Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Beauty of our Human Irrelevance

Edvard Munch's
 "The Scream"
I am struck how much personal energy and ego we as humans place in our existence and assumed specialness. Because we’re tool makers and communicators we are an inventive species. We build nations, philosophies, devices, religions, communities, literature, statues to the dead, technology for the living - all to show that we are here to connect to each other. Or to tell future generations that we were here at some point during the evolution of the cosmos. 

I am of course no better than any one of my species since in creating this blog, I am attempting to reach out over both time and distance. To be a small voice in the rage of anxiety and pleasure that is our time, to share ideas and build for the future.

At our best, we as a species attempt to prove our personal relevance and human value by building positive relationships and communities to help increase our knowledge and understanding of ourselves and the universe - in essence what it means to be human in our time.

At our worst, we kill ourselves, one another or harm the planet. It is ironic that in an ultimately uncaring universe this practice of love or genocide, be it physical or psychological, heightens or extinguishes our existence in so many meaningful ways, meeting or missing chances to make this a safer, better and more connected world.

The joy, folly and hubris of humankind remain in our opportunity to sustain our species or destroy it. This sustainability or destruction occurs in slow or fast ways and in numerous, simultaneous, overlapping and parallel directions.  

In my opinion the least helpful, of course, is the subjective construct of organized religion and faith-based motivation to change the world. Religion, which on its face appears to help, is really all surface banter no matter how complex the theology or philosophy. Instead of helping, it hurts our ability to build a common humanity since it is the source of real and philosophical imperialism which results in unjust social policy, racism, sexism, homophobia, economic disparity, violence against women, and is the harmful purveyor of guilt-based motivation and the intellectual slavery of the mind. 

Indeed, the stars do not (and don’t) need to harmonize with human need for ego justification. To believe otherwise would be folly. The great Carl Sagan made it abundantly clear that we really are a crossroads in enjoining our science and humanity to explore the inner-reaches of ourselves, our planet, and ultimately the stars.

For Sagan, the exploration of the stars, are where we are meant to meet our ultimate common humanity and destiny.  “If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?" Or even better, "Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.” I agree with Sagan’s ideas since the anti-science and anti-humanistic nature of religious belief is a form of ignorance and it hasn’t leant itself to creating a world of peace, no matter how much some historians and political scientists, theologians, politicians or the faithful hope it would be.

But we don’t need science as the only human contrivance to remind us of the fact that nature does not need our species to exist. Or that it would make any difference if our species disappeared from the scene. There is an American poet named Gary Snyder who captures in literature what Sagan captures in science. That is the profound meaning of how the elements and the stars contribute to and move along without the need for human ego, existence or relevance.  This, while reminding us that our minds, individually and collectively, are our most important asset. Here is one of my favorite poems from the author:

As For Poets
by Gary Snyder
As for poets
The Earth Poets
Who write small poems,
Need help from no man.

The Air Poets
Play out the swiftest gales
And sometimes loll in the eddies.
Poem after poem,
Curling back on the same thrust.

At fifty below
Fuel oil won't flow
And propane stays in the tank.

Fire Poets
Burn at absolute zero
Fossil love pumped backup

The first
Water Poet
Stayed down six years.
He was covered with seaweed.
The life in his poem
Left millions of tiny
Different tracks
Criss-crossing through the mud.

With the Sun and Moon
In his belly,
The Space Poet
No end to the sky-
But his poems,
Like wild geese,
Fly off the edge.

A Mind Poet
Stays in the house.
The house is empty
And it has no walls.
The poem
Is seen from all sides,
At once.

So it appears that our greatest contribution to the universe is our conscious understanding that not only are we irrelevant, but that in knowing this, we keep making ideas, technology, and communities to create a form of relevance for ourselves during our lifetime.  There is positivity to these ideas as they are action based, like science and discovery, which are action orientated.

This, so we can understand and gain knowledge of a space-time which doesn’t acknowledge or care that we exist at all.  But exploring and gaining knowledge heightens our humanity – something which we have both a responsibility to improve upon for ourselves in our time and for future generations.  In this way we may not be relevant to the universe, be that doesn’t matter so long as we are relevant to those who care for us and we care about. This may be the highest form of respect, compassion and love. And this can best be found in understanding science and acknowledging our common human sameness.


  1. The true meaning of immortality is to be remembered after you've died.

  2. @Secular Guy, Yes, I take your point. So much will go on after we're gone it can be mind boggling. But isn't that the nature of things?

    Our species has only been around for about 175 thousand years. We ourselves are here for such a short time, but we go on. Why?

    Perhaps it is to stand on the sholders of griants. To mentor future generations and to hope we reach a time in the not too distant future which is better than the one we live in now.

    For me, that will come when we move past faith and learn to be rational humanists who trust in science and nature what we cannot prove in religion. That would be true psycho-social liberation.