Evo sees itself as nothing but a hole of nothingness, black with pointlessness, yet somehow alive and wise. If God has a sense of humor, and postmodernism is naught but whimsy, Evo cracks us up.
Not everybody sees the humor in black humor. Black hole humor is even iffier. Depends on the direction and degree your funny bone has evolved. But if you are amused by far out humor, one of the funnier things about it is that its funniest practitioners are – I must assume – dead serious.
Take Charles Krauthammer. One of my role models as essay writer, and one of the most coherent improvisers of anybody you'll hear whether standup comic or round-table commentator, Krauthammer presents views and visage as sober as they come. He took a break from politics the other day and wrote a column on the cosmos. It cracked me up.
“Are We Alone in The Universe?” is the title of his piece. No, we aren’t, is the answer. The heavens abound with gabby intelligent life besides ours. For if Evolution created intelligent atheistic life in its image on our planet, it has done so randomly forever on other planets, and Krauthammer yearns to connect with it. And now, thanks to eons of Evolution, our own intelligence has finally brought us SETI and Facebook wherewith to make connection.
There is a catch. Evolution, otherwise the soul of adaption, turns out to be as finicky as Goldilocks and her porridge. The planet’s temperature must not be too hot, not too cold; the atmosphere, there must be some, mustn't be too this or that. Cosmic real estate with exactly those specifications on the bar code has proven tough to come by. But the recent discovery of two such particular pins in the cosmic haystack was announced. The news was the occasion for Krauthammer to write his piece.
But the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been a part of our culture since the Beatles, even before. At first called "Project Ozma" after the Queen of Oz, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence League, Institute, org, etc. etc.), hasn’t waited to be told where to aim its Wide Array of radio telescopes and smartphones, and has been as busy monitoring for galactic brain waves as paparazzi chasing Lady GaGa, and with higher hopes.
Then, after proclaiming the news of the discovery of the two possible habitats “hugely exciting,” Krauthammer drops it flat, and proceeds to what he really wanted to do -- lament that all those intelligent beings out there aren’t returning our calls. There is plenty of twinkling but no twittering. Fermi’s Question cries out, “where is everybody?”
They all must be extinct.
Extinct! But why!
Sagan has a list of explanations but the one Krauthammer likes is, “It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself.” Intelligent life destroys itself, intelligently, taking all life, even cockroaches, with it. As Krauthammer puts it: “intelligence may be the most cursed faculty in the entire universe — an endowment … ultimately [and by cosmic time, instantly] fatal.”
If humor is overgrown irony, Krauthammer has just got his first laugh. Of all evolved attributes, intelligence (lower case i) has for eons been touted as the fittest, and it’s the fittest that survive. Darwin said so. But all of a sudden – wham! – intelligence is cosmically self-destructive, ensuring that nothing will survive. Darwin isn’t laughing.
But that’s not Krauthammer’s punchline. Here it is, delivered with his trademark straight face: There IS salvation. It is … politics...
No, not democracy, the UN, the EPA, Foxnews.com, or, to give Krauthammer’s list, “art, physics, music, mathematics and other manifestations of human genius. …If we don’t get politics right, everything else risks extinction. Everything ultimately rests upon it. ... politics is the driver of history."
Politics is and politicians are stronger drivers of history than science and scientists? Than art and artists, than literature and writers and novelists and even playwrights, than philosophers and thinkers, who have been proclaimed as the only, only possible, saviors of civilization whether Western or global, of the planet, of the race? Politicians, who consistently rank lower in approval polls than garbage collectors, they are our saviors? That Krauthammer -- another sentence, another chuckle.
But back to those aliens out there: Politics "will determine whether we will live long enough to be heard one day. Out there. By them.”
Krauthammer's Paradox: So politicians do save us and we do live long enough to be heard...out there. Who's is still out there to hear us? Didn't Krauthammer just say the intelligences out there have exterminated themselves?
Meanwhile back in the seminars and blogs there are happier -- strangely euphoric -- Evoeans, of whom dour Krauthammer seems oblivious. These are the emerging theoretical philosophical sociologists, a burgeoning new breed of humanists, who blog visions of techno-socio-intelligence, virtual and artificial and drug- or spirit-induced, well beyond the failed intelligence that Darwinian evolution planted into some awkward creature who crawled out of the swamp so many millions of years ago. Humanism, a generic form of socio-evolution spawned by Plato, not Darwin who had his own curious version of sociology, has re-emerged several times in history, notably as the Renaissance roughly coincidental with the Reformation, thus to save humanity from going to God. Mutated, embellished by techspeak, and who knows what other resources, humanism is back! If properly managed, surely by politicians (thank you, Charles), this postmodernist-neo-humanism will evolve humanity right on into Posthumanity in control of tornadoes, and even ourselves, a bigger accomplishment than mastery of hurricanes any day, and why not the cosmos itself?
