About The Author
D. R. Prescott has written a novel, a collection of short stories, a nonfiction book, a collection of essays, planetarium show/display scripts, two family histories, technical articles and business plans as well as written for and edited several newsletters.
Awards and published work include Writers' Journal, Long Story Short, Taj Mahal Review literary journal, The Orange County Register, Writer's Digest, and Writing.com and four books among other challenges.
As a former aerospace executive and planetarium program director, Prescott currently writes and explores life in Orange, California.
"Sentience can be annoying."-DRP Abt. 1990
Since 2008, Prescott has been a regular contributor of
essays and short stories to
The Taj Mahal Review Literary Journal
Alpha Centauri and Beyond Radio Interview of Prescott
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O R D E R T O D A Y !
What I Suspect
WHAT I SUSPECT…
D. R. Prescott
Very few people care about what I believe. A small number care about what I know. However, a fair number of people might care about what I suspect, if only they knew I suspected it.
Making distinctions between believing, knowing and suspecting is a simple task. I believe only two things. I know nothing for sure. I suspect a lot.
I believe that I exist. I believe that there is deeper meaning to our existence. Beyond that, everything else falls into either knowing or suspecting. When asked for concrete evidence that I exist, I have to resort to my unreliable senses, which, in themselves, may be merely illusions.
By believing only in my existence and the possibility of something larger, am I tossing myself into a dark place, fragile and vulnerable, fraught with insecurities and fearing my end? Strangely not. It is what I suspect that provides me a sense of anticipation every day and everyway. I long to know what I do not know but I have little hope of ever knowing anything with absolute certainty. Suspecting that something wonderful and awe-inspiring awaits me is sufficient for now.
Knowing is beyond belief and perhaps more fleeting. True knowledge should be immutable. Could such a thing exist? Personal knowledge is, repeatedly, incomplete or subject to modification. New information often sculpts our knowledge. While it may seem that I know I exist, my methods of proving it have failed me. It has not been demonstrable, conclusively or repeatedly. Consequently, I admit that I actually know nothing! (That may come to a surprise to people who know me. Of course, I may have been unaware that a lot of people thought precisely that anyhow, repeatedly!)
So, where does that leave me? I know nothing for sure since my entire existence is a matter of unreliable personal experience. While I see people going about their businesses every day, I am not certain that they exist, other than what my senses tell me. I only believe that I exist and cannot conclusively prove that the world or the Universe is anything more than what I sense or want it to be.
My second belief is that deeper meaning exists. Everything is just right for our existence-a version of the Goldilocks effect. Why? That question is the foundation of this belief. The more I learn about science, mathematics and human nature, the more I believe that there is a larger picture for which my eyes and mind are not developed enough to fathom.
It is what I suspect that begins to get interesting. As I age, my suspicions are numerous and enjoy varying degrees of freedom of change. (Note that I did not say ‘older and wiser’, though the temptation was intense to do so.) The reason my suspicions are so numerous is that I believe that I exist, and, ironically, am incapable of knowing, with certainty, anything! Thus, suspicions abound.
My most significant suspicions start with your existence and finally stand precariously on that lofty, mental perch where we all ultimately roost--what is the purpose of it all.
Suspicion Number 1: You exist.
I want to say that I believe you exist. However, as I said earlier, I only believe that I exist. My potentially unreliable senses advise me that you exist. Since I cannot freely enter your mind and sense what you sense, the possibility exists that you may only be a figment of my imagination or, worse, an empty vessel moved about like a puppet for my amusement. Since I believe that I exist, I do suspect that you are a thinking, self-aware entity like me based only on my observations. I don’t believe it. I do not know it. I suspect it. Therefore, my friend, you are under suspicion!
Suspicion Number 2: All life is connected.
I suspect that consciousness is part of something that makes all of us part of each other and everything. Currently accepted theory of our rise to sentience suggests that, like it or not, we stem from the same stuff. The atoms of our bodies were apparently forged in the crucibles of stars. Our emergence as conscious entities is often explained in terms of a reasonable progression since the Big Bang without resorting to divine intervention. But, what happened before creation? Does that question have any meaning? I suspect that everything is connected, if not in the macrocosm, then somehow in the microcosm.
Suspicion Number 3: Other intelligence exists within space and time.
This suspicion is why I let my computer work on SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). While I am very aware of the improbability of finding an alien signal, there is still a slim chance that another intelligent life form, capable of communicating with us, exists within range of our current communicative abilities.
