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Lucretius on the infinite universe, the beginning of things and the likelihood of extraterrestrial life
All things [the particles]
move everywhere, always in constant motion—
material stuff is stirred up and supplied
from down below out of infinite space.
This, therefore, is the nature of deep space
and its extent—bright lightning in its course
could not pass through it—though sliding forward
for unending tracts of time, its motion,
as it proceeded, would not diminish
the remaining distance it still had to go.
That shows how much immense space lies open
on all sides for things, free from all limits
everywhere in all directions.
nature herself makes sure the universe
cannot set limits to itself—she compels
matter to be enclosed within a void,
and void, in turn, to be bound by matter.
With this reciprocal relationship
she therefore makes the total infinite,
or else one of the two, if the other
did not limit it, in its unmixed form
would then extend out beyond all measure.
[But I have shown above that space spreads out
without limit; thus, matter, too, must be
infinite, for if the void were endless,
and the total sum of matter finite,]
neither sea nor earth nor sky’s bright spaces,
nor mortal races, nor sacred bodies
of the gods could endure for very long,
not even for the short space of an hour,
since, with their combined masses forced apart,
supplies of matter would be carried off
and scattered through huge areas of space,
or what is, in fact, more likely, matter
would never have united and therefore
would never have produced a single thing,
since, in its dispersed condition, it would
be incapable of forming compounds.
For clearly the first particles of things
did not all place themselves in due order
by their own planning or intelligence,
nor did they through some agreement assign
the motions each of them should have. Instead,
since there are many of them and they change
in many ways through all the universe,
they are pushed, energized by collisions,
for a limitless length of time, and then,
having gone through every kind of motion
and combination, they at length fall into
those arrangements which make up and create
this totality of things, which also,
once suitably set in patterned motion,
has been preserved through many lengthy years.
It makes rivers with large flows of water
refresh voracious seas, and earth, once warmed
by sun’s heat, restore what it produces,
races of living creatures grow and thrive,
and, in the aether, gliding fires live on.
There would be no way they could act like this,
unless supplies of matter kept arising
from infinite space, stuff which they then use
to restore, over time, what has been lost.
Thus, to repeat myself, many particles
must spring up. And yet to be capable
of keeping the number of those impacts
at a sufficient level, there must be
infinite amounts of matter on all sides.
In these things, Memmius, stay far away
from having faith what some people say—
that all matter presses to the centre
of the universe and for this reason
the substance of the world remains in place
without any collisions from outside,
and that the bottom and the top cannot
be forced apart in any direction,
since all matter sinks towards the centre—
if you believe that anything can stand
upon itself—and that all heavy things
on the lower part of earth press upward
and remain there, placed upside down on earth,
just as we now see images of things
— I [996-1061] p.45-47.
To start with, we know that in every part,
in all directions and on either side,
above and below and throughout all space,
there is no limit, as I have explained,
and facts themselves announce it on their own—
the nature of deep space is very clear.
Since infinite space lies empty on all sides
and seeds in countless numbers fly around
through the deep universe in various ways,
driven by eternal motion, we must not,
in any way, now think it probable
that only this one sphere of earth and sky
have been created, that beyond us here
all those many particles of matter
do nothing at all, especially since earth
was made by nature. Seeds of things themselves,
jostling freely here and there in various ways
and forced to random, confused collisions,
produced nothing—then finally those ones
suddenly united which could become,
every time, the beginnings of great things,
land, sea, sky, the race of living beings.
And so, to repeat myself, you must grant
that there are other aggregates of matter
similar to this in other places,
which aether clutches in its keen embrace.
Further, when large quantities of matter
are on hand and there is sufficient space,
with no causal factor standing in the way,
we may be sure that things must be produced
and their full development completed.
Now, if supplies of seed are so enormous
that all the years of living animals
could not count the total, and if nature
and the same force remain which could collect
the seeds of matter into every place
in the same way they are thrown together here,
one must grant there are other earthly spheres
in other regions, with different races
of human beings and classes of wild beasts.
Add to this that in the whole universe
no single thing exists all on its own:
nothing is born unique and flourishes
as the single specimen of its kind.
Instead it always belongs to some race,
and those of the same kind are numerous.
If, to begin with, you direct your mind
to living creatures, you will discover
this is true for living varieties
of savage animals which roam the hills,
true for human offspring, and it is true
for mute herds of scaly fish and all bodies
of things which fly. Thus, one must acknowledge,
that, in the same way, sky, land, sun, moon, sea,
and all the other objects which exist
are not unique—instead their quantity
is beyond all counting.
If you grasp these points well and hold to them,
you will see at once that nature is free,
liberated from her proud possessors,
doing all things on her own initiative,
without divinities playing any part.
— II [1047-1094] p. 89-90.
Since the moment earth was first created,
that day sea, land, and rising sun were born,
many particles have been added on
from areas outside. All around them,
seeds which the immense universe has joined
by hurling them about have been attached.
Because of that, sea and lands could increase,
the mansion of the sky could gain more space
and raise its high roof far above the land,
and air could flow there.
— II [1103-1112] p. 91.
