Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Why Search For Intelligent Life In The Universe? We Could Use Some
The old Jewish joke is more relevant today than ever. The more we observe about the state of the world, the more we long for dispassionate, disinterested, objective reason. Surely when God gave Man the ability to reason he never expected him to abandon it so quickly; so perhaps we are judging too quickly.
Aquinas and Augustine were not only theologians but logicians; and felt that rationality was the foundation for belief. Unless one pondered the imponderable – the debate about the nature of Christ, his relationship to the Father, and the role of the Holy Spirit continued for over two hundred years – a rational man would fall into idle worship. One had to come to logical conclusions about divinity before fully committing to Christ. The road to salvation begins with logic and ends with faith, these philosophers of the Early Church concluded.
In other words logic is important, necessary, and God-given but it is not a be-all and end-all. It is a means to an end, but not the end itself. The logical curve will always be asymptotic in matters of meaning.
The philosophers of the Enlightenment were rationalists to a man; but rationality was to be used for furthering an understanding the mysteries of God. Logic alone had no purpose. Logic in the pursuit of faith most certainly did.
With the advent of religious fundamentalism this logical paradigm has gotten upended. Faith without reason comes first and foremost. There is no reason to waste time on logical analysis of the geological record when the Bible is explicitly clear about creation. There is no reason to debate secular law vs religious law when the Quran is abundantly clear that the only law is God’s law.
On a far more mundane level, most of us use logic to a point then abandon it when it is convenient. We marry the wrong people at the wrong time, draw conclusions based on idealism rather than objective analysis, see what we want to see at the scene of a crime, and ignore facts entirely when they threaten self-image.
Aeschylus understood the nature of destiny; and wrote of the tragic heroism of men who tried to defy it. Shakespeare’s Histories are chronicles of the same, perpetual and repetitious events propelled by an unchanging human nature. Shakespeare’s heroes, like those of the Greeks, understood as well as anyone – given the importance of family, court, legacy, and heritage – how history repeats itself to such a degree that both logic and free will are fictions. Yet they did the most outrageous and illogical things to further their own ends.
Nietzsche understood that life was meaningless; and that the only validation of humanity was the absolute expression of indomitable will. Logic and reason had no place within his cosmology. Only Will.
Tolstoy’s theory of history debunked The Great Man Theory, and concluded that the Battle of Borodino had been lost not because of any illogical or ill-advised military stratagems, but because the Emperor had a cold and wasn’t thinking clearly.
In other words, there is really no reason at all to be upset by the seeming craziness of the world. Logic may be unif0rm in application, but results always depend on first principles. Vladimir Putin calculated correctly (logic) when he invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, the first steps to what he hopes will be a restoration of Russian Imperialism. The West’s logic – such unprovoked assaults on territorial sovereignty always lead to sorry ends, geopolitical chaos, and social and economic instability – holds no water in Moscow.
The West knows absolutely and unequivocally that theocracies always lead to the deprivation of civil and human rights, the rise of dictatorships and religious exploitation (logic); but ISIS and its supporters know that such theocracies are the only way to reshape society in the form which God originally intended.
For ghetto youths it is not illogical to perpetuate a street culture which defies white majority logic thus blocking a path to social prosperity; but creating an alternative moral universe makes sense if you feel that there is no hope for a black man in a white world.
Donald Trump and his passionate followers are not crazy but angry, frustrated, and resentful – so much so, in fact, that they deliberately and purposefully discard the supposed logic which has gotten them no where. So what if Trump has no reasoned opinions, no position papers, no well-delineated policy agendas. Such items are unnecessary accouterments in an environment of resentment.
We all have distorted images of ourselves and of others. Rarely does one’s self-image correspond to what others see. If we were logical, we would analyze our images in the mirror according to cultural norms of beauty – symmetrical face, regular features, full lips, bright smile, etc. – but to be able to walk out the door in the morning, we have to abandon all logic and objectivity.
The same goes for our views of others – most often wrong when it comes to personality and character. No matter how we would all be better off if we used logic to assess ourselves and others, to base judgments of rational analysis, and to come to conclusions only after thorough research and consideration, we cannot.
Which is why if indeed there is intelligent life in the universe, visitors from a superior and more highly-advanced civilization would look at the world as one big circus tent. Hundreds of millions of people running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying most earnestly to act civilly, logically, and morally; but always doing otherwise.
Humanity is a side show of outrageous, vain attempts to be civilized when we were created first and foremost to reproduce. God had a sense of humor – or at least a brilliant sense of irony – when he added intelligence to the human equation. Lord knows that we have more than enough brain power to retain our supremacy over the rest of the animal kingdom; so it is quite natural that we use the excess restlessly. We can never be satisfied with just eating, sleeping, and reproducing; and thus create drama, melodrama, and vaudeville.
It is always surprising to see how we are so intent on finding intelligent life in the universe, especially since our search is necessarily organized around principles of human behavior. If there is indeed other life in the universe, given its infinitude, it will not resemble human life at all. Notions of God aside, we are what we are because of accident. It is perhaps the greatest human vanity to assume that all life emerged and developed the way it did on Earth.
If anything we hope that these super-aliens will be smarter than we are so that they can solve all our problems. To be more logical, Dr. Spock-like in other words, more dispassionate, and less crazy.
Who knows? But if we are searching for an alien race is more intelligent that we are, God help us.