Friday, February 29, 2008

The Three Bears Return

Then how can all things be for man's sake? How can we be the masters of God's handiwork? (Johannes Kepler)

It's not a pretty picture. While Goldilocks is sound asleep, the three bears return to their house. "Someone's been eating my porridge," growls Papa Bear. "Someone's been eating mine," says Mama Bear. "Someone ate all of mine!" cries the baby. They find the broken chair and the messy beds. Just as they spot Goldilocks, she wakes up and screams. Then she runs out of the house and into the woods, never to return.

That's the tame version. In the older, R-rated edition, Goldilocks jumps out of a second story window when she sees the bears. "Whether she broke her neck in the fall; or ran into the wood and was lost there; or found her way out of the wood, and was taken up by the constable and sent to the House of Correction for a vagrant as she was, I cannot tell. But the Three Bears never saw anything more of her."

The story after which a cosmological enigma is named is actually a cautionary tale. In case you missed the warning, here it is: "Goldilocks, don't assume the porridge is for you. Or the chairs, or the beds, or anything in the house. They're not yours."

Should we take similar warning? Are we "the masters of God's handiwork," as Kepler asked? Is the universe for us?

You know how we came about. The very first stars baked up carbon in their furnaces, then died and sent it into space. A second generation of stars gathered it up and generated heavier elements, only to die and repeat the process. The spatial debris coalesced into a third set of stars--but also into planets, our own included. From there our kind of life (carbon-based) could emerge, and finally us, the surveyors of it all. On a scale where 13.7 billion years is reduced to 1 year, it took until December 31 and roughly 11:57 PM to get to us. That's a whole lot of time.

And it's a lot of space. All throughout that cosmic year the universe never stopped expanding, and it's doing so now at ever increasing speeds. In this game old equals big, so if the universe were any smaller (i.e., any younger), we would not be around. To get its observer, to get its story, the cosmos had to be immense.

It took a long time, a convoluted route, and gobs of space. If the point was to get to us, wouldn't there be a simpler way? Why bother with all the rest? Why not just . . . make us?

There are many answers to that question, and they could be placed on a continuum from "weak" to "strong" anthropic principles. But I can't say if we were "an accident waiting to happen," as a character in The Story of Everything does; or if the universe "must have known we were coming," as physicist Freeman Dyson does; or if "our conscious self-reflective existence is part of God's intention," as astronomer Owen Gingerich believes.

But I am not above heeding a warning from three storybook bears (especially the big growly one). Don't assume it's all for you. The universe may be for God, it may be for living creatures, it may be for itself, but it's not for us alone. There's just too much of it. Maybe the bears are saying that other creatures count too. What matters is the good of the whole.

And yet no other creature has the consciousness and freedom that we do. If creation isn't for us, maybe at this point it's up to us. At least the planet earth is. Our decisions have affected its present condition and will matter even more in the future. Listen to nature growling and you'll end up with the Biblical notion of stewardship.


Note: You can lend your signature to a movement of those who believe the earth is up to us at TheEarthAct.org.

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COPYRIGHT (C) 2008 JOHN N. KOTRE

5 comments:

Gary said...

How does one blog into infinity and fantasy and add anything relevant to the universe, unless our adding is more relevant than we know, or can know?

Your site is impressively sharp, attractive, and responsive--and of course the content surpasses the form.

I'll blog whenever my mind can break out of its wondering wandering circle of humanity/infinity, Is The Story of Everything a story of no end, or of many ends?

"Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own."

Dick B said...

When I first read the “Goldillocks” story and the Kepler quote I thought of what I read just this morning in my meditations with Teilhard and Merton. The piece I read today is from “The Divine Milieu." I got to wondering just how powerful and transcendent the “Noosphere” can possibly be to be. And it is totally awesome to think of the billions and billions of possible “Earths” in this and other universes.

I’d like to add that I am giving a lecture to a group of Master Gardeners on March 18th. It is titled “Hybrid Lilies and Their Origins”. This will include where the wild ones grew over the years and people who were active in hybridizing them in the last century. What a wonderful small slice of creation on the go! All because of this ‘biofriendly’ planet. I will be thinking of your stories as I finish plans for the talk and as I deliver it to about 175 people.

John Kotre said...

It blows my mind that this cold, bleak universe could produce both a lily and someone who is fascinated by their beauty. Where did the beauty part come from?

Anonymous said...

Wow, ethics was blended nicely.

Mark A. Thomas said...

Wow, here comes beauty back into it all. Who perceives what is beautiful? What is the code for beauty? Is it inherent in our DNA? It must be present in the initial conditions of creation. It is an attractor. Religion doesn’t talk much of it and when it does it seems to mix beauty and desire. Not the same thing but maybe related. However, beautiful things have come from religion, manuscripts, art, mosques, churches, temples and so on. Is beauty a secret? Is it something we ignore because it may flood our senses? And when we do perceive it with proper thinking aren’t we always glad or in awe of it. What information is transmitted to us through beauty? In the futuristic movie Blade Runner, Roy Batty an android with a 4 year lifespan along with his band of renegade androids attempt to contact their human creator to either ask the philosophical questions and or attempt to get their life spans increased. These androids have been targeted for elimination by their human creators in that they are rebellious and are exhibiting too human behavior, emotions. There is no room for them in existence as humans have declared them criminals. But it appears that they the androids are developing senses beyond what their creators intended. After Roy Batty and his followers fail, Roy Batty knows that he is in the process of dying and he states the following to the astonishment of his police pursuer Rick Deckard (whom Roy Batty had just saved): "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments, will be lost in time, like tears, in rain... Time to die." And Roy Batty dies. More impressive to watch it on video but interesting to hear that the wide gap between creator (humans in this case) and the created (androids) was not really a wide gap. Anyway the concept that beauty is comprehended by beings (in the movie) other than humans is captivating.