meaning of life

Spaced Out

People have stared up at the sky and wondered for millennia about our place in the universe. We seem to be torn as a species between wanting to claim some exclusive specialness of being the only ‘intelligent’ life and hoping we are not alone. Of course we’ve made up plenty of stories to reassure ourselves of what makes us special along with enough rules to spend our short lives living in fear of getting it wrong.

With telescopes moving from simple lenses in the 17th century to the monster of Hale in the early 20th century, onto Hubble and soon the James Webb, our eyes have opened to the possibility of other planets existing beyond our solar system. It was always only a matter of time (and space) that science and maths would collide in an epic mind job. The numbers are staggering, the Drake equation is starting to look a bit like the homunculus theory of reproduction. Regardless of the formula the probabilities range in the billions of earth like planets in our solar system. Now of course that doesn’t necessarily mean with advanced life (I’d caution using humans as a yardstick). But someone else has done some number crunching that goes something like this:

  • For every star in our galaxy there is another galaxy in the universe. For every grain of sand on earth there are 10 000 stars
  • If 5% of those are like our sun – that is 500 billion, billion suns like ours
  • At least 1% of all stars in universe have earth like planet = 100 billion billion earth like planets
  • So, there are 100 earth like planets for every grain of sand
  • If we assume only 1% have intelligent life – (advanced civilisation), 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the universe
  • Scaled down for our galaxy that becomes one billion earth like planets and 100 000 advanced intelligent civilizations – just in our galaxy.

 

Humans are a sad contradiction – afraid to die, and too afraid to truly live. Life is the rule in the universe not the exception. Science has eaten humble pie before although it tends to be laced with amnesia (on a brain that apparently isn’t quite as gendered as first thought).

I kind of imagine with 100 000 advanced civilisations we are well past little-green-men.

Shelf Life

Book cases are snapshots of who we are have been or wish to become. Mine is a curious mix ranging from childhood favourites, various interests and fields of study. They aren’t particularly well organised, like the messiness of life and the multiplicities, intersections we live. I have one exception, my complete collection of Frank Herberts Dune. Each copy dog eared as I have worked my way through it at least a couple of times. There are numerous gaps however, books that have been borrowed and stayed borrowed or given away as gifts to those who need them more than I do. I’ve been thinking about some of those books I hoped would return but haven’t and whether or not to seek new copies. But there are two in particular that I miss.

First there is Stranger In A Strange Land. I’ve read a lot of science fiction and I know when it was first released in the early 1960’s it was provocative and much like 1984 by George Orwell (although less widely known) the questions it raises about what it actually means to be human are no less relevant today. I love the word ‘grok’ and it is a bit like saying ‘take the red pill’ as a way to strike a chord of recognition and connection with others. The second is Skallagrigg by William Horwood. Perhaps one of the few books that had me from page one and kept me on an emotional roller coaster, cleaver and intense. I’m surprised so few people know about it. It’s a bit like the Tardis of books – infinitely more expansive than the title or plot summary describe. Once you open it you are in for an amazing journey.

These two books fill more than two slots. It is something about what they provoke and stir and I suppose it is the thrill of the creative force they contain that spills through my memories or at least my recollection of how I felt reading them. Even in their absence they maintain a strong presence. Both seek out something beyond the threshold of the familiar, unravelling and splintering linearity and the comfortable containers we prefer to give shape to meaning and materiality.

When we are deeply affected, touched, moved and inspired there is a simultaneous collapsing and expanding of spacetimematter, it is sublime. To share a book is to share life, passion and indeed love.

Hard to swallow

I often wonder if I met someone from another world or a parallel universe what I would find difficult explaining to them. It’s a nice yardstick for checking myself in relation to life. Competitive eating would rank pretty highly on my list. It might just be the weird head space I’m in currently but after a good night sleep I doubt my feelings will change much. I can only watch for a couple of seconds before I truly just want to scream ‘slow down you’re eating too fast’. Not only is the speed at which these ‘athletes’ eat outrageous the kind of food that is downed isn’t exactly nutritious. It might have a history of some kind heck most weird things can be traced to something if you find the right social anthropologist to share a pie with (or 40), but does that make it worthy of becoming a sport? Maybe the word eating needs to be dropped because it isn’t really consuming food for the purpose of fueling the body. Even the word ‘food’ could be dropped given most of the contents of a hot dog are not grown in any way shape or form.

What would I say if I had to explain it? Maybe I could just shrug my shoulders and say it is simply part of the strange and bizarre relationships human beings have with their bodies and the rituals we have invented to make our lives meaningful. Then I might politely guide my visitor to a local bar for their next lesson. I really need some sleep – now a competitive sleeper might be something I’d sign up for right now.

There’s some food for thought…just give it some time to digest.

Book Ends

I go through book binges. This summer I managed to get through The Luminaries…on which one does not ‘binge’ rather pick away carefully and take time between courses, but I am already losing the plot. I also read two books in successive weekends that were…well…illuminating.

Waitangi weekend, celebrating the signing of a historical document destined to both unite and divide our identity as a nation, I read Russell Brand’s book Revolution. If someone asked me to describe it I would say it’s a – rant – rehab coach – militant – radical peace – best and worst of conspiracy – consciousness – political commentary – autobiography. Or, a bit like a Billy T James skit colliding with bikram yoga.

The follow weekend was Valentines day, celebrating the cultural signs of commercial coupledom destined to both unite and divide our identity, I read A Short History of Stupid, equally digestible with beer and chips, but a bit of a shift from Russell. It was like listening to philosophy grad students talking at the pub after a shandy showing of their ability to both think and drink and solve the worlds problems.

Both managed to capture an individual and global perspective, albeit with differing emphasis. Much like the concept of yin and yang, complementing interconnected forces with aspects running through each other. It was also an excellent example of polarity and diversity. From simple to complex, personal to global, theory and experience all giving rise to intersections of ideas that evoke some challenges to status quo commentaries. I think the authors of both would liven up a dinner party conversation with some charades or twister, but maybe not trivial pursuit. The common use of humour was strong, particularly the ability to locate the ‘self’ as both an individual and in relation to systemic political, historical, geographical….(you probably get the idea) structures. Occasionally both overly self indulgent but read back to back the interlocking of patterns and meaning was intriguing. In the days in between I read How To Train Your Dragon where a sense of irony curled itself into the ouroboros of meaning. The ongoing reproduction, recycling and reinvention of stories past, present and future are all lived now.

Where do the dragons fit? They are mythical to some and real to others with varying degrees of evidence and belief adding weight to the truth. But in the book they are mischievous and generally difficult to bring under human control. Think I might have some dragon in me, well, I do like to breathe fire from time to time…lots of heat and plenty of light…illuminating.

Just mind the kerosene burps after – hydrocarbons not so palatable.

Becoming the meaning of life

The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy is classic science fiction comedy. One of my favourite parts is when the answer to the ultimate question is finally answered by a super computer (masquerading as a planet) with the number 42, the twist that most people forget is that this answer didn’t make sense because the beings who asked it didin’t actually understand what they were asking, love the irony. But It has since become part of pop culture, whenever someone is angsting about the meaning of life, someone inevitable smirks and sardonically says ‘well don’t you know? Its 42’. I celebrate my 42nd birthday tomorrow and I wonder if I will wake up with an epiphany. I’m not s super computer but I won’t let that stop me giving it a crack. Problem is there are so many choices of meaning!

So I am drawn back to the idea of where we get meaning from. Who is the loudest when proclaiming to know the answer? How do we become aware of the edges of this meaning? What meanings have been recycled, re-mastered, concealed, reviled, rendered invisible? Why is our meaning any more important than the meaning for other species on the planet? If it is not about my own life but the life of all humanity would that shift the meaning? Why do we continue to use extremes of fear to define TMOL? If humanity was one entity/consciousness – how old would we be and as such are we really ‘old enough’ to understand the question?

Well, let’s just hope I wake up tomorrow with an answer other than 42 because that really is just a number and I don’t know what it means anyway. And besides, I’ve never been fond of acting my age.