Random Thoughts On Life And The Human Universe

Sometimes you have a new thought, an idea, or eureka moment, but it’s not gutsy enough to expand into a reasonable length article or essay. So, here’s a potpourri of thoughts on life and the human universe (even if not quite everything therein) that’s too good not to record, but with not enough meat available to flesh out.

* Life Defined: There are probably as many different definitions of “what is life?” as there have been and are biologists, life scientists, naturalists and philosophers, etc. Most centre on or around concepts like growth, reproduction, response to stimuli, metabolism, violations of the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), and related similar ilk. None have been entirely satisfactory otherwise we would have THE textbook definition. My take on “what is life?” is somewhat different. Life is some sort of complex organic structure that has a behaviour that is not absolutely predictable via classical (or even quantum) physics. Or, in other words, under the most tightly controlled and uniform set of laboratory conditions, the ‘structure’ will do as it damn well pleases!

* Life: Speaking of life, there is no such thing as ‘living matter’ vs. ‘dead matter’. All matter is ‘dead matter’ since all matter, from the ground up, is composed of electrons, protons (quarks and gluons), neutrons (more quarks and gluons), photons, neutrinos, etc. Few if any would ague that an electron, proton, neutron, etc. is ‘living matter’. And the atoms, hence molecules, even complex molecules they make up are not alive. No matter is alive or is ‘living matter’. What is ‘alive’ is the organisation, the overall structure of various bits and pieces of matter, in highly specific arrangements, such that – and this is the key point – entropy, at least temporarily, is thwarted. Entropy finally wins when the organisational structure breaks down, that is, life dies.

* Death: Death is not something to be afraid of. You experience dying, but not death since once dead, you have no existence and you need to have an existence, you have to be alive, in order to experience something, anything, even death. So you never experience death, only that up to but not including death.

* Afterlife: It is clear that the essence of what makes you, you – personality, knowledge, creativity, emotions, intellect, memories, etc. – can be and is altered by physical processes ranging from head injury to disease to aging to lack of sleep, food chemistry, alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs and other chemical substances inhaled, ingested or otherwise absorbed into the body. Therefore, the essence of what makes you, you is based on physical realities and therefore you are grounded in physics (and not just by gravity either). So unless the abode(s) of the afterlife supports physics and physical processes, and that there’s a physical mechanism that can transfer your physical-based essence from your physical body to an abode that supports a physical afterlife, then just forget about any life after death.

* Afterlife: You really don’t want to die, but you really don’t want an eternal afterlife either so be careful about what you wish for. I mean you’d be bored to ‘death’ after the first million years with billions and trillions of years yet to come and that’s just the beginning! Sounds a bit more like a hell to me! But since your afterlife must take place within the Universe, somewhere, what happens to your afterlife when the Universe finally hits its heat death or collapses back on itself in a Big Brunch (the opposite of the Big Bang). Regardless, it’s curtains for your afterlife. It’s also clear that your body, when it dies, doesn’t go to an afterlife. If you go to an afterlife, it’s your mind, your consciousness, the essence of what makes you, you that has to make the journey. But what kind of afterlife would that be for a one day old infant or for a 110 year old with severe dementia or for someone middle aged who was an ex-boxer or ex-gridiron player whose head and brain had been so pummelled as to now leave him just a fraction above a vegetative state. The same might apply to someone who had been starved of oxygen for a lengthy time, like a near drowning victim. What if your afterlife were pretty much the same as your life with a nine-to-five job, a rotten boss, bearing a heavy email galore and unproductive and worthless meetings burden, lots of bills, taxes and a lawn to mow, plus those in-laws and horrible relatives. Add to that mix now a supreme deity that’s cracking the whip at all hours. Now think back to pre-life. Wasn’t it peaceful and tranquil and tax free? What if your post-death were the same as your pre-life, wouldn’t that be ‘heavenly’, and as an added bonus, it’s all somebody else’s problem now.

* Meaning, Purpose & Existence: An oft asked question is “What is my purpose in life: why am I here?” People want some sort of meaning and purpose to their existence and often look to religion to provide it. That’s pure laziness. The Universe assigns you no meaning. The Universe assigns you no purpose. The Universe doesn’t care why you are here. The Universe doesn’t give a damn because the Universe can’t give a damn in the exact same way as a rock can’t give a damn about you and your quest. The cosmos doesn’t tap you on the shoulder or bring down from on high Ten Commandments style and tell you why you are here and what your purpose and meaning is. If you have meaning or purpose in answer to why you are here it is because you yourself have assigned yourself purpose and meaning, albeit perhaps via the nurturing of others like parents, teachers, your spouse, etc.

* Plants: Humans call them weeds. Mother Nature calls them plants. So-called ‘weeds’ too have their place in the natural scheme of things. Stupid humans!

