How did we get here? What is our purpose? Is there a God? Life after death? Will we ever discover the answers to these and the other paradoxical questions about our humanity? Your guess is as good as mine, but my guess is a resounding yes. And though I have no credentials to write on these subjects, I find it fascinating enough to a give it shot, even at the risk of being considered a kook. And when I refer to “it” as fascinating, I am referring to what I consider the uncanny and seemingly perfectly linked progression of events and timing that got us here. So, if you have nothing better to do, settle in (this story is a bit long) and put on your reading glasses. Oh, and one more thing. Let me be clear that what you are about to read is not accurate in terms of scientific details. It represents strictly a general framework, my assumption being that if the framework seems viable, the “details” can be examined to see if they provide validation. With all that in mind, for whatever its worth, here is D. A. Anderson’s simplified, uneducated version of… all things!
At some time in the very, very, very distant past, in fact, so far in the past it was before space or our universe existed, an explosion of unimaginable size and power took place. Most scientists agree this is how our universe began and they’ve named that explosion “The Big Bang”. The Big Bang originated from what these scientists call a “singularity”. Though I won’t pretend to be educated enough to explain exactly what a singularity is, I do know that it is described as an incredibly dense and, in the case of our Big Bang, almost infinitesimally tiny point. A singularity is also another name for a black hole, by the way, an incredibly dense "opening" in the fabric of the universe, that pulls in everything nearby with such power that not even light can escape it.
Let's assume there are at least two scenarios that might have occurred when the Big Bang took place. What I call the straight and the curved versions of events.
The Straight Bang Version
Imagine the straight version as an explosion that blew enormous amounts of universal material straight out into the nothingness of space that was being created, and because that space truly was nothingness, all the cosmic chunks and blobs and pre-atomic goop blew straight away from the center and kept going at incredible speed. You could imagine it as something like one of those huge, colorful, 4th of July fireworks explosions that blows fiery points of light straight out in a perfectly circular pattern.
The Curved Bang Version
This second version of the explosion begins the same, but in this case, all that cosmic “stuff” does not go straight away from the center. That’s because in this scenario space is not nothingness. In fact, space, according to Albert Einstein (I think we can trust his definition), is actually “Space-Time”. And space-time, very loosely defined, is something like an immense fabric stretched tightly across the entire expanse of the universe. Actually, I have to qualify that statement and say this fabric is not exactly like a single sheet as you might be thinking. It’s actually much more complicated than that, but again, for purposes of this story, if you imagine something like a huge taut sheet, that will work just fine.
The Critical Difference
Here is the important distinction between these two versions of that initial explosion. The reason that in the second version the material does not go straight is because the blast is so powerful that it ripples and warps this space-time fabric, and that causes the cosmic stuff shot into it to begin to arc and swirl and curve in those ripples and warped areas. You might picture this version of the explosion as something like a blast of pinwheels shot away from the center into the waving ripples of an invisible flag blowing in the wind. And this is a very important distinction because the idea that these curves and ripples were created in the very beginning sets the stage rest of this story. How?
These large pieces of stuff slung out into space were very dense, and very dense objects create what you might consider indentions in the space-time fabric – or what we know as gravity. Picture a golf ball sitting on a blanket that has been stretched very tightly across something like the opening of a large round tub or barrel. The golf ball will create an indention in the blanket, even though it may be stretched very tightly. And if you roll, say, a BB or a marble out onto this blanket, it will begin to circle in toward this indention, suggesting an “orbit” around the golf ball. That’s essentially how gravity works in space. And this is why planets orbit suns and why moons orbit planets – our moon included.
The reason this talk of gravity and swirls and indentions is so important is because had this not been the case, had all that material blown straight out into nothingness (as in the first scenario), orbits would not have formed. And without orbits, the stable, harmonious conditions that would later allow life to begin, could not have existed. The stuff would have simply blown away into a vast empty void, it would probably still be going and we would not be having this conversation!
