While God, Nature, and too many humans, appear indifferent to individual lives, our species, along with several others, has exhibited, in varying degrees: compassion, respect, love, curiosity, and awe while often unaware that we do cast off to die some 50,000 living cells daily from our individual bodies.
What is the essence we strive to preserve? What is the purpose? We humans have inherited a complex organization of brain and body that produces a mind that is, we think, the rarest gem in the universe. But, with it comes awesome responsibility. The building blocks of life may be abundant throughout the universe and primitive life forms may have arrived here, fully formed, transported by meteorites, and God may be the universe itself, as argued by Sir Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe, and others. Yet, it still took billions of years for us to evolve to where we are today. It was believed that life on this planet was impossible before the lengthy bombardment of this earth, that created life-prohibiting temperatures, ceased.
We have now found that fully-formed organisms able to photosynthesize and expel oxygen were here immediately after the bombardment eased to sporadic arrivals. This seems to allow insufficient time for elements to combine to form life in our earthly primordial soup. We do know that cells and genes can survive the rigours of space travel. Living organisms have been found in rock to depths of 1,000 metres, in soil frozen for 3 million years, and in 110 degrees celsius (230 Fahrenheit) seawater near sulphuric vents. The elements that make us, and our earth, what we are came from the nuclear furnaces of exploding suns. It could be our destiny now to go forth, in the name of life, to populate planets that we are beginning to find.
But first, a moment of reflection over the tortuous journey we have already mastered:
Our planet formed: 4,500,000,000
Incessant bombardment ceased: 4,100,000,000
Earliest life found, eukaryote cells: 3,800,000,000
Sexual reproduction: 1,100,000,000
New amino acids: 900,000,000
Land plants: 400,000,000
Land animals: 350,000,000
Insects (arrived independently?): 345,000,000
First mammals: 200,000,000
Flowering plants: 130,000,000
Cognitive human intelligence: 150,000
To arrive at cognitive intelligence took not only the elements of time and a rare environment with just the right conditions for carbon-based units to evolve, but also the interaction of countless disasters, continental drift locations, and climatic changes to add the stress, the competition, and the mobility needed to guide our evolution. It has been an extremely cruel and painful journey.
Only a tiny proportion of the creatures born into this world survived long enough to reproduce. The vast majority were sacrificed as food for others. Of all the species that evolved (or arrived) only I% are alive today. This colossal waste implies a cruel trial and error approach that lacks planning or conservation. Our mobility and lust have kept us one species, but at the cost of untold hardships to our females.
We humans, on the threshold of populating other planets, must remain aware of our limitations and imperfections. We dream of finding other life forms somewhere in the immense universe, but we have yet to understand life forms on our own planet, let alone communicate with them.
The Plant Kingdom, while developing a slow chain of succession in a given environment, has not been as guilty of daily devouring organic life in order to survive. We of the Animal Kingdom have shown little understanding, care, gratitude, or compassion as we continue to abuse plants. A few of us are learning that plants can communicate with each other with chemical signals, that they can react to human thoughts even at a distance, and that they do recoil at sensing impending harm. Experiments indicate that primitive organisms react to messages from other creatures in the process of dying. We now know that a foetus reacts to stimuli and is an intelligent being long before birth. We know that unhatched chicks in the wild can communicate with each other to time their hatching in order to leave the nest together, a survival tactic.
At least as far back as Neanderthals, who prepared their dead for an after life, we have believed that we are composed of two parts: mortal body and immortal soul. The animistic belief that spirits inhabit both animate and inanimate forms still exists. An Inuit, on killing a seal, would open its mouth to give it a drink of fresh water as a treat to a creature forced to live in salt water. Then the skull would be opened to allow the spirit to escape. Christian Inuits no longer follow this practice. Primitive religions abound with stories of a supreme being who created the world, only to leave it to be run by lesser gods who had to be placated and who had human failings. More modern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam all preach lofty ideals, yet their practitioners are guilty of hundreds of years of mass murders and genocide. Even the renowned Charlemagne (742-814) enjoyed Sundays by slaughtering thousands of innocents whose crime was to have a version of Christianity slightly different than his own.
Long ago Hinduism revealed remarkable insight: all living things have the same essence and are part of the one God; souls migrate from one form to another; whatever god a person worships, Krishna answers; and its time scale comes closest to the Big Bang time scale and the repeating-universe conception. Why, then, have Hindus been guilty of gruesome massacres of Muslims?
Among people who cherish ethnic diversity there has been injected ethnic cleansing that often starts with a few ignorant malcontents who seize or build the power to incense, to rape, to plunder, and to murder that emphasizes the sap in Homo sapiens. No continent has been immune to this senseless behaviour.
The terrifying danger now is that we have evolved to where we can reach out to space from whence we came, and populate it with humans that may not have the best interests of humanity, or other species, at heart. We can also direct genetic engineering to who knows what ends? We have the intelligence to do this, yet lack the intelligence to live peacefully together in harmony with Nature and other life forms. Some wolves respect the property of other wolves and will limit their population to what the environment will support. Some of us do likewise.
Endless wars and disasters have sharpened our minds and technologies at enormous costs, but the time has come to call a halt. The challenges the future holds should be enough to continue our evolution. What is vital is that we ingrain into the masses, but especially into those who will direct and carry out our extra- terrestrial wanderings, basic ethics and values to ensure that our species will deserve the right to go forth and multiply within reason.
Yes, we have had, since recorded time, billions of humans qualified for the mission. But, if we assess our dismal record in our relatively-recent migration from Europe to genocide in the “New” world, we should be convinced that we need to restrain our exploratory zeal until we erase the misdeeds still so prevalent among us.
Priorities do dictate.