In the Beginning...
And they wouldn't be wrong. At least not for their times and places. One experience that they each possessed is common to all of us: Death. But should it be? In our time? In the space age? The phrase was once used to describe a new step in human capability, one of infinite promise and unlimited reward. When we spoke of it, we spoke fondly and with admiration, but when do we hear it now? It would be callous and cynical to hint at any kind of manual villainous suppression of a silly old phrase; not one of our landlords would bother. Rather the “Space Age” mentality just kind of faded out as slowly as its ascent had been abrupt. New technology grounded people in social media and terrestrial exploration. In the spirit of the 21st century man, the Space Age has been red-shifted. The problem in our century, as the first decade may clearly illustrate, is that all of our graves will be full by its end.
Death, the reaper, has many riders, and the chiefest among them is named Cold. The fire breathing stallion at his heels carries a rider named Hunger. War and Disease follow closely behind. The most eminent of our foes are the looming Ice Ages. There is a Big One and a Small One. The Big One, we probably had a considerable hand in as a fossil fuel burning species. To the Small One, however, we are helpless bystanders, victims of the urges of our sun. In the early 17th century, Europeans reported record low temperatures, blizzards and ice storms for several consecutive decades. This mini Ice Age is associated with the Maunder period, in which the sunspots were not significantly present during the peak periods of their eleven year cycle. Such peaks have held generally constant ever since, until now, in 2013, when there should be emerging more than a hundred visible sunspots, but much to the dismay and uncertainties of many voiceless astronomers, very few can presently be observed.
It is not apparently common knowledge that the redoubling of the population in the next hundred years to exceed ten and twelve billion people poses an unresolvable strain on the resources we are able to produce. The earth contains about 197 million square miles. If 70% of that is water, there is left only about sixty million square miles. At the time of this writing, the world population is about seven billion people. Doubling this and distributing it evenly across the dry terra-firma, without further regard to the climate restrictions that push our species toward the sun-belt, we come to a per ca-pita figure of 233 people per square mile. A square mile is the product of million square feet, meaning that at the doubling point, wherever in the future, in the future it may reside, there will be less than 12,000 square feet per person. If that seems cozy, remember that this land must provide shelter, and also the amount of food you consume in a year, which is about 1500 pounds. Before you build the family house, you better know that you need at least one additional pound of food from every eight square feet for every new human you create after the mark.
But you also need the land for other things, right? A place to live is nice, unless there is nowhere to put your waste. Is there a place to educate your children or to entertain the claustrophobic family? Is there a place for the town hall, or the museum? Or the police station? The fire station? The water treatment facility and the power plant? Well...Not really. All of these things do exist in many places already. As do roads, shopping malls, business centers and universities. Sports arenas, churches, gas stations, liquor stores, movie halls, diners, and nightclubs also dot the scenery in most developed countries (not to mention parking lots and golf courses. So where then is the room for the neighborhoods? Do we buy a little time by stacking in on top of each other metropolitan style? Do we breathe easy knowing that the faculty of genocides, famine, pestilence and plaque should also serve as our allies in delaying the double. Do we hope that responsible use of birth control and the coherent nature of man will preserve us from this congested fate of over population? Do we truly choose as a people to place our future in the hands of foggy ancient mysticism, to pretend that those of us “worth saving” shall at the last rational moment in our existence be swept away to the metaphysical utopias. The rest be damned?
Let us also not forget in our consumer-centric haze that in addition to the facilities listed above, there must also be the fields from which are mined or harvested the raw goods required to produce the ingredients needed to manufacture everything from contraceptives to construction materials. With so many variables, it is impossible to suggest what the comfortable medium might be, in terms of land per person, but one things is for sure, we aren't working with a hell of a lot as it is right now.
Where there is a protracted shortage of food and vital resources, accompanied by a surplus of desperate, ravenous creatures, there tends to turn up, more often than elsewhere, a bloody mangle of corpses. Such conditions consistently lead to, and similar results occur in much greater number in the wake of, an outbreak of general war. Whether confined or unrestrained, malnutrition, weakened immune systems, prolonged states of frenzied fear, and the general stench and decay of human rot breed diseases and viruses that become epidemics.
