I’m a science fiction fan. I’m one of those guys who can tell you why Star Wars is not science fiction but Star Trek is. I can even argue why the original Star Trek is more truly science fiction than Next Generation, which often ignored the sci-fi stuff to become even more of soap opera in outer space than the original. I not only watch science fiction TV shows and movies, but read science fiction books. In terms of literary science fiction, I much prefer so-called “hard sf,” which deals with nuts and bolts and genuine scientific theories than “soft sf,” which tends to be less rigorous (the main exception being Philip K Dick, whose science was usually dubious, but who had an interesting philosophical outlook).
Recently I’ve become increasingly interested in the subject of whether or not there are intelligent creatures on other planets. I am pretty sure we will find life on other planets. In fact, I’m betting we’ll find life all over the place once we start being able to look. Probably within our own solar system.
It’s just that I’m really starting to doubt that what we’ll find will be very much like the Star Trek universe in which the Milky Way galaxy is teeming with civilizations much like our own.
By that I don’t mean to criticize Star Trek for populating the galaxy with aliens who look basically like human beings with latex lumps glued to their noses and foreheads. I understand that they have limited options when it comes to hiring actors that are not humans. I’m just starting to wonder if there are intelligent aliens in our cosmic neighborhood at all, even if they look nothing like the folks from Central Casting.
The universe is incredibly big. And most of the stuff we find here on Earth is all over the place. I think it’s fairly certain that somewhere in this vast universe there are other civilizations. But I’m starting to think that civilized life forms might be very rare. Maybe we’re the only ones in this galaxy. I hope not. But that doesn’t sound impossible to me anymore.
There’s no reason to assume that civilized life forms like us are the inevitable outcome of natural selection and evolution. The dinosaurs dominated the Earth for around 170 million years. Mammals have dominated for 65 million years. If the development of civilized creatures was inevitable, the dinosaurs would have produced an intelligent, tool-using species millions of years ago.
I recently read an article that postulated the idea that the smartest of the dinosaurs never got to be as smart as us because there was no need. Those clever dinosaurs were also equipped with sharp teeth and nasty claws. They didn’t have to develop intelligence as a survival skill the way our ancestors did. Humans are weak and nearly defenseless creatures. The only thing we had going for us was our brains. Only the very smartest proto-humans survived long enough to produce offspring. So smartness was naturally selected until we became the smartest of all animals.
Speaking of dinosaurs, paleontologists often talk about a kind of “arms race” of evolution that happened in the Late Cretaceous. As carnivorous monsters like Tyrannosaurus and Gigantosaurus started stalking the Earth, plant eaters like Ankylosaurus and Paleoscincus developed nearly impenetrable armor to defend themselves. Maybe our own development was something like that. If evidence from our planet is any indication it does seem that intelligence combined with the ability to manipulate tools is the one adaptation that trumps all others. So maybe when it does develop it almost always succeeds in producing a creature that can take over a planet.
Be that as it may, the fact that we’re here at all appears to be the result of a whole lot of incredibly chance factors. Maybe it’s a one in God-only-knows-how-many million chance that an intelligent species arises at all on any planet anywhere.
And maybe the odds are even greater that such a species survives past a certain point. We now know that humanity was nearly wiped out entirely at least once by natural factors. And given the way we like to play with nuclear and biological weapons as well as developing all sorts of other technologies that could potentially kill us, we may yet go extinct anyhow. Not to mention meteor strikes and other natural disasters. Or maybe it is the very fact that such species tend to dominate their planets that insures they don’t last very long after trying to force their worlds to conform to their selfish desires. It may be that the galaxy is littered with the remains of civilizations that didn’t make it. Let’s hope ours doesn’t become one.
Buddhist cosmology postulates the existence of all sorts of civilizations both higher and lower than ours. The universe is full of “celestial beings.” The Chinese characters used to represent this concept could also be interpreted as “beings from the sky.” Unlike our European ancestors, the Indians understood early on that the sun was the center of the solar system, that the stars were far away suns, and they even had a theory of gravity.
I don’t mean to suggest that the Buddhists of long ago were in touch with aliens. And yet it is intriguing to speculate that maybe the demigods of those old legends correspond to civilizations in outer space whose industrial revolution took place a million or even a billion years before ours, thus making their planets sort of a “higher plane” than ours. If you believe in reincarnation, it might be possible for a human being to be reborn on another world where life is much longer and better than it is here, or, in the language favored by the ancient Indians, be reborn in the a “heavenly realm.”