* Evolution: If species A gives rise to Species B, it’s highly unlikely that in only ten million years Species B will anatomically look, and psychologically act, drastically different than Species A did. Evolution happens, but softly, softly, gradually, gradually. A species of cockroach isn’t going to morph into a species of ant or spider or fly in ten million years. A stegosaurus isn’t going to morph into a parrot in ten million years. So the human species needs a lot of explanation compared to a chimpanzee or a common chimpanzee-human ancestor. We look and act just a bit too far removed in the time available.

* Human Species: While it is true that some of the other primates can walk upright on two legs some of the time for brief intervals, only a bipedal human can climb up or down a staircase while balancing a tray in one hand while thinking of something else, like sex and not fall over. Only a bipedal human, relative to our primate cousins, can maintain balance while dancing or playing sports that require quick and rapid changes in direction. But a bipedal stance is almost akin to balancing a straw on its end. It’s very easy to fall down, go boom.

* Human Species: Despite the very popular but self-promotional conception, human beings are the least rational species on this planet. Any other animal that acts irrationally, say via a genetic defect or disease or the equivalent of dementia, is a dead animal. I have yet to witness any animal acting in any way, shape, manner or form that wasn’t rational for either its own survival or the survival of its genes, its community or its kind. I most certainly cannot say the same about the human species.

* Human Species: Humans and cycles go hand in glove. Though most are artificial constructions and therefore rather phoney, cycles are important to humans and human society. The Day-Night cycle is of the most prime importance, and it is a natural cycle. Humans put a lot of stock in the seven day week cycle, which is an artificial construct, and to a lesser extent the month (also a phoney cycle even if ever so loosely based on the lunar cycle). The year is a natural cycle (in terms of the seasons) and probably of greatest significance next to the day and week cycles. Decades and centuries rank fairly low in importance and are artificial constructs in any event. The millennia are only important when the calendar changes over from say 1999 to 2000 (though the new millennia actually began in 2001) and 1000 year cycles lie outside of the human lifespan in any event. And that should be pretty much it – except for some ancient societies who had cycles of apparent importance so long that predated the very existence of those societies (and concluded well after those societies went extinct), like the Mayan long count (recall that famous doomsday date of 21 December 2012). Other societies measure ongoing cycles of creation-destruction in such lengthy periods that they really have no imminent impact on the societies propagating them. When societies have cycles of significance that are of no immediate significance, then you have an anomaly and you have got to wonder where hence gave that particular cyclic concept.

* Human Language: Modern humans are one species, many breeds, but one species. Our single species has however thousands of languages, both in use and extinct. That’s an anomaly. Other animals, each a single species, whether of not they come in breeds like cats, dogs and horses, have one vocal language (supplemented, as in the case of humans too, by body/facial ‘language’). A Chinese cat can converse, that is making its intentions understood, with a French cat, or with an Egyptian cat or with an Australian cat. Why humans alone needed to or have developed a massive multitude of spoken languages is a bit of a mystery. Body/facial ‘language’ on the other hand is pretty universal, therefore singular.

* Human Organism: You probably think of yourself as one singular organism. The expression “me, myself and I” are all singular. Yet, you know perfectly well that you are really a colony of billions of organisms (cells) working in more often as not the case in total harmony. Yet, as things turn out, you play host to billions and billions more microbes. Nine out of ten of the microbes that make you up aren’t really a part of you at all, like say those bacteria that survive and thrive in your mouth. So, are you an organism, a colony of organisms or an environment for organisms? I’m quite astounded to learn that 90% of me isn’t me! So perhaps our real purpose in life is to serve as hosts for the greater multitudes. The needs of the many [microbes] outweigh the needs of the one [Human].

* Diet: We’ve all read and heard about how we consume way more salt than is necessary and that too much salt can cause high blood pressure and heart attacks and associated nasty conditions. What is never mentioned in all these health warnings about salt is the feedback mechanism that restores the proper balance. It’s akin to how many bars will put out free salted peanuts or salted chips for the customers. It’s not out of the pure kindness of the bartender. If you take in a lot of salt you get, surprise, thirsty. And so the bar makes up for the ‘free’ peanuts and chips by selling more drinks to quench the thirst you build up by eating all that ‘free’ salty stuff. In other words, if you over indulge in the salt, you’ll drink more fluids because you get extra thirsty, and the additional liquids will, when filtered through the kidneys, take the unnecessary salt with it (salty urine) and the proper balance is restored. So, if we consume way more salt than is necessary, we probably drink way more fluids as well.

* Archaeology vs. Mythology: There are numerous depictions of ancient rock carvings or petroglyphs and the like, of what appear to be dinosaurs, like that well known stegosaurus at Ankor Wat. Creationists use these images as evidence to suggest, indeed state categorically, that this proves dinosaurs and humans coexisted. Sceptics have a field day rubbishing that notion, but still those images remain and remain to be explained. My turn!

