I have discussed how the existing and potentially new side effects of our technologies may impact the future of Life and Earth. The rest of this book will be dedicated to reflecting on the deeper issues of who we are, what we are, and how we might traverse the problems that confront us and take Life and Earth toward the brightest and most enduring future possible. First though, I have included this section to remind us that our destiny is not already written, that each of us can make a difference, and the future truly rests in our hands.
At this point you probably are wondering realistically what difference you can make and no wonder, the problems discussed are certainly ones that no one person can resolve. Realistically, if you are just an average person living your life what is the point of reading on if you can't do anything about our future anyway?
Each of us hopes that our leaders will have the good sense to implement policies that will be in our best interests but as individuals it is overwhelming to think that we alone can make any difference in the grand scheme of things. Some might suggest that our future is already destined to be and there is nothing we can really do about it.
Can you really make a difference though?
Let's start with another analogy and imagine that when the universe began it was like a billiard table with the balls racked up in a triangle. The table had no pockets. Upon the big bang the white ball hit the 15 balls in the triangle (matter and energy) and they spread into what appeared to be a random layout on the table (the universe). Call this the first second of the universe. You then take the next shot creating a new layout for the balls, this being the next second of the universe. You continue to take shots each one dependent on the layout before. After billions and billions of shots (seconds) you finally come to today where the billiard balls lay on the table in their own unique way. Now let us ask the question "Is it not true that since each play was dependent on the one before, does it not follow that the current layout of the balls on the table was destined to be?" That is, each layout was connected from the very beginning so there could have been no other result than the layout of the balls on the pool table today, our destiny. I put this idea forth only as something we might consider.
Going further on this idea, consider that the evolution of the Earth possibly occurred in a similar way. The Earth starts as a swirling mix of gases composed of the basic 100 or so elements that we are aware of (helium, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc.). Now imagine that these 100 elements of which all matter are composed are the billiard balls. Over the eons the physical laws of Nature take effect causing chemical reactions between these approximately 100 elements leading to the creation of complex molecules. Oxygen and hydrogen combine to create water and so on. Each day the elements combine differently, each day dependent on the previous, just like the shots on the billiard table. The crust of the Earth begins to form as the energy from the surface of the planet disburses into space. Water fills the great crevasses in the crust creating oceans. Just like the billiard game, each new day of its evolution follows dependent on the one before.
Life takes its place on the planet. Algae’s form in the ocean that absorb the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and create oxygen leading to a perfect balance for oxygen breathing life to evolve and flourish. A vast ecosystem of species evolves shaped by the environment around them. The best adapting species are the ones that survive in the rapidly changing environment. Species struggle against a variety of environmental changes like climate change, natural disasters (volcanic gases, comets), and atmospheric changes.
Another shot occurs in the billiard game and a new species emerges. This species is able to change the environment. He is able to create fire at his will. He develops an adaptive advantage called intelligence that allows him to apply energy to manipulate the environment to his benefit (technology). No longer does the environment determine the evolution of this species. The species now determines the evolution of the environment. The creature no longer bows to the demands of Nature. No longer do the billiard balls on the table flow as predictably as they did for millions of years when the laws of Nature seemed to govern the Earth's evolution. It is as if the new species has tilted the billiard table on an angle and when new shots are taken the balls move in a less predictable fashion. They seem now to curve on the table instead of going in a straight line. Though the physical laws of gravity and Nature still hold it seems that the playing field has changed and the evolution of the Earth and Life has become less predictable. As the species manipulates the environment to meet its needs, new strange events seem to occur such as global warming, atmospheric contamination, and massive extraction and processing of elements (resources) on the Earth's crust. Of course the new species I speak of is humankind.
I have used the billiard table as an analogy, similar to the "big bang theory," to help offer one possible scenario for the natural evolution of the universe and the Earth. Events may actually have occurred quite differently but I have tried to convey how connected all things and events may be, even though they may not appear to be so at first glance.
I have used the billiard ball analogy as an example to understand the evolution of the universe and the Earth. Now compare your life to the evolution of the billiard balls. Your being born is like the triangle of balls at the beginning of the game. As you evolved, you interacted with the environment in billions of ways, evolving as you are today.
