I recently drove across Europe, in an over 30 year old camping bus. And I was trying to use as little diesel and oil as possible. But whom am I fooling.
However, the experience was both profound and rejuvenating. Instead of death-scrolling, with my thumb, here I was slowly passing through ancient landscapes. And I was probably using roads that had originally been created by the Romans, or by the people who came before them. Many of the smaller roads quite likely existed for many more thousands of years. Except that they were paved now. Again with a material made from oil.
Here I was, moving with the speed of many of the products needed by people in places I passed. Each one of the trucks, or lories, carried something that was of importance. At least important enough to be shipped.
Living animals, dead animals. Living plants, dead plants. Some large objects that would eventually be assembled to even larger objects. Some small objects heading for their temporary storage somewhere, a depot, a shop, a landfill.
I traveled during the day, which we are accustomed to see as the normal context for our activities. And I traveled at night, the place that is much more like the universe is mostly: dark and not very easy to see. At least not with our super weakened senses.
We are really adapted to living here. And the days are just a lucky lottery win for us, as not so many living things get to be in that exact Goldilocks proximity of a star across the universe. Or maybe…
Oh and we also have the moon. That lovely, strange, old moon. It is really an old part of the Earth and something else, still working tirelessly, lifting and lowering the oceans again and again. Lifting and lowering everything really, possibly including us and our spirits. The moon, helping that constant motion of everything which makes life even possible here on Earth.
What an exceptional place and exceptional circumstances we are in. The more one thinks about it, the more incredible it gets.
So here I was, a fairly well developed species, driving over quite well paved roads, in a time when they were not being attacked by anybody or anything. At least not dramatically.
Everything I saw and could think of was the outcome of an incredibly lucky set of circumstances. My very own existence?, the outcome of endless lotteries with ridiculously slim chances of even becoming something specific.
Now here I was, one of billions similar to me, and no other anyone identical to me. We would not be identical even if we had evolved from a single egg and were twins. It’s all completely mind blowing because it is also true to many more organisms on Earth, not just humans.
Oh, and many of the resources we currently use are also organic. So they too are literally the outcomes of some genetic lottery. It’s hard to embrace the concept. It’s impossible for us to understand the scale of it all.
And looking up into the sky at night there are more stars out there than all grains of sand on all the beaches down here. And talking about beaches, many of those grains are also the remnants of organisms that must have believed making a shell was a good idea. They might not have used those exact “thoughts” but that would be a silly expectation to have.
My journey was an incredible privilege, nested inside of privilege. While I was traveling, there are several wars going on on this planet and people very similar to me are unable to get out of the way of harm and death.
We seem to be in the late stages of a war against the environment of the planet too. Just now are we noticing that while we maybe would have a hard time surviving in a world that we do not try to control, we will surely die in a world where we succeed.
And it probably did not even happen out of bad intentions. We are just really horrible at paying attention to what kind of consequences even the smallest of our actions can have on ecosystems that took millions of years to establish themselves.
We are like a five year old driving a truck. There had to be a driving analogy somewhere in here.
We keep telling ourselves how exceptional we are. But I have some serious doubts about that.
Genetically we are so similar to some species that appear alien to us. And we are likely to be much closer relatives to an oak tree than we might be to any other species of intelligence out there in space.
Peak of development? Only in some silly books.
And we used to be aware of it. We used to understand that we are in a symbiosis with the entire galactic ecosystem.
We used to cut trees at the crown to prolong their lives when they were our gods and friends. I was now driving past the sustainable forestry grown for probably toilet paper. And these are giant fields of trees planted to be completely cut down after a few years to then be planted again and again. Another species moulded to function like a machine.
I bet there is someone working on a method to prevent these trees from ever having offspring. Perhaps what I saw were already genetically engineered armies of human controlled life.
We build giant machines that burn fuel made of ancient frees to then power other machines that control the temperature for us, the way any tree would just do. And in the process we are heating up the planet and killing a lot of life while staring at pictures of exceptionally healthy ecosystems.