Colder winters, shorter growth seasons, the ice caps pushing in, the ocean pushing back, volcanoes and earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and tsunamis, each taking as it will from what remains, to the pulsing candences of dizzying rhythms. These factors make for an ominous landscape as we confront the complicated path ahead. The Eden of our youth has become the embryo of a burned out wasteland. Before monotheism came along to distort the language and understanding with its assurances of the gilded abundances of the divine kingdom, the ancients seemed to have a pretty good understanding of the problem. What I very affectionately refer to as space, they, with proportional endearment, described as 'the heavens,' and in them, they very rightfully beheld the key to man's eternal salvation. Everything we are, and everything we have came from out there, in the black vastness of the illustrious cosmos, from swirling compressions and explosions of gas and plasma. Then into this star-spangled abyss we must inevitably return. Upon this conclusion, the ancient instincts ventured correctly, because should none of our proposed calamities face us uninformed, unprepared, and unwilling to cower and be trampled upon, then at best, we may live to be consumed by the sun himself.
To complicate matters further, on average, relatively few humans actually know how far away the sun is, or how long light travels from there to here, let alone the distance to the first planet we have found that might possibly have life sustaining conditions similar to our own. It takes 8 minutes for the sun's light to reach our eyes. Kepler62 is estimated to be 1,200 light years away. About 80 million times as far away as our sun. At present speed, it would wake us about 18 billion years worth of space travel, dodging dust and gas clouds, stellar gravitational fields, red giants, white dwarfs, supernova, pulsars, black holes, asteroids, planetesimals and gamma rays all the way there. If we were standing there looking back at our Earth at this moment, we would be looking at the dark ages, the Mohammedan conquests and the beginnings of the retaliatory crusades. The problem with planet finding, is that should we ever actually reach one, there is no telling what dangers and perils will greet us.
What all nations share is a government whose attitude towards the future revolves around the past. We humans have not yet formed a government of leadership on, of, by or for this planet. We have instead enumerated, codified, and set about enforcing a schizophrenic list of things not to do, but in general, we have come to no consensus on what precisely we all should be doing. The threats we face are real enough, to be sure. They come in a variety of colors and flavors, but they are generally too far away and remote to dominate very much at all of the collective human attention span. Once they arrive, though, they will each require of us all that we have spent long enough (and thus started early enough) and worked hard enough to overcome the obstacles they present. To measure adequately on any of these vectors, something larger than our individual selves must have prompted us into cohesion. No straggling group of under funded, socially invisible scientists can solve the problems of encroaching world hunger, the rapidity of the spread of illness or war, or the present constraints of physics and technology. To fend these off, humanity must work together in concentrated effort, and to do so requires a sense of a common purpose. In that commonality, we may all be both united and preserved. Without it, we are all surely damned.
What humans lack then, is a central guiding premise. Such a thing we have sought fruitlessly in the religions of the world, in books, in our culture and in our histories. To the heavens we return, yes, to that from which we came, but not at all how the traditional narratives describe it. Returning to our three ghosts, Plato would elaborate that we can only achieve more than our own lot and lively-hood in this life by collaboration, by the function of society. Freud would tell us that our only remaining restraints reside in our fear of the unknown and the threat of dismissal on the part of the ego. Einstein would probably stick with “We're all going to die.” And it would just be up to us to prove him wrong. Our central premise rings true though. Humans can't survive forever on this planet. We are reaching the point of no return on many fronts, and someday, if we haven't managed to change our ways and thinking, or at least to find our surrogate homestead in some celestial harbor out there among reachable frontiers, we will likely face extinction right here at home.
