Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 18: Our Spatial and Temporal Insignificance in the Universe
And humbles us.
"Statistically," American physician and etymologist Lewis Thomas (1913-1993) once argued, "the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you'd think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contended dazzlement of surprise." Indeed our very existence, here and now, seems to be the super-jackpot of probable survivability. That said, the other side of the coin is our eschatological destiny. Whatever starts must end. Whatever lives must die. No party lasts forever—that's the yin and yang law of the universe. As much as we would like to think that we are special and exceptional, the extinction of Homo sapiens is no exception. Even the sun will eventually burn out. Since its formation, it has used up about half of its hydrogen fuel in the last 4.6 billion years; it still has enough hydrogen for another 5 billion years. Likewise the Milky Way will eventually end too. It will be gobbled up by neighboring Andromeda Galaxy in—coincidentally—about 5 billion years too. Seems like we have another conspiracy theory to deal with here.
According to American cosmologist and astrophysicist Carl Sagan (1934-1996), most of the species that have ever existed are now extinct. "Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception." Indeed the first of the genus Homo appeared on Earth about four million years ago, and already half a dozen species of the genus are extinct, such as Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo floresiensis. Of course we have been around only a few hundred thousand years, but the extinction of Homo sapiens (including that of Homo ignoramus) is only a matter of when, not if.
Other species do not fare better. At a conference on the future of living species sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution in September 1986 in Washington DC, American biologist and researcher Edward Osborne Wilson (b. 1929) of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University indicated that we are currently losing ten thousand species a year, and this rate of loss is increasing.
Fast forward 30 years later: According to an article in the International Business Times of August 13, 2015 titled "Humans will not be spared in sixth mass extinction" by Hannah Osborne, "(a)round 200 million years ago there was a mass extinction event thought to have been triggered by massive volcanic eruptions and climate change. It killed off up to 80% of the species known to have been living on Earth at the time and eventually gave rise to the dinosaurs." In fact, many scientists currently believe that we are entering a sixth mass extinction. Stanford University scientist Paul Ehrlich recently published a study in Science Advances which concludes this sixth mass extinction event is here "without any significant doubt." He concluded that species are disappearing around 100 times faster than normal rates.
To put our spatial and temporal insignificance in the universe into context from another perspective, let's ponder on a recent news clip. In July 2015, it was announced that Russian billionaire Yuri Milner is going to launch "Breakthrough Listen," a new $100 million initiative looking for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life. This project was endorsed by famous British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, despite his earlier concerns and fear of earthlings being conquered and colonized as expressed during a 2010 episode of the miniseries Into the Universe.
“If you look at history, contact between humans and less intelligent organisms have often been disastrous from their point of view, and encounters between civilizations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced,” Hawking bluntly told reporters at the Breakthrough Listen press-conference. "A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria."
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter