Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXX

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

SPACE BUGS?

I am rewatching the Andromeda Strain where a crashed satellite (!) infects humanity with a space bug. And I am also familiar with how NASA took precautions to prevent possible moon bugs from infecting humanity after the Apollo astronauts returned from the moon, and how they are doing their best to prevent Earth bugs from contaminating mars when they send landers there.

One thing that’s often left out when this is discussed is perhaps the most obvious question: If there are space bugs, why would they be adapted to human and Earth biology? How could they possibly infect us if they evolved from a different origin and in a different environment?

The answer is that they almost certainly can’t if they evolved from a different origin and a different environment. There is a small chance they did evolve from the same origin – if there is something to the panspermia idea, although it’s difficult to see that they would be able to infect us since they most likely co-evolved with a very different environment from ours and with very different organisms to us. Another possibility is that Earth bugs got flung into space when a meteor hit, and miraculously survived, reproduced (without host organisms?), changed, and are still able to infect humans or Earth organisms.

There are a lot of ifs here, and it seems unlikely bordering on impossible that it could happen. Of course, NASA wants to take precautions, and they wanted to be seen as taking it seriously, which is why they quarantined the Apollo astronauts.

It makes more sense to decontaminate Earth crafts before they land on Mars and other planets. If there is native life on Mars, we don’t want it mixed in with Earth bugs and we don’t want to have Earth bugs take over the environment – even if that too is very unlikely. There is also a very small chance that Earth bugs arrived on Mars due to a meteor impact, or the other way around, and Mars bugs are still similar to Earth bugs, so it’s good to not have them mixed up.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXIX

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

MOON LANDING

I watched Armstrong (2019) and was happy to see that they, through Armstrong in his own words, touched on some of the themes I see as most important with the lunar missions. (Yes, I have been a space enthusiast since childhood!)

A huge number of people worked on the missions and made them happen, and they – in turn – wouldn’t have been able to do it without the work of innumerable people living then and in previous generations. We see the astronauts on the screen and in the media, but they are just the very tiny tip of the iceberg. That’s how it often is. We stand on the shoulders of not only giants but innumerable people and beings and all past generations.

One of the great benefits of space missions, in general, is that we get to see Earth from the outside as one seamless living whole. And we get to hear the testimonies of people who experienced it themselves and how it changed them. This is the overview effect and it shifts, in a small but significant way, how we see ourselves.

We can say that the space missions are a product of the Earth locally transforming itself into humans, technology, and a desire for exploration. In this case, we are the sensory organs of Earth seeing itself as a whole and from the outside for the first time. (Armstrong didn’t mention this, obviously.)

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Outer space and spiritual explorations

Since childhood, one of my main interests has been space, space exploration, and science fiction. And I have had an intuitive sense of the connection between space exploration and spiritual exploration. Why is there this connection?

Here are some of the parallels I find:

Both involve exploration of (for us) unknown territory. Space exploration and spiritual exploration are both an adventure and an ongoing and endless discovery.

Space appears infinite and what we are the same. To us, outer space seems infinite. And when we discover what we are – what this experience happens within and as – this “space” too appears without end.

From space we see Earth as a single whole and a single living system. There are no border visible. We are in the same boat. Our destiny – of all Earth life – is interconnected. We are inspired to take care of all life and future generations to the best of our abilities. This recognition of the oneness of all life can also come through spiritual explorations.

Through the Universe Story – as told by modern science – we see that the universe and all of existence is one whole. It’s one seamless system evolving in all the ways we see around us, and as us and our experiences and life. As Carl Sagan said in Cosmos (paraphrased), we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe exploring itself.

Through spiritual explorations, we can find something very similar. We find ourselves as the One locally expressing itself as this human self and the experiences of this human self. We find ourselves as that which our experience – of this human self, the wider world, and the universe as it appears to us – happens within and as. We find ourselves as that “no-thing” that’s capacity for all of this.

So there is no surprise if I experience an intuitive connection between space exploration and spiritual explorations. Both involves ongoing and endless adventure and exploration. Both involves the appearance of something without end. Both gives us a realization of Earth and all life as a seamless whole. Both involves a recognition of Oneness and our human self as a local expression of this Oneness – beautiful and amazing in all its richness.

Note: As a child, I was deeply fascinated – and somewhat transformed – by Cosmos by Carl Sagan, and also read anything I could find about astronomy and science fiction. In terms of science fiction, I loved the classics like Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and others.

Space exploration and the epic of evolution

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.

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Hunger and thirst vs space exploration

For some reason, some folks like to set working on global hunger and thirst up again space exploration.

I have never quite understood it. Obviously, we could use the money used for space exploration in that way, but it’s a tiny bit of just a very few countries public budget, and a great deal more money is spent on things like war, the military, pet food, products used once or twice and then thrown out, and even celebrity magazines. Knowing that, why use space exploration as an example of supposed waste of money?

To me, alleviating and preventing hunger and thirst comes from a similar place as space exploration. For humanity and Earth life to survive for any significant length of time, we need to become a multi-planet species. Being limited to one location makes us far too vulnerable. We are Earth exploring space and contemplating seeding itself onto nearby planets and perhaps even further out.

That’s also preservation of life, and if we think preserving individual lives is important (which I do), then preserving whole species and ecosystems over longer time spans is equally important.

To mention a few more things: Space technology and exploration has also allowed us to get a much better overview on the Earth as a whole in terms of science, sustainability, and in our minds (we are the Earth seeing itself from the outside, and that has tiny but profound effects for humanity). Space technology and science have helped us down here in many ways. And it’s inherent in us humans to explore and space is one of the current frontiers. (It’s not the frontier since there are many, and it’s also not final.)