But that’s all just brain farts. It’s interesting to think about but it doesn’t really lead anywhere useful.
Even if there are no other civilizations millions of years more advanced than ours, the very real possibility is that we could become a civilization millions of years more advanced than ours if we can just manage not to mess everything up before we can get there. If we did make it, we human beings might become like the demigods of those old Indian stories. If we managed to do that, there’s no telling what amazing things we could do.
In his essay Inmo or “It” (sometimes translated as “Suchness”), Dogen says, “We know that we ourselves are tools that it possesses within this universe in ten directions because the body and the mind both appear in the universe, yet neither is our self.” The “it” he refers to here is the unnamable, unknowable great “it” that is the universe. The late astrophysicist, writer, and TV presenter Carl Sagan said something very much like this. He said, “We are a way for the Cosmos to come to know itself.”
Human beings may not be the inevitable outcome of biological evolution, but we may have a kind of cosmic importance that is beyond our current ability to comprehend. To a Buddhist, the universe is alive. Not metaphorically, but actually. Life isn’t just something possessed by individual animals and plants for a brief period of time and then forever lost. Life is intrinsic to the very fabric of the universe on all levels, from the inconceivably tiny subatomic world to the unthinkably large cosmos. What we human beings experience as awareness or consciousness may be something we share with literally everything that ever is, was, or could be. The consciousness we think is ours alone might actually be the consciousness of God shining through our eyes.
We human beings are capable of communicating with each other on a level of subtlety and detail that we do not find in any other species we know of at present. Our ability to share our experience may make us a unique and important part of how the universe comes to know itself.
Right now we are standing at the very beginning of a process that could have cosmic effects far beyond anything we can even imagine at present. Some of the best science fiction writers have attempted to speculate on the implications of this. But there’s no way any human being living today could ever really predict where it might go.
We’d best not fuck it up.
* * *
Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!
* * *
I’ve got a new book out now! Stay up to date on my live appearances and more by signing up for our mailing list on the contact page!
My publishers are running a contest on Goodreads to give away 2 copies of my new book!
July 1, 2016 Cleveland, Ohio Zero Defex at Now That’s Class!
July 4, 2016 Cleveland, Ohio Zero Defex TBA
July 8, 2016 Seattle, Washington EastWest Bookshop 7:30pm Talk & Book Signing
July 9, 2016 Seattle, Washington EastWest Bookshop 10am-3pm Workshop
September 10-11, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland 2-Day Retreat
September 14, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland Zazen and Discussion
September 16-17, 2016 Dublin, Ireland 3-Day Retreat
September 22-25, 2016 Hebden Bridge, England, 4-Day Retreat
September 27, 2016 – Wimbledon, London, England – Talk and Q&A
September 29-October 2, 2016 Helsinki, Finland, 4-Day Retreat
October 3, 2016 Turku, Finland, Talk at the University
October 4-5, Stockholm, Sweden, Talk and 1-Day-Retreat
October 7, 2016 Berlin, Germany Zenlab
October 14, 2016 Munich, Germany, Lecture
October 15-16, 2016 Munich, Germany, 2-Day Retreat
October 23-28, 2016 Benediktushof Meditation Centrum (near Würzburg, Germany) 5-Day Retreat
MORE EUROPEAN DATES TO BE ANNOUNCED SOON!
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 10:00 am (NEW TIME!) there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!
These on-going events happen every week even if I am away from Los Angeles. Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
* * *
Aliens don’t pay my rent, but your donations to this blog do. I won’t get any of the recent Angel City Zen Center fundraiser money. I appreciate your on-going support!
This is the worst comment thread ever.
Let’s not get carried away now…
And…now, it’s the worst.
Fun question: what does Brad have in common with Ripley from the Alien movies?
Gastroparesis? A Ghostbusters wife beater?
They’re both wear pink bunny panties.
28) That Which Comes Like This (Immo)–thezensite.com.
I’d strike “Sh?b?genz?” if I could, but at the moment apparently there’s no edit function. That was a piece of the page title, apologies.