So. Let’s take a moment to recap. At this point we have:
The Big Bang – immense explosion
Swirling, curling blazing chunks of dense material blown out from the center
Space-time warping and rippling
Planets curving, arcing in toward suns
Planets forming orbits around those suns.
And that ends part one of this story. The important thing to remember is that this explosive beginning to everything, may not have been just a random blast since it set the stage for part two of this story -- the creation of life.
The Spontaneous Recipe
Included in this newly created material that was cooling and orbiting and swirling and coalescing in space were the basic building blocks of life as we know it. I don’t have a complete list, but again, those are details we can do without. I do know that carbon, water and oxygen are a few of those building blocks, and the important thing to understand is that these building blocks existed or formed over time on some of those orbiting planets. In order for this to happen, the planets had to be orbiting suns in what scientists call “habitable zones”. That means their orbits had to be the right distances from their suns to create just the right range of temperatures so that water and an atmosphere – among other necessities of life – could exist.
And when those conditions came about, when everything – the building blocks of life on planets orbiting in habitable zones – came together just right, something amazing happened. A spontaneous process took place that made certain materials begin to coalesce and interact and multiply. And out of this process came the first living things. So that means we could think of the beginning of life as something like the result of a recipe. When you have all the right ingredients and you mix them together under the right conditions, a reaction takes place. As an example, when chocolate bits, sugar, eggs butter and flour are mixed and formed and placed in an oven at the right temperature for the right amount of time, the result is chocolate chip cookies!
In our case, the result was the spontaneous creation of life.
Now these first living things were extremely simple, microscopic, one-celled organisms. Most scientists, I think, believe that they began in the oceans and eventually moved onto land. Whatever the case, two other processes seem to have been a part of this spontaneous, life-creating system. One was a kind of built in universal limitation and the other we call Evolution. And these two conditions, it turns out, were going to have a major impact on the formation and sustainment of life.
The Built In Universal Limitation
It seems that the number of times and places this spontaneous process of life-creation could take place out in the universe was, relatively speaking, very few. Imagine the entire universe and billions upon billions of suns out there, and circling around them billions of orbiting planets. But on the vast majority of those planets, the "perfect” conditions required for the spontaneous creation of life were not present. Many planets were much too close to their suns so they were too hot, and many were so far out they were too cold. Others were what scientist call gas giants with toxic atmospheres and soupy cores. There were also barren dwarfs, many with no atmosphere at all. The point is this: Out of the multi-billions or trillions of planets that exist out there, it stands to reason that only a limited few (again relatively speaking) would have just the right conditions for the spontaneous, life-creating process to take place. So we can make a fairly reasonable assumption that the process of life-creation in our universe has been naturally limited by these circumstances and conditions. It has probably taken place on other planets in the universe – but not “many”.
Hold that thought and we'll see why this is important shortly.
But first let’s explore the second part of that process – Evolution. The process of evolving from tiny single-celled organisms to human beings like us is an extremelylong, slow one, and it is fraught with danger. In our case, it has taken about 4 to 5 billion years, and it has progressed for the most part by means of a brutal but necessary process of change called Natural Selection.
In short, this means that of the “handful” of life forms created out in the universe, many – probably most – would never make it to what we could call maturity – in other words, a form like us humans. That’s because natural cosmic events like large meteor strikes, massive volcanic destruction, exploding suns, escaping atmospheres, exploding planets and many other types of cosmic catastrophes would most likely destroy the majority of those already limited fledgling life forms before they got too far down the evolutionary road. One local example, here on earth, is the dinosaurs. We believe a large meteor strike changed the temperature and weather patterns on earth so drastically that the dinosaurs could not survive. In fact, scientists believe that about 99 percent of all species that have existed on earth have gone extinct.
So, if these two aspects - a natural limitation and evolution - do exist, we could sum the idea up this way.
Because the universe is so vast, only a handful of planets
will develop the right conditions for the spontaneous creation
of life, and most of those already limited life forms will be cut short
by the extremely long and hazardous process of evolution.
