How can one explain the true meaning of life? Can we actually find the answer that connects ourselves, our planet, the universe and everything else together? How does a modern status of earth as Gaia help us understand the meaning of it all?
Man may not be the center of the universe. The sun and everything else may not be revolving around the earth. All these things we call lives could be very common place all over the universe. They could be an ordinary thing inhabiting an ordinary planet circling an ordinary star among billion others in an ordinary galaxy. And God may not have anything to do with this whole scheme of things. But there is one fact among all these ordinary characters which even die hard scientists or atheists cannot deny. The entirety of the universe's structure long before any signs of earth and the solar system appeared seems to cater to the need of these ordinary things we call animals and plants and of course humans that were to appear billion years later in the future. Looking into the structure of all living things on earth, from a single cell to even the brain of man, the bits and pieces that compose every one of us all derive from matters that are common place in this universe. The qualities of these matters have to be just right and they must behave in a particular way because there are thousands of requirements that are necessary for any living things to function the way they do. Missing any one factor or ingredient and lives on earth including humans would not have been possible.
Right from the start of the Big Bang explosion, the universe operates in such events and sequences as if its only goal is to pave way for stars and planets and subsequently all lives up to the intelligent men to appear. For example, the number of matters in existence has to be just right. Too many of them the universe will collapse under its own gravity; too few, stars and galaxies cannot form. Without stars, there will be no planets. Without planets, there will be no lives.
Water is the basic fundamental requirement for all lives to exist. To search for life elsewhere in outer space is to search for signs of water. Aside from its abundant supply, water happens to have this strange property of being able to float in solid form so that primitive lives can develop deep under the protection of the oceans. The special configuration of our solar system also has an impact in life's survival on earth. It is not that uncommon for planets to be hit by extra terrestrial bodies considering that there are trillion flying debris in outer space constantly being attracted by other celestial bodies' gravitational pull. During the billion year history of earth and its lives' development, there must have been numerous occasions when major catastrophes had happened as far as planet collision with other foreign bodies is concerned. Even today we are still in constant fear of being hit by an asteroid that has the potential to wipe out all things on the planet including the precious human race. Our solar system could have been a fierce battleground in the past. The asteroid belt surrounding the sun between Mars and Jupiter could be a collapsed planet, a victim of celestial bodily impacts. Luckily, earth happens to be one of the inner planets of the sun. With those outer oversize planets surrounding us acting as our bodyguard, the chance of being hit will be greatly minimized and life could then be nurtured on earth without fear of annihilation. Any uninvited incoming guest will be attracted by these outer planets using their immense gravity like a vacuum cleaner to divert them away from us. Uranus is one of these large planets with its axis tilted almost ninety degrees. Speculation has it that it was being hit by another planet size object and only a fair size body could do this much damage. But by hitting Uranus, our earth may have been spared such calamities which will surely destroy any form of lives the chance to continue on to develop till today.
Inside our body, each cell consists some heavy elements originated from collapsing stars that happened billion years ago. It is because of gravity that makes stars like our sun possible. It is also because of gravity that makes supernova, or collapsing stars possible. They are the short lived giant stars whose existence is absolutely necessary for creating the heavy elements that are in every cell of our body. Without supernovae, there will be no heavy elements and without heavy elements, there will be no lives today.
Many argue this is simply too much a co-incidence for lives on earth to rise out of the ashes through some freak accidents. The evidence seems to point in the direction that life did not rise from the ashes of an exploding star but the collapse of a supernova actually is in preparation for lives on earth to appear at a later time. Ask most scientists and they will provide a list of many other improbable co-incidences that were in the making for billion years long before earth came into being in order to make things favourable for us to appear. Does that mean this universe really has a brain to think ahead to guarantee the emergence of lives on earth and make sure that anything that is detrimental to live will not happen? If earth and its lives are supposed to be only a minute part of this universe, and life is supposed to be a chance affair, how can the universe be so thoughtful and sometimes downright intelligent to do so much to accommodate us? Is the anthropocentric principle correct and men are really the center of the universe, or is a divine designer really at work with his supernatural hand directing and controlling all these vital activities every step of the way so that present and future lives will proceed into the eternal future as smoothly as a charm without a hitch?
