Home > People, Science > The Inhumanity of Nature

The Inhumanity of Nature


The belief that nature (or some creator) is in any way concerned with human life is perhaps mankind’s greatest delusion.

Xenocrates

Before you read this post, have a gander at the video above. It is a picture of nature’s fury released open a people well known for their engineering prowess who did everything to prepare for something like this. It is proof that while mankind has the ability to harness our natural environment, we have to always remind ourselves that nature doesn’t give a damn.

We are not new to tsunamis. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that since December 26, 2004, we have a pretty good idea of how deadly tsunamis can be. In fact, I think it is quite fair to say that tsunamis are quite probably the single deadliest earth-born force of nature that mankind has ever faced. Why? Because tsunamis are made from stuff that covers 70% of our planet:

Water.

Think about it. Water is the key ingredient to life as we know it. We not only need it to exist, but we need it to be plentiful and stable. It is fair to say that if there wasn’t this much water on the planet that we would have evolved into far different types of animals and probably not as fast. So when water is displaced, it kills like an angry god. Compare the other elements:

Earth, Wind and Sky

Tornadoes kill like snipers. They strike with high precision and a relatively low body count. Even then, you can see and hear a tornado coming. You can hide from a tornado. You can outrun most tornadoes. Even if a tornado struck within 100 feet of your house, there’s still a 50% chance your house will survive while it vanishes like a ghost into the turbulent sky.

Hurricanes kill like shotguns. They’re basically massive tornadoes with the same amount of energy dispersed over a much wider area. Like tornadoes, you can buckle down for, outrun, or avoid them altogether. In fact, we can see hurricanes coming from miles away. The ogre of a storm relies primarily on wind to do damage and so its bite is much weaker than a twister’s.

Volcanoes kill like an angry mob. The deadliest issue with volcanoes is the viscosity of the pyroclastic lava flows. The lower the viscosity, the less likely they can be escaped. You can’t out swim a white hot river of lava. Even in a fire resistant suit, the heat will convert you to free atoms in a short time. If there is a caldera blast however, all bets are off. Either way, volcanoes give lots of advanced warning as violent earthquakes before they actually pop.

In most cases, earthquakes don’t kill people. Poorly constructed buildings do. The survival of Tokyo’s many skyscrapers is a testament to this fact. The decimation of Port-Au-Prince Haiti, Concepción Chile, Kobe Japan and Mexico City, are all proof that mankind’s failure to engineer is also a failure to survive. Of course, if the earth should split open or sink, all bets are off.

While you can easily escape wind born disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes) and avoid death from earth born disasters (proper engineering in the right location is everything), you cannot escape the raw untamed power of the ocean should it become disturbed by a force powerful enough to displace enough of it to travel inland, ultimately threatening our land dominance:

Tsunami roars inland in northern Japan

We’re only spawned because of water. It’s the final by product of our thinning atmosphere. We only emerged because the water receded. Every drop of water on earth was once in the sky. Keeping that balance is the only reason why we yet live. Upsetting that delicate balance (irrespective of where it displaces the water) is the greatest threat to our very existence.

Between the earth, the moon and some wayward asteroid, water is simultaneously our greatest friend and our most treacherous enemy. If we had evolved as amphibious animals, we wouldn’t have faced such a ubiquitous threat. But neither the earth beneath our feet nor the water that rides above it are unanimously conspired to sustain the miracle of our survival.

That brings us to a very painful and obvious conclusion:

Nature isn’t human

If we were to examine the entire continuity of human civilization and supplant that on top of the continuity of the entire universe, we will quickly see that we human beings are not the final purpose of the universe’s existence, but rather (perhaps even unintentional) by products of a much larger process of universal cause and effect — an offshoot of hydrogen and oxygen.

The entire length of the existence of modern humans is an estimated 350,000 years. Human civilization is a paltry 10,000+ years. Modern societies are less than 1,000 years old. Contrast that with the estimated age of the earth: 6 billion years while the entire visible universe is calculated to be 13 billion years old. By contrast, humanity is a very recent blip on the scale.

So why do we think we’re so important? I suspect it’s because we haven’t discovered any other lifeforms in the universe quite like ourselves. So we often have the misplaced notion that we are more significant than the vast quantities of oxygen and hydrogen molecules in the universe that have brought us into being. So what happens when nature rails against us?

When she first saw the power of the water utterly laying waste to northern Japan, my girlfriend gasped in disbelief. My jaw was on the floor. The Asian tsunami really opened our eyes to how deadly water can be. However, what we saw happening on television was being captured in a country where camcorders are common. So it was a lot like watching a movie:

We saw videos of people driving along a highway and suddenly being set upon by a massive wall of black water. Judging by the height of the bridges the almost demonic flow of water moved under, the wall of water must have been some 30 feet high. It was moving faster than most automobiles could drive. It doesn’t obey traffic signals or the direction of the city’s roads.

So the water went where it pleased, consuming farmland, wooden homes, factories, power plants, multistory structures, cars, trucks, minivans, boats, yachts, ships, supermarkets, water towers, men, women and children, swallowing them up in the heartless, dark, blackness of its debris choked swells like an avenging demon out of hell. Not even when Godzilla attacked Tokyo, did it have such wanton and indiscriminate ferocity. It’s as if nature didn’t give a damn.

I now have a new found respect for water.

I am annoyed by hurricanes — but I don’t fear them. I am frightened of tornadoes — but I am also fascinated by them. Volcanoes neither frighten nor fascinate me — probably because I’ve never experienced one and they are relatively rare on land. Earthquakes terrify me, but they can be fun in small doses. However, of all the natural disasters, tsunamis scare me the most.

The trouble with tsunamis is that technically, there’s nothing that mankind can do to mitigate against them when they get really bad. The problem lies in the fact that there is so much water out there, that you don’t need a strategically placed earthquake to cause a really bad one. There are enough big rocks in space that could make a splash in the Pacific to kill us all.

The Subduction Death Trap

Cross Section of the Mariana Trench

The Mariana trench is the result of a subduction fault. A subduction fault is a meeting point of two tectonic plates, where one plate is pushed down under another by undersea volcanic activity pushing the plate forward. The plate being pushed down is called a subducted plate. This subduction creates a fault line between the plates, bending the top plate downwards.

This bending of the top plate puts a lot of pressure on it. It will bend until it reaches its elastic limit. When that limit is reached, it will suddenly jerk upwards to its original position. This is what creates the powerful and ultimately deadly earthquakes around the Pacific rim. Japan exists because of land mass pushed upwards out of the sea by a very deep subduction fault.

This is why places like Japan, Chile and California have such incredibly powerful earthquakes. The trouble is that in Japan’s particular case, the entire island archipelago is essentially a death trap. When a subducted fault flips upward, it displaces a vast amount of water in its wake. When all that water finally reaches the surface, it then has to find somewhere to go:

The sheer depth of the trench means that the gargantuan volume of water filling that area would now be displaced laterally across the face of the planet. There is simply not enough land mass above water on this planet that could safely choke the rapid flow of such a vast volume of water being displaced all at once, and that is why northern Japan was decimated.

Now imagine if the earthquake is triggered not by the release of pressure in the deep ocean valley of a subduction fault through normal tectonic activity, but by the deep impact of a white hot meteor rock that survived atmospheric entry. It will be thousands of degrees Celsius from the initial atmospheric burn up and would tear up the sky traveling at the speed of sound.

If a meteor survived our atmospheric burn up such that it was just as large as a school bus and it plunged into the Mariana trench, the sheer force of the impact would ionize such vast volumes of water, that the rapid, explosive conversion of water molecules to free floating oxygen and hydrogen atoms would blow up a tsunami wave several miles high, displacing it from the point of impact at nearly 1,000 miles / hour across the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

That’s faster than most passenger jets can fly.

It would be like dropping a Semi truck rigged with 30 tons of TNT at the speed of a bullet into a swimming pool roughly as deep as the Eiffel Tower is high inside a house no bigger than a football field and then detonating it as it neared the bottom. A vast amount of that boiling super hot water would fire up into the sky, blasted into space like an epic hot water geyser.

The tsunami wave would effectively erase Japan, Hawaii, Micronesia, Oceania, the Philippines and other Pacific isles from the map, crush Shanghai China, and flatten the entire western seaboard of continental North America. The wave would travel as far inland as Ohio, flooding as far as Texas, submerging northern Mexico, drowning much of Central America in its wake.

There would be aftershocks for years.

The subduction fault would rupture so badly, that it would cause a global earthquake at roughly 7.0 on the Richter scale in the least felt areas, and a hot water explosion that would vaporize the atmosphere at the point of entry. The earthquake would be so violent that every subduction fault in the world would rupture at once, triggering a global tsunami wave crisis.