The result is that very, very few life forms could evolve to
a mature state like us humans.
As I said, we’ll return to the importance of these ideas shortly, because they are indeed significant, but first it’s important that we follow how that long dangerous process of evolution through natural selection has progressed here on earth.
Evolution – The “Endless” Gauntlet
According to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the “fittest” generations of a species benefit from genetic mutations which allow them to evolve and compete more effectively. So that means that, as an example, the most aggressive, powerful and successful lions on the African Savannas will most likely get the best mates, and they’ll have cubs with the best genes. As the cubs grow up and do the same, and this happens repeatedly over the generations, the process of evolution produces very slow but steady improvements and changes in the species. The key to this process of natural selection is competition – simply put, the fittest fight it out and the winner gets the prize – the mate, the food, the shelter, etc. The loser often gets death!
As the generations and eons have passed, those first, one-celled organisms have evolved, competing in life and death struggles. And they have very slowly evolved into more and more complex life forms, culminating 4.5 billion years later with us human beings! And in our case alone, after nearly 5 billion years, we are the only living things we know of that have reached a level of self-awareness. That means, at some point in our evolution, thousands of years ago, we humans began to the realize that we are living beings on a huge round rock (at first, of course, it was thought to be flat) in space, under a flaming ball of light, gleaming points in the night, an unfathomable mystery and a virtually boundless universe.
Religion – A Temporary Bridge to the Era of Science and Technology
Imagine what it must have been like for the first primitive humans who became self-aware! Who were we? Where had we come from? Who or what had created us? Why? What was our purpose? What happened when we died? It makes sense that these questions would have been overwhelming to our early ancestors. It also makes sense that religious beliefs would emerge at this phase in our evolution, since they could provide those elusive “Answers” to the frightening questions of mortality and purpose. A belief in the Gods, or a God, resolved these questions for a still relatively ignorant, adolescent race. It also conveniently placed us humans at the center of the universe! What more could we have asked for in terms of comfort, security and a way to alleviate the frightening possibility that we were alone in space? An all-powerful parent-guardian (a god) to love and guide us – and eternal afterlife thrown in to boot!
It was just what we needed at the time, and boy did we believe! Gods of the sky, gods of the earth and gods of the sea. Gods of war and the moon. Gods of love. Happy gods and angry gods causing famine and storms and gods requiring animal and even human sacrifices! Eventually, single gods like Christ and Buddha and Allah became the icons of established religions and symbols of the sacred “truths”. Though they remain shrouded in mystery to this day, we have believed ever since those first revelations that these gods have The Answers. And if we abide by their rules, if we follow their commandments, we imperfect beings will be given those answers someday in a glorious, endless afterlife somewhere in the clouds. Sounds wonderful, right? That’s why it has been our spiritual “truth” for thousands of years.
But “lately” things have changed. You see, as the centuries have passed we’ve learned an enormous amount. And our intellectual momentum has eroded these godly beliefs. These days a knowledge-building process suggests the traditional religious answers – those known only by the gods and kept hidden until our afterlives – aren’t really answers at all. They have been a form of rationalization invented at a critical time in our evolution that sustained us until we reached (in fact, are just now reaching) the next phase of our journey.
The Spoiler – Intellectual Awareness
Today a new era of scientific research and heightened awareness has emerged. This has led to significant discoveries, and these have compounded in recent years, thus broadening our knowledge on an exponential scale. In short, we have “suddenly” (the last few hundred years) begun to understand: DNA, genetic codes, diseases, the nature of earth and objects in space, time, motion, relativity, atomic and subatomic particles, laws of nature, evolution, and so on, and this understanding continues to broaden at an accelerating pace. And with all this new knowledge under our belts, we are fitting these real truths together into a much more fact-based model (versus religious) in our search for The Answers.
Because of this “new” way of searching for the answers, my guess is that religion will continue to weaken and slowly become obsolete. This won’t be an easy transition because we’ve practiced religious beliefs and traditions for thousands of years, and they’re heavily ingrained in the human psyche. None the less, intellectual awareness is becoming the new momentum that will propel us forward on our continuing search for The Answers.