Again and again it is our wrong notion of life and this time the misconception of the role played by this universe that catches us off guard year after year. Those that are supposed to know and provide answers firmly believe that to understand anything is to break apart the physical universe and analyze its contents in bits and pieces. Therefore to understand the world around us, whether it is a living cell, or the vast universe with its billion galaxies out there, all that is necessary is to reduce everything into its basic components of atoms and molecules and only if we can grasp the meaning of these basic fundamental structures and devise some universal equations, we are one step closer to unravel the makeup of this universe and therefore any of its mysteries. While all things basically compose of trillions of these fundamental elements, what is important is to find out how they can come together to function as a whole in the form of an animal, a human, a planet or even more. The human body as the most intelligent form of life is nothing but a pile of organic materials that if broken down further into atoms and molecules are worth no more than a few dollars. But for the beauty of the special ability to combine these matters in all of us, these few dollars worth of matters can be built into something so priceless that it can construct a living Cosmos out of it. There is surely a difference between a breathing, walking and talking body like human and a handful of physical matters of the same amount that make him up. And there is surely a big difference between a living Cosmos and a physical universe that composes of matters and energies. Finding out the agent that stands between the two will provide some answers to many of the unsolved puzzles about our mysterious universe.
Put aside all the bolts and nuts in this universe, behind space and time, behind all the atoms and molecules, behind all the stars and galaxies, behind all those trillion living souls on earth and behind anything that is visible and comprehensible to the human brain, there exists a thing called Life, which is something that is intangible, invisible and cannot be touched or communicated with but everybody knows it is there. This Life is the beginning of all things. The beginning of Life is the beginning of the Universe. Contrary to popular belief, life did not come along for a ride because the physical universe exists. It is the existence of Life that makes the existence of this physical universe possible and in fact imminent. The Universe, the one that we believe as the ultimate existence, is merely something used by Life to reach a certain destination. Those bits and pieces of living and non living matters alike are only partial components of this grand living Cosmos, which in itself has a real life behind sustaining its function and therefore in the end, helping to keep all things on earth or out there in heaven with billions of its galaxies in good order.
There is only one life that ever exists and it is this Life, not atoms, not cells, not animals and definitely not humans that is the agent operating this Cosmos and making it living. It is this Life in everything from an atom to a human to the present earth to any future living galaxies that makes us all intelligent by using the forces endowed on us, whether they are gravity, or organic life or the present human mind. Men are intelligent, but so are animals and plants, and so are atoms and molecules because like everything else intelligence is the property of Life and not the exclusive property of the human species.
In the beginning, when there is nothing, Life uses its intelligence to build this Universe from scratch. At the time it is a free for all situations. Life simply uses whatever are the best resources available to organize itself. Whoever is the most versatile will have the advantage to win a place and be given full priorities to continue on as a model or backbone for future development. Everything including human civilization eventually will build around these models. If the materials in existence are too rigid, not expandable and of no use, then they will be pushed aside or disappear altogether from the scene. As time passes and more orders are built, certain patterns emerge and they will become laws. The longer they linger on the more they become a fixture and will get to a point it is virtually impossible to change the status quo. This effect is the same as habit forming in a human body, or any living system. Laws and orders are mere residues of life's behaviour which when given enough time will become permanent and form the standard for all to follow.
For example, our human body and all other earthly living bodies are all composed of cells and must follow the rules of the cellular world that are set down after billion years of development. Cells in turn are composed of atoms and molecules and therefore they must follow the laws of physics and chemistry or the laws of the atomic world. In the future, when more planets are colonized, they must also follow the rules that are currently being set out on earth. How these rules are made, what kind of a system to use are decisions to be made by the human species at the present time. It is a wide open game. Our imagination is the only limit. Why science fiction can become reality is because our ideas are constantly used to build the future, which is still an unknown. Any proposals that conform to all existing laws can become a reality because the only criteria required is to be compatible with anything that are already in existence. If not, either the new scheme will eventually collapse or it will get into a never ending tug of war with the existing ones. Occasionally the consequences could be catastrophic with a bad taste lingering on for ages for all concerned if matters cannot be resolved in a timely manner because given enough time, life has a tendency to build up complexities that resist changes.