Planet Earth. Planet Earth II. Planet Earth III. Streaming now. Though there is no Planet B.
This is a long introduction, I know. It could probably go on and on for some time more, because magical things happen when a human brain can avoid those weapon-grade-algorithms designed to increase dopamine addiction and increase one’s “engagement”. The thoughts just go off onto their own journey and they circle and circle until strange new patterns emerge. Or maybe old patterns.
It is currently almost impossible to escape the allure of that little portable prison window we crave so much and protect so much and spend so much time staring at. And some of that content from the little screen did obviously leak into my evenings and bathroom stops. I watched a video of a very popular historian talking about a very current war and comparing it to another and then saying that this would be okay because in the end we would be friends. And wounds would heal.
Wounds heal. I think that’s a general belief.
But here is was in a human made machine that is literally slowly falling apart, driving over roads that seem constantly under construction. It then occurred to me that some systems do indeed heal themselves but some don’t and can’t and won’t. And for some systems to heal themselves might not be good at all. They need to continue on a journey of erosion, destruction and transformation.
Like that pandemic we just went through would have probably loved to heal itself and to kill as many of us as possible. But we fought so hard to not let it do that. Healing is not a default. It’s is again one of those highly unlikely lotteries among lotteries.
When in Porto I was lucky enough to visit during an amazing exhibition by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla at the Serralves Foundation. Part of that exhibition was a piece describing the idea of how we are looking for alien life in space, using signals and waves, or whatever we commonly use to communicate to each other too.
(That thought alone should give us pause.)
Meanwhile we are surrounded by species who also communicate this way already and we do not care about them so much. Sometimes they manage to even communicate with us and we barely care about that either.
It was a beautiful piece, presented from the point of view of a Puerto Rican parrot.
More and more scientists seem to be arriving at the conclusion that appears to have been known to most religions we like, love or hate: The universe itself appears to be conscious. Our actions and ideas are not as much our own as we would like them to be. We think we are thinking independently. And that’s useful for many reasons. But we really are not.
Oh so that artwork mentioned what is apparently known as “the great silence”. We send out signals and spacecraft out there. But there is no response back. It’s silent out there. Not much is coming back.
And that on a cosmic scale.
On a small scale here on earth we seem to be purposely or accidentally being interested in silencing the voices of others, but also, by extinguishing entire species, populations, groups, interested in creating a great silence on Earth.
It’s actually hard to not be ashamed of being human sometimes.
And so, while I was really trying to keep the engine of the camper van alive by pouring more and more fossilised forests into its lubrication system, it occurred to me that perhaps this is all some kind of experiment or a game that has not gone in an ideal way. (In itself this is not a new thought, of course, and a lot has been written about it by many.)
Each one of us appears to be the lucky outcome of billions of lotteries? Well, why would these be such lucky outcomes? Perhaps we are the not so lucky numbers in an otherwise lovely game.
Perhaps all of Earth appears such a unique and exceptional place because some much higher form of consciousness would no longer like to be infected by wherever is being created here and so we are in a galactic quarantine.
We, and perhaps everything around us, could be the actual problem.
The universe we look at in the sky is really a memory of what once was. Even the sun we look at is an eight minute memory of it. Some of the stars we see in the sky at night might actually no longer exist.
So if there doesn’t seem to be any living anything on a star that’s even a few hundreds of light years away from us, then its silence might not mean what we think it means. The earth would also appear to not be inhabited by intelligent species capable of sending out signals, as we were just not able to do that not very long ago.
We can barely arrange a date between two humans. Imagine how incredibly difficult it could be to have a party with actual stars.
And who says that the experiment of creating communication using sound and visual language is even a thing for other mutations of this experiment we call life?
We might not even ever be able to find out, just as it is very difficult to build a house by just dancing about it.
Our assumption of what the world is like is obviously limited by our assumption about everything, including ourselves. And it is just recently that we even started truly and deeply to think about that. And many have already stopped again.