BUT if you’re not ready for Posthumanity, how about Parahumanity, and, chuckle, Higher Purpose? Intelligent Design (ID) is the serious study of science that concludes that the data are as consistent with, maybe more consistent than, Creationism as with Evolution, though it has been careful not to identify a Creator. ID is petrified at the prospect of being seen as a front for Creationism, and God. But Evo and it’s naturally selected ally the ACLU have hauled has hauled ID into court, now it's new ecological niche, and made the accusation anyway, in the currently favored manner of misidentifying the target. ID has been laughed out of court and into the philosophic black hole.
But data have continued to accumulate that tends to support ID and -- horrors! -- pull support from Evo, which thought it had risen above even the need for support. Ironically -- and hilariously -- ID is turning out to be the last holdout of true Golden Age science, Evo having puffed itself into the consummate overriding science and relying on court judgments rather than data.
So the new question is, ‘not only is there design, but might there also be a Higher Purpose (deserves capitalization, Higher Purpose, HD for short)?’ It’s being asked openly – but with tongue positioned uneasily in cheek, an embarrassed ha-ha light-heartedness, even with postmodern whimsy, somehow with a different less sarcastic ring to it than the deep-throated guffaws once directed at I.D. Promulgated by the likes of William Hamilton as reported by the NYT, even Dawkins, all over uTube, although not quite viral. And at such deviant seminars as 17th annual Isaac Asimov Debate, by Harvard and MIT heat-seeking intellectuals. Even Elon Musk has taken time out from Tesla and SpaceX, and philosophizing on artificial intelligence’s bringing in universal assured income. Can Bezos be far behind?
“And just who might be imposing some sort of Higher Purpose? In the spirit of this odd new vaudeville comedy and postmodern whimsy, the answer is, a race of impossibly advanced, yes, aliens out there in some parallel universe who have been dropping in on us for eons by, yes, UFOs. Parahumanity, aliens from some parallel universe. That's who.
“And what’s the ‘higher purpose’ being imposed by these super-advanced super-playful aliens upon our iddy-biddy planet and us worms just now emerging from the Evolutional swamp? It stems from not mere curiosity and nosiness, nor evil instinct to destroy the human race as per Hollywood. Nope, nothing more profound than entertainment, theirs, not ours. Shades of the ancient mythical humorous God tweaking and prodding and laughing at us. Or some alien cosmic kid is using us as a science project in computer simulation on a planetary scale.
“And what could be the higher purpose behind Higher Purpose? Stripping away the whimsy and comedy reminiscent of the Golden Age of Radio, and UFOs and aliens, and science fiction, I see a searingly serious effort to reconcile Darwinian proto-Evolution, to which eternal allegiance must forever be given, with emergent embarrassingly incontestable scientific facts so keenly and irritatingly recognized by – ha-ha – Intelligent Design, and even to one-up ID without acknowledging HD’s debt to or even the existence of ID, or of, even more desperately, God. Me, I don't know about aliens, or for that mythic humorous God, laughing their heads off, but I am.
Meanwhile back to Krauthammer, who never laughs. What he is famous for is his perspicacity. He’s dead on, dead right, to be taken seriously. I always do, especially when he's interacting with O'Reilly on Fox News. He’s also famous for his dry, wry wit and humor. And famously inscrutable. He’s as poker-faced as Kim Jong-Il. Jack Benny was a slapstick comedian compared. That may be mostly because Charles is paralyzed from the neck down, rendering him unfailingly unflailing on TV, nary a gesture, as frozen as Lot's wife (O how refreshing!), but my guess is he’d be inscrutable had he never taken that ill-fated nosedive into a swimming pool while, teasing fate again, playing hooky from medical school that day. In any case, by the look of his face or tone of voice you never know when he’s being wise or pulling your leg. Is he serious this time? Or is he of such advanced postmodernist whimsy and tongue-in-cheek satire that I misunderstood his real point? (If so, that itself would be ironic, for I'm guilty of the same thing, as demonstrated all over this deadpan website of mine.) Or did he take a nosedive into the dry cosmic pool and come up all wet? In any case my cheeks are wet with tears of mirth.
In the beginning, before there were politicians or columnists, there was only debris from the big bang, just cosmic dust, not long ago dismissed by science as cosmic junk, like junk DNA. But it’s now thought that the dense clouds of cosmic dust have germinated into every last thing from prokaryocytes in finicky primal swamps to the very suns, planets, galaxies, constellations. Spontaneously generated life seeds, this dust may be naught but quasi-tubules, or less than that, merely programmed polyaromatic hydrocarbons, eternal and immortal, invulnerable to trillion-degree heat, radiation, and black holes, to be delivered fossilized in a meteorite, a cosmic Noah's ark, to earth or one of those odd anthropically and politically correct planets, there to evolve into politicians if not creationists. The vast stars and constellations thus spawned, the “heavenly bodies” as the ancients called them, are alive, and the rocks and the soil and the laughing brooks thereon.
That’s called panspermia.
Since the golden age of science, the 19th century, Peer-reviewed science and allied dark arts have taken a special shine to panspermia. It does have a spicy ring to it -- promiscuity on a cosmic scale. Panspermia.org’s banner proclaims to the universe: "COSMIC ANCESTRY --Life comes from space because life comes from life.” I couldn’t have said it better. St. John didn't say it better (John 1:4). But would it hold up in court?
Anyway, just as disparate cells in aggregate constitute a single human being or jelly fish, so the disparate cosmic components, called pansperms, constitute a single living creature, called the Galactic Gaia, or Gaiala Monster. That's the Gaia theory, according to which every constellation and particle of cosmic dust constitutes in aggregate the protoplasm of one single cosmic cell. The whole universe and all that in it is constitutes this one single infinitely infinite organism, black holes the throbbing ventricles sucking in cosmic dust and ejecting politicians, this whole business is circumscribed, I hope, by a cytoplasmic membrane and not scales, hide, or mane, and, I trust, quietly metabolizing and humming, not snorting like a dragon or a god. Enclosed cosmic dust, microtubules, constellations, and politicians are but organelles. Grab a free customizable Gaia avatar, kids.
Thus spoke James Lovelock, CH, CBE, FRS, Ph.D., theoretical physicist and humorist, who also dreamed up Global Warming, when he wasn’t writing gags for Seinfeld, maybe.
If there’s one thing Modern science is good for it’s discovering things nobody ever knew or dreamed of before, only it’s mostly old stuff. As modern as Pixar Studios, Panspermia and Gaia go way back to the ancients who thought everything in the universe alive and deified. They had celestial maps with connect-the-dots gods and animals that Hubble still navigates by. Modern society may demand change every nanosecond, and Postmodernism is hellbent to trash every old idea from Christianity to Americanism if not Buddhism, but somehow clings to this charming affection for ancient cosmic ideas. Modern scientists, while insisting in court that they’re unblinkingly stony-eyed and rigorously contemptuous of myths like Genesis 1, while sneaking a wink at Gilgamesh (it does have a poetic ring to it), somehow have a hankering for all those ancient pagan myths, favoring Greek gods and goddesses for names of the most advanced of scientific theories. Gaia is the Greek goddess of earth.
Standing on Lovelock's shoulders (good scientists like to stand on shoulders), and having evolved their own alternative science, our environmental activists know redwood trees are thinking great creative thoughts, and hug them, when not being hugged by politicians. Which makes redwood trees and cosmic dust, if not yet politicians, sacred, the soul of new age spirituality, hard to tell from the new court-mandated science. First Panspermia and now Pantheism, atheist style, back with a big bang and a soul.
It is fitting that the original and yet-to-be-outevolved humorist was Deadpan Darwin himself. While Pasteur and Virchow were using the most exemplary and archetypal science ever known to intelligent life on this planet to disprove Aristotle’s ancient “spontaneous generation” theory, Darwin was announcing spontaneous generation of life itself, thereby assuring that, as collateral damage, science itself would de-evolve into a Judge Jones’s shtick. Like Krauthammer says, intelligent life destroys itself.
The line between a laugh and a sob, between humor and poetry, is as thin as daisy petal.
So here we are in the Cosmic Coffee House, with Lewis Thomas (poet laureate of Panspermia and related art forms) reciting his poem:"The Lives of a Cell." “Maybe," he chants, "the thoughts we generate today and flick around from mind to mind...are the primitive precursors of more complicated, polymerized structures that will come later, analogous to the prokaryotic cells that drifted through shallow pools in the early days of biological Evolution. … eukaryotic thought, metazoans of thought, huge interliving coral shoals of thought."
Makes me want to wipe my eyes. And write a poem myself.
But seriously, folks -- Why is everybody frowning at me? Just because I chuckled at the most seriously brilliant scientists, and columnists and philosophers and psychiatrists, ancient, Enlightenment, or fresh off the web and TV, and how they attribute the cosmos and the origin of life to dodo-dead nada that somehow is alive and spawning?
By the way, in Krauthammer's book, Things That Matter, I came across “the Real Message of Creationism,“ a piece from November 1999, in which he proclaims that Genesis 1 Creation “has kids looking for God in all the wrong places.” So if not Creation where should they look? Politics? There he goes again -- cracking me up!
black hole humor
Revised Tuesday, December 13, 2016