I qualify this suspicion as within space and time because not only are we up against the vastness of space and the limiting nature of light speed, but our entire civilization has existed less than 0.0002 per cent of the Earth’s existence. Hominids, in all forms, have been around only slightly longer. So, it appears that time is at least as much of a formidable obstacle as space. That is the reason for my qualification of intelligence in space and time.
I have no idea what other forms of intelligence took, takes or will take. It may be carbon-based life, some sort of silicon-based awareness or something far more different and more efficient and significantly more alive than any human being. Which raises questions about life and what purpose it serves? That subject is coming several suspicions from now.
I do not exclude the possibility that “other terrestrial intelligence” may have existed, undetected thus far, or will exist on this planet in the future. Since we have a great deal of evidence that life exists on Earth, this suspicion is founded upon 4.6 billion years of evidence close enough to inspect. Who made the rule that sentient, bipedal collections of emotional baggage are the pinnacle of life?
Considering the estimated age of the Earth and current thinking about its expected lifespan, there might be time for another species to evolve dethroning the human from its exalted position, maybe apes, cockroaches or daisies. Our Sun is expected to have around four or five billion years of hydrogen fuel left; estimates of how long the Earth will be habitable are considerably less for a number of reasons, including our own impact on the planet’s ecology. Yet, I suspect that other sentient life may exist, or will exist elsewhere and else when.
Suspicion Number 4: Consciousness is a fundamental part of reality.
Here is where my suspicions get dicey. Reality may only be a perception, yours, mine or both. Since I believe that I exist, my reality is a series of suspicions woven together by my awareness, i.e., my consciousness. Some great thinkers have tried to separate the self from the material world. A basic tenet of this approach suggests that the material world was created by a divine entity and that our bodies possess some ethereal substance, like a soul, spirit, essence or whatever you choose to call it. This idea even proposes that human beings may not be a natural development of nature, but transcendental creations, divinely given special status beyond the natural world.
Dr. John D. Barrow and Dr. Frank J. Tipler discuss The Anthropic Cosmological Principle in a book of the same name. This book provides fodder for the thoughtful mind to ponder what makes our existence possible. Actually, there are the Weak, Strong and the Final Anthropic Principles. I think it is important to have some understanding of fundamental forces to appreciate just how special our existence is, whether it is naturally or divinely derived. If any of the basic forces were not their current values, for example, the Weak or Strong Nuclear forces were weaker or stronger than we observe them, our existence would likely not be possible at all. Hence, you would not be reading this because the conditions would not be right for you to exist in this universe. Since you are reading this piece, it is easy to think everything was made for us!
The Anthropic principles share a common thread-sentience. They would have little meaning if we were not aware of our existence, sapient enough to use knowledge and sufficiently intelligent to wonder about it.
The Weak Anthropic Principle is restricted by two requirements. First, there must be places within the Universe where carbon-based life can evolve. Second, the Universe has to be old enough for it to have evolved.
The Strong Anthropic Principle makes it mandatory for the physical properties to exist that will permit life to develop and come into existence within the Universe’s history.
Then, there is what has come to be known as the Final Anthropic Principle. This principle, while devised by humans, is not necessarily limited to human life as the end product of intellectual evolution. This principle requires that intelligent information processing must arise and, once it has risen, will never die out. Wow! Never is a very long time.
An astronomer friend and associate of mine, Dr. Stephen Eastmond, attended a conference where Dr. Frank Tipler discussed the three Anthropic Principles’ abbreviations, WAP, SAP and FAP and introduced one other principle-the Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle-CRAP for short! Behind his humor is a fundamental piece of information; life exists on Earth and we do not really know why.
When you think about it, why should life be carbon-based to be sentient? Silicon-based life or, perhaps, some energy-based organization might be possible that fits the accepted criteria for sentient-based life. The Final Anthropic Principle permits other types of life comparable to or even superior to carbon-based life forms. I suspect that FAP is probably not CRAP!
Suspicion Number 5: The Universe was not made necessarily for us.
We are an egotistic life form. Everything we do is seasoned by what we think we are, individually or collectively. Many believe that humans are the centerpieces for everything. We tend to think that we are the center of it all and nothing happens that is not for us.
Human beings are wondrous, no question about it. But, can we claim to be the center of creation? I think not. Being aware of things is an incredible achievement of nature. In fact, being aware of ourselves is an enormous leap of creation. Yet, the entire Earth is a mere speck in a huge cosmos. Could it be that our sentience and intelligence is part of a universe where self-awareness is an emergent quality of nature? If so, isn’t that wonderful too, even if we aren’t the epitome of creation but merely a fraction of what is or can be? Is it more appropriate to say that we are made for the Universe and not the other way around? Maybe there are five fundamental forces! I suspect that the Universe with all of its anthropic-compassionate physics is just right for consciousness, hence life, because, at some elementary level, consciousness is a primary force of nature.
Suspicion Number 6: The concept of good and evil in a universe created by a perfect God, or gods, is an oxymoron.
How can evil exist in a Universe supposedly constructed by a perfect being? Does that mean that evil is perfect? Would not it have to be perfect if it were brought into existence by a perfect being? If evil is not perfect and it was created by the creator of everything, it follows that the creator of everything is not perfect. How then do we reconcile the imperfections of our existences with the concept of a perfect, all-knowing being that created everything? The answer is we do not, or perhaps more accurately, cannot.
I think that the answer lies buried deep within us. The concept of good and evil is fraught with inconsistencies. As others have noted elsewhere, frequently, what was good in one time can be evil in another. Good and evil has been transformed through time by the hand of humans, not, as some suspect, some deity. We define it and redefine it to suit our times and collective whims. A lot of what was evil several hundred years ago has been integrated into our current social fabric. So, evil appears to be relative, making its counterpart, good, just as malleable. Good and evil appear to subject to human interpretation and convenience. Therefore, it is hard to understand how good and evil could exist in a perfect world made by a perfect being. I suspect that any viable concept of a perfect, superior being must consider evil as a perfect concept since it exists. I suspect that evil in all its forms stems from the natural processes of developing sentience. Is that disturbing?
Suspicion Number 7: There is something beyond death of the human body.
As sentient beings, the question of what happens after the physical body gives out is a natural extension of being aware. For me, and likely you, it is unacceptable that something doesn’t happen after death. It is our awareness that makes us vulnerable to the uncertainty of the afterlife. To many of us, our consciousness is the center of everything similar to what the ancients thought about the Earth being the center of everything before the Copernican revolution toppled the Earth from its, heretofore, central position.
Nature has made me aware of myself. Some awareness after death seems inevitable. The question remains; what is it? A bigger question… why? I suspect that there is something after we die, not because I think I am, or you are, the center of it all but, because I suspect that everything is connected somehow.
Suspicion Number 8: A superior being is in the making.
As superior beings go, I have no idea of what such a being would be like. I can imagine that such a being might be so powerful that its actions would be “indistinguishable from magic”; to borrow from Arthur C. Clark’s perceptive remark about superior science and technology. I might even be duped into believing that such a being is omnipotent, omniscient and perfect if, and only if, everything I perceived was perfect. Not everything I sense is perfect by my definition. Consequently, either the Supreme Being is not perfect, and therefore, not omnipotent or omniscient, or, more likely, does not yet exist or I am dead wrong, lacking the ability to grasp the concept.
The only conclusion I can draw now is that we are a typical manifestation of natural processes and a part of whatever consciousness that will develop in the Universe’s future. This Supreme-Being-in-the-Making proposal is not new. Others have already considered it, some more seriously than others. I suspect that we have a long way to go before we can answer that nagging question. For now, I will settle for suspecting it.
Suspicion Number 9: Something like the Omega Point Theory may make as much sense as anything else we have devised thus far.
There have been a number of design arguments adrift in religious thought. A design argument suggests that this or that was purposely made… designed. From ancient philosophers to modern thinkers (the great and the not-so-great), the universe’s purpose and creation has been debated, sometimes heatedly, now and then to the point of violent, deadly battles. Whether there is an omnipotent, omniscient intelligence behind everything is unproven.
Dr. Frank Tipler attempts to bring together physics and religion in another of his books, “The Physics of Immortality.” I’ve got to hand it to him; it took considerable courage to attempt such integration. In its simplest terms, The Omega Point Theory, suggests that human beings are finite state machines that can be emulated in the future down to the finest details. This is possible because life, intelligent, sentient life, will spread itself throughout the Universe and have information-processing capabilities unimaginable today. That means that you and I might die and be resurrected in the far distant future as an emulation that cannot be distinguished from the real thing. If the emulation appears as real as the real thing, who cares as long as you can think and feel like you do now?
What is between death and that far distant semblance of Utopia? Maybe nothing. Nothing at all. You might be gone but having been here, you have left an imprint of what you are on space and time. You die and your program, a program defining everything you are, is run by that future supercomputer. These super computing capabilities in the far distant future at the Omega Point may create you and your world in its bowels.
Nothing happening between when you die and, perhaps, billions or trillions of years in the future seems chilling. Yet, is it any different from being unconscious during an operation? Time passes. Then, you are awakened in a different time and usually in a different space without any memory of the intervening time. In the case of the Omega Point Theory, you die, a lot of time passes unnoticed, and, for all practical purposes, you are awakened an instant later, by your reckoning, while enormous time has passed.
In his book, Dr. Tipler says in the final paragraph of the last chapter, “… Science can now offer precisely the consolations in facing death that religion once offered. Religion is now part of science.”
I recommend reading The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and The Physics of Immortality. They are an intellectual exercise that you will not soon forget.
I think that there is a kernel of something significant in these works. If nothing else, The Omega Point Theory makes as much sense as any philosophy that has slithered over my mental palette thus far. In addition to the books I’ve specifically mentioned, works by Davies, Asimov, Herbert, Feynman, Gribbin, Hawking, Penrose, Abraham, Gleick, Drake, Sagan and a number of others writing for the “educated” masses have paved the way for a more ostentatious suspicions.
I suspect that when I die I will go on the grandest adventure ever conceived; I will know the future and so will you. I don’t think that it will even come close to any Earthly vision, religious or otherwise. I suspect that the Omega Point Theory is wrong. Alas, has Dr. Tipler created the makings of another religion? I am afraid that we have too many now!
Suspicion Number 10: The purpose of it all is unknowable in our present form, but improving ourselves is clearly a part of our purpose.
Here is where I really step off the bridge of reason and dangle above the raging river of speculation. With all of our computers, all of our brain cells and all of our opportunities to learn, we lack the capacity and thought processes necessary to really understand it all and know the purpose of it all. That is not to say that we should not try or that it is impossible.
I think our purpose is to learn as much as humanly possible to prepare us for whatever lies beyond our lives and the lives of everything that ever lived on Earth. One would hope that if reincarnation has any substance as some believe, learning should be transferable to the next life. There is absolutely no conclusive evidence to support such an idea. I have no memories of a previous life and all my limited skills were acquired as far as I know in my current lifetime. So, I don’t necessarily buy into reincarnation concepts. Oh, how I wish there were more to draw on!
There is so much to learn and so little time in one lifetime. I think that, individually and collectively, living things should constantly strive to raise the level of intelligence and awareness within their space and time.
Consciousness is a difficult thing to get our arms around and understand. Is a fly conscious or sentient? Is a fly merely an organism necessary to support the rise of consciousness to the point where we can wonder about its existence and smash it flat for pestering us-snuffing out its tiny life? Some Eastern philosophies shudder at such an unthinking act. In the West, snuffing out the life of a fly or a spider or a cockroach is of little consequence-almost a duty.
Are not the fly, spider and cockroach a part of it all that we are trying to understand? When you kill an insect, have you lowered the average consciousness and awareness of life on Earth? If as I suspect that everything is connected, then everything we do ought to be directed at making life more aware and more intellectually capable over time.
While the idea of killing insects may seem a bit over-the-top, unless of course you purposely make it your life’s work, the idea of killing each other and snuffing out a mind with such enormous potential ought to strike you as outrageous. Yet, we do it every day around the globe for reasons that seem to have little or nothing to do with the purpose of it all. It is one of our more blatant imperfections. We are flawed!
Our flaws appear deep and primal. We have slipped from the ooze of primordial waters onto land and managed to get to the point where we live better and more productively than any known species, that ever inhabited this little ball in space. Still, we slaughter life around us with abandon. In spite of all of our serious flaws, as a species, we have raised the average intelligence in our space and in our time.
I think that the real beauty of living is the quest to understand everything we can.
There must be a higher purpose. I hope there is. I suspect that the purpose of it all lies in the future of consciousness and our job is to do the best we can with what we got while we can. As I look back on my life, I wish I had done a better job. My hope is that my progeny will help raise the level of mediocrity in a world fraught with peril. I can ask no more of them, or no less.
For those of you who care, there you have it-my suspicions about virtually everything. If it has given you something to think about, I might be smiling at you from the far distant future, whatever that may hold. Or, I might not. Either way, I am smiling now because I was able to do it and appreciate the act. Maybe, that is why life is so much fun. As I have said before, ‘Sentience can be annoying.’
© Copyright 2007 D. R. Prescott (donprescott at Writing.Com).
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