At the bottom of the ocean there are volcanic steam vents, like chimneys hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet tall. No sunlight reaches this far down. The water temperature hovers around freezing, and the pressure is enormous.
You would think that there couldn’t be any life down here because you need certain things for life to exist. All life comes from the sun. Right?
Yet there is life down here. In 1977, scientists on a deep sea mission discovered that prolific, thriving bacteria exist on the edges of these vents, which are the basis of a life system of amazing complexity. All the right ingredients are here: heat, motion, minerals, water. It’s like a viewfinder into earth’s early days, and it’s happening right now — the primordial soup still boiling and creating life.
Many scientists believe this could be where all life on earth began, beginning with the simplest virus to amoeba that are little more than fluids contained by a membrane.
The fossil record depicts the long and winding trudge from the murky depths to the creatures that first slithered out onto the beach, up the trees and inevitably into the sleek Gucci loafers you see strutting along the Champs D’Elysee.
There isn’t a word that does justice to this astounding journey from soup to sentience. Suffice it to say that the trip was unlikely, and believable only because of the evidence you see all around you, with your own eyes. (Frankly, I would have bet on crocodiles as the tree branch that yielded thinking creatures. But I’m no scientist.)
But, humans won the evolutionary lottery, and now we’re running the show, and ruining the show as well. What has taken 750 million years to perfect, yielding creatures that are capable of anything they can imagine, could at any moment be reduced to cinders, or, if we stay true to our current trajectory, perhaps we’ll reduce the planet to a toxic, desert wasteland surrounded by dead seas, where the only life that exists is inside those same volcanic vents I mentioned earlier.
As an untrained lover of science, I’ve always assumed that sentience came from somewhere else, somehow landed on earth, and evolved into what we are today. For me, this idea was an easy leap from the Biblical version of magical creation by an omnipotent God. I have always been sort of comfortable with the idea that nothing as complex and miraculous as Human Beings could have developed from a series of random selections in an evolutionary stream. I’ve just assumed that there had to be some sort of secret sauce in our make-up, be it from the hand of God or a sprinkle of DNA dust from planet far, far away.
But, what if it IS all just us? What if everything we are today came from slight variations in temperature and chemicals on the rim of volcanic vents at the bottom of the sea?
As you ponder that, let’s change our point of view to one where Earth appears to be about the size of a basketball held at arm’s length. From this point of view, during the day, you could hardly tell that mankind even exists on the planet. You’d see blue seas, green and brown land masses, and white ice caps. With the lights off, of course, you’d see the bright spots of New York, Tokyo, Los Angles, and other large cities. But, by and large, it would not look as though man had made much of an impact on the planet.
However, if you got close, your impression would begin to change. Perhaps you’d notice all the junk floating around in orbit around the planet. Or the accumulation of carbon dioxide that was clogging up the atmosphere. With the right instrumentation, it wouldn’t take long to understand the devastation that was going on in the atmosphere, in the oceans, the forests and the tundra. You could easily see that something terrible is going on down here on this beautiful blue and green orb. Something is mucking up the planet. With a little digging, it wouldn’t take long to come to the conclusion that it was mankind fucking things up! The smartest beings on the planet were systematically destroying their only home.
Until further notice, I have to assume that mankind is the most advanced form of life in the universe. In fact, the inhabitants of Earth could actually be the ONLY sentient beings in the universe. Maybe the evolution of consciousness that happened here is the only time it’s ever happened. It’s a one in a gazillion chance that it happened here, so there is a reasonably good chance that we’re it. All alone, in a big endless expanse of…well we don’t even know what.
Judging from the mess we’re making of Earth, I find this rather disturbing. Perhaps we’re not that smart after all.
I have questions. My answers may not be the right answers. These may not even be the right questions. But, I’m the writer here, so here goes.
- Is sentience the inevitable end product of evolution?
The emergence of mankind only happened on Earth in the last 20 or 30 thousand years of a 750-million-year series of events. Was this a fluke? Or was it an inevitable occurrence once the brain power of higher mammals reached a certain threshold? Perhaps the leap from the ability to move around, procreate and perceive things to being aware of yourself as a thing that perceives was just as inevitable as the change from a chemical soup to membrane enveloping some chemicals; or change into an organism with some cilia that undulated and enabled it to move around and grab other chemicals that made it grow. Any evolutionary change seems completely ridiculous and impossible when you think about it. But, they all happened. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be here.
- Is the end result of sentience the total annihilation of itself?
Imagine life on Earth today if no sentient beings had ever developed. There would still be life abundant, with verdant forests and seas teeming with life. The atmosphere would be clean. There would be no pollution, no poisoned seas, no war. All the hydrocarbons would still be in the ground. It would be just plants and animals going about their lives, and never having any meaningful effect on the planet. The only reason our lives and our future are threatened on Earth is because of our sentience. Civilization creates waste and pillages the earth. It sucks the remains of dinosaurs and vegetable matter from the ground, burns it and spews the resulting carbon into the atmosphere as we create machines and buildings and vehicles that require it. We’ve even discovered radioactive elements, out of which our huge imaginations have fashioned powers that, even as we developed them, we knew had the potential to destroy us one and all. But we did it anyway.
- Can sentient beings avoid destroying themselves?
Life cycles have a beginning and an end. Then the cycle starts over. Perhaps destroying ourselves is inevitable, and we are destined to blow ourselves up, and start all over at the bottom of the ocean. This seems to be the trajectory that we are on right now. Even though some of us are becoming aware of our pending doom, and beginning to sound the alarm, these alarms are not being heeded by those who have risen to the top of the dominance hierarchy. We are not changing our ways fast enough to avoid ruin. Wars are still being waged, we continue to degrade the atmosphere and devastate our resources. Solutions exist, and we could still save ourselves from doom. But it is very likely that we will not.
Ever since Earth has been divided between governments that are either totalitarian or democratic, wars have been started by totalitarians and ended, at great cost, by democracies that coalesce to defeat them. Since feudal times, wars have pitted slaves against free men, have been funded by stolen money against earned money, and have been justified by an elaborate web of lies told the lower classes to convince them to kill for their rulers.
Is it any wonder, then, that eventually, the totalitarians, always lose? Soldiers that are forced to fight lack the will to fight, and they can never match a motivated military that is fighting for an ideal, which is freedom from tyranny. These simple facts are so obvious to free men that we often fail to understand how ridiculous they seem to tyrants. The tyrant believes in his own lies and has only a tenuous grasp of reality. Tyrants believe that the only way to control a populace is by deprivation and force, by keeping their vassals uninformed and desperate. This is why the only way to subdue a tyrantis through overwhelming force.
Likewise, free market economies have always won against those controlled by a ruling class. Capitalism attracts money while communism repels it. Communism only persists today because it has learned to mimic capitalism with the appearance of freedom with tech toys and discotheques, where a select ruling class shares in the wealth stolen from the working class in a controlled kleptocracy.
It takes a great mass of capital to wage a war, and even more to win. A war will last only as long as the perpetrator’s money holds out, then it will end. Thus, the best way to end a war is to destroy the antagonists’ economy. No money, no bombs. Unfortunately, this can take a long time, depending on how much capital the warmongers have stored up, and any weaknesses in the resolve of the coalition that wants to end the war.
The true reason for all wars is control, whether it’s control of people, property, resources or markets. Only the totalitarians see war as a logical method to establish control. Democracies see war for what it is: failure.
To interact in the world’s free market, totalitarians must adhere to the realities of the free market so they can use their banks and money. However, the totalitarians are only “pretending” to participate in free markets, while, behind the scenes, they always attempt to cheat the market by manipulating their currencies, exchange rates, and contracts. However, much of their assets must be held in foreign countries and banks. In the end, this is their vulnerability, as these assets can be frozen when a tyrant begins to show his stripes.
Tragically, no matter how it’s done, war requires massive amounts of blood and treasure. All of this sacrifice could usually be avoided with the death of ONE person (in the current conflict, V. Putin.) Yet, Democratic leaders blanch at the idea of assassination as a viable weapon of war, finding it more palatable to kill a thousand or a hundred thousand if need be to defeat the one man who is the source of all the horror.
In any event, assassination is murder. Murder is criminal, and legitimate countries that rule by law should not engage in criminal activities.
Aside from someone in Putin’s inner circle murdering him, or some kind of sudden death such as a cerebral aneurism, (we can only hope,) we’re stuck with Putin, and this war will only be brought to an end by traditional means. Some of the possibilities are:
- Russia’s economy collapses, causing internal chaos that is so great Russia can no longer continue the fight. In the best case, Putin loses control of the country, and is ousted from power. This is the only outcome that is acceptable to Ukraine and the coalition.
- Ukraine collapses and surrenders, agreeing to be “annexed” to Russia. This is the only outcome that is acceptable to Russia.
- There’s a stalemate. To end the fighting, Ukraine gives up some territory to Russia. This kicks the can down the road. The war will resume in a few years.
- Russia escalates the war by attacking NATO, and, after a protracted world conflict, is finally subdued. Putin’s government is dismantled, and the country is partitioned, sort of like what happened to Germany after WWII.
- Russia launches a nuclear attack, which brings about the thing we fear the most, a nuclear holocaust. Game over, planet Earth.
It’s back to the volcanic vents. Maybe next time, things will work out.
The solution to this war — in fact all wars and conflicts in the future — is simple.
Life is a game – a very serious game, where the winners live, and the losers die. We’re playing the wrong game. The real game, which we are playing (and losing) whether we realize it or not, is Earth against the Universe. We are all on TEAM EARTH. No team has any chance of winning if they are playing games among themselves. Look at any other team and you can see this. A family is a team. If you are playing games with your spouse by lying to each other, will the marriage survive? In a company, if you are undercutting other employees, or if management and labor are competing, does the company thrive? On a basketball team, if you’re more concerned with your own scores, and never let anybody else shoot, how many games will the team win?
On Earth, as long as we continue to play the game of one country or religion or form of government against another, the human race will not survive. We’ll just continue to destroy the planet, and ourselves.