This search for The Answers, by the way, just like the spontaneous process of life-creation, is built into the fiber of our beings and the framework of the evolutionary process. We can no more give up the search than we can stop eating, sleeping or mating. It is ingrained in us, and that’s for an important reason which we’ll explore shortly. In the meantime, here’s the good news: Logic seems to indicate that we willeventually discover those answers, if we survive the incredibly long and painfully slow process of evolution. A species that continues to evolve and improve without being destroyed, must eventually achieve perfection, right?
Competition – Like Religion?
Earlier, we touched on the subject of competition. And you’ll recall I said that it was part of a brutal process of natural selection and evolution. But as we have gained knowledge and become more and more intellectually aware of our world and our nature, we’ve begun to realize that although competition – just like the gods and traditional religion — has served an important purpose in our evolution, it, too, is becoming obsolete.
Competition is nature’s engine, driving and sustaining an uncontrolled environment in which wild animals and organisms battle for food, mates (most importantly the ability to pass on those “best” genes), survival, shelter and so on. But living in controlled communal societies, and becoming continually less wild over thousands of years, we humans have been increasingly regulating and limiting the process of competition. For instance, we take care of our weak and defenseless. We allow them to live longer, happier lives. This is a form of empathy and compassion that doesn’t fit into the natural (and, as I said, extremely brutal) process of competition. We learn to respect and value all life, including animals, which is also not a part of the competitive process. We domesticate animals, farm for our food, and feed the masses. These and other types of modifications to the natural process of competition have been taking place in many ways for tens of thousands of years, and they are becoming continually more refined and ingrained in our way of life.
As an example, think about male and female roles in today’s society. Just as competition is slowly phasing out, aren’t the traditional male and female roles – largely animal courtship traits that are a major foundational element of the competitive process – becoming increasingly androgynous? A few examples of this are the growing number of gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals being accepted in societies and family relationships. Also, females are moving into more traditionally “manly” roles, more men are becoming stay at home dads, and the number of marriages is continually shrinking. And how about the traditional family unit that follows courtship, marriage and mating? For thousands of years it has been a central, foundational cornerstone of our societies, but just as sexual roles have begun to blur, isn’t the family unit – which is also based largely on those animalistic male-female role models – becoming increasingly less prevalent in our society? Isn't the traditional family unit slowly disappearing?
But what about reproduction you ask? If it’s true that we’re becoming androgynous how will we pass on those “best” genes? Well, we can have all the sex we want for sheer pleasure, and in spite of our increasing "uniformity", we can make babies with test tubes, insemination and genetic mapping that will soon allow us to even choose all the characteristics of our offspring.
My guess (right, here comes another one) is that eventually it will become clear to us that the competitive process, including its various facets – like male / female roles and the family unit – is one we are evolving out of simply because we’ve learned we can control the path of our evolution without the bloody, merciless process of competition in natural selection.
And if you look around at today’s world, you’ll realize that we’re applying that control through science and technology.
Science and Technology: Ushering in the Final Steps?
Technology, as we know, is progressing at an incredible pace and accelerating almost daily. We are now able to communicate with our hand-held systems at the touch of a graphic screen. Soon we will be using holographic images, and microscopic implants. These days we have robots that serve as butlers and doctors. We also have cars that can drive themselves. We've produced clones and mapped the human genome. Computer technology is becoming smaller, more sophisticated and powerful, and cyberspace is now an essential part of our existence.
At the same time it seems we’re depending less on our bodies, and more on our minds. Obesity is increasing, partly because we move much less than we used to, and my guess is that this trend of increasing physical deterioration will continue. Sure, some of will go the gyms and sweat away the afternoons trying to stave of the consequences of our sedentary lives, but for how long? At the same time, scientific breakthroughs are now allowing us to repair, transplant and create body parts. Synthetic tissue – skin and organs – are being produced in labs as I write this. Diseases like Cancer, Alzheimer’s and Aids will soon be cured or fully controlled. In short it seems we will be able to sustain our deteriorating bodies for a much longer period of time – possibly exponentially. Computers and other technological advancements will continue to become increasingly prevalent, concentrated and powerful in our lives,
And where is all this leading us?