Long before earth and its living things arrived the scene to participate in this cosmic drama, it was the atoms and molecules playing center stage in building and organizing the Universe. According to its character and ability, each element will be utilized to build sometimes on a trial and error basis until a good fit or a good arrangement can be found. If at the time gravity is the only available tool, Life will use gravity to continue the process. If the appearance of a carbon atom turns out to be an excellent structure because of its versatility, then Life will immediately make use of it. If water is readily available with an excellent property, it will also become Life's choice. If for whatever reasons these items are not around, Life simply looks for the next best thing available. By the same token, there could haven been something coming along that is a hundred times more brilliant than carbon or water, then they will certainly be chosen as the building block for things to come. Carbon and water in turn will play a lesser role in the construction of this Cosmos. Subsequently when these commodities are used to build up a variety of systems for billions of years, they will become a permanent fixture and an irreplaceable item for lives to survive.
To be alive does not mean life's structure must compose of certain ingredients in order for it to appear and if a particular item does not exist or is not available, life on earth is not possible. If there are heavy elements in our body that come from the explosion of a rare star, it is not because life requires these heavy elements and therefore if they do not exist, we don't. It simply means that because at the time heavy elements were available and by chance or by purpose Life found that it was to its advantage to utilize them, they were then incorporated into a living body and million years later we will find them in our system that we cannot survive without. Life could and did rise from ashes if these ashes turned out to be a useful commodity.
Using gravity to construct a universe may be sluggish, brainless and not as ingenious as the human mind, but as clumsy as it is and it may take billions of years, it finally gets the job done using simple atoms and molecules as its tools to move life's development to an organic stage. For another few billion years on earth, when man and his mind were nowhere in sight but with only animals and plants around, Life continued to organize itself using these living creatures as its means to advance. Bacteria and other early life forms face a so called poisonous environment. The available material at the time is mostly carbon dioxide and that is exactly what these simple life forms utilize by creating whatever mechanism necessary to make carbon dioxide as their food. When oxygen fills the earth and builds up another poisonous environment, lives again evolve and make use of all the tricks they can muster to develop a different structure to make oxygen as their energy input. When a cycle is formed and is repeated for billion years, oxygen becomes a vital ingredient for almost all lives to exist.
After billion years of relentless work, the power of the organic life has finally transformed a lifeless earth into a living planet that has the ability to maintain a delicate balance to provide all lives with the vital ingredients to survive. However when mother earth matures and it's time for her to reproduce, a new dilemma surfaces.
As powerful and resourceful as those animals are, they are in no shape to escape earth and travel to other planets to complete the job of reproducing mother earth. Even the most intelligent chimps can only stare at the moon and other heavenly bodies in envy. They and possibly many others like pigs and birds may be asking the question like we do today. They may have the ability to conquer the land and reach the high sky, but with the limited ability they possess, how are they supposed to reach the moon and beyond? From that perspective, the development of our Universe will just be confined to a little tiny planet. Life of this Universe looks pretty uninteresting because nobody is going to carry life forward to a higher stage. In fact the future of the Universe may even be in limbo once the solar system runs its course. While most contend to accept their fate and wait for their imminent extinction, our famous uncle refuses to take no for an answer and decides to move on to search further for the truth.
With the passage of time, by chance or by purpose, the human species miraculously appears and the moment of truth finally arrives in the form of a mind. This time with a higher form of intelligence the human species is now capable of building tools and machineries powerful enough to bring them out of this planet to the stars so that Life of this Universe can move another one step closer to its destiny.
Things suddenly turn very interesting again because of the appearance of this powerful mind.
Perhaps too powerful. In all its billion year history, the success of life and therefore the Universe depends on its ability to hang in the balance. Gravity must have the right amount of force. Should it go either way the Universe will surely collapse. Lives on earth must also walk a fine line to maintain a delicate balance. Whether it's the atomic world or the organic and animal world, our Universe has been performing this balancing act for the last seventeen billion years.
With our short human history, this human species with his potent mind wastes no time to utilize his new found power to explore and exploit his planet. Within a few thousand years, not even a blink of the eyes in evolutionary term, the potent mind has transformed the landscape of the earth so profoundly that even we ourselves could not believe the results.
