Someone came up with the idea, a short time back, that some people have “time horizons” of different lengths, and that these are strong influences upon individual behavior patterns. People with short time horizons, the argument goes, think very little of the future and may not think of the consequences of an error (or rash act) that they might commit today. People who use power abruptly (i.e. on impulse), or who tune out and into the escapism of entertainment media, drunkenness, and recreational drugs – these are at the opposite ends of the short-time-horizon spectrum. Some are people who are captured by transient phenomena, or by obsessions, whether they be orchid culture, a career, immortality or simply oneself in the here and now.
We know these people in many stereotypes – from couch potatoes and the TV sitcom addict to third world dictators, terrorists, petty criminals.
Most of us live in the middle. We’ll spend a day at a moderately rewarding job, catch a TV show, and then perhaps we’ll think about the way of the world, the future of our kind, the prospects for world peace and well-being. This is the process that helps us to care, and to feel responsibility and respect for others, building, if we are fortunate, on the mores that we learned or should have learned at an earlier age. Multiplied by the number of people who believe in these staples of civilized thought, our society hangs together.
All of these people, at various times in their lives, are Future People. The people who read about space, and the astronomy and spaceflight professionals, the health/medical visionaries, the front line advocates of sound ecological practice, are among the vanguard of the Future People. They transcend far beyond the present, past their own lifetimes, past the lifetimes of their great-great grandchildren, and are neither overawed nor afraid. To the contrary, they are exhilarated by the soaring potential of the human spirit. They realize that even though they may be famous or powerful in their fields – as indeed some are – they are small in a cosmic sense; indeed, the Earth and the solar system are also small by this perspective.
Having reached this understanding, it is no effort at all to jump to the realization that the human species is one interconnected organism, and that the wellbeing of all is, quite logically, in the best interest of all. This condition is not called peace of mind; rather it is peace in mind. I have the optimism to believe that this is a contagious condition. Think of it! The wisps of energy that represent me, and you, and every other human being, the richness of life around us, and every atom of the environment that sustains us — all are solar phenomena!
The more people get involved with space, and allow their minds to wander among the galaxies, the closer our kind will come to achieving this goal.
Future people spend a fair amount of their lives looking at existence, and Earth herself, with intuitional, uncommon sense, from “out there,” in a place psychologically removed from the bubble of spacetime called social convention. Jung conceived the collective unconscious from such a perspective; Lovelock and Margolis found Gaia out there; Arne Wyller even postulated the existence of a godlike, photonic “planetary mind field” in that habitat of unconventional thought.[1. In The Planetary Mind (MacMurray & Beck, 1996), Wyller, an astrophysicist, asks, “May we not consider the existence of an invisible intelligence field – a Mind Field – that right now exists on Earth along with the physicist’s equally invisible vibrating quantum energy fields, which manifest their vibrations as material particles?” Wyller suggests that this phenomenon may be responsible for certain biological developments, the rapidity and intricacy of which cannot be otherwise explained.]
One of the great space luminaries is Arthur C. Clarke. What an intellect! And how helpful despite his fame, to allow me to meddle with his prose in two separate book projects. I had nothing but admiration for this great futurist. Bob Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society. What dedication! What enthusiasm! I imagine his clone ancestor in different garb a scan century and a half back in time, exhorting the townspeople of St. Louis to join a wagon train to Oregon. Charley Kohlhase and Ellis Miner of Jet Propulsion Laboratory – just two of the space scientists who are thoroughly dedicated to education. They believe, correctly, that space exploration provides tailor-made intellectual portals to the study of science and mathematics. Another personality that comes to mind is Freeman Dyson – a present-day polymath beyond compare, full of ideas about all sorts of things, from nuclear propulsion to metaphysics, and subject of the 2015 book Maverick Genius, by Philip Schewe. All of these people, and more, were kind enough to help me with my book Solar System, a dozen years ago.
True future people by definition are able to transcend preoccupation with the status quo, speculating, as they do, on the world that will exist when they are long dead, when their descendants care nothing of them, when the civilization that we love is transformed by the tides of history.
Adventures and Challenges at Home I have argued in this blog for human flight to Mars and exploration of Europa. Yet there are times when I am concerned that too much of our intellectual resources could be spent on futuristic ventures; that is, increasing interest in planetary science and space travel, and other examples of the general excitement about how science might transform humanity. For not all of human needs – not wants but needs – are spawned from the human brainbox. There is something called ecology.
