Last week I suggested there might be things our minds can’t really conceive of related to the universe in which we live. Here’s a similar concept. (This is what I get from sitting around thinking too much.)
Over the past ten years or so, astronomers have discovered over 500 planets outside our solar system. None of them, however, have been deemed appropriate to harbor life, at least not the carbon-based life we know on Earth. Most of those planets are bigger than Earth, some orbit too close to their central star and are too hot, some are too cold, some are gigantic spheres of gas, some are in weird orbits that take them alternately well away from their sun, then back in too close for life to gain a foothold. Eventually, the astronomers tell us, it’s just a matter of time before we find an Earth-sized planet in a suitable orbit, not too close, not too far from its sun, for life to develop. Eventually.
I’m sure they will. Considering that hundreds of billions of stars exist in our galaxy alone, and hundreds of billions of galaxies populate the known universe, the chances of a planet in a situation similar to Earth’s where life could develop is virtually 100%. But, just for the sake of argument, suppose there wasn’t. Suppose Earth didn’t have life, and we didn’t exist, and life–that is, what we call “intelligent” life, didn’t exist anywhere in the universe. The consequences are staggering. With no intelligent life, there would be nothing, no one, no intellect, nothing at all, capable of deducing the presence of the universe. Nothing to evaluate the stars and decipher their internal structure. Nothing to calculate the interconvertability of mass and energy. The universe would not even know it existed.
It takes intelligent life to put a universe on the map. It takes inquiring minds to wonder what stars are and how they function and what they are doing out there. Plants utilize sunlight for photosynthesis, but do they understand the mechanism by which hydrogen fusion produces that light? Bears sleep for months during the winter, but do they understand what really drives the change in seasons? The intellect humans have developed over the last million years or so has not only allowed us to dominate the planet, it has given life to the universe itself. The universe exists because of us, because we have deciphered it. Oh, sure, the stars would still burn, the galaxies would still speed away from one another, the planets would spin and the moons rotate, but with no intelligent life to see and understand it–and here’s another situation my mind has trouble with–it wouldn’t really exist.