I think we, humans and other beings on Earth, are in the center of the Universe. We are in the center of our Universe and this is the only Universe that exists. It is important to ponder this as if it is really so, it brings a lot of the responsibility to us, humans, as the squirrels and dolphins , as pretty and smart they are, they won’t help much.
As a philosopher, I think that the solution for the present pickle will come from the maturing of the human mind rather than from more successes in the technology. As would Einstein put it -“no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
An idea that we are in the center of the Universe seems like the fine place to start from! The argument usually involves astronomy and physics . The theologians, after the setbacks handed by Copernicus, Darwin and raging capitalism are trying to side with science to regain some respectability. They are conspicuously absent from the fry.
But I am a pediatrician, for Goodness Sake!
Well, for the last 50 years I was playing with babies. I was watching them, talked to them and studied their development. I was studied the similarities and the differences in their thinking and feeling as compared to primates and other simpler animals. And the idea of us being the center of the Universe came straight from the evolutionary neuroscience and developmental pediatrics.
Every behavior that benefits an organism’s evolution has to be communicated and encoded. The speed of the evolution is uneven. The traits/ behaviors which relay on body changes are slow, but the ones relaying on communication are fast. The more complex, the smarter you get, the faster you get even smarter. Your brain is better, your society is more complex, you communicate faster. Your brain, your synapses evolving on the neck-break speed starting to get shortcuts. When you start communicating with shortcuts, these are words. So you start to relay on them, there is more and more to teach an infant, which become smarter and smarter. Soon they become speakers, for these exchanges you need grammar and then language. So these communications which started with the simple descriptions of a beneficial behavior (swim towards warmth) now name actions, feelings, reasons and most amazing – THINGS. We teach infants these words and they see them as independant of communication , independent from language.
Every animal’s brain evolved to fine tune this animal’s behavior in given environment. To perceive, to see, to understand, to adapt, this for an animal is the same thing. It is what an animal does, without splitting it into categories. The animal’s world (Nagel’s “What it is like to be a bat” will not tell you much…) is very different that mine and yours. It is not subjective and it is not objective- there is no self to make this distinction. It is obviously dependent on the observer (the animal itself), made by the animal’s peculiar, primitive perception and memory, but it is out there. Birds’ migration shows that they can coordinate complex actions, but the sharing is automatic, not via intentional communications. So, the animal’s world is outside, around the each animal, built mostly over the eons of the evolutionary time, with just a little of it built during the life of the animal- to allow for diversity beneficial for the species survival, the world of behaviors. Even if the evolution created homo sapiens with the vastly improved brain, the communications ability, and thinking skills, each of us still builds his or hers personal world, with the Universe getting bigger and bigger around us. So, again, an young infant, with minimal activity of cortex, the human baby has the world out there, instinctual and emotional. But, unlike the animals, human infant rapidly activates upper limbic centers and prefrontal cortexes. The rich social communications add to the world of behaviors two new worlds: the world of language and the world of things. The world of behaviors enables the world of language, the world of language enables the world of things, but there is a huge difference between the first and the last two of them. The world of behaviors (shared with the animals) surrounds each baby, (each animal ) making, her own Universe (Umwelt) but the worlds of language and things are shared with other human beings, they feel like floating outside and independent of us! This transition happens around 6 to 9 month of age in infants, this make them cranky and confused, they can’t sleep, suddenly clinging to mom. Psychologists call this the development of the object permanence, I call it losing of the object impermanence, or even better – entering from My Universe into the strange Universe which is Nobody’s- it is just there.
Now imagine 7 billion personal worlds all mingled, shared, interconnected. Then add 14 billions of the mom’s and dad’s worlds which were the base of the each of our personal worlds, add all the ancestors’ worlds, further and further back in time. All sentient beings contributed to the process of building subsequent generations of personal worlds.
Space, time and other dimensions are products of this complex masterpiece. The main function of the evolving animal’s nervous system is to create understanding, in other words -the cognition (the way for control). And this works through categorizing, naming, creating semantic shortcuts, the metaphors.
According to the Gaia hypothesis, kind of similar to my philosophy, the interconnected sentient beings create super intelligence, like interconnected neurons and dendrites, create the conscious brain. To me, these connections between humans are mostly related to ancestors via genes and culture via instincts and the core of human nature. These connections make possible for each of us to become conscious and create a meaningful world.
During the last 80 years, science and philosophy are grappling with the explanation of the observed vs observer dilemma. From Bohr and Einstein to Maturana and Varela and Thompson , the concept of observer-built reality is gaining ground. See also Archibald John Wheeler’s Participatory Universe and Anthropic principle debates.
And, of course, about 100 000 years ago, the culture and the technology for the practical reasons developed “the agreement universe” so we could hunt the mastodon or build the bridge or a spaceship. The other names for this are “nobody’s universe” or “reality”.
My world which is interconnected with 7 billions of “you’s” and it was built by our ancestors and the ancestors of ancestors down to the beginning of life..
You are in the exactly same situation, these are all assets we have, and if we are not extremely careful, we are going to blow them out in the nuclear holocaust. Or starve slowly, take your pick.
After the last human dies, a computer in some deep bunker will still continue to churn out data revealing new “discovery” based on Cosmic Microwave Background measurements.
But it will be no CMB, this term will become completely meaningless. And it will not matter whether the report is in English, Arabic or Chinese. If there is nobody to read it, there is no CMB, period.
Really, see- “micro” means nothing, “wave” means nothing, “back” means nothing – there is no front so can not be back, there is no “ground” and no “cosmic”.
OK, you say “ let’s continue this story, and in a million years, the aliens discover this planet and this computer printout”… Not so fast: you can not discover anything if there is no concept of “discovery”. There are no years if there is no spring and winter, and if nobody is born and dies , the time is meaningless and useless. Without the human, there is even no story.
Yes. We are the center of the Universe.
We are the only observers of the world. Naturally the world is fine tuned for humans (the Anthropic Problem) if they invented the measurements accordingly. And while animals’ world of behaviors occurs in time and space, only the humans with their worlds of language and things named them and are aware of them. We also invented the science that tells us, that we live as a tiny, insignificant specs, on the small planet, on the periphery of the remote galaxy, with the huge, cold, unknown cosmos around us. Some scientists are trying to cheers us up, like Primack and Abrams in “The view from the center of the Universe” and Tom Yulsman in “Origins”. They made it worse, their wishy -washy argument and wishful thinking goes from reassurance that our size is just right (sic!) to the hope that future science will alleviate our wretchedness to stating that the Universe does not have the center, therefore we can not be off it.
But while the scientists still ( and will forever ) argue, this should not make us feel like the insignificant specs, excused to be helpless and small, waiting for the creator to help us, please!
We are at the center of human experience, as we are building personal and interconnected worlds, the Universe consists of. We are responsible for it and every of us 7 billion, matters.