Our biosphere can be perceived as a place where different kinds of creatures inhabit a number of different environments, all at the same time. There are humans and other air-breathers living in a nitrogen-oxygen sea, fish in a water sea, plants living in a carbon dioxide sea, some micro-organisms even living in patches of what amounts to a sulfur dioxide sea. That’s the way it was set up, and it should be preserved as such. What we need now, on Earth, as we proceed with our planetary exploration, is for all humans to learn, appreciate, and encourage ecological balance, unity, and interdependence. That means, for one thing, that we need to break free of the old structures of hunter-gatherer-procreator-turfminder, and dedicate ourselves to planetary stewardship.
Earth is our home, and we must protect it if we wish our species to survive – there is no other sane option. We depend on each other — humans, other mammals, trees and lesser plants, insects, microbes, and the rest. Our planet should be considered a preserve in which we protect endangered species that include ourselves. Perhaps our growing acquaintance with the solar system and Cosmos will make more people aware of humanity’s smallness in the scheme of things. This could be the greatest gift of space exploration. Perhaps this extra dose of humility will help to preserve our particular endangered species by removing at least some of the arrogance that breeds enmity between peoples, tribes and nations, and numbs our understanding of the importance of our relationships with the natural world.
Extraterrestrial Teleology In Venus Revealed, David Grinspoon all but says that the need to go to spiritualheaven is implanted in our genes, and that the notion has transmogrified into desire to go to physical heavens. He suggests that the “human need for a fantasy Earth somewhere else“ is perhaps “conveniently replaced by scientifically supported views of better worlds, or at least other worlds, waiting in the sky. The need once fulfilled by belief in the afterlife, in a place called heaven, in a connection to a world beyond Earthbound limitations, is now fulfilled for some by the idea of extraterrestrial life and intelligence.” That’s not the way I think of it. But it is interesting nevertheless, and let me finish with a few notes on what I do think.
Coming Out Maybe my great-great-grandchildren will examine the crevasses of ice-crazed Europa, even soar the skies of an Earth-like planet in another star system. I’d like to make these trips, too, but I don’t really envy them because I can go there in my mind. It’s an intellectual high. Other things are at work here, too. Our pursuit of that precious thing called wonder — that’s one important aspect of virtual spacefaring. But there is something still more precious. It is that the sky brings you out of yourself.
Epiphanies You start out life as a child, and then you grow up — and then just maybe you grow up again because you suddenly have a wonderfully liberating realization or epiphany that you are really still a child because you are so bloody small in the face of All That Is Out There. You’re an innocent who happens to have been bathed in social experiences that you’ve been taught are very, very important. Scarred by experience yes, battling this and that infirmity in the terminal condition called life, yes. And still an innocent, so small that you’re a mote of thistledown that can wander the universes in a spaceship fashioned from mind and spirit. If you can do that, and let everything else go in the process of it, really let go, even if just for a short time, then it will be impossible to avoid the liberating awe of being very, very small – the feeling that Neil Armstrong had on Apollo XI when he stuck out his thumb and obscured the image of Earth that he could see from space.
Side Trips When I think hard about the solar system, it’s difficult for me to stop at Mars, for all its fascination. I have to go on – Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud shoot by like deserted railway stations, and I’m in Deep Space. No, not Deep Space, for this is still the Milky Way. So on I go – and suddenly I’m adrift in the doldrums of metaphysics, a minuscule protoplasmic raft carrying a cargo of electrical dots and dashes, and somewhere there’s a face, my face, with the half-embarrassed, ironic look of someone who believes in the virtue of being scientific: I didn’t mean to be trapped here again!
It doesn’t go on forever. You slip through back through the wormhole of your mind and you’re home again. But – and this is a super-important fact – you don’t forget! Sometimes I think that perhaps there ought to be a sign just this side of the Kuiper Belt, saying “Warning, Proceed No Farther. Extreme Danger of Metaphysical Risk.” Perhaps one should stop short at Mars, just to be safe. On the other hand, maybe it’s best to just give up and let go for a while, somewhere in our natural time horizon, and soak in the perspectives that are available from out there.