Before I continue, I must warn you that this is where we leave the past and present behind and venture into the future. That means it is where imagination begins to overlap, and in some cases, leap forward past the facts. I find this aspect of the story incredibly fascinating, and being a lifelong "weekend Einstein wannabe" I tend to let my imagination go all out. How far you’re willing to go from this point on is strictly your call.
With that said, let me start by repeating the last question: Where is all this leading us? Consider one very possible, and very profound, example:
Humans or Human Machines?
In the near future, the line between natural humanity and manufactured life could very well become blurred. As an example, at what point is a person still a natural human being, if 50 or 60 percent of his or her body – bones, joints, skin, organs, tendons, etc. – is manufactured in a lab? How about 70 percent? Or 90 percent? Suppose it reaches 90 percent – which at some point it reasonably could! Suppose the only natural element left inside a human being is the brain? Is he or she still a “human” being? A man-made being? A robot with a human brain?
That begs another question: What exactly is “humanity”? Body and mind? Only mind? And suppose something equivalent to the human brain can eventually be manufactured? Computer science is making incredible advancements, and even today computers are capable of learning and reasoning. What then would be humanity? Thoughts? Impulses? Digital synapses? Will we even need our current bodies in this technologically driven future – robotic, man-made or natural – since we are finding less and less use for them?
Although this may seem hard to imagine, is it possible that shedding our extremely
limiting, high maintenance, constantly deteriorating muscles, bones and fat might just be the perfect answer to all that obesity and our limited abilities as living organisms? Could that step complete billions of years of evolutionary restriction and take us to the next phase of our evolution?
Think about a caterpillar.
It’s a plump, lumbering little larva that is extremely slow, earthbound and spends its short life munching leaves. It sheds its exoskeleton several times during its life and on the final time it forms a chrysalis after attaching, itself most often, to plant stem. Now put on your imagination hats. Inside the chrysalis its body breaks down completely into a soupy mixture – no brain, no body parts, just liquid. It then goes through a complete physical re-birth. It is essentially “re-assembled” out of organic “soup” as a butterfly – nimble, thin, light and winged for flight – the opposite of what it once was! Think about that -- complete re-birth from nothing but organic liquid. It seems incredible, but it's not science fiction. It's reality.
Isn’t it also possible, then, that when you consider the arc of our evolution -- from microscopic organisms, through sea creatures, to land bound animals, into the trees, onto the savannahs, and finally becoming intelligent human beings -- that we could be a kind of cumbersome, preliminary life-form evolving out of our animal ancestry, now with the help of science and technology, toward an entirely new form of existence? One that will allow us to shed our obese, severely limiting, and continually troublesome bodies – bodies that until this phase of our existence have served us well – and in some futuristic way “take flight”?
Back to the Natural Limitation
Remember that early in this story we touched on natural limitations in the universe. I said that it was important and we would come back to it. Well, here we are.
Every year thousands of newly hatched sea turtles break free from their eggs in the sands of tropical beaches. Most immediately become the victims of crabs, fish, powerful currents, weather and other dangers and as a result die shortly after their birth. Through this process, nature limits their numbers. In addition, those that die become sustenance – food – for other aquatic travelers in the oceans. In this way, a natural balance is maintained that allows the turtle species (and many other species, of course) to remain at proper levels, and the oceans to remain a rich, open environment for all aquatic creatures. If all baby turtles (and many, many other species that have numerous offspring) grew to maturity, mated and gave birth, it wouldn’t take long before the compounding effect would allow turtles to overrun and destroy the oceans.
Now suppose I was correct when I suggested earlier that most of those “infant” life forms created on orbiting planets out in the universe, die during their early evolution from the natural cosmic events we talked about. Are they, just like the turtle species on earth, being naturally limited by the system to maintain a proper universal balance of life?
