At the very beginning of Time itself, the laws of physics established themselves, and matter began to condense into the structures we refer to as ‘stars’, ‘planets’, ‘asteroids’ and so on. Yet in how far was it a given that on this minuscule mote of star dust something so intricate as a biosphere would form? Even though our view of even our own star system is still severely limited and we are restricted to mostly speculation, it would appear that nothing like this planet exists within the observable universe.
Called ‘Earth’ in the natural language which is referred to as English by its speakers, there is a lot that could be said about this planet. Yet what is most fascinating is perhaps what is absent within its immediate vicinity, namely other planets with a biosphere. Right next to the Earth we find the planet Venus which is so very similar, and yet so very different: the fragile lifeforms that have formed within the Earth’s biosphere could never survive in its sulphuric acid-filled atmosphere.
Yet even as we find ourselves marvelling at this apparent miraculous confluence of circumstances that have led to this very moment where we find ourselves alive and marvelling as perhaps the first and maybe the only ever lifeforms to marvel in this way, there are two subsequent questions which naturally follow after said marvelling.
The first and most obvious question is whether life is merely a fluke within this universe. After all, there do not appear to be any laws of physics or similarly overarching systems that would dictate that planets develop biospheres and lifeforms as has happened on this particular planet. The question of whether biospheres are truly a rare thing in the universe remains at the forefront of our so far limited exploration attempts. Along with it comes the question of whether so-called intelligent life that can marvel, question and feel curiosity exists elsewhere.
What would it mean to us as a species and collection of societies whether or not we are truly the only lifeforms in the universe capable of such things at this very brief point in the universe’s existence? In how far will this search for something or someone out there determine the future of humankind? All of which seems to lead to the second question: what is the meaning of humankind’s existence?
Often asked in the context of individuals, the meaning of existence is something that is essential to any lifeform in possession of reasoning skills. After all, there has to be a beginning and some destination to head towards, a reason to keep living and something to strive for. Something that gives being alive meaning. Yet what is the meaning of humankind? What goals does it have