Space – the Final Human Arrogance

This mocks “the final frontier”.

Most humans, scientists and layman alike, have lots and lots of ideas about space. There’s aliens, some theories even say *how many* worlds there are with alien life. Science fiction tells us what the aliens look like, how they act, their motivations (which are, bizarrely, similar to humanity)… its like we know as much about what’s out there as we do about Earth.

Its part of the disease of Western thought in general… too much emphasis is placed upon what is known and what is speculated and not enough about what is *not* known… not enough on the limitations.

Who’s there to talk about the fact that we have zero contact with aliens, despite that there are supposedly millions or billions or more alien races? But, but… the *large distances involved* they say… who are WE to say what is a large distance to a creature we know nothing about?

No human has lived on another planet. We’ve never been outside our solar system. We see quite a bit of vague details, from far away.

We pretend to know so much about the universe from the development of a *single* planet. I’m told we know how life develops, and that it develops similarly on other worlds, despite us never having verified life on any other world.

Technology that enables increased knowledge of space has only developed recently. It seems likely barring some catastrophe (like nuclear exchange) it will continue to increase, making it easier for us to explore space which raises more and more the question of why our planet isn’t already part of some intergalactic empire. The easier it becomes for us, the easier it becomes for a “highly intelligent species” which supposedly is found commonly throughout the universe.

In the end, our perception is crippled from knowledge of only *one* planet with life, of knowledge of only *one* highly intelligent species. The only thing that’s likely to improve that perception is physical exploration of space.

We know what life is. We speculate what aliens are like. We make theories on how many other highly intelligent species are in the universe. *None* of that, however, is verified. We know some about what EARTH life is… its idle extrapolation to suppose other planets have similar properties with respect to life. Life as “in and of itself” cannot be known using only earth as the basis.

Sometimes I think that humans don’t even want to explore space. Why bother, when we can just pretend we know everything about it from the comfort of our own living rooms? We can just “know” that there are millions of alien races… no need to check!

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3 Responses to “Space – the Final Human Arrogance”

  1. Dave Says:

    I think you have oversimplified a complex issue, and your argument is grounded in few facts. We are not building a costly Crew Exploration Vehicle to find green men from science fiction novels. We’re traveling there for the exactly the reason you think we’re deficient– to find out why there may or may not be life on other planets in our Solar System, not to mention all of the planetary geology, astronomy, chemistry, and so on that will be supported by more sophisticated experiments on the surface of other celestial bodies. I would not say we’re “crippled” by our lack of knowledge or what you call ‘perception.’ In fact, we know quite a bit about the universe around us, and the technology that brought us here was not just developed in the last 30 years… most of celestial mechanics was worked out centuries ago. The telescope was patented by Hans Lipperhey in October 1608. Anyway, my point is that if we are not “restricted” by projecting anthropomorphic features on aliens we haven’t met (and by the way, we can very much say what a “long way” is… no matter how advanced some other civilization is, if they’re more than about 40 light years away from us, they haven’t ‘heard’ from us yet because communication is limited to the speed of light; this doesn’t even reach out of a small portion of our galaxy) nor the fact that we don’t already have a Grand Unified Theory of the universe’s nuts and bolts. That’s WHY space is the final frontier… and it’s a big one.

    Dave
    MIT

  2. Leo Anschluss Says:

    Of course everything we do has our thumbprint on it.

    Alien is alien for a reason! Somebody could probably write a story that would not conform to any real notion of human understanding or consciousness (say, the Ulysses of SF), but it wouldn’t make much sense to people. And even that would be closer to us than an actual alien.

    It’s sort of like how we’re infinitely closer to squids, genetically (and even in how we live) than we’d be with any alien. We don’t even understand truly ourselves as a species; what chance would we have to understand the alien, at least until confronted with it — that awareness (should it ever happen) alone would probably freak people out for generations.

    “We are not alone” is dread-inspiring, if what we’re sharing space with isn’t us!

  3. briankoontz Says:

    Every “frontier” so previously considered (for America the classic “Western frontier”), the frontier of the atom, the frontier of the oceans, etc. has either been conquered. substantially penetrated, or expected to be substantially penetrated. Thus by naming it a “frontier” we’re already assuming it WILL be substantially penetrated prior to us actually having anywhere near the means to do so. Or, that is to say, arrogance.

    In contrast, the Western frontier in America was merely land to the west filled with non-gunpowder folk. It was no arrogance to think it could be conquered in a reasonable amount of time.