Every land mass on the planet that is below 10 ft above sea level would have been instantly drenched and depopulated. With the exception of those climbing Mount Everest at that exact point, as well as those airborne in passenger jets that were not torn out of the sky by the massive shock wave from the deep impact, Mankind would have been wiped out in less than a thousandth of the time it took a rock the size of New York to finally topple the Dinosaurs.

Yeah. There’s that much water on earth.

No single natural phenomenon could wipe out life on the entire planet faster. In fact, the deep impact that killed the dinosaurs didn’t kill them directly. While it permanently changed the earth’s atmosphere, it was a relatively shallow impact that created the deep sea bed of the Gulf of Mexico. The dinosaurs died out after decades of starvation from the climate change that started off a chain reaction that destroyed the food chain when most of the plants died.

But don’t be frightened. Such an occurrence is statistically improbable. The odds are extremely slim of a rock surviving atmospheric entry such that it would be the size of a school bus. That happens on average about once every 100,000 years. Meteors enter our atmosphere all the time. However, 99% of the time, they don’t have the size needed to be a cataclysmic threat.

Furthermore, there is a targeting issue. Because the Earth is spinning (thus creating day and night) and wobbling (creating the seasons) on its axis, the Mariana trench is a moving target. That significantly reduces the odds of a massive white hot rock igniting all of the water in that trench at once and spreading it all over the surface of the Pacific rim in a single deadly swoop.

Now that the tension from the plate activity near Japan has been released, it’s time for the activity on the other side to feel a similar release. The tension seems to be building, as Chile experiences powerful subduction related quakes in excess of magnitude 6 on a regular basis. One can only speculate as to why there is now this new flurry of activity on the Pacific plate. Those living near the San Andreas fault in California should beware. This isn’t quite over yet.

Japan

Destruction in Sendai

As a human being, my heart aches for the Japanese people. Their country sits at the edge of the single most violent tectonic plate activity in the world. It is called the “Ring of Fire” and with good reason. The entire Pacific plate is growing constantly, being fueled by under water volcanoes. It pushes to the west creating the Japanese archipelago and to the east into the North American plate. There are extremely tense subduction faults on both sides of the plate.

Japan sits on the edge of one. California sits on the other.

As of this writing, over 24,000 people have been confirmed dead from the tsunami. I suspect that number is likely to rise. These people weren’t killed by an earthquake. Their deaths came so fast, so suddenly and under such monstrous ferocity, that it makes one heart ache for the people. It’s just so incredibly hard to imagine that many people’s number being called at once.

Death in Japan

The photos of the destruction are mind boggling. Entire towns have been flattened. In Sandai, entire family lineages were completely erased from the genetic record as over half of that town’s population were drowned. Hundreds of people were drowned in their cars — machines inextricably bound to the path of roads; something a demonic wall of water is not.

How do you rationalize such death and destruction? How do you come to terms with the religious necessity of such things? Some people are tempted to say that the Japanese deserved this — that God is punishing them for the atrocities committed in World War II. The flaw with such argument is obvious. Japan is far from being alone in the atrocity market.

What about the Germans? Their war atrocities trumped the Japanese!

The Nazi war crime tribunal was nowhere near as effective (or efficient) as mother nature. So that kind of argument is utter rubbish to say the least. Therefore the best answer is that this occurrence was inevitable. Japan just happened to be situated in the worst place on earth. Japan is at the edge of a major subduction fault. It was only a matter of time before the earth gave way and the water was thrown upwards and side ways, ultimately reclaiming the land.

In fact, this is not the first time this has occurred in Japan. It’s just the first time since we became intelligent enough to start keeping a record of such activity on earth. The very same subduction fault had ruptured in the past, specifically in the 19th century. A similar tsunami occurred. The death toll was not as large as that part of the country was less populated.

That means in another 200 years, this will happen again. Hopefully the Japanese will have the good sense to abandon that section of the country. There is no good reason why it should be rebuilt. It is simply too dangerous. I’m sure some civil engineers will write in and tell me that I’m wrong. So before you do that, remember that the Pacific ocean has quite a lot of water.

Conclusively


My heart goes out to the Japanese people. I am a huge fan of their language and culture. I have many friends living there — mostly concentrated in Tokyo and surrounding areas. They just got the worst shaking of their life. So it breaks my heart to see such a massive portion of this progressive people literally wiped off the face of the planet, with many thousands of them now rotting at the bottom of the Pacific. The sheer scale of the disaster is just mind boggling.