Still confuses me to read that last paragraph with the insertion, so for those like me, let me write it again without:
‘On the other hand, those who have explored the Matter with a genuine heir of the Buddha’s Way speak of the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching on supreme enlightenment in terms of ‘stillness’ and ‘not acting willfully’ and ‘meditative states’ and ‘invocations’. The underlying principle is, if one thought or thing is truly still, all the myriad thoughts and things are also still along with it. If the wind’s blowing is still, then the bell’s ringing will be still: hence, Kayashata spoke of everything being altogether tranquil in its stillness. He was saying that the sounding of Mind is beyond the sounds of the wind, and the sounding of Mind is beyond the sounds of the bell, and the sounding of Mind is beyond the sounds of the mind. Having diligently explored his realization of what is intimately connected with That Which Is, he was able to simply state it, and he could also have said that it is the sound of wind, the sound of bell, the sound of blowing, and the sound of sounding. It is not a matter of “Why be worried about experiencing That Which Is?” but rather of “Why get stuck on experiencing That Which Is?”’
Looks like I should harp more on stillness and invocations, if I want to sound like someone who has explored the Matter with a genuine heir. Would all the genuine heirs please in stillness invoke ishinashini, so that we can see the hands?
Why get stuck on ringing a bell.
In Aliens before departing to LV426 Ripley says to her cat “you’re staying here you little shithead”. Brad had a cat called Shithead….. so they’ve both called a cat shithead!
The last two scifi books I’ve read have both been pretty good, and they’ve shared, coincidentally, a common belief that our species is fatally flawed. It’s in our nature to eventually destroy ourselves, regardless of how much zazen or whatever we do, and the only way to not “fuck it up” is change our nature and modify our genetic structure.
Read the Xenogenesis trilogy by Octavia E. Butler
Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan
Yeah, because every time we applied a technological solution so far to any problem, it had side effects that made bigger problems…. but we’re gonna be able to successfully hack our own DNA. What could possibly go wrong??
Sci-fi is a replacement for guardian angels, a lot of the time: a way to avoid feeling the danger of our own stupidity. We’re not very clever, we’re not very civilised, we’re not very important, and we’re definitely doomed. Suck it up Brad and Zafu.
I know I would totally read your book on this topic. Great write!
“Looks like I should harp more on stillness and invocations, if I want to sound like someone who has explored the Matter with a genuine heir.”
That which manifests through you, is an illumination. It is not still.
Thinking non-thinking there is nothing stuck on experiencing That Which Is.
bad cut out, sorry about that!
I love this blog.
Return to Tomorrow
Ah, finally I’m able to log in.
The last two comments threads were joint best ever.
Shinchan Ohara has really and truly logged in!
The thread just got shit
I also love hard sf. I have been following a trilogy by Cixin Liu, “Remembrance of Earth’s Past.” It begins with the novel, “The Three-Body Problem,” which won the Hugo Award in 2015. The novel deals with a disastrous first-contact scenario, in which the aliens destroy humanity’s ability to do fundamental research in particle physics. The novel follows several different threads, but most of it is concerned with a mysterious online game that challenges players to solve the classic three-body problem in orbital mechanics. The novel is written in Chinese, but the translation into English was done with love and attention to detail, and is extremely well done. I highly recommend this series.
Here’s another interesting blog post about the possibility of alien civilizations. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-fermi-paradox-is-not-fermi-s-and-it-is-not-a-paradox/
I started science fiction by reading the classic hard science fiction writers like Clarke and Asimov. And for the most part I only read hard science fiction.
About the time star wars came out I lost interest in the whole genre. And gradually became more interested in literature that offered more ambiguity. I took a long vacation from science fiction.
In the past several years I’ve been sampling the SF again. Some titles I found interesting are “Embassytown” by China Mieville and the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.
On a slightly different topic, if you want an eye opening scientific article search for “Implications of the Copernican principle for our future prospects” by Gott. He uses the Copernican principle (“you’re not as special as you think”) to lay out startling probabilities about the human race’s longevity and our prospects for exploring interstellar space.
“Or maybe it is the very fact that such species tend to dominate their planets that insures they don’t last very long after trying to force their worlds to conform to their selfish desires.”
Well said. Manifest Destiny here we come!
As a biologist, I like the idea that “life must be the fish, and life must be the bird”. Given what we know about Earth, I’m pretty sure there’s life all over the place. That we think otherwise is more about human exceptionalism than anything else.
I don’t know.
Great post – found myself daydreaming that Jordan Peele’s Neil Degrasse Tyson was reading it to me for some reason – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R4D3Znthjs
I would like to see what persons are behind those comments.
Nice to meet you!