In our wade, we leave behind a trail of destruction. Our raw brain power unwittingly pollutes the environment, destroys the natural world, killing hundreds and thousands of species thus endangering our own home planet. Many a time we almost destroy our own kind by using violence and wars to settle our indifferences, creating unnecessary famine and sufferings, social unrest and economic uncertainties.
After untold centuries of irresponsible acts, this chosen group finally comes to term with his sin. Many start to wonder if this intelligent mind is actually a blessing or a curse. They try to look for divine answers but there is none. Some try to look for wisdom from aliens but there is none. They realize it will be up to them and their fellow humans to put their act together and make corrective actions before it is too late.
The human mind is like gravity, too little action or too lazy and it cannot accomplish what it is supposed to accomplish. Too powerful or too strong and it will end up destroying everything else altogether before anyone has a chance to reach the heaven. In an almost critical moment in our human history, we are debating among ourselves if we should curb our appetite for the unrelenting growth before something disastrous is going to happen. Many believe if we are foolish enough to continue on our destructive path by being too overzealous with our potential, we will end up losing everything on this planet, including our own species.
With some hard lessons, this chosen group is beginning to understand an uncontrollable blind force however strong is hollow, short lived and meaningless in a Universe that is eternal. Maybe in the end he will finally realize the force inside us all must be just right, or must be used intelligently in a constructive manner in order to last into the distant future.
The balancing act of fine tuning this Universe is still going on strong.
Moving forward into the future, if we survive and move on, it will be our turn to play center stage and to be used by Life to advance its cause. At the present moment, the biggest job waiting ahead for this human species is to replicate this planetary cell by way of space exploration. Exactly how easy or how favourable it is for us to complete the task? So far many missions have been successfully completed but looking back, they are by no means a cake walk, or something tailor made for us. The slow and agonizing process is anything but a co-incidence. It takes all kinds of machines and manpower to make these missions possible. Even the common people know too well what travelling in space is like. It reeks with dangers and uncertainties. The task to land a man on Mars and eventually colonize it becomes an almost impossible dream considering the insurmountable obstacles needed to overcome. Miracles and co-incidences are nowhere in sight. If as is currently stated, the Universe is supposed to be life friendly, then favourable conditions should be all around offered by Life for us to reach the moon, Mars and beyond. But what await are mountains and mountains of problems and dilemma to sort out. Needless to say it is never easy, some even say impossible. The situation is by no means tailor made. About the only unconditional help available is the endowment of the human mind. The rest will be up to us to find a way to work things out.
The means for us humans to carry out the task is to study and look for the best available options to use. We use the ability of our physical body, our hands, our brain and the thinking mind to build technologies in the forms of computers, rockets and robots, utilizing all the known laws of motion and all the laws of nature available to tackle the job. For now the best available option is to build a space craft made of aluminum and other durable metal. If hydrogen is the best available fuel, that is what will be used. If not, there must be others. If there is nothing that can travel faster than light, or more efficient than hydrogen fuel, or stronger and lighter than aluminum, then we won't have it. But it does not mean space ship cannot be built and space exploration will not be possible. We will simply use the next most promising materials that are available to design a special machine to carry us forward. In the future, if nuclear fuel or solar energy can be implemented, or if something better comes along, they will certainly become the choice materials as long as it is not too late to switch. The strategy is and has always been to use the best available materials that are the cheapest and take the easiest route in the shortest time to get the job done.
Looking at the whole operation, there is nothing out of the extraordinary. It is all meticulous planning and hard work on our part to make our future and therefore the future of a living Cosmos possible. No outsiders, whether they are god or angel or extra-terrestrial aliens ever pave a way for us to reach the moon. It is not a co-incidence that metals and fuels are readily available so that rockets can be built. It is not a co-incidence that computers and other high tech equipments are around so that jobs that are otherwise impossible can now be performed, plus thousand other factors that look so favourable for space travels to become possible.
