March 4, 2009

Ourselves a Sphere Behind

Father George Coyne is the Director Emeritus of the Vatican Observatory, a Jesuit who is intrigued by space, and a very funny person. He posits that, since the universe is very star-filled and star-generative (and contains lots of the stuff necessary to star-making, like helium and hydrogen) then the universe is very fertile and undoubtedly contains recognizable, comprehensible life...even though it took 13 billion years to make an amoeba. 
Dr. Lynn Rothschild is an evolutionary biologist and NASA Research Scientist (and also a very funny person) who posits that, since life really doesn't do anything it doesn't have to -- since research shows us that life is basically lazy and just sort of takes advantage of situations which arise -- then life elsewhere in the universe, if it exists, will most likely be adapted to its situation and is probably unrecognizable to us. 
Father Coyne has said that "Through physics, biology, mathematics...we put the universe in our heads." I imagine Dr. Rothschild would say that we're just on the cusp of learning to read the universe, a fact which concerns and impacts the universe not a whit. 
I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Rothschild and Father Coyne speak at an event recently, and while the content was not as combustible as, say, CPAC, the science presentation did make me think about the political gab of late -- and of Rush Limbaugh in particular. I think he'd be a Father Coyne fan. Both men talk similarly about a way of seeing, and both talk with real conviction and a commitment of purpose. 
I get oddly fascinated when I listen to true believers (whatever their conviction) describe the world as if all others are blind. Fascinated because I recognize that it is important to them to see the world in the manner they do, and also because there is such an ego investment in persuading others to see in this same way. The current Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, a creationist who used to "believe" in science, puts it this way: "If evolution is development of life through unguided natural processes, how can we be made in the image of God? How can humans be worth anything?"
This fear-inducing question of human worth seems to be the issue which guides the vision. And it seems that the question of worth is the issue that guides Rush Limbaugh and dittoheads, true believers, conservatives, and the Bernie Madoffs of the globe. Because how can humans be worth anything without control over bonuses, without control over government spending, without control over contraception, guns, how we see God, how we see the future? Isn't a serious ego investment and a projected morality required, even demanded, in order for the community of humans to really live? How could it even be possible that people exist just within the context of their time, adapting and evolving, unguided? 
And we all are. The universe around us is filled with the detritus of exploded stars, which is both background noise and also the fuel for the creation of more stars. I don't know exactly what happens to the exploded ideals or beliefs of those who find (or lose) a true vision, but I imagine that detritus is all around us too -- and Rush would have you believe that background noise must be yelled over in order to be reformulated. 
But while some talk and challenge and attempt to define the whole universe as a human-centric thing, billions of stars just go about formulating themselves, from their own context, in their own time.

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