THE DOMAIN OF HUMAN PURPOSIVENESS

The second episode of the second season of the TV series True Detective opens with one of its protagonists, played by the actor Vince Vaughn, lying in bed and staring at two stains on the ceiling whilst soliloquising in an existential monologue. In the course of the interior narrative, which could be considered a symbolic confession before the eyes of God, the character discloses the absolute vanity of his life.

He lives to make money and obtain land – but why? He cannot take that land with him when he dies, and he has no heirs to leave it to. And even if he had heirs, isn’t that a superficial answer as well?

What he is complaining about is a lack of existential muscle, his life is purposively flabby. After thinking through the dilemma, it is obvious that he needs to revaluate his reasons for living and remake himself.

Like most confessions, however, once made it seems to be forgotten, and when the character reappears some scenes later he is still obsessed with money. Revelations may come to us, but that does not mean they are going to change the way we act. The revelation itself cannot necessarily open the doors that it presents to us. Actually changing the way we act is far more difficult, and one needs to see not just what the existential problem is, but also the purposeful solution to that problem.

As individuals we naturally individualise our problems and, as we live in a civilisation that encourages individualisation, the logical thing would be to do so. Likewise, we live in societies that value and propagate desires for money and what money can buy, and so possessing an obsession with making money is also a logically comprehensive attitude to have in our world. However, when the lust for money becomes a psychological problem, as any addiction is, then that can hardly ever be expected to be overcome through a self-analysis of one’s personality and dreams. Individualising one’s analysis will almost certainly opt for pleasure over duty, even one’s personal duty.

To resolve this protagonist’s anxiety, therefore, the script writers would need to imbue him with another quality, they would have to give him the power to have faith. A character possessing faith would analyse this dilemma from the position of that belief, and morally and psychologically this is always an advantage when dealing with meaningfulness, as long as the faith that one possesses is also a meaningful thing and not a Quixotic fantasy. For faith to be functional at more than an individualistic level or in a sectarian way it needs to more universal in its ambitions, for all faith is a kind of ambition as well.

Faith in humanity gives a clear indication of what the existential problem in the case of this protagonist is: i.e., a disconnection from human purposiveness. In fact, it is this disconnection and the vanity of individual existence it causes that opens the door for us towards the species, toward the human, conscious, thinking entity that grows and progresses together within the all-encompassing home of the species itself.

The domain of human purposiveness, therefore, is in the human. As human beings, individuals will also find their purposiveness there. When individualisation cuts itself off from humanity, it carries itself to the edge of the precipice of nihilism. Once there, the individual can firstly enjoy the freedom of being able to invent whatever fantasy of purpose he or she may want to, or devour the fantasies that others throw at them, but the price to be paid for that freedom will be the loss of authentic purposiveness, which is human purposiveness: a purpose that offers fulfilment found in this world.  

The alienation felt by any individual and the anxieties that alienation causes usually has its roots in a lack of connection with our humanity. Even in religious faith this is a fact, for religions are only authentically purposeful when they focus on humanity as something positive, likewise becoming perilously perverted when their own creeds become forces that confuse and separate humanity rather than bring it together. It is a faith in humanity not God that is needed to tone our existential muscles, and give wings to our purposive-lusting souls.

AUTHENTIC PURPOSIVENESS: THE THING – THE WORD – BEING

For humanity to evolve in a positive and authentically human way we must be able to affirm a common purposiveness for all. In order to do that, we need to answer the big question: “Why are we here?”, with the emphasis on the WE.

This is a question that contains a heavy theological load, as it has historically been the role of religions to try and answer it, so in order to pull it away from religious associations we could firstly open up the subject ‘we’ to include all conscious and rational forms of life that could exist and so rephrase the ‘big’ question in a more scientifically sounding manner: “Why is their intelligent life in the Universe?”

Not that we expect science to be able to give a definite answer to this question, in fact we presume it can’t, but we do think if it is armed with philosophical, logical speculation, it could fashion a new, metaphysical scenario to build a positive narrative of purpose from. From contemporary cosmological speculation science points to a quantum-mechanics kind of metaphysics that approaches the evolution of the Universe as a wilful process, not necessarily planned as such, but moving towards a logical evolution that gravitates toward purposefulness.   

