I was working on this post tomorrow (if you consider that I've back-dated this one) when I realized I had an answer to the question I asked in a still earlier post: WyTF am I writing this blog It's kind of a strange answer, but I'm kind of a strange person, so bear with me. Or not.
I've reached the point in life where the end isn't exactly in sight, but I know it's getting close. Maybe around the next turn; maybe just the other side of that mountain up ahead.
That makes me less attached to my own life than I was when I was--say--twenty. And well it should. There's less there to be attached to.
When I was in my thirties I had a wife and three kids who were attached to me--who depended on me for their survival. I knew I couldn't die. It would be selfish and irresponsible; if I died, Bobbi would have to deal with the kids all by herself. And if I gave her that problem--well, she'd kill me.
Oh, wait. I'm already dead.
On 9/11 I was flying from Boston to Los Angeles, fortunately (a story for another time) I was not flying my favorite airline at the time, United, or I would have made the side trip to New York that we all saw on TV. Instead I ended up in Chicago, watching the disaster unfold and thinking: that could have been me. Oddly, the thought was calming.
I realized that if I had been on that plane, if I had died, that my death would not be my problem. Death is a problem for survivors, not a problem for the deceased. The kids were grown and no longer dependent on Bobbi. She'd go on with her life, and not try to kill me in the afterlife. I felt very peaceful about the prospect of my own death, whenever it came. Still do.
Not my problem.
Still, I do put work into staying alive. I like being alive (mostly) and I'm not going to leave without a fight. But I know it's a losing fight. When the end comes, it will come. So be it. I'm OK with that.
I'm also tranquil because I identify myself with something beyond this body. Some people believe that they are immortal souls. I did once, but I don't any more. I never believed in heaven and hell, but there was a time when I believed in reincarnation. No more. And that does not bother me either, because I know I am part of something that will go on.
I see myself as a part of the universe. That's not a metaphor, it's a fact. I am part of the universe, and the universe will go on. For a long time. Eventually it will end, and so I will finally end, but unlike the passing of my body that's so far in the future that I give it little attention. And if Freeman Dyson is right, then even the universe will not end. (Ref: Freeman Dyson, Time Without End)
No, seriously. That's how I've come to feel. I am part of the universe, and because of that, I've got a job to do. And writing this blog is part of that job.
My origin story, the story that anchors me, starts 14+ billion years ago. It starts before there was space, or time, or light. Somehow (we don't know how, and we may never know how) a process began. Due to natural laws that we are starting to understand (we don't know how the laws came about, and may never know) the process followed what I believe is an inevitable course that has lead to such diversity in the universe that in some places and times the conditions necessary for life, as we know it, came to be.
Those conditions I believe are inevitable, but I don't believe that life is inevitable. It is accidently and evitable.
The Drake equation calculates the number of civilizations in our galaxy that can release detectable signals into space. If N is the number of such civilizations then:
N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);
R* = the average rate of star formation in our galaxyfp = the fraction of those stars that have planetsne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space
The partial product: L = R* * fp * ne gives the number of planets in out galaxy could develop life. Multiply by fl and you get the number of planets that actually have life. We're starting to be able to estimate the value of some of the terms in the equation, for L, but we still haven't a clue about the value of fl, the fraction that actually develop life. If fl is much smaller than 1/L--which it could be--then the probability of life on any planet in the galaxy is close to zero. But it's not zero, because we're here.
If we scale the equation and compute LL, the number of planets in the entire universe that could develop life, and if fl is far less than 1/LL, then once again the probability of life in the universe is small. If it's vanishingly small, it's still not zero. We're the counterexample to the assertion that life cannot exist.
The value of fl is knowable--as much as anything can be known, in science--or more properly can be reliably estimated, but only when we've found enough planets with life to be able to develop a testable theory of the origins of life. Or only when we can can produce life by the same process of mindless trial and error that I believe has produced us.
Who knows. We might be the only game in town. Or there might be other games, or towns, too far away to reach us with detectable signals. Or the players of those games might be nearby, but hiding. Not only don't we know, we don't even have to make well-founded guesses.
What we do know is that if life is likely in other places, that we face the Fermi Paradox, "Where is Everybody?" To read about the Fermi paradox, and it's resolution, I recommend this essay, in the blog "Wait But Why."
But I digress. The universe is a fact. It is here. My existence is a fact--right now, at least. Your existence is a fact, whoever or whatever you are, as you read this.
So why am I writing this blog? Here's my answer.
The universe is engaged in the process of understanding itself through actions taken by intelligent life forms.
I am part of the universe and a somewhat intelligent life form. So it's my job to try and understand myself and the rest of the universe, as best I can.
I'm writing this blog because writing it helps me do my job, and so is part of my job.
That's a satisfactory answer for me, right now. It might lead you to ask a few more questions, which I plan to answer in follow-on posts. Or it might not lead you to ask those questions. No matter. I plan to write the posts anyway.
1. Who do I think I am?
2. Why do I think this is my job?
3. When do you stop asking why?
If the above questions don't have hyperlinks to answers, wait a bit.
The answers will appear.
It's my job to make them appear.