The Really Big Questions

I believe that as human intelligence advances, it is natural for us to begin to embrace larger circles in our concerns. Me, my family, my village, my town, my city, my state, and my world is a progression that expresses this idea. Most of us are still focused at the family level and most of us are still driven unconsciously by our biological imperatives which means that our deepest motivations concern the preservation and propagation of our own genetic seeds.

But, self consciousness and introspection can advance humans along this progression more quickly. Indeed, when the communist theorists suggested that “from each according to his ability and to each according to his need“, they were promoting a state composed of people who held the good of everyone in the state as their highest good. But, as history has shown, it was an idea too far ahead of its time to have had any real chance of success.

The average man thinks ahead to Friday to his paycheck and not much farther. The more intelligent man arranges his behavior and connections at work to secure his advancement within the local structure. An even more intelligent man, goes to university so that when he steps into the world of work, he’s already stepped in at a higher level. Some folks never save a dime and others begin their retirement accounts in their twenties. Some folks promote local issues and local politicians whereas others embrace national or global issues. We can see this differentiation of action as a function of intelligence all around us.

When one talks about the “well being and happiness of others”, I sense that they’ve embraced the good of all of us as a species as being the most appropriate field of action. And I applaud that choice.

I tend to think this way as well. But, I’m wary of the “can’t see the forest for the trees” problem we humans are always so blindsided by. So, I make it a conscious and intentional part of my approach to always try to take the highest POV and to free myself of any biases I may have. When I first read about Xenobiology/Exobiology, I found it very interesting because it was an attempt to see biological forms like us from outside of our local prejudices and assumptions. Some Sci-Fi novels like “FootFall” have been quite helpful in thinking about this as have studies on Dolphins like some of the stuff John C. Lilly did.

So, to turn back to the Earth and our local problems here – one of the things I wonder about is why we haven’t heard from other life forms in this galaxy? (think Drake Equation). And I wonder/suspect that it may be because biological evolution usually follows a similar course regardless of where it arises. Chemical self-replication, as it matures and complexifies, engenders a deep urge or biological imperative to survive, to propagate and to protect its progeny until they themselves can propagate. And the purpose of this ‘urge’,of course, is to continue and optimize self-replication. In a survival sense, the ones who would have tended to survive, would have been the very ones in which the urge was most prominent and thus it was conserved and enshrined at the very core of our beings in all of our biological forms here on Earth (and elsewhere where ever life has evolved, I suspect).

Here on Earth, this urge has driven an arms race of biological evolution from the very beginning of biological time with each form trying to out compete each other for resources. As an enabling motivation, the biological imperatives worked well though most of biological time. Until one species stumbled into a series of new adaptations that led to generalize intelligence, the ability to embrace higher abstractions and to possess self-awareness. And then everything changed. The relative balance of power that had tenuously existed among all the evolving forms over time, was suddenly upset by one species with one adaptation which could transcend them all with the ring of intelligence. And this species, brushing off the feeble attempts of the other species to compete, quickly began to expand and fill all the niches and all of the land and to consume the majority of the planet’s resources. Why? Because, in spite of its higher intelligence, Man was and is still driven blindly and unconsciously by the same biological imperatives that have always driven biological forms on this planet – it simply didn’t know when to stop.

So back to Xenobiology/Exobiology and the Drake Equation. Might this sequence be followed widely in the universe where ever life evolves? Personally, I think it probable. This makes the sort of thing that Brownlee and Ward were talking about in their book, “Rare Earth“, more poignant still. Because, if higher forms of life evolve only rarely and then,after evolving, it has an inborn tendency to destroy itself, then it makes avoiding these mistake ever so much more pressing for us.

So, now to return to the things most compassion people consider important today. Darfur, Timor, Zimbabwe…? I think not, my friends. They are good motivations but there are much bigger issues on the table here. I’m persuaded that history will probably follow an arc somewhat like the one described recently by James Lovelock who thinks that a very large die off of human beings and a major disruption of the biosphere is coming soon. Against a backdrop like that, Darfur and the other places (in spite of the horrific suffering happening there), will seem as irrelevant in the not too distant future as was the porter who was obsessed with arranging the deck furniture on the Titanic that fateful evening.

So, to me, the deepest issue to understand is what drives us to do what we’re doing to this world. And, once we think we understand that, what can we do with that understanding to alter the course we are on? These questions cut beneath all else.  And as such, I believe, they are the logical extension of what I was talking about when I began this when I mentioned the progression of “Me, my family, my village, my town, my city, my state, and my world“.

I think that the highest good for all of us is best served by asking the deepest question we can conceive of.   And the one I’ve just posed will trump all of the rest of them, if we can’t solve it.

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