    Unlike earth-situations where we extrapolate from a wide range of experience, with respect to the universe we’re extrapolating from *one* experience (Earth), *one* star (the Sun) to trillions upon trillions of other solar systems.

    Take this analogy: you’re a small tribe living on an island. Noone in the tribe has ever been off the island. Yet you develop all of these theories about what the entire earth is like from your experience on your one island.

    What would the quality of the theories from the tribe be? Shouldn’t they be caring about getting off the island first? What actually happened to the tribe was that they probably died off, or got off the island and were killed by whatever lived on the next island.

    Its somewhat useful to have “earth theories” for this tribe because it focuses them and gives them an idea of what they believe, maybe allows them to prepare a bit better. But its a LOT more useful to be strong enough to be in a good position for when you do get to the next island, and its a lot more useful to get to the next island and report on what you find than theorizing about what’s there.

    Who has the best idea of reality? Usually, the people who have *experienced* the most of reality. The tribe, no matter how impressive the theorizing, is very ignorant. They may even call earth the “final frontier” based on them having called the jungle on their island a “frontier” which they conquered.

    Here’s a theory that *I* would like to see, rather than yet another one about how many alien races are in the universe:

    How about a theory that projects what it will take for humans to succeed in establishing a permanent colony in another solar system? That is, the conditions for the continuation of supplies from the host planet, the conditions for the success of the species on the colony, and the conditions for successful establishment of the colony.

    Lets tackle another planet, another solar system, THAT frontier before worrying too much about “space” or “the whole universe”.

    The chicken didn’t cross the road in order to think about the entire universe. If he had spent too much time thinking about the universe he never would have crossed the road.

    That humans think about aliens, or space itself, or “the universe” instead of thinking about a “human colony” or “the most convenient alternate solar system for human life” is the problem I’m talking about. We need a realistic approach, rather than a fantastical one.

    Communication is not limited to the speed of light… OUR understanding and application of science restricts *our* communication to the speed of light. Its ridiculous to think an alien race shares our limitations… just more arrogant presuming about something you are entirely ignorant of. After all, for the vast majority of human life humanity didn’t share our limitations (they had far more stringent ones)… now aliens are supposed to? Of the billions of living species on earth, only *one* externally communicates above the speed of sonar waves. Even that tells us almost nothing about aliens.

    What are the odds that an alien race can receive and interpret our communications yet does not already know of our existence? That’s pretty much the odds that outgoing SETI broadcasts are of any value whatsoever.

    What are the odds that an alien race would select radio or laser broadcasts as its means of communication with intelligent life on other planets? That’s pretty much the odds that normal SETI projects are of any value whatsoever.

    Our ignorance is almost complete, yet we never pay attention to our ignorance. We pay attention only to the fraction of knowledge that we are aware we possess, and pretend its going to lead us to all knowledge. That’s arrogance, and it may prove fatal. It will certainly prove injurious.

    “A man’s got to know his limitations”. Where’s the science that studies the limitations of science? Where’s the science that studies the limitations of humanity?

    Arrogance cannot stand the concept of limitation. That may doom all of us.

    We are still laboring under the idea of free will, the idea of no restrictions. That’s largely why there is no science of limitations. Such a science can narrow down the path science and humanity is taking, can rid us of pointless unfeasible distractions. Right now all humanity knows is what it *can* do and what it *wants* to do… its completely ignorant of what it *can’t* do… thus every time we want something we MUST pursue it because we have no reason to believe it can’t be obtained. Furthermore, we only have a vague idea of the difficulty of obtainment… we usually find out after long effort that something *can’t* be done (under current limitations)… *oops*, we just wasted billions of dollars… our bad!

    Furthermore, this idiocy is brushed off with noble words like “creativity” or “freedom” or “pioneering”… the thought that its a *good* idea to be ignorant of what you can’t do. The spectre of Free Will haunts this thought.

    Wormholes, Time Travel, Teleportation… why not? We have no idea if this can be done. That is to say, we’ve expressly developed, been intellectually conditioned, to be ignorant of our ability to achieve these things.

    This harms science immensely, since science is based on funding, often governmental funding. If we had a better idea of whether time travel could happen, if we recognized our limitations as well as our knowledge, we would know whether or not to pursue scientific research toward it.

    Its like a man driving to a distant land in a car that he knows nothing about. Will the car make it? Shouldn’t the car be examined prior to the trip? Ah, but the man is “pioneering”, he’s putting his free will on the line so its all good!

    When will we emerge from these dark ages?

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