Consider this comparison:
Because our oceans are very large…
(just as the universe is very large)
and a relatively small number of mature sea turtles move though its vast waters…
(just as a limited number of life’s recipe elements exist, moving about in the
the number of times mature females mate and become fertilized is limited…
(just as the number of times the recipe elements merge on an orbiting planet
and life spontaneously begins).
Later, after those females have laid their eggs and hundreds of baby turtles hatch in the sand on some tropical island, as they try to reach the sea most become victims of seagulls, crabs, fish, treacherous currents and other natural hazards. And as they grow, they face constant danger of attack. The result? Only a small number of sea turtles live to maturity…
(just as cosmic events often limit the long, dangerous process of evolution in the universe, wiping out most “infant” life forms, leaving only a few to reach maturity, but allowing the cycle to continue).
Assuming this analogy is valid (get ready, here comes a really big leap) are those universal life forms that perish, like the doomed sea turtles, providing some form of sustenance for other emerging life forms? As an example, had the dinosaurs not emerged and then gone extinct, and as a result we humans had not discovered fossil fuels, would we have been able to progress as we have? Could the remains of the dinosaurs be a form of universal sustenance helping us further our evolution?
Fitting the Pieces Together
The story I have just told is admittedly “out there" and of course an undocumented opinion on our creation and evolution. The fascinating thing for me, however, is what I said in the beginning. When you consider the full sequence of events, timing and conditions, the pieces of this story fit logically together and neatly parallel the life-cycle patterns we see around us here on earth-- as if by design. And the possibility of all these conditions and events happening with this level of order and timing by coincidence seems, to me, virtually impossible. But remember, I am not a religious believe.
So, here is my highly un-educated theory of creation and life in a nutshell:
Our universe is a nursery for the creation of life. This is the single purpose
for its existence.
Once set in motion with a “Big Bang", our universe has created habitable
environments and a spontaneous, self-balancing process for creating
and sustaining life.
This self-balancing universal limitation and the process of evolution have
limited those life forms, allowing the universe to remain in proper balance
and thus a productive “nursery”.
A number of life forms (including us humans) have survived
much of the extremely long, dangerous process of evolution
and we humans have reached a level of self-awareness.
Though initially accepting religious “answers”, to our origin
intellect is now taking over and science and technology are
providing a path to the universal truths weseek, including the
final earthly phase of our humanity.
We humans have no other choice but to search for the ultimate truths.
The need to discover these answers is engrained in us just like the urge
to survive and reproduce.
Assuming humanity survives the final stages of evolution, we may very
possibly undergo a rebirth which will “lighten our load” and prepare
us to complete our journey.
In the next, and possibly final, phase of our existence on earth, we
may discover the answers we seek:
Why the immense, relentless effort to create and sustain life?
What is our purpose in that effort?
What else is out there?
Who or what is the designer?
What is next for the human race?
There seems to be no other conclusion.
As I said, continual refinement of a species without extinction has to eventually lead to perfection. Then, perhaps having undergone a complete rebirth of some sort, we will travel like cosmic butterflies through the vast oceans of space-time in some ethereal form, helping to watch over the natural balance of all things and assuring that the perfect recipe remains intact for the continuing creation of new life.
Perhaps we will become the designer!
The Critical Caveat
There is one potentially tragic but very possible variation of this theory of life forms being destroyed by natural events. We might just make ourselves extinct! Most people who lived through the nuclear buildup during the Cold War of the 50s and 60s would likely agree we came close. Today many scientists worry about CO2 emissions and the effects of global warming.
Whatever the future holds, one thing is for sure. Given how far we've come and how close we may be to achieving our ultimate goal as a race of beings, it would be an incalculably shameful waste of over 4 billion years of evolution and genetic refinement to do ourselves in now! If that turns out to be the case, however, maybe we can take some solace in the knowledge that we will become a form of sustenance for the next contenders in the quest to discover The Answers.