I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the sheer ferocity of this spinning death trap we call home. I only recently learned that life evolved on this planet because we are situated in just the right spot on the edge of one of the outer bands in the Milky Way galaxy where there is very little cosmic activity. Any closer to the galactic center, and we would have been pummeled to death or torn apart by black holes more massive than our entire Solar System.

It just goes to show that the belief that nature (or some creator) is in any way concerned with human life is perhaps mankind’s greatest delusion. After thousands of years of evolution, we’re still trying to come to grips with the utter insignificance of our lives. We are little more than ants trying to build a hill on top of a cold spot floating around on liquid fire, entrusting our lives to the grossly narcissistic over valuation of our defiantly intrepid survival ingenuity.

Our ass is grass. We are nothing and no one. When Atlas shrugs, we topple back into the ground from whence we came. Those who survive will rectify the incompetencies of their fore fathers, until another, more powerful force of nature comes along to make us finally realize that such rectification is utterly meaningless as it can’t account for what nature is capable of. Nature is mankind’s population control and there is absolutely nothing we can do about that.


E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com

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  1. April 16, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Alamanach:

    There’s this idea out there that the existence of alien life would have some kind of devastating theological implications. I first came across that idea in the movie Contact. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now. If you can explain to me why the existence of aliens would change anything, I’d sure appreciate it.

    The discovery of an intelligent alien race in the universe would adversely affect the credibility of established religion in a very much similar way to how the proposition of Evolution undermined Creationism. The effects of the discovery would most likely be as follows:

    1. It undoes the idea of a creating God who appears to be primarily preoccupied with the lives of humans.

    2. If the alien race prove to be very advanced terraformers, it would mean that God is really an alien being with very advanced technology and thus our worship of such a creature a relatively primitive act. It would be akin to how the Cargo Cults of the Pacific worship Western Civilization.

    3. If this is an advanced civilization that has been here before, then it would mean that all Biblical descriptions of Angels and Demons would be nothing more than close encounters of the third and fourth kind.

    4. Even if the race isn’t an advanced one, the mere fact that they exist would show up how narrow minded the description of the creation allegory in Genesis really is. It would prove once and for all that the Bible is unreliable as a source of answers for ultimate cosmological questions.

    5. If an alien civilization discovered our planet, the odds that they would be friendly are fairly low. What would follow next is likely to be the equivalent of colonization — similar to when Europeans discovered the New World. We all know how that turned out for the Arawaks and the Native American Indians. This would have a profound effect on those who believe in Bible prophecy, when the world doesn’t end in the way the Bible said it would.

    6. Even if they turned out to be friendly, the mere fact that they are advanced enough to build a vessel that can cross such vast expanses of space would mean that they would probably be amused at our primitive beliefs in unseen things. The knowledge they would share with us would slowly strip away at our need to believe in an ultimate impossibility when their science shows us how to do the same “impossible” things without bending the laws of physics.

    7. Even if this race of aliens were interested in diplomacy and not empire building, what we learn from them would rapidly accelerate the current religious attrition, transforming it into a sort of cultural efficacy (like bowing before the Queen of England or kissing the ring of the Pope), and less of a hard and fast belief meant to signify anything.

    8. Most importantly, just as how my exposure to China challenged my world views and shed my cultural narcissistic preoccupation with the infallibility of western philosophy, our exposure to an advanced, intelligent race of beings would shed our cultural, narcissistic, earth bound preoccupations with a human centric universe as dictated by religion.

    The only people who would still be religious are the ones who don’t understand the historic events playing out before them when mankind makes first contact. They would probably still try to get the aliens baptized in the name of Jesus or pledge allegiance to Allah.

    Alamanach:

    If you don’t like the idea that the universe is perfectly tuned for human life, then I have very bad news for you…

    That’s not my argument at all. My argument is that the universe is perfectly tuned for many things. Human life is just one of them – and perhaps, judging by the sheer magnitude of the universe, not necessarily the single most important thing in it.

    Xen

  2. April 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    The size and complexity of the universe is one that despite our technological advancements, we have still yet to fully appreciate. To attribute it as “barely enough” is still an inherently narcissistic argument that asserts that the size/complexity ratio of the universe is perfectly necessary for us, when it is highly improbable that similarly intelligent lifeforms couldn’t also exist, just too far away for our limited technology to detect.

