Man in the Universe

Elon Musk, at X:

We are microbes on a dust mote in a vast emptiness overwhelming dominated by the sun

To which physicist David Deutsch replied:

In terms of the causal power of information, the sun is trivially simple and ineffective compared with humans.

And I am reminded of some lines from Leonard Cohen:

We are so small between the stars

So large against the sky

17 thoughts on “Man in the Universe”

  1. My father observed that in our day, the constellations are sometimes very temporarily reshaped “by the humble safety lights of lonely travelers.”

  2. Thanks for the mention of David Deutsch as somebody had once recommended to me to read (and I had forgotten) his excellent book “The Fabric of Reality”

    My friend was not overly complementary as he critiqued the book as “what happens when some scientist approaches the problem of epistemology as being essentially solved by Bacon.” However after reading Desmet and his take on the collapse of reason I’m curious.

    Anybody have thoughts on Deutsch?

  3. “The humble safety lights of lonely travelers”

    Yep, Korora just nailed it before I did. Those “lights temporarily reshaping constellations” are aircraft navigation and strobe lights. This is commerce eight miles up, going eight miles a minute.

  4. Profound thoughts of which discussion is a bit above my pay grade.

    But not having a medical degree or even any training I still marvel at how complex and amazing the human body is – if you treat it decently.

  5. If you don’t treat it decently, it gets even more complex, but only to a certain point and then it simplifies permanently.

  6. It’s often said that the change from the earth-at-the-center (geocentric) model of the solar system to the heliocentric model had the effect of reducing man’s perceived importance in the universe. CS Lewis challenged that view:

    “It was not generally felt that earth, or Man, would lose dignity by being shifted from the cosmic center. The central position had not implied pre-eminence. On the contrary, it had implied, as Montaigne says, ‘the worst and deadest part of the universe’, ‘the lowest story of the house’, the point at which all light, heat, and movement descending from the nobler spheres finally dies out into darkness, coldness, and passivity. The position which was locally central was dynamically marginal: the rim of being, farthest from the hub.”

  7. I never understood the idea that the various changes in our understanding of the cosmos actually humbled man in the quite the advertised way.

    Sure, no longer at the centre. No longer the only planet, only sun. The scale is vaster than before, almost absurdly.

    Yet for now, we remain the only world with life and the only sentient life form. We might well expect to find more, but to date have only our own fantasy products to define and justify the expectation.

    How does that make us any less the essence of the universe and the definers of it? If anything, more so.

    If we ever get out there and beyond our sun, all the greater.

    IF we find other life, still more so more advanced life, in some way, THEN we have a reckoning for which we might well prepare. I’m OK with it.

    Even then, we can take comfort in the rarity of life in the vastness of the heavens, that we are part of that rarity, and in all that enormity there is only one human race and only one of each of us.

    How is even that not greater than the medieval cosmos?

  8. For those that might want to review the Fermi Paradox, this seem to be a decent discussion:

    We now have a much better idea of how common planets are, but still can’t really detect planets as small as Earth. Not that we have any idea just how the size of a planet would affect the chances of life developing. Of course, the majority of living organisms on Earth have no idea that such a thing as gravity exists. Gravity is more on an issue for the sort of macro-life that seems necessary to support intelligence. A higher gravity field and deeper gravity well is hugely important if that intelligence ever wants to leave that planet.

    While we don’t know a lot about how life on another planet would look, we know a great deal about what materials they’d have to work with, exactly the same as we have. At some point, depending on your assumptions, a gravity well is too deep to escape using chemical fuels.

    How small a planet can be while keeping a stable atmosphere and reasonable climate long enough for a space-fairing civilization develop is also subject to debate. Earth has two more features that we have no idea just how common they are in the rest of the universe. One is a fairly strong magnetic field, the other is a fairly large moon. Both are thought to have a major, possibly deciding impact on life evolving here. Mars has none of the three now and again, a lot of questions about what the conditions may have been in the distant past. If we ever discover life or evidence of it, that will move the debate to another level.

    Setting aside the magnetic field, the Moon has to be a cosmically improbable accident. An object of just the right size collided with the Earth on exactly the right vector at exactly the correct velocity that allowed the major fragment to remain in one piece and then enter a stable orbit instead of some, almost infinite possible alternative. The tides sloshing about the seas that formed eventually are thought to be one of the things that drove the formation of life.

    Of course, any society advanced enough to travel between the stars would also see us before we could detect them. Our solitude might be their choice.

  9. “When I consider your heavens/The work of your fingers/The moon and the stars/Which You have set in place/What is mankind that you are mindful of them/Human beings that you care for them?” — Psalm 8:4&5, written three thousand years ago by King David

  10. Re: Man’s ‘humbling’ in moving Earth from the center of the universe. At this point I tend to think it’s the humbling that’s the goal, to convince people (and themselves) that other humans aren’t important, because then what happens to them isn’t important.

    Re: Fermi Paradox

    Isaac Arthur’s “The Fermi Paradox Compendium of Solutions & Terms”

    It has some meat to it (over three hours long.) It also references other videos he’s made on various proposed solutions, most of which are somewhere around an hour long.

  11. I’d say the universe might teem with life, or it might have none but us, or no other ‘sentients’ but us, and there might be many reasons-
    -extreme difficulty of life arising for some reason,
    -extreme unlikelihood of sentience for some reason,
    -it happens but it’s rare and the universe is old so there’s a good chance no two such species coexist in the same galaxy [or anywhere], knowing or unknowing, in the same age before dying out and all their records and products turning to dust,
    -they are everywhere but no one ever develops any technology sufficient to travel, communicate, or really detect for some reason [the reruns of Lucy theory seems to have been debunked, which would explain why we never hear alien radio or tv]
    – there have been millions of such races but space is vast and time is vast and we are fools to think anyone ever communicates or meets at the same time

    We just don’t know enough to blithely assume there is either no one or anyone.

Comments are closed.