From an outsider's point of view, he may wonder how things can be so compromising for us, like the rockets or whatever machines that are so readily available. He may think that if metal did not exist, there would be no rockets available, and if not because of an abundance of hydrogen and oxygen, there would be no fuel to burn, and so on. He may conclude that if any of these conditions did not exist, humans would not be able to colonize planets and future lives' existence would not be possible. It is as if the rockets just happen to be there with all the right designs and conditions travelling just fast enough in our life time to reach the stars. It must be an insult to our intelligence that somebody will believe all these things just happen because they are offered to us by the Universe, by nature or even by god so we can simply sit tight and reap the benefits. Yet this is what we think of the atomic world or even the animal world for which we believe they proceed to the present stage through a series of co-incidences and chance mutations and nothing else. If that is the case, our future children in whatever form and shape will also think of themselves as the only intelligent type and look down on us as some dead mechanical inanimate robotic objects because in the distant future when life has developed to a far more advanced stage, the capacity of the intelligent human mind will surely look very primitive compared to what will be available then.
Our biggest mistake is to use ourselves and all things on earth as a starting point for life to begin and travel backward to study the rest of the Universe, only to wonder why the atomic world has so much foresight to organize themselves for our appearance. It is like someone who arbitrarily defines what a human is and only acknowledges an individual as human after he is born. By not knowing a human being actually begins his life in his mother's womb, he then forever wonders why a fetus looks so much like a human.
Many years ago when civilization was still at its infancy stage, people were not that educated and their knowledge of the world was very limited. Though they were conscious, intelligent and knew how to ask questions like why and how, they did not know much about themselves and the world around them. When observing nature, most did realize how unique our planet is. Unlike others, it gives us clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, a range of comfortable temperatures and a beautiful scene of the natural world to enjoy and wonder. The sun that provides the vital energy has to be just right. It cannot be too big or too small and must be at the right distance from earth so that it will radiate the right amount of heat for lives to live comfortably for millions of years. This delicate balance is so important, missing any one factor by a small margin and life is not possible on earth. For years people were wondering how and why.
Then comes religion and their authoritative figures who give us the answer by explaining to us who we are and what this whole thing is all about. They said simply that it is all the work of god, a supernatural being who single handedly created all these in a miraculous way just for us humans and maybe other lives to live. It is solely because of His divine interference with this planet that makes all these conditions possible. Their explanation turns sacred. Religions and their church become a holy institute and the belief of a supernatural almighty god creating a miracle planet is held on dearly for centuries unchallenged because they claim, how else can anybody explain such an improbable phenomenon under the influence of randomness that dominates the Universe.
Many years later a new breed of thinkers come along using different ideas to gain a new insight. When more facts become known, a different picture emerges, giving us a different story of what had happened to our planet. Many begin to realize earth's life friendly conditions are created by many years of hard work of all lives. From a handful of bacteria in the beginning to trillions of animals and plants billion years later, these living things survive and thrive by using their ability to adapt and slowly change the environment to suit themselves. It is this co-existence strategy among million forms of lives that makes our planet so fit for everybody to inhabit. There is nothing magical about it. It is all lives' wonderful ability to fit themselves snugly into the surroundings. We only begin to accept this notion of an interlocking symbiotic existence many times reluctantly but once the truth is accepted, earth's mysterious status is solved.
With one big puzzle turns history, our curiosity moves us to a bigger picture, namely, the Universe. After a century of studying the heaven's billion years’ history, another strange phenomenon is discovered. This Universe is very life friendly. In a classical way, its past history demonstrates a unique development that specifically paves a way for life on earth and even the human to appear. The process is so unique, delicate and purposeful, missing one factor or one ingredient during any part of the entire development and none of us will be here today. We are wondering why. Without any answer for years many begin to speculate and even insist it must have been the work of a supernatural god because only with his supernatural power in a divine interference can such a grand project be made possible. Nothing else works. There are simply too many co-incidences, too many important factors to be discarded as chance and accidents.
Life comes full circle.
It must be hard for many to swallow their pride to realize a sacred doctrine held for so long even by science has to be discarded but the plain truth is man and his earth are not the center of the Universe. As such, life is not what most perceive it to be. The good news is once we are willing to acknowledge the true identity of this invisible almost unreachable being, then not only can we truly gain some new insight on the world we live in, other previously unanswered questions and unsolved puzzles can now be answered and solved. Puzzles like the nagging issue of order versus disorder can be solved. Questions like who this Life is, what tools and style Life uses to organize itself, and why human societies encounter so many nasty problems can be answers.
