30 October 2014


For ages human beings thought they lived at the center of the universe, until science proved this to be an illusion. We came to learn that our sun was an ordinary star in a remote part of the galaxy, which indicated there was nothing special about us. Life as intelligent, if not superior to us surely existed elsewhere in the galaxy. However, despite our best efforts, we have yet to encounter aliens of any kind, and the only alien life we are likely to encounter is microbial. There may be good reasons for this, according to two scientists at the Universities of Barcelona and Jerusalem. Some regions of the galaxy are more favorable for life than others. Our sun is situated at a sweet spot in the galaxy, further from the center, and thus less subject to gamma ray bursts from exploding stars that would otherwise obliterate all life. There is a lot more complexity to this theory, but the basic implication is that it is possible we may be the first intelligent life to evolve in our galaxy. Conditions on earth had to be just right to enable the evolution of life and the creation of our species. This could only happen by being far away enough to avoid threatening events. Any closer to the center of the galaxy and life is unlikely  due to greater proximity to supernovas.

In the far shorter length of historical time we also occupy a sweet spot. Throughout most of history life consisted largely of misery, suffering, and pain. It has only been in relatively recent times that these things have not been the norm. They still underly our experience, given that things can change in a moment due to a variety of lurking threats. Our ancestors were threatened with things like plague, that could wipe out up to half the population, as well as other diseases we now have cures for. They experienced war, mass starvation, and were powerless in the face of natural disasters. Thus, however much our discontents with the present, we are very lucky to be living in this time period. 

There is no guarantee that this will continue, for all things wax and wane and rise and fall over time. Nothing exists in a steady state. The Ebola outbreak we are dealing with currently shows that plagues are still possible, and one may arise that we cannot control. The electric grid we are now totally dependent upon is vulnerable to an electromagnetic pulse from any enemy with a missile, as well as a solar storm that produces a large flare. If the electric grid were knocked out our civilization would collapse. (This could be preventable if steps were taken to harden our electric grid, but so far the government has not acted). Nevertheless, we still live in the most fortunate of times, in contrast to historical or cosmological time, across most of which conditions were not favorable for life. We have only to ponder the bigger picture to realize how minor many of our discontents really are. No one can know how long the fortunate era we live in will continue, but those of us who are alive today should pause and give thanks for living in it.