☞ How Epicurus’ ideas survived through Lucretius’ poetry, and led to toleration, Lapidarium notes
☞ Lucretius: ‘O unhappy race of men, when they ascribed actions to the gods’
☞ Definitions: Atom, Matter, Universe, Higgs boson, Wiki
Marcelo Gleiser: Life is fundamentally asymmetric
“Look into a mirror and you’ll simultaneously see the familiar and the alien: an image of you, but with left and right reversed. Left-right inequality has significance far beyond that of mirror images, touching on the heart of existence itself. From subatomic physics to life, nature prefers asymmetry to symmetry. (…) Life is fundamentally asymmetric. (…)
Somehow, during its infancy, the cosmos selected matter over antimatter. This imperfection is the single most important factor dictating our existence. (…) It is not symmetry and perfection that should be our guiding principle, as it has been for millennia. (…)
The science we create is just that, our creation. Wonderful as it is, it is always limited, it is always constrained by what we know of the world. […] The notion that there is a well-defined hypermathematical structure that determines all there is in the cosmos is a Platonic delusion with no relationship to physical reality. (…)
The critics of this idea miss the fact that a meaningless cosmos that produced humans (and possibly other intelligences) will never be meaningless to them (or to the other intelligences). To exist in a purposeless Universe is even more meaningful than to exist as the result of some kind of mysterious cosmic plan. Why? Because it elevates the emergence of life and mind to a rare event, as opposed to a ubiquitous and premeditated one. (…)
Unified theories, life principles, and self-aware universes are all expressions of our need to find a connection between who we are and the world we live in. I do not question the extreme importance of understanding the connection between man and the cosmos. But I do question that it has to derive from unifying principles. (…)
For a clever fish, water is “just right“ for it to swim in. Had it been too cold, it would freeze; too hot, it would boil. Surely the water temperature had to be just right for the fish to exist. “I’m very important. My existence cannot be an accident,” the proud fish would conclude. Well, he is not very important. He is just a clever fish. The ocean temperature is not being controlled with the purpose of making it possible for it to exist. Quite the opposite: the fish is fragile. A sudden or gradual temperature swing would kill it, as any trout fisherman knows. We so crave for meaningful connections that we see them even when they are not there. (…) The gravest mistake we can make is to think that the cosmos has plans for us, that we are somehow special from a cosmic perspective.
According to Deutsch, each of us exists in the multiverse as a crowd of almost identical creatures, traveling together through time along closely related histories, splitting and recombining constantly like the atoms of which we are composed. He does not claim to have an answer to the question “Why does the multiverse exist?” or to the easier question “What is the nature of consciousness?” He sees ahead of us a long future of slow exploration, answering philosophical questions that we do not yet know how to ask. One of the questions that we know how to ask but not to answer is: “Does quantum computing play an essential role in our consciousness?” For Deutsch, the physics of quantum computing is the most promising clue that may lead us to a deeper understanding of our existence. He theorizes, Holt tells us, that “all the different parallel universes in the multiverse” could “be coaxed into collaborating on a single computation.
S. J. Gould, F. Drake, L. Nimoy, J. Cage, A. Hammer on the Meaning of Life
“The first thing I look at each morning is a picture of Albert Einstein I keep on the table right beside my bed. The personal inscription reads “A person first starts to live when he can live outside of himself.” In other words, when he can have as much regard for his fellow man as he does for himself. I believe we are here to do good. It is the responsibility, of every human being to aspire to do something worthwhile, to make this world a better place than the one he found. Life is a gift, and if we agree to accept it, we must contribute in return. When we fail to contribute, we fail to adequately answer why we are here.”
— Armand Hammer, American business manager and owner, physician (1898-1990)
“I find the question “Why are we here?” typically human. I’d suggest “Are we here?” would be the more logical choice.”
— Leonard Nimoy, American actor, film director, poet, musician and photographer
“Observations of distant galaxies have produced provocative evidence for a startling idea: Our universe was just one bubble in a great fountain of bubble universes springing from the Big Bang that created all reality. Given billions of years of evolution, sophisticated living structures have developed, including creatures conscious of their universe, able to manipulate it in massive ways. There is no doubt that life will have developed in many places in our universe. Our own significance, our ultimate potential and our ensemble of possible destinies will be understood by finding and studying the other intelligent creatures of space. Thus a prime task is to seek out other intelligent civilizations and to share knowledge with them.”
— Frank Drake, American astronomer and astrophysicist“No why. Just here.”
— John Cage, American composer, music theorist and writer (1912-1992)
“The human species has inhabited this planet for only 250,000 years or so-roughly.0015 percent of the history of life, the last inch of the cosmic mile. The world fared perfectly well without us for all but the last moment of earthly time–and this fact makes our appearance look more like an accidental afterthought than the culmination of a prefigured plan.
Moreover, the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable. Human evolution is not random; it makes sense and can be explained after the fact. But wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again–and you will never get humans a second time.
We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.”
— Stephen Jay Gould, American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science (1941-2002)
In the eighteenth century, philosophers considered the whole of human knowledge, including science, to be their field and discussed questions such as: did the universe have a beginning? However, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, science became too technical and mathematical for the philosophers, or anyone else except a few specialists. Philosophers reduced the scope of their inquiries so much that Wittgenstein, the most famous philosopher of this century, said, “The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.” (…)
However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist.”
See also: ☞ Vlatko Vedral: Decoding Reality, Lapidarium notes
“Our knowledge of the universe around us has increased a thousand fold and more. We learned that Homo sapiens was not forever imprisoned by the gravitational field of Earth … We’ve seen deeply into our universe and looked backward nearly to the beginning of time.”
See also: ☞ July 21, 1969 on the front page of The NYT
☞ Inspired Mankind With One Small Step, NYT, Aug 25, 2012.
☞ Did Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have instructions of what to do if they couldn’t take off from the moon?, Quora
The optimistic position on the capacity of the human mind vis-à-vis the cosmos was nicely summed up by Emily Dickinson. “The Brain—is wider than the Sky—,” she wrote sometime around 1862, a generation before Einstein was born:
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside