Last week, astrophysicist and popular science writer Stephen Hawking brought me right down to earth.
Hawking, in Hong Kong to deliver a lecture, issued a rather dire warning to planet Earth.
“Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.”
And because of this inevitable state of affairs he insisted, “It is important for the human race to spread out (and colonize) space for the survival of the species.”
Stephen, I wish you had chatted with me prior to aborting ye olde Earthship. I fear you have stepped right into a black hole.
I, for one, am not quite ready to blast off to deep cosmic space without first exploring the deepest reaches of human inner space.
Your Star Trekish view of the future of humanity does not factor in a few important ingredients that make up the core of human character.
The most obvious of which are such inner-space notions as hopefulness, compassion and universal understanding.
Not to forget, of course, the grandest of all notions: the simple fact that even the commonest of us humans are still pretty damn smart.
These traits can take us a long way toward keeping the lid on Earth’s annihilation.
Here is something else to keep in mind — take to heart if you will.
Humans, it seems, are quite clever at both inventing and discovering. Your voyage to the moon and beyond is a classic example of the value of invention. Discovery, however, is slightly different.
Here is how agricultural scientist and environmental farmer Wes Jackson might see this difference.
“What if we researched and taught as though we believed that the wisdom of nature is more important, in the long run, than the cleverness of science? What if we really did regard our domestic plants and animals more as relatives of wild things than as our property? What if we acknowledged straight out that there is more to be discovered than invented? Of course we must have both discovery and invention, but what if we changed the emphasis?”
There you go, Stephen, what if we changed the emphasis?
What if we set our sights on discovering what is all (and always) around us rather than inventing what is not.
What if we were to commit — personally and patriotically — our enormous personal and collective wealth to going deeper inside rather than further outside?
And then what if we insisted on a national program aimed at teaching citizens to look as seriously at their local landscape as space scientists look at the Martian landscape?
What if we tried to stem the increase of violence between different cultures by first assuming we are all brothers and sisters — all human.
Harvard physicist Lee Smolin once wrote, “We are all waiting to see, as we have been waiting since childhood, whether our world will perish from the unintended consequences of violence and greed or whether we will discover a way for human beings on the whole planet to form a single society based on mutual respect and nonviolence.”
And, Smolin continues, “Perhaps not surprisingly, we are all, in one way or another, trying to understand what it means to construct a description of a complete universe, from the inside, without reference to fixed external notions.”
Architect Christopher Alexander suggests all of us have, “Somewhere in his (or her) heart, the dream to make a living world, a universe, out of those things that are all around us.”
Those of us who can actually achieve this are, according to Alexander, true to themselves.
“When you meet a person who is true to himself, you feel at once that he is more real than other people are.”
And if a town is full of real people, then, Alexander tells us, “the town or community is real and alive.”
“The town which is alive and beautiful shows in a thousand ways how all of its institutions work together to make people comfortable, and deep seated in respect for themselves.”
Writer Bill McKibben tells us if we do this internal work, “environmental hope will appear in various disguises. Some places it will come as a sleek new bus or bike path, in others as a cleaned-up slum, a repaired school, a cry of joy at the birth of a baby girl.”
McKibben is hopeful “the greenhouse effect might someday abate and that this society might be starting the climb down from over development. Not hopeful that everything will be fine — everything isn’t going to be fine. But hopeful that the sky is brightening a little in the East.”
What concerns me about Hawking’s vision for the future of humanity in outer space is that if we set about colonizing the moon without first laying claim to our own inner space, outer space will eventually look a lot like our present place.
Gregory Heming is a writer living in Haines Junction.