Under the dense weight of well clotted theism, the problem of uniting mankind in intention and resource to the cause of readying for the final exodus poses a tough nut to crack. If we are correct, how then do we begin to convince people who have fed and nursed on thousands of years of dogma, that no Christ or redeemer is coming to save them? That none but ourselves shall ever attempt our own rescue? Do we even ethically possess the right or privilege of considering such a task, let alone trying to carry it out? In truth, we possess no moral authority or civic right to wrench away the spiritual doctrines of another human being. We may not compel the world to agree with us or even to look ahead objectively at it's own future. In the grand scheme of things, the sharpest and most competent among us is at best virtually anonymous to the species at large. We are not the legion, we are the exception. We are the few and scattered elite. We have beheld by some vague virtue of our own individual dispositions the visage behind the guarded veil of the present. We may emvision the future for what it is, as well as what we want it to be. It is our cause in this generation, in the first decades of the 21st century, to go out and wake our brothers and sisters from their slumber. We must show them the growing light at the end of our tunnel, and rouse in them the spirit of survival to perpetrate one last vital push against nature. It is not for God to save us like a thief in the night, but for us to shine daylight across our mutual plight. The future is a gauntlet that can not be counted on to permit many a wearied bone or broken mind to pass. If we are to survive, as more than just a few straggling colonists, it must be hand in hand as the lucid civilization of mankind, nation-less, border-less, fearless, and free.
But then what? Suppose we manage to spontaneously generate the level of focus and enthusiasm it takes to successfully scour the galaxies for suitable (reachable) habitats, manifest the industrial expertize and resources needed to construct a fleet of interstellar spacecraft large enough to independently house all the crew, equipment, fuel and food production. Suppose we trained the crew with well conceived and detail oriented mission planning, contingency and catastrophe response measures, navigational and maintenance procedures, not to mention some of the more earthbound academia that we are trying so hard to salvage, such as philosophy, music, the arts. or political science for that matter. Suppose we were able because of broad and useful innovations we were able to equip these vessels with ample cargo bays full of crucial excavation, centrifuge, shelter and agriculture equipment. Throw in some relic chambers for the preservation of earthen antiquity as proof and souvenir of our million years or so here on Planet Earth. Freeze-dry some passengers to wake up upon arrival or in the case of emergency on board. BLAST OFF!
While we are getting pretty close to a good movie, we are getting no closer to a trouble free existence. Wherever we decide to go, we can be sure that it will take multiple generations of humans to get there. To get to the closest known star, at our present speed of travel (about 220 days to the sun) would take upwards of 150,000 years. This is equal to 30-fold the span of our written history.
Assuming all other successes, within the first subsequent generation of crew-members on this colossal voyage of sound and fury, there will have evolved a species of man whose eyes and heart shall not befall a single original canyon or waterfall throughout the entirety of his lifespan. Sunrise and Sunset will become matters of relativity. Cold walls and perpetually intrusive darkness quickly become a prison. A psychological nightmare hell of banality and routine subsides only to vandalism, sexual conquest, and bitter rivalries. Yet somehow, this mission must be expected to persist longer than we sentient beings have possessed our own earth. It must successfully reach its destination, safely descend into as yet largely unstudied host of atmospheric anomaly, and peacefully release a perfectly green and wet-behind-the-ears, passengers, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, however eternally jet-lagged and pale, having never known the true feeling of being at home, into a completely as-yet purely (and naively) conceptual wilderness of fruit and honey where, given the tenacity of life, if there is anything worth eating anywhere, there are bound to be well developed competitors. And the first very real experience these kids have, by all definition of necessity will most likely involve picking up a stick and fighting some large savage beast to the death where it stands.
No shortage of science fiction writers have succeeded in merely brushing away many of these difficulties with solution (or suggestion) of cryogenic sleep. And in truth, if such a thing were viable, it would solve a great many of the challenges of space travel, from the provision of resources, to the very considerations of mass and design. But as of late, not even very many eccentrics have joined the frozen-headed ranks of ole' Walt Disney...Maybe because we just aren't quite there yet. Who knows, maybe we can figure it out on the way. With our luck, we'll probably have to anyway. In any case, set the boat to auto-pilot and punch the thousand year snooze. “Wake Up! Something is burning, What do we do/!?” or maybe, “Wake Up! ...we're all sick...(cough!).” You might dream of waking up to the brunette-gone-amazon, but odds are better it will be the crazy guy that no one was really sure about but each feared to say something counter-productive...
Our parents, if we are fortunate to any degree, also tried to prevent a great deal of our naturally destructive behavior. And to each of them, in some way or another, we each owe some credit, either for our loftier places in society, or for our jaded systems of worldview. Einstein’s uncle taught him algebra. Archimedes wife allegedly nagged him at just the right moment in the bath tub for him to understand volume via displacement, and subsequently the categorization of equal weights of elements by calculating unique masses, and ultimately (many centuries ahead) to predict molecular and atomic distribution, structure, behavior and relative chemical -physical relationships.
We began with big fire close by, and small fire crossing the sky. We learned that our fire is small, and mostly destroys what it is able. We learn that the fires in the sky are , by comparison, very much bigger, and not only are they all destructive, but that they also create. We also create. But we create with an eye to individual self expression, from a child's macaroni plate to the Haia Sophia, each and all in between an attempt to establish some new precedent of unique character or personality, to personify the dreams and splendor of an artist, or of a people. But we still live in a world of borders. Geographical -psychological barriers consciously erected against invasion and dilution, by virtue of nationalism, xenophobia, and commerce. These barriers exist only in the minds of our fellow man, and must be broken if we are to survive. The world belongs to no chosen few, if not the strong and wise, certainly not the meek. Cockroaches may survive the nuclear winter, but that's no kind of inheritance (unless you're a cockroach.)
To travel through space at light speed makes the whole affair much more manageable for the imagination, but for real physicists, doing the precise same is as complicated as it gets. More physicists may only inch us a few hairs closer to the goals at hand. More engineers may just mean more equipment to manage. More O2 production may make for premature nutrient exhaustion or volatile air concentrations. More anything that won't survive the trip one-way just means more wasted time, money, resource, and effort. Bad decisions and poor judgment, early on present catastrophic consequences down the road. Precision is the elusive holy grail, unobtainable, even if within arms reach.
Set a kid from Indonesia loose in Times Square with fifty bucks, and in twenty minutes he'll come back and ask for fifty more. (I would.) Set a kid down on dirt for the first time, and they figure it out immediately. Life is what it is for a reason, be it persistence, defiance, toil, passion, luck, or divine persuasion. If for all of our struggles, heart-aches, miss-steps, shortfalls and handicaps, we are merely able to set down our human feet on inviting foreign soil one last time, then the victory will be for Life, with humanity as her Champion. We may be enslaved, infected, or decimated, but never annihilated. Never Extinct. Never Extinguished. Never exhausted. Our millennial grand children may regard us as no more than cave paintings left on the wall of a cave by some ancient, nomadic, superstitious mystics, but they will owe their very lives to perhaps a single NASA countdown.
The responsibility is baffling. The scope is daunting. The stakes are literally infinite. The End may very well be Nigh. Thus arises the question of failure, and upon this question unfolds the entire science of atheology. Under the immense pressure of hostile conditions, even the most compassionate among us may be driven to nihilism. Apathy breeds like mildew in cramped spaces over endless hours. The urge to self destruct overcomes the strong and weak alike. In the face of extreme conflict, the fight or flight reflex just defaults in shock to one or the other. The aggressive and the passive amplify into general behavior. Tie one of each to the same tree, and the one will eat the other. Chaos is a part of a well ordered universe. We define as such all that which contradicts our own purposes, and never that which succumbs to our will, as chaos or disorder. We have little (if any) control over what in the universe actually falls into which of either of these categories. We have little control over the world around us, and less control at times of our own selves. To think that we could employ the power of our own capacity to survive the destinies laid out for us by Time itself, sends a cold shiver down the spine. To whom do we credit for such providence? To whom shall we be thankful, if not to ourselves and each other. A world of people who appreciate each other in the mean time for the common pursuit of sentient survival sounds kind of nice actually.
Imagine if every living being accepted as truth that the consequence of life was death, but that the potential of life was eternal. In 10,000 years, our descendents on planet number-number-letter should look nothing like us, or else like exaggerated caricatures of ourselves, but if they knew as gospel this one simple truth, from the small to the tall, that the species with its eyes to the stars can survive when the ground beneath begins to crumble, and can set down on a new planet when the need arises, each time more and more accurately, safely, and conveniently, then we ourselves can be counted as members of the species that employed Reason and Will to beat Time, to outlive the Gods, and to defy Nature.
Though it is a fate that finds us all as individuals, Death may not be endured by the species. The time has come for us all to set aside our land wars, our theistic disputes, and our chronic consume-dispose relationship with the world around us. The rising tide of intellect and exploration has brought before us all the undeniable evidence of our circumstance. We must all commit to whatever choices we make or don't make, because these realities are oncoming. They are certainties. They are intractable crescendos in the natural symphony of a stormy universe, some quieter than others, but all of them deafening none-the-less. Our crops will freeze and fail. Our children will go hungry. Our potential will go to waste, and we will whither and fade for lack of purpose, or hope to fulfill it. Our distractions and lusts will lead us to violent wars, each larger and more thunderous. Our abuse will rid us permanently of vital resources, time, and ability. Our errors will incubate all manner of pathogens, whose evolution cannot each be completely controlled or predicted. All the while, the universe is busy hurling rocks and radiation at us from all directions, some coming dangerously close from time to time.
Failure is indeed a considerable army of foes. Upon what do all these variables hinge? Human ambition! We have successfully demonstrated that humans can enter, travel to and from, and survive space itself. We have a great deal of incentive to suppose that we can do more. We once sailed oceans thought to flow over the edges of the earth. These journeys were fraught with peril, but they were survived, and because of this they serve as a model for the next major transition in human dominion. Knowing what we have done and are doing paints a pretty picture of what we might can do, but anything that can go wrong, probably will. The survival of the species, either on board the Voyager2099, or the last populated city on earth, requires very little that is either casual or half-hearted. Dedication and attention to detail must become the ranking virtues of the day. Slaving away at fruitless efforts and vain pursuits is a sure ticket to obscurity and disappointment. A whole race of people pointed at a thousand idle routines is a guaranteed recipe for untold tragedy. But before and after the spacemen, we need ditch diggers and carpenters too. We need doctors and chemists. We need educators and civil servants. We need the sanitation services. And the occasional pub, theater, or steak-house. We need astronomers, physicists, biologists, propulsion experts and mechanical engineers. We need agricultural experts, electricians, equipment operators. We need communication that is truly world-wide. We need new ways of solving the simpler problems so we can focus on the big ones. We need energy sources and systems that can make longer distances in shorter times.
Is all of this even possible? Many of these occupations exist and thrive, others are few in number. What hurts us as a whole is the loss of our momentum. Our kids are growing up with fewer and fewer prospects(remember, the vast spoils of space haven't fully made it to the mainstream). Many of them are moving more and more away from academic enlightenment. We are losing our young people to vanity, apathy, and self indulgence. Ignorance is a beast that follows closely in the shadows. An ignorant minority are an antagonism to progress. An ignorant majority will be the death of us all. It is unclear as of yet which of these we truly possess.
Though ideologically unintuitive, the given trend seems to be away from communal success, and more toward the competitive and capitalist model of such ambitions. Plenty of very wealthy people are quietly exploring their own alternative solutions to terrestrial confinement and conflagration. The poor may occasionally produce an exceptional genius, but the rich produce the company that hires him or her. For the rest of us of more mediocre talent, hope of contributing to the human genome beyond a certain point in the (ever nearer) future dwindles dry in a “free-market” world. It should seem like a natural deduction that everyone can't go, and that only the best and brightest among us stand a chance of making it all work, but it is unfair that we are all deprived of the opportunity to participate in the precipitation of our own history. Must we all consign ourselves to menial jobs polishing the brass on the Titanic, while a few lucky rich kids should be chosen over wine and lobster flambe' to represent the rest of our forsaken lot in the centuries to come, across the millions of miles of uncharted abundance. Conversely, it should be permissible to exclude the degenerates and the unstable, the fiends and the maladjusted. The method by which we choose the very first crew shall define us as a race for the ever after, in our own minds, and to the disconnected generations. What remains of our story will affect how they perceive themselves for countless successions of more and more distant humans, until the day arrives when they begin to view us with the same suspicion and disbelief with which we imagine our own fables and mythologies. We will be their titans, having fashioned them in our own image, and transcended the reaches of their imaginations.
The pressing issues of “our” time and place, as they stand in the present day, are different wherever one should choose to plant a flag. The gun violence debate, however flaccid, addresses the as-yet unresolved tendency of humans to exterminate one another with immunity and prejudice. The abortion debate weighs the life of one over the rights of many. The Gay-Rights weighs the fears of many against the rights of a few. The Budget should be a no-brainer for a wealthy lot of accountants and lawyers, but some how the wrong number is always bigger...Foreign Policy...would be nice, and so would be also a sustainable energy plan that doesn't shovel the dirt onto our coffins until we're in them. Businesses and banks run amok, and if it weren't for “and on the seventh day He rested,” we would all be round-the-clock wage-slaves. Holidays might never have survived western culture. (Slaves almost did...) All of this just in the stretch of hills and prairies between the mid Atlantic and Pacific oceans. There are still more than 190 other individual countries, each as strikingly different and wholly detached from the next as is our northern neighbor from our southern. “Hey everybody wake up!,” just doesn't quite cut it.
Life is full of irony, and the atheists must get there fair share to consider the kind of evangelical force of a leader they would need to bridge the great secular gap in the global population. Such a voice for the cause would require nothing short of all the charm and notoriety of Jesus himself, and then some. More than four fifths of the world population (leaving out mainly Asians) support or at least identify with some mythological narrative about our end-times. Historically, a long list of other imaginary places join the ranks of Heaven, Nirvana, and Hades. Yet these fictional settings are holding together the very fundamental psychological structure of experience and perceived reality, (and are often the basis of the decisions that follow) for the rigidly solid majority of humankind. To say the least, it's almost a guarantee that there will be a chaplain on-board, and oh man! What a heavy job that's gonna be! Explaining to children (who are studying physics, velocity, propulsion, and for all we know, basic electronic alchemy) that God is following us to a nearby Messier cluster has got to be kind of like telling a kid the household pet will follow the cruise-liner to Bermuda.
But if tolerant we are, then tolerant we must remain, and all humans must be invited to participate in the project, for whatever personal reasons may motivate them, for better or worse, until death do us part. It would be nice to realize a scenario in which everyone willing and able to venture off into new horizons could be afforded a cushy berthing near the galley. But the reality is that most of us will die here regardless. The hope is that not all of us will die here. The prayer is that not all of those who depart will die in space. And the questions about our ability to reseed a new planet are too numerous to scratch the surface of, let alone to count. If we begin the whole process by alienating one another, we immediately rob our contenders and beneficiaries of the solvency of our undivided support. They will require no less from us than our careful cooperation at the absolute minimum. At the max, they need every damned thing we've got, the skills to keep it all together, and the patience to abide when it all comes apart under their noses. No one says we must all travel in the same direction. In fact, it's probably best if we scatter as prolifically as possible, capitalizing on every possible lead that might be a planet.
Earth's primary export through the next many thousand years should be exporting humans. Some of us will make it, some probably won't. But we may conceivably wind up with the luxury of worlds to choose from, each thinly occupied by people with persuasions similar to our own. Imagine picking a planet by its occupants via the same criteria as our online dating surveys. We may just as well all wind up fleeing en masse' at the last minute to some nearly burned out shell of a rock with just a little bit of dirty water and no breathable air. What matters here isn't so much what who believes about the great beyond and why. What matters is whether or not we can continue providing fertile human eggs with hearty human sperm, long enough to have done so to successful gestation on Earth 2.0. If the whole thing is worth doing, then somehow, we've got to take some some eye for responsibility toward getting to 3.0 as well.
Planet jumping is a lifelong commitment. And planet finding is tedious work, where even millions of man hours can prove fruitless. Forward thinking, in our time, should weigh heavily upon the stories that are told of our star when it no longer exists anymore beyond the tale, should ever any such a tale ever be told. Not many a taller tale could be contrived than that of some amino acids that outlived the sun. to tell the tale for themselves.
Image Source: http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix/thinkerbots.htm