Is it an accident that you now own a flower store in Canada? Could it be related to the fact that your father was a tulip farmer in Holland and he helped you learn all about flowers when you were young? Further, could it be that your father was a tulip farmer because tulips were the first flowers he gave to your mother when they married so they chose to grow tulips and bring color and kindness to the world? Could it be that every choice we make and every event that occurs to us is part of a natural flow, each one dependent on the one before, just like the shots on the billiard table? All of the choices you make and the things that occur to you in your environment may seem to interact in a haphazard way but really might these connections of events not just be the imminent unfolding from the events before? Even when you make a "choice" might it be that your choice is the imminent result of what occurred from the previous shot on the table, all destined to be?
The previous idea seems to suggest that our choices and their results are predestined and beyond our control so one might ask "Why do anything then?” Further, they suggest that the future of the world is destined to be, an unfolding of events one dependent on the other. In one sense it may be true that things will be as they will be, beyond our control, but at the same time, we are beings that can perceive the world. We can be objective and categorize. We can see how events and objects relate to each other and how they interact. Though we may be just a part of destiny we are able to stand back and observe the billiard table that we are a part of. We can make probability estimates of how the specific decisions we make will affect the next layout on the billiard table. We can affect the future. Though we may be a part of what is destined to be, the fact that we can observe and direct our energies toward the world allows us to influence how it unfolds. We can change our future even if the choices we make are a part of its making.
Let's use another analogy. Sometimes I think of life like a river running to the sea. On the top of the mountain the river begins and we are like sticks that are swept up by the current and then we begin our journey of life to the sea. As we ride the currents on this great adventure we often come close to other sticks - other Life. They may be our friends or people we work with. On occasion we may even cross over each other, connecting as one, riding the current together for a while. These may be our closest relationships - our spouses, our family, or our special pet. As we drift in the currents sometimes we get caught in back eddies. We become stuck and swirl round and round in one spot until at some point we break free and enter the current again to continue our journey.
Drifting in the currents to the sea seems much like destiny - events beyond our control - but it is not to be forgotten that each of us, however great or small, has energy we can put out to the world to change it. As the stick circles in the back eddy, it is not always the case that we must wait for the current to come sweep us along again. If we are close, and conditions are right, sometimes we have the energy within ourselves to take us far enough to break free of the back eddy and flow again in the main current. Each of us can make a difference.
Think of someone like Gandhi. With all conditions right and the right choices he was able to flow down the river and change it. As if he was a stick placing itself in the rocks in just the right way, many other sticks came his way. They built up, all as one, and took the form of a dam. Upon doing so they were able to change the direction of the river itself. As you flow down the river, when you put out the smallest amount of energy, you create a ripple that will touch every other creature and thing. Everything you do makes a difference to our world. You and your choices are an integral part of it.
So my suggestion is that our destiny, the river in which we flow, the physical laws that we seem to be a part of, may be inevitable. Nevertheless, even if our choices are a part of destiny, we can use the forces within each of us to shape the future. Going further, by combining our forces we can do amazing things. The actions we choose to take now can make the difference between our future being a good one or a bad one. It is our choice.
Can you make a difference to the future of Life and Earth?
Imagine for a moment that you have just finished work and are taking a walk in the park with a coffee as the sun sets. Children are playing and one of them kicks a soccer ball and it hits you and your coffee spills. All the children see this and are afraid to come up to you for what they did. Most of them run away with the boy that kicked the ball, but one small boy walks up to you. He is dressed in ragged clothes and clearly less advantaged than the other boys. He stands confidently in front of you and he apologizes for everyone and even offers the few cents he has in his pocket so that you can get another coffee. You respond to him "It's all okay. What means the most to me is that you were confident and courageous enough to face me, kind enough to apologize for everyone, and that you have shown such concern putting me before yourself. You have integrity son. If one day anyone could be President of our country I hope it is someone like you". Years pass and the boy was inspired by your words and always remembers what you said - the person with the coffee who he had met in the park.
Indeed, one day he does become a great leader showing the same concern, care, and responsibility as the day he met you. You then come to the realization that you had made a huge difference. You had changed the world simply through your act of appreciation and encouragement to a boy in a park, so many years before. My point is, even though it may not be you in the forefront of change, your actions and influence on others at any point in your life, even at a single moment, can make a huge difference to the future of Life and our planet.
So can you make a difference?
I believe you can because you are a part of all that is and even you can put energy out to the world to affect it in the smallest or greatest way.
With this positive thought in mind, in the next section I will offer some ideas on the unique qualities of the human mind. Understanding ourselves and how we think may help us in our endeavor to create the brightest future possible for Life and Earth.
Soccer Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net