The main objective for Life to continue its existence is to vigorously promote itself. As a force without any thoughtful intelligence of its own, it only knows how to move forward blindly without any directions. This is true right from the beginning at the birth of the Universe and possibly until the end of all time. The method or style it uses to accomplish that can be observed in its billion years’ history of development on earth.
Without a brain, a direction or an instructor, it's simple inconceivable for Life to grow and develop into trillions of magnificent stars and galaxies and now a living planet ready to move on to bigger things. There must be something more than a simple force to help its development and to keep things under control. Indeed there is one and strangely enough, the physical Universe itself is just for this purpose, which is to use it as a tool to build up orders and even personalities.
The character of the physical Universe alone without the influence of Life is one of randomness. If Life is using the physical Universe to organize itself, then randomness must be the tool used to build orders. In fact, without randomness or uncertainty, Life cannot advance but simply goes around and around in never ending circles. Within the organic world, animals and plants use random and opportunities to develop new features and evolve into higher forms. The implication of this universal character in the human world is also obvious. If everything is certain, then there will be no progress. Everyone will be doing the same things over and over again into eternity until the sun dies and everyone perishes along with it. Only because of uncertainty or randomness, great discoveries are made and with the desire to move forward, civilization progresses.
In a Universe where random reigns supreme, the makeup of our genes is partly the luck of the draw and our life after birth is constantly bombarded with random events that are mostly unpredictable. It will be up to each individual to decide his course of action and therefore his fate by utilizing the genes or bodily structure provided and the events that come his way during the course of life. The trick to survive or even thrive is to distinguish most useless random things and thoughts from the few that make sense and use them to build his own little world. Those who are clever enough to capture the right combination will survive and even prosper because by picking the right choices and using the right combinations, computers and machineries can be built in a well run and efficient system that will eventually bring us to other planets and stars. Those who make the wrong decisions do not necessarily mean immediate elimination. Life could go on for another few thousand or even million years but in the end when they still do not pass the test to conform with the grand scheme, their lives will be plagued with problems and eventually face complete collapse sometimes with an entire group or species perished into oblivion, leaving their remnants and fossils for future generations to ponder. It applies to the animal world and modern civilizations alike.
The physical Universe with its random character is constantly used by this unrelenting life force to build and grow but at the same time its advancement is also being limited and controlled by the same law of randomness. At any given time, there is only so much energy and materials to go around and there is so much order to be built before disorder returns to rule. If Life, any life for that matter, steps over its bound and exceeds its limit, its progress will then be regulated by this law. Thus this law of randomness or law of uncertainty can be said to be the constitution of this Universe or in some way, the brain of Life to regulate its growth. At times, the implementation of this law can be vicious and the result can be brutal. Whether it is used to advance or retard the Universe's development depends on Life's course of action.
This is how our Universe works, or what the meaning of life is. The world is random. Out of this randomness, Life finds a way to build meaning and order. This explains why the Universe can be order on one hand and chaos on the other because both exist hand in hand within one structure. Neither can survive without the other. Life cannot function without the physical Universe's random participation. At the same time the existence of the physical Universe alone without Life is utmost meaningless.
The business of life is an organized affair. To look for life is to look for order. UFO enthusiasts use unusual sightings in the sky to determine the possibility of alien invasion, irrespective of what form or shape they are in. Curious scientists use order as a criteria to determine if there is any intelligent alien out there. The way they do it is not to look for a cellular structure but to detect meaningful signals out of all those trillion random ones. The same rationale is also used by James Lovelock to determine whether there is life on Mars or elsewhere because any activities of life will display certain characters of disequilibrium or something opposite to the law of randomness like earth would. In that respect, he finds nothing out of the extraordinary on Mars which means there is no sign of life on Mars. In short, anything order is a sign of life, anything random means no sign of life.
Next: Life and the Universe Part 2
Copyright © 1996-2002 Anatoni Tamanaki