    If there are, what of it? I mean, I guess we’ll have to share all those galaxies with those guys, but depending on how common intelligent life actually is (please don’t cite the Drake Equation; it’s a wild guess), maybe there are still plenty of galaxies to go around. There’s this idea out there that the existence of alien life would have some kind of devastating theological implications. I first came across that idea in the movie Contact. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now. If you can explain to me why the existence of aliens would change anything, I’d sure appreciate it.

    If you don’t like the idea that the universe is perfectly tuned for human life, then I have very bad news for you. You can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_Universe. There’s a lot of contoversy surrounding this, but the controversy centers on why the universe is this way, not the fact that it is. Sorry.

    I see now what you are trying to say about narcissistic thinking. Actually, I’ve tried to point out your own ‘narcissism’ to you many times in the past, on other topics. It is a difficult problem and an easy trap to fall into. But it is not absolutely inescapable. You said yourself these were ideas you have been raised with since birth. Well, other people haven’t. Take China, for example. People live there. You hated the place, and yet other human beings are perfectly comfortable there. How do they do it? Well for one thing, they think differently than you do. They have wildly different conceptions of what the world is, and of man’s proper place in it. Afghanistan is different too. Afghans don’t think in terms of objective truth, experiment, and logic. Subconsciously, they think reality is dictated by human authorities: http://alamanach.com/2010/04/05/the-civilization-molecule/. That’s a really hard idea for an outsider (especially a Westerner) to get his head around, just as it would be really difficult for you to learn to think and live like a Chinese person. But it can be done, and in doing so, a person begins to wake up to just how different the world can be. Once that process begins, a person begins to see all the boundaries of what he’s been taught from birth, and begins to look past them. Postmodernists notwithstanding, it is in fact possible to step outside one’s cultural conditioning.

    That brings us to Zen.

  3. April 13, 2011 at 2:59 am

    Master Al,

    What I really hoped you would have called me out on, is how naive my vision of a world for people would be. But I realize why you didn’t do that, as it would contravene the point you’re trying to make.

    It doesn’t matter what would be in my vision of the world as opposed to what wouldn’t be. The point is that it would be my vision and as such, it would be one that I would find suitable. The fact of the matter is, just like the God theory, just like heaven, my vision, as is every human’s vision of a world for people to live in is fundamentally flawed by one thing:

    We are the ones conceiving of it.

    Because we are the ones thinking about it, we are automatically precluded to thinking inside a cosmic box where we are the center of the universe. Every explanation I’ve seen so far is inherently narcissistic. It irrationally favours humanity via cognitive dissonance. It’s not very different from how we used to think that the solar system revolved around the earth.

    The universe is far too massive and far too complex to be all about us. On the 13 billion year time scale, we’ve only been here 350,000 years. Are you telling me that it took 13 billion years to make something like us? Don’t you see how ridiculously egocentric that makes us as humans?

    If that’s the case, then wouldn’t the discovery of another intelligent race far superior to our own in the universe automatically destroy our God theory?

    Your thoughts.
    Xen

    • April 14, 2011 at 2:41 am

      “The universe is far too massive and far too complex to be all about us. On the 13 billion year time scale, we’ve only been here 350,000 years. Are you telling me that it took 13 billion years to make something like us? Don’t you see how ridiculously egocentric that makes us as humans?”

      I see where you are coming from, and I think there’s an argument to be made there. Note, though, that we’re now discussing a different argument. This has become “nature doesn’t care about humans because the universe is too big and too old for us to be of any consequence,” which is different from “nature doesn’t care about humans because the world has tsunamis in it.” I don’t think that latter argument is a very good one, for the reasons I’ve already discussed. This new argument is better.

      Let me start with the universe’s size. As the scale changes, the relevant physical forces change, so when discussing size, it is important to be mindful of scale. On the scale of say, a supercluster of galaxies, gravity dominates, and the other physical forces are basically irrelevant. On the scale of a solar system, gravity still dominates, but light and heat transmitted by electromagnetic radiation are also significant. At the scale of a human being, electromagnetic forces are virtually everything; the gravitational pull between two human bodies is insignificant, but one of them can use muscle power to pound the other silly. Gravity hasn’t disappeared, since a planet’s gravitational field can be very significant, but electromagnetic forces rule the day. As we get down to the size of macromolecules, the force of gravity no longer has sufficient space over which to operate in a significant way, but EM forces are still strong, and the nuclear weak force starts to become important. Go atomic and then sub atomic, and we are dealing with the strong and weak nuclear forces almost exclusively.