We are a highly specialised mutation, or a passing evolutionary step, on a spec of spinning molten iron covered by a thin crust, that is traveling around a burning grain of sand (I know it isn’t) and so wow, in the larger scheme of things we are insanely, indescribably insignificant.
Then we look towards other places they appear hostile to life or have perhaps once harboured life that was then somehow removed, be it by solar radiation or by some other funny hostile mechanism. (Hello Mars?)
And in the other hand when here on Earth the most vicious wars seem to be happening between groups of people that are most likely related to each other by some stretch of the imagination.
Well, apparently we are all survivors of an almost extinction anyway. At some point only a bit more than 1000 humans seem to have been alive on this planet. There might have been more of other humanoid species but we likely exterminated them.
Some we apparently mated with before extinguishing them. Then we ran generations of a campaign to describe them as inferior to us, while some most certainly were not. Turns out we were just more vicious than the Neanderthal people, not smarter, kinder or more skilled.
I wonder what conclusions a mutation of the corona virus would make if it were able to develop thoughts and were able to start looking for other forms of itself in the universe known to it.
I know that a virus is not even a living thing, but it should be perfect for this thought experiment.
In some ways the experience of that virus would probably be more satisfying than that of us here and now.
It probably would be more of the experience of the “early explorers”, finding new lands in unexpected places, infecting and killing whatever could be found there and growing and growing in influence and power. Growing the community. Waves of more of ourselves. Oh, the endless winning.
Until, lo and behold, a great silence.
Either the host would have died, (and then everything returns to the lovely darkness of the conscious universe), or there are no more cells left to invade. Or there are no other hosts in sight, and the ones that might have existed just a few days prior seem to have moved further and further apart.
(Working from home, in a way. )
A conscious virus would have an experience that could be very similar to our own human experience. (Missing some parts, but we are also missing some parts compared to covid 19, or not?)
The Earth, in the larger scheme of things, is a not very stable system. This whole evolution of everything idea happens here much faster than on many other planets albeit with a crazy beautiful variety.
But perhaps it is like the patterns made by the motion of wings of a fruit fly. A tiny moment in the much larger context of a conscious dancing universe. And we can give that other names of course. I mean whatever that power is that’s currently really writing this text. (I am just here, pushing some buttons that were put into place by others, looking at a screen also invented, assembled and even brought to me by others. Powered by others. Now brought back to life by others. Sorry. You!)
Funny how after writing this I still arrive at a conclusion that’s similar to what I thought of at the beginning:
We are so insanely lucky to be here.
We are maddeningly imperfect and so is absolutely everything around us. Or maybe we are all perfect? Everyone and everything? Except every perfect is different?
While here in this tiny moment in time and while in the presence of just a few living things so very similar to us, we should probably walk around and be in awe of everything we see and hear and touch and taste. Every encounter with another human or non human should be seen as a miracle of miracles. The birth, the sprouting of a seed, the emergence of a coral. All of these, and everything else are in a way as miraculous as what’s on the other end. (I do mean death, or the transformation into something that follows.)
We should recognise that the other person, as different from us they might appear, are probably one of the closest we will ever come to meeting ourselves in this entire Universe?
And even within ourselves, encountering one’s own.
But there is a possibility that we are failing at things because we are supposed to. We are not supposed to spread and infect other places forever. We have had a great run. For millions of years we were part of an ecosystem. Then we started to reduce our view to something more about us. And this has gone to such extremes now that it might be good to quarantine this planet and let us push ourselves towards extinction.
We won’t be able to kill everything here. Some organisms will survive. And perhaps one day the planet will be again as stable and calm to be worth a visit by some other this or the other. Or not.
Perhaps those who leave us also never come back because things are so good on the other side that it is not worth returning. The waves and the particles we know of, and those we do not know of, are in such a brilliant dance. Why on Earth would they need to worry about creating some kind of sales strategy for polymer based objects or some report about how to rotate some stick to generate some tiny amount of magnetic force somewhere else. It’s all utterly unnecessary really, if one looks at the scale of everything.
I like being here, and I can’t believe that I am able to send this little message to you.
Even if you are an AI.