts working together, likely unseen except some outward manifestation. A clock. Who knows the little gears and workings going on behind the face, except that the two hands tick off on time.
Life on earth is a system. En ecosystem, enclosed in a radiation shield (or else we would all die), with plants producing oxygen and us producing CO2 and the earth producing nitrogen. Food, waste, water. The moon causing the tides. Fermi’s paradox “Where is everybody” solved by the “Rare Earth Theory” which states that finding the right planet with plate tectonics and water and a big moon in the ‘Goldilocks zone’ with a molten core etc. etc. is extremely rare and yet essential for complex life. Our world is a perfect system.
But our world cannot exist alone. Nor can our solar system. We need gravity and entropy and light. Our sun is dependent upon the galaxy; the galaxy on other galaxies. It is likely that the full mass of the universe is necessary to host our little solar system, our little planet, balanced in perfect harmony to allow our life. The entire system working together, on our behalf.
That is somewhat unlikely, which brings me to faith. I expected the physics book to challenge my faith as it posited ‘solutions’ outside the realm of the unmoved mover. But it did the opposite. Our amazing minds, bright spots among the darkened panoply of humanity who nevertheless are so special in themselves, cannot even decide on the basic things regarding our universe. Does math hold it together? Or is math just the elegant explanation of rules that are deeper? The uncertainty principle; black holes; quantum mechanics (spooky action at a distance); entropy giving us directionality; the wave function – all of it just desperately trying to explain a system that hangs on itself and each other. For our benefit.
I think we are alone here. The moving hands on a massive clock that spins and whirrs unseen as the hands tick and tick and tick away for some cosmic purpose we don’t understand. That is humbling, and a little scary. And not too encouraging – if it was all made for us, we sure aren’t living up to the effort, are we?
But on the other hand, it’s also a relief. I don’t want to be a smart monkey on a rare earth. I want to be the moving hand on a perfectly perfected timepiece, ticking away my time until my cog is worn down and needs to be replaced; in this case by my little boy. Under the supervision of a master plan – an entity who can set all this in motion. That is reassuring.