And we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos we’ve begun, at last, to wonder about our origins. Star stuff, contemplating the stars, organized collections of 10 billion-billion-billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and perhaps, throughout the cosmos.Carl Sagan, Cosmos, episode 13
When I was a child, I was strongly influenced by Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and especially the quote above. It touched something in me. It resonated with a knowing in me.
Later, in my early twenties, I read The Overview Effect by Frank White, and that too resonated deeply with how I already experienced the world. In it, he describes how astronauts, when they see the Earth from space, often viscerally realize that the Earth is one seamless whole, fragile, with a thin layer of air supporting life. For some astronauts, and especially those who went further away from Earth, it was a deeply transformative experience.
All of us have access to it through photos, movies, and first-person accounts. And also through seeing the starry sky at night, and any time we are reminded of the Earth as one seamless whole. In my case, I had a profoundly transformative experience when I was 10 or 12 years old, in a sleeping bag under the vast starry sky on a mountain in Norway (Sølen) with an equally vast view of the landscape stretching our below me.
I see that Frank White has a new book coming out in a few weeks: The Cosma Hypothesis – Implications of the Overview Effect.
Following the pattern set in The Overview Effect, the book draws on interviews with astronauts about the ways in which spaceflight shifted their understanding of our relationship with the universe. The Cosma Hypothesis suggests that our purpose in exploring space should transcend focusing on how it will benefit humanity. We should ask how to create a symbiotic relationship with the universe giving back as much as we take, and spreading life, intelligence, and self-awareness throughout the solar system and beyond. From the Cosma Hypothesis book description.
I obviously haven’t read the book yet, but again it resonates with me.
As Carl Sagan said in the quote above, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into awareness. We do it in all the different ways we live our lives, individually and collectively, no matter how exciting and novel or mundane and familiar it seems to us. All beings are the local senses, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. All beings are the universe locally bringing itself into awareness.
And so it also is with space flight and space exploration. That too is the universe bringing itself into awareness. The universe exploring itself beyond this one living planet. It may even be how the universe spreads the life on this one living planet beyond this planet through colonization and terraforming. From the Earth’s perspective, we may well function as the reproductive organs of Earth.
The universe brought itself alive through this living planet and us, and it’s very natural for it to wish to explore itself beyond this one planet, and even to spread life beyond this one living planet, and to do so through us. We happen to be the social and physical organs of the Earth that are equipped to do just that, and the time for the first small steps happens to be now.