Before science will be able to definitely prove any reason for intelligence, however, philosophy is needed to open a path for that speculative investigation and pave the way forward and attack the big question from a slightly different angle – not of ‘why’ directly but primarily ‘how’ and then ‘what for’. So, firstly, How is the existence of rational beings in the Universe possible? And secondly, What could the purpose of intelligent life be in the Universe?

The answer to the first question rests in the idea of evolution and that has to be examined scientifically. The religious idea of a Creator that opened its mind and let in light and a paradise world came into being populated by all the animals and plants and human beings we know of today has no scientific basis. The evolution of the Universe from pure energy into complex material forms with consciousness capable of practising art and science and developing technologies capable of shaping the world to satisfy their own needs is the end-result of a painstakingly slow development from absolute simplicity to incredible complexity. We are beings that know we are here because of that gradual, cause and effect development into complexity. One could say we are a result of a seemingly perpetual process of incremental intricacy, and, as far as we know, the human brain is the most naturally complex material phenomenon in this Universe. An intricate organ that is constantly producing more and more complexity. Knowing this, we can now ask ‘why?’. What is this complexity we possess for? Why would such a process of creating such complexity exist in our Universe at all?

To answer this we need to think of what the most basic purpose of the Universe itself could be, the answer to which lies in what it is.

The Universe is everything, and by being everything it is the antithesis of nothing. In theological and philosophical terms, the Universe is Being, and that which is not in the Universe is non-Being. The pre-Socratic Parmenides argued that the totality of the Universe was something complete and perfect, an idea reflected in monotheistic concepts of God, but science tells us that this is not so. The Universe has evolved from very chaotic conditions and continues to evolve – Being is a developing, qualitative thing. The Being of a Universe simply made up of nothing more than cold space, hot balls of gas and spinning rocks, is not a very interesting thing to know about, especially as there is nothing in such a Universe to know about it. To be but not be known even by yourself, is the most pointless kind of existence. From this image of pointlessness, however, we can derive a concept of ultimate purposiveness and affirm that the ultimate goal of Being is for its existence to know and be known.

So, in order for this more purposeful form of an aware-Being to come about, then the Universe needs to create the possibility of that awareness. This must happen via the creation of the possibility of it being named. Let’s call this naming process The Word. The Thing, thereby, which is the original, pre-sapiens state of Being, must allow a naming to happen by creating circumstances that permit The Word to be brought into Being and by so doing allowing the Thing-itself to be known, interpreted through and preserved by The Word.

This is the purpose of Being, a purpose which is necessarily engendered by its lack. Without The Word the Universe (Being) is qualitatively deficient and is closer to non-Being than Being itself.  

Through The Word the Thing becomes the Universe as a Being imbued with qualities and purpose becomes rooted in the interaction between the Universe and the conscious, rational, evolving intelligences that cohabit, discover and define it.

In order to arrive where we are now, with someone thinking the Universe in words that are communicated to other organisms capable of understanding those words, the Universe has to have been imbued with the purpose of qualitative Being. A purposeful will which has been able to create conditions allowing sapiens organisms with brains that are complex enough to create language, to evolve in it, name it, and construct communicable explanations for it that will uncover the secrets of it and allow for the development of technologies that will develop the understanding of the Universe further, with the goal of achieving total comprehension with the Universe in the distant future. For this reason, using theological terms, humanity is sacred in the Universe.

It is within this continually evolving development that our authentic purposiveness lies, and authentic human fulfilment can only be genuinely found through the pursuit of this development unto a complete awareness of Being. If our consciousness and language make us sacred, we have a sacred duty to develop our common intelligence (the accumulation of all human intelligence) to the fullest. 

IF WE ARE ALONE …

X-FILES-i-want-to

We are either alone in the Universe, or we’re not alone. Until formal contact with an extra-terrestrial life-form is established we can only affirm that: Intelligent life exists beyond the planet Earth or it doesn’t.

Nevertheless, we can statistically try and calculate what the possibilities of life existing beyond Earth are, and yet … does it matter? Well, if a positive, progressive energy can be generated by the conclusion, then yes, it does matter.

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This week, the media have been latching on to a recently published article from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute that argues the case that statistically we are most probably alone in the Universe.[1]

The article in question, by Sandberg, Drexler and Ord, called “Dissolving the Fermi Paradox” adds very little to arguments already put forward by Ward and Brownlee in their Rare Earth Hypothesis formulated nearly twenty years ago. Despite this fact, the media have picked up on the FHI paper as if it were a totally new discovery, proving that we must be very much alone.

New or not, the Rare Earth Hypotheses argues that the astrophysical, geological, chemical and biological combinations needed to create the cocktail for the evolution of intelligent life is so complex and needs to be so precise that our own existence is a freak stroke of luck, and that the accident we are is so special and fluky that it is very doubtful that is has been repeated anywhere in our Universe.

Yet, should we now assume this hypothesis as definitive? And if we do accept it, can this ‘we are alone’ perspective be beneficial for humanity in any way?

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There is an X-Files episode (Redux, the first episode of season 5) in which the hero, Fox Mulder, is in a motel room watching a video of symposium featuring astrophysicist Carl Sagan amongst other, in which the question of the existence of life beyond Earth is being discussed. The actual symposium was held in 1975 and was joint sponsored by NASA and the Boston University.

In this conference, it was argued, in a proclamation by Richard Berendzen, that “the amount of stars in our galaxy alone is so staggeringly large, to the order of 1011 or more; the probability of stars having planetary systems is so high, perhaps half; the probability of those planetary systems might be comparable with our own and that the stars have some kind of ecosphere … suitable for life and it’s not too hot, not too cold … it begins to lead to the sorts of conclusions … that life must exist in the Universe and it must exist quite abundantly.”

Carl Sagan then affirmed that the most optimistic estimates about the number of civilisations there would be in the galaxy is in the order of a million.

Once it had been established unanimously that civilisations had to exist in the Universe, all of the speakers at the symposium expressed the view that contact with an advanced civilisation would have to be positive and enlightening for humanity. With the exception of the scientist and Nobel Prize Winner, George Wald. Wald began his speech with a positive affirmation of life in the Universe, like the others, but ended with a very sobering reflection. The tone of his voice suddenly drops into a melancholy register and he confesses that: “I can conceive of no nightmare as terrifying as establishing such communication with a so-called superior … advanced technology in outer space.” For Wald, such an encounter would be: “The degradation of the human enterprise.” He then went on to describe this enterprise: “One of the greatest of human enterprises is our understanding; something that men have sweated out to the greater dignity and worth of man, and to see the thought that we might attach us by some umbilical cord to some more advanced civilisation, science and technology in outer space, doesn’t thrill me, but just the opposite.”

What Wald is warning us of here, is that an encounter with a superior civilisation would rob ourselves of our purposiveness. And what is implicit in this argument is that humanity could have no meaningful place in any world populated by superior beings, because all our understanding would suddenly be rendered obsolete; and, as such, the human race would itself suddenly become obsolete.

What Wald is describing here, is our reason for being, which is encapsulated in our understanding.  

 

Reflecting on this point, and on our own civilisation at this point in time, we have to conclude that our own lives are very much alienated from this meaningfulness which is our understanding of things, and this displays the tremendous decadence of our system.

But what Wald’s observation also tells us is this: That if we are not alone, it is best to believe that we are alone.

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If we are alone it imbues humanity with a tremendous responsibility – the obligation to be sapiens; to understand; to develop the human enterprise toward the fulfilment of knowing; to enjoy the meaningful pursuit of becoming knowledgeable; and, through this understanding, participate in the very Being of the Universe.

The Universe can only really exist in a qualitative way, if there is a conscious entity within that Universe that understands that It does exist. The homo sapiens is the species that knows and reflects on that knowledge. Whether or not we are the only species that knows in this Universe, believing that we are fills us with a powerful, driving purposiveness.

Embedded in this purposiveness is a duty to prolong existence in time and increase the quality of that existence, through progress.

And, in order to do that, we have to overcome the deep, nihilistic decadence that infects our civilisation today.

But again, we run into another paradox, because the human enterprise of understanding necessitates the exploration of the possibility of discovering other intelligent life-forms, even though there is a possibility that we may encounter civilisations so superior to ours that our meaningfulness in the Universe will be totally diminished.

However, perhaps this paradox is false. When we do have the technological capabilities to encounter other civilisations the dilemma would no longer have relevance for we ourselves would be advanced enough to communicate on a partnership level with the other civilisation. Likewise, if Ufologists are right, and we are being visited by extra-terrestrial civilisations already, these civilisations are wise enough to disguise their presence from us, precisely in order not to destroy our purposiveness.

[1] SEE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/27/aliens-exist-survival-universe-jim-alkhalili

https://metro.co.uk/2018/06/25/probably-intelligent-life-universe-depressing-study-finds-7657344/