Innocent Earthlings

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

Despite what we think are giant leaps forward in technological innovation, the people of the Earth remain clueless about their existence, and all the leading theories that attempt to sum up our place and relevance in the cosmos are just that – theories.

Take the Zoo Hypothesis, for example, which I find intriguing, and peculiarly entertaining, not to mention slightly disturbing. It says Earth and its creatures, notably humans, are an alien experiment, being observed from unthinkably afar to see how our world and us develop. Should we develop our technology to an acceptable level for these surveying aliens – somewhere near or on a par with theirs – they might deign to make an appearance to us. Or for us to stop fighting and achieve peace among ourselves, which appears hardly likely to ever occur, as humans are aggressive by nature, each ethnic or national groups protecting themselves against colonization by others. Fervent religious indoctrination, as well as business-fueled political motives (see: the most recent US-led invasion of Iraq) means wars and suicide bombings will endure.

But in the meantime, the hypothesis goes, the clandestine aliens don’t want to interfere, lest they spoil the project in progress. Hence, the hypothesis’ name: as though these creatures or entities were zookeepers, and not wanting to upset us by stepping into the cage.

Whacky or not, it’s as relevant as it’s irrelevant, because with all such postulations, currently it’s impossible to prove – or debunk. But do you care enough to think about it? Most people, caught up in daily life, and strife, couldn’t care less. I brought it up on a drive to Benoa the other day with a close friend, and asked for her thoughts. “I think it’s possible aliens might visit us some day,” she said, as nonchalantly as though a distant aunt might one day drop by for a cup of tea.

Another proposition is the Filter Theory, which cogitates that individual humans are not alive long enough to experience or discern anything. Our lifespan is indeed fleeting. Still another is the Fermi Paradox, which the Zoo Hypothesis, among others, was drawn up in response to and says that given the age of the universe (13.7 billion years) and its sheer size, there should theoretically be other intelligent civilizations out there, other than on Earth, but we have been unable to discern – hear signals, see spacecraft buzzing about – any such existences.

There’s a theory to match every mood. But it’s difficult for critical thinkers to rest their thoughts on some creative deity in the heavens who is looking after us (or not) and waiting for us to expire to give a report card on our lives. As the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow, is ludicrous. But if by ‘God’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.” Albert Einstein had a similar view, and there’s a lot of sense in it. Too many people rely on the comforts of the fairytales they have been peddled by religions that appear more intent on bolstering their coffers than saving souls.

I’m interested in the concept of human intelligence and why we have it, and find one theory upsetting: that it’s a sort of byproduct of overzealous evolution and therefore it’s moot to question our existence and search for answers. Other creatures that inhabit this planet have been around for far longer than us, and they don’t have any determinable notion of an intellect. So what’s their purpose? To provide stability in the natural world, one feeding off the other to not only control populations but allow creatures that benefit humans, such as bees and their pollination of crops, to exist. Ergo, what’s humans’ purpose? To propagate and evolve to a stage that we begin to understand better, or at least get a sense of, what it’s all about.

Small children are fixated – at least my two are – by the origins and end of life, and why is that? Who is God? Where was I before I was born? What happens when you die? – they keep asking, and are desperate to know, and for some, this is a thread that runs throughout their lives.

Bali is a special place in the world. Not only its immense physical beauty but also its aura provides a setting in which to ponder the great questions of life. There’s no satisfaction right now, but perhaps some day there will be. Never stop probing. It’s part of what intelligence is for.

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