Now in the world of all things mythological, one will find depictions (carvings, paintings, rock art, statues, etc.) of literally hundreds upon hundreds of imaginary beasties, often human-animal hybrids like the mermaid and the centaur; animal-animal hybrids like dragons and griffins; and other just plain beasties like the thunderbird or some that are just plain bizarre, like those winged bulls with human heads and five legs from the Near East. These mythological beasties are often depicted in normal settings cheek-by-jowl with your standard everyday really real animals. You find griffins alongside of deer, foxes, horses, cattle, geese, even cats and dogs just as natural as you please – just like that stegosaurus has really real modern companion animals also carved in relief at Ankor Wat.

It would not be surprising, IMHO, that by chance, some of these mythological or imaginary beasties, inventions or constructs of the human mind, would just happen to end up resembling real, but long extinct, life forms. So if we see a rock carving of what appears to resemble a stegosaurus, it’s just coincidence.

* Archaeology: The Australian Aborigines: With respect to the Australian Aborigines, to me the one Big Mystery never addressed at all was why no Aboriginal civilization? I mean the Aborigines had the intelligence and the resources and certainly the time (50,000 years worth) to construct things. But there are no equivalences to the American Indian mounds or pueblos; no pyramids or temples (like the Egyptian or Central American), nothing akin to a Stonehenge or Newgrange or even something like an Easter Island statue or a great wall or a terracotta army and certainly nothing approaching ancient Greek/Roman constructions. In fact, the Aborigines never even came up with something as basic as pottery. Why? It strikes me as a major anomaly.

* Archaeology: The Wheel: When you think of the most important and fundamental inventions that humans are credited with only a select few really stand out. Taming fire is one. Cutting tools like stone flakes are another. Writing is a third. Coming up with the concept of nothing or the zero was a real breakthrough. And of course there is the wheel. However, there are a few anomalies when it comes to the wheel. In the ancient Americas for example, the wheel was both known, but unused. Translated, you find in the archaeological record children’s toys that have wheels. What you don’t find is that concept extrapolated into the adult world. Adults, be they Incas, Aztecs, Amerindians, etc. did tot make use of the wheel even though wheeled toys abound. Now the basic reason for that given is that they had no beasts of burden like oxen or horses to pull chariots, etc. so therefore no wheeled chariots. However, that doesn’t explain the lack of other practical adult applications like the wheelbarrow, or small wheeled wagons/carts/platforms or ‘shopping’ trolleys or even a primitive rickshaw that could be pulled by one person. Not everything wheeled has to be the size of a chariot, a covered wagon, a stagecoach. There’s not even a potter’s wheel and so on. The concept of round or rolling (as in logs) is obvious to the most basic of cultures, yet for the first half of their very lengthy empire, that super-civilization, at least for those times, the ancient Egyptians, didn’t make use of the wheel. The Australian Aborigines didn’t seem to have a wheel-eureka moment either.

* Archaeology: Orion’s Belt: It consists of the three bright stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintake The stars are more or less evenly spaced in a straight line, and so can be visualized as a belt. For some mysterious reason, several archaeological sites exhibit or mirror the positions of the trilogy of stars that make up the Belt of Orion. The most famous is the trilogy of those massive ancient Egyptian pyramids on the Giza plateau. The second is seen at Teotihuacán’s central pyramid complex in Mexico. The third is a trilogy of Hopi Mesas in Arizona. Okay, Orion’s Belt, that trilogy of stars, is fairly prominent in the night sky, but then too so is a lot of other star patterns. What makes these special to our ancient ancestors? A big deal of this is made by ‘ancient astronaut’ theorists. Somehow that trilogy of stars must be special, like perhaps home turf to ET. Alas, that doesn’t seem all that plausible. Alnitak (Zeta Orionis), Alnilam (Epsilon Orionis) and Mintake (Delta Orionis) are very bright stars (to the naked eye), but they are also very, very far away. That alone suggests that they are very un-Sun like. Alnitak is 736 light-years away and 100,000 times our Sun’s luminosity; Alnilam is 1340 light-years distant and 375,000 times as luminous as our Sun; and Mintake is 915 light-years away as the crow flies and is a whopping 900,000 times the Sun’s luminosity. Mintaka is also a double star system. Translated, the trio of stars that make up Orion’s Belt don’t seem to be likely candidates for extraterrestrials that would come a-calling as ‘ancient astronauts’. I very much doubt SETI scientists would target these stars as likely candidates to point their radio telescopes at.

* Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe: In the simulated universe scenario I (and many others) have suggested we exist inside a computer as a software program or subroutine within a larger software program. The un-stated assumption is that the Supreme Programmer was of flesh-and-blood (terrestrial or extraterrestrial). But why make that assumption? Why not suggest that the Supreme Programmer was/is an Artificial Intelligence in its own right just being creative. Silicon -and-steel (artificial) intelligence is a logical evolutionary successor to flesh-and-blood (natural) intelligence and is likely to not only evolve far more rapidly (Moore’s Law) than human evolution ever did but have an overall longevity vastly in extent of ours.