We would rather be ruined than changed We would rather die in our dread Than climb the cross of the moment And let our illusions die.
W. H. Auden, born this day in 1907
Many of usperhaps most well-educated Westernersare aware of a pall that hangs over our thoughts and moods. Maybe it is not diagnosed as depression because of its ubiquity, but part of us is sometimes aware a sense that we were not meant to live this way.Those of us who try to analyze why we feel this way find two ready explanations. (1) I'm going to die someday, so it all comes to nothing in the end. (2) Humanity seems to be hellbent on destroying the global ecosystem, and will probably go down with Gaia.
But perhaps we deceive ourselves. Perhaps we are seeking intellectual justification for a despair that has quite a different provenance.Since the 19th Century, the predominant intellectual world-view which purports to derive from science posits that the Universe is a huge collection of particles interacting according to arbitrary laws, that it doesn't mean anything, that life is an accident and that human life is an accident built on an accident, that our consciousnessthe thing we know first and bestis a weird thing that happens when the computer inside our head becomes sufficiently powerful to model itself, and that each of us is utterly alone and disconnected.Terrence McKenna, in his inimitable style, leads us to question all these premises that form the backstory behind all that we read and hear and watch, and have become lodged so deeply in our subconscious and in our thought patterns that they are never articulated. The Universe was born in a state of undifferentiated uniformity. Dullsville. First came atoms, then clouds of gases then galaxies with stars in them. The universe kept getting more interesting, more complex. Chemistry was invented later in the game, and life later still. Then came ecosystems and social structures. Each layer of complexity formed a substrate for the next layer that was built on top of it. Curiouser and curiouser.
The most complex structure in the known universe is the human brain. As far as we know it is the pinnacle of material complexity at this point in spacetime. If what we know about this ongoing trend from plasma giving rise to particles giving rise to stars giving rise to elements giving rise to life giving rise to humanity giving rise to to increasingly complex cultural and societal structures is as reliable as it appears to be, does it make sense to believe the human brain would suddenly disappear from the equation and revert back to the lesser complexity of an earth without humans, or without life altogether?
Maybe we really are all along for the ride in the universe's playful expansion into greater and greater complexity, a transitional phase between simpler animal life and whatever vastly more complex thing we'll give rise to in the future.
Josh Mitteldorf, a senior editor at OpEdNews, blogs on aging at http://JoshMitteldorf.ScienceBlog.com. Read how to stay young at http://AgingAdvice.org.
Educated to be an astrophysicist, he has branched out from there to mathematical (more...)