14 September 2015

100,000 years (2): Are we Geocentrics after all?

My second problem with the naive journalism-end of Science writing concerns the preoccupation of some people with 'intelligent' or 'advanced' life elsewhere in the universe.

Are we an 'advanced' species? If you could be snatched up and then deposited into the environment of an earthworm, or a squid, or a gannet, how would you get on? You would be dead within minutes. Because you are not adapted to their environments. From the standpoint of those species, which are superbly adapted to their own environments, you are the very opposite of 'intelligent' or 'advanced'. These terms are, in fact, simply patronising and speciesist ways of saying how similar or dissimilar other species are to our own. They have no objective connotations.

Could we communicate with 'intelligent' and 'advanced' alien species? Heavens above, we cannot even communicate (except in one or two cases at a crude Pavlovian Dog level) with other species on our own planet. Living species on other and different planets are likely to be even more 'other' than the millions of species on our own planet with whom we cannot even begin to communicate.

But if we invoke the logic of a vast (but, we are told, not infinite) Cosmos having an inconceivably vast number of possibilities, and if we also grant argumenti gratia  the existence of species whom we would categorise as 'intelligent' and 'advanced', how could we possibly relate to them? The distances concerned would be the least of our problems. Remember that in the history of our species the capacity for electronic communication is very recent. We would need there to be an 'alien' species which had reached just such an identical and tiny window of capacity at just such a moment that, given the light-years involved in inter-stellar intercourse, their attempts to communicate with us reached us during our own little window of capacity. It all seems to this poor befuddled Classicist a bit like playing darts blindfolded and without the tiniest assurance that we are even facing in the general direction of the darts board or that there is a darts board. Oh ... and I should have made this obvious point: it might not follow that because a species possessed such a capacity, it would have the same inquisitive desire to be in touch with us that we (or some of us ... at this particular instant in our intellectual history) have to be in touch with them. And if there are species out there longing to be in touch with us, they are almost certain, having evolved differently in a different planet, to be using forms of technology which are inconceivable to us.

The idea that the Earth is the physical centre of the Universe, 'Geocentrism', is regarded with derision. It may even be cheerfully termed 'Medieval'. But it seems to me that the preoccupations I have been touching upon imply de facto an assumption of a universe which is measured and judged by our planet and, even more narrowly, by our own species and, yet more narrowly even than that, by our own species at one particular tiny moment (this one!) within its development. Tellus is once again at the centre of everything! ... and we (!!) are (Doxa hemin!!!) the apex of Tellus!!!!

In other words, we have the 'old' Geocentrism, but even more narrowly focused. It has a smart new up-to-the-minute coat of paint, but remains happily intact in all its essential conceptual features.

Neo-Medieval. Delightfully Dark Age. 


Joshua said...

Yet Angels - indisputably intelligent non-human creatures - can communicate with men...

Ben Whitworth said...

How true. And I am sure you know the story of the two aliens studying the human race.
"Oh look, they've developed nuclear weapons!"
"Does that mean they are getting quite advanced?"
"Not exactly; they've got them pointed at themselves."

GOR said...

The modern preoccupation with ‘space travel’ and searching for ‘alien life’ seems rather atheistic – or, possibly, polytheistic - to me. The pursuit of knowledge is ingrained in us poor weak humans. It can be a good thing, as the world enjoys the fruits of research, new discoveries in medicine, technology, etc.

But I also have a sense of the “Tree of Life” in the Garden of Eden or the Tower of Babel in later biblical times. While some people seek to explain the origin of life in anything and everything but – horrors! - Divine Intervention (Evolution, the ‘Big Bang’ and so on…), much of it seems designed to ‘demonstrate’ that either God doesn’t exist or that there may be more than one deity, yet to be discovered. Is it a conspiracy?

With so much of our world still not understood, these efforts – like the Advert for a certain brand of Scotch – “…all seem a bit unnecessary.”

But, perhaps I’m just a Luddite.

Jacobi said...

We are certainly Geocentric. Other creatures, maybe somewhat similar, may exist in this physical world, who knows, but we are Geocentric.

As for Science. I still get my two journal, won't say which. They are full of speculation and little science. Just a lot of well paid "scientists" trying to keep their grants and handsome salaries going.

This world and time, whatever time is, does not exist in the Real World, the one we must all look to.