The world is imploding; about to reach total meltdown, my cyber-friends…..I’m going to sit zazen for a while, followed by a j. Do you mind if I do a j? (from the greatest Zennie movie of all time):
This is a strange world, a lesson on life’s impermanence comes with an add for wrinkle cream…
This is a strange land, a lesson on libraries impermanence…
I hope you’re all aware of the concept of the Great Filter: http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/fermi-paradox.html
Sometimes ( a lot of times lately actually), I think our human smarts is over-rated. Intelligence has to be combined with empathy and wisdom. I think that is real intelligence and I on my most cynical days, I see very little of it.
We are so terrified of “other” that we’d likely destroy any other beings we found on any other planet either purposely or accidentally.
Also, I don’t recall the exact figures but on one episode of Cosmos, Sagan said that whales could previously communicate over something like 300 000 miles but at the time of the show (which is dated now), they could only communicate over something like 30 000 miles. Again, I don’t know the exact figures but you get the idea. All our water traffic etc. has decreased their ability to communicate. Just imagine how much smaller a distance it is now. 🙁
And consider that Native American languages have all but been eradicated…
The list goes on.
“The accounts I read are from obscure Tantric texts translated and interpreted by David Gordon White, in his book “Sinister Yogis”.” -mb from couple posts back
Thanks for the rec. mb, this was one of DGW’s I didn’t have & ordered after you mentioned it. When it arrived a couple days ago I was leafing through it looking at illustrations and was pleasantly surprised to see my avatar displayed and “explained” on pps 48-49… there should be no confusion, that IS my urdhvamwshra exposed, it is NOT the end of my waistband!
But, but…your avatar is in color, thereby making it more authentic than the image in the book! I love the waistband/exposed phallus controversy among the scholars. Ambiguous sexuality, even way back then, imagine!
I doubt that anyone here remembers my former avatar on Brad’s old blog of the weatherman with a huge schlong made of nasty weather stretching across the weather map, but in case you do, behold my rigid continuity!
“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” As I see it, this is zen in a nutshell. That is the fact. But I don’t “feel” like I am the universe being aware of itself. I’m me…just me, not any other me…certainly not you. I feel like I am my thoughts, memories and images of myself. The little man sitting in my head behind my eyes and between my ears. It’s a stretch to even include this body as my self. I think it was Alan Watts that used to speak of our feeling ourselves to be an ego in a bag of skin. Even my not feeling myself to be the universe being aware of itself…is still the universe being aware of itself. If I am indeed that, then why isn’t it obvious? What’s wrong here? Finding out what’s wrong is to begin practice.
Brad wrote: “If the development of civilized creatures was inevitable, the dinosaurs would have produced an intelligent, tool-using species millions of years ago.”
Who says they didn’t? These tool-using dinosaur descendants with complex social structures date back about 17 million years:
Cygni, thanks for the reality sandwich.
“In other words, what the paper shows is that, although brain activity, as measured with MEG, has decreased, the activity that remains is more synchronized across brain regions. This is what the researchers were referring to when they gave the following quote to the CNN article:
‘When the volunteers took LSD, many additional brain areas—not just the visual cortex—contributed to visual processing.’
That’s it; it’s just as simple.”
That’s the conclusion of the latest LSD/brain imaging study, according to Bernardo Kastrup.
Now I wonder, what about vice-versa? Was visual processing contributing to many additional brain areas?
Lately I look to that way of living that permits regular relinquishment of habitual activity in the movement of breath. What do I mean by that? As I’ve said: a lot of the time, the things we do by intention with our bodies dictate the movement of breath; however, we are equally dependent on relaxation that allows the movement of breath to dictate the activity of the body, in whatever posture we find ourselves.
Sitting cross-legged brings me to an interaction of senses including the visual sense. The experience seems to be a part of relinquishment.
I would list the senses in the interaction here, but Khru would say: no, my friend, don’t know.
‘In this article, we address the cosmic frequency of technological species. Recent advances in exoplanet studies provide strong constraints on all astrophysical terms in the Drake equation. Using these and modifying the form and intent of the Drake equation, we set a firm lower bound on the probability that one or more technological species have evolved anywhere and at any time in the history of the observable Universe. We find that as long as the probability that a habitable zone planet develops a technological species is larger than *10-24, humanity is not the only time technological intelligence has evolved.’
Khru would say;
Joyce Green, her one and only…
The extent to which I don’t know is frightening, but there’s nothing to be done about it.
The Young Corvids Show..
Comments are closed.