      So, it is more useful to talk about scale than absolute size. This means we want to look at the universe in terms of order of magnitude, rather than absolute size. Logarithmic scales are useful for this kind of thing. On a normal scale, each step size is equal; a ruler measures one inch, then two inches, then three inches, and so on. On a logarithmic scale, each step size is an order of magnitude larger than the last (powers of ten work nicely); one unit, then ten units, then a hundred, then a thousand, and so on. Here’s an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fKBhvDjuy0&playnext=1&list=PLB199F1CB3CF62E06. As it turns out, humans are about at the middle position on that scale. Logarithmically speaking, our bodies are about halfway between the smallest possible size (the Planck Length), and the largest possible size (the diameter of the observable universe).

      You claim that the universe need not be so big if it is only about us. If we are in the middle, then you could just as well argue that the universe need not go so small. No need to have created as fine a level of detail as the Planck Length if the universe is designed specifically around humans.

      You could argue that, and you’d be wrong. There are lots and lots (more than I could ever hope to list) of physiological mechanisms that operate at the atomic level. The mitochondria in your cells, from which most of your body’s energy comes, depends on the force exerted by a single Hydrogen ion. But what’s a Hydrogen ion? It’s just a lone proton. It is no exaggeration to say that the human body is a nanodevice; its life processes depend on events at the smallest of atomic scales.

      A proton is still quite a bit larger than the Planck Length. Are there other physiological processes that are even smaller? Roger Penrose thinks so. He has postulated that human consciousness may depend on subatomic, quantum interactions inside the dimers that make up the microtubules that form the endocytic skeleton of neurons. He has sketched out a scheme whereby consciousness would be a result of events happening at the absolute smallest of possible scales. It’s just a theory and it hasn’t been proven, but human life does depend on things that come surprisingly close to being as small as a thing can be. We need a universe that can be this small.

      That’s fine for small, but do we need a universe that is so big? Well, how big do we need? We needs planet to live on, the planet that we have needs a sun to orbit, and if there are going to be stars in the sky, then there needs to be a galaxy. The Milky Way, it seems, should be large enough for any human purpose. Except actually it isn’t; we can see to the edge of the Milky Way, and we can see beyond it. We can see that there are trillions of galaxies out there. What would we have seen if the universe had been limited to the Milky Way? Background radiation? It’s hard enough to explain how the Big Bang would create a universe with trillions of galaxies, for it to create a universe with exactly one galaxy is even more bewildering. The idea that the Milky Way would have been sufficient for human purposes is not tenable, because the boundary effects of a one-galaxy universe are physically implausible. And the physically implausible, as the believer and the atheist are both painfully aware, is simply not God’s style.

      I’d also like to point out that this outsized universe might not be so beyond man’s grasp as we think. We only know how big the universe is because of relatively recent technological advances. That advance still continues. Suppose we were to invent antigravity machines. Have you ever noticed that if we could control gravity, then the relativistic limits on speed would no longer apply? And have you noticed that an anti-gravity machine could be configured to provide propulsion? Any space-worthy vehicle (the Space Shuttle, for example), if fitted with an anti-gravity device, would be able to go anywhere in the universe, as quickly as you pleased. And if we could go anywhere in the universe as quickly as we pleased, we could give one galaxy to every man, woman, and child alive today, with galaxies to spare. People today who own big houses think they are rich. Actually, they would have an entire galaxy to themselves if our technology were just a little more advanced. Six billion to a planet is an indescribable level of poverty.

      As for 13 billion years to make something like us, 13 billion years is only just barely enough time. Humans are made from somewhat heavy elements like carbon, phosphorous, and oxygen, and those did not appear before the first generation of stars formed, lived, and died. It was in the explosions of those first stars that these elements were formed. Then the second generation of stars had to get started and, the first planets to form. Only after all that work was completed could the development of humans even begin.

      My personal view is that these physical factors are not what’s really important. Justice is just as significant at the small scale as it is at the large, when seen from the perspective of the individual actor. I can be an illiterate peasant confined to a small rural village on a planet that I believe to be flat, or I can be a molecular physiologist piloting a starship to the other side of the universe. Either life has ample opportunities to choose between right and wrong, and how I handle those choices has a big effect on that limited portion of the universe that is of the most importance to me. Whether we humans are the pinnacle of creation or not, it is activity on this moral plane that counts, not the physical medium of the material universe through which moral interplay is given expression. As Ghandi said, in the end it is moral worth that will count, all else is dross. Or, to quote Yoda, “Size matters not.”

      “…another intelligent race far superior to our own…”

      Superior in what way? And if your ideas about an ideal world are inherently narcissistic, then won’t your judgment of superiority suffer the same weakness?

      • April 14, 2011 at 11:23 am

        Master Al,

        Excellent rebuttal. I have a few comments:

        Alamanach:

        …nature doesn’t care about humans because the world has tsunamis in it.

        That’s not quite what the original argument is. Tsunamis are obviously not the only concern here. The tsunami tragedy in Japan is only thematic to the point of the post. Rather, it’s the fact that we can be instantly eradicated by the universe we live in and have absolutely nothing to show for it, which is why we are so unimportant.

        Alamanach:

        You claim that the universe need not be so big if it is only about us.

        I didn’t make such a claim. Rather I addressed the fact that we think we are at the center of the universe when we are most certainly not.

        Alamanach:

        As for 13 billion years to make something like us, 13 billion years is only just barely enough time.

        The size and complexity of the universe is one that despite our technological advancements, we have still yet to fully appreciate. To attribute it as “barely enough” is still an inherently narcissistic argument that asserts that the size/complexity ratio of the universe is perfectly necessary for us, when it is highly improbable that similarly intelligent lifeforms couldn’t also exist, just too far away for our limited technology to detect.

        Who’s to say that on some blog, trillions of light years away on another life bearing planet, there aren’t other intelligent lifeforms having this same discussion because their technology is similarly limited in detecting life?

        Heck, who’s to say that parallel universes don’t exist? The mathematics appear to show that parallel universes are absolutely necessary for the laws of physics in this universe to work. That’s part of the reason why the LHC was built.

        Alamanach:

        Six billion to a planet is an indescribable level of poverty.

        That was an epic aphorism. I tweeted it and credited you with it. There are so many levels of win tied up in that one sentence that it gave me a “wow” smile. 🙂

        Alamanach:

        And the physically implausible, as the believer and the atheist are both painfully aware, is simply not God’s style.

        Some believers don’t share that opinion. In fact, some (including atheists) would argue that it is absolutely necessary that God be that complex. But I digress.

        Alamanach:

        Superior in what way? And if your ideas about an ideal world are inherently narcissistic, then won’t your judgment of superiority suffer the same weakness?

        Superior in terms of intellectual, social and technological development — and yes, my judgement (by virtue of being mine) also suffers from the same weakness. That is precisely the point that I’ve been making all along.

        The mere fact that I can’t think of a realm of perfection outside of ideas that I’ve been raised to believe in is tantamount to the basic premise of the failure of all religious justification to satisfactorily identify a purpose for our role in the universe that isn’t inherently narcissistic.

        We can’t think of anything more perfect that isn’t human centric, because that’s precisely all that we know. Therefore, it is only perfectly rational to expect that every idea we can come up with, is one that is intrinsically defined by human narcissism.

        As you’ve used a Star Wars reference, let me see if I can use a similar pop-culture reference to make this clearer.

        Have you seen James Camerons’ Avatar?

        In the context of the film, the N’avi people are a superior race to humans, despite their primitive appearance. They are superior because they have evolved to become one with their natural world on an unprecedented level. We have yet to do that. We have only built bigger guns and more powerful weapons. In the end, their natural world whipped the butts of the human antagonists.

        So like Yoda says “Size matters not” – but not for reasons you might think.

        You can see human narcissism at work in how we describe what we believe God should look and behave like and what he supposedly wants us to do and think.

        You can see it in Star Trek and Star Wars, were all of the alien species have humanoid bodies and for some inexplicable reason, (with a few notable exceptions in Star Trek and Star Wars) all speak perfect English.

        Human narcissism clouds our ability to see what the universe is really for, because we can’t imagine a universe without us in it. We see ourselves as an inextricable functional necessity, as if the Earth were destroyed tomorrow morning that the universe would somehow collapse around it.

        It probably wouldn’t — just as how it didn’t when the life forms that probably once thrived on Mars long ago when Earth was still a gas planet, came to the end of their cycle when Mars shifted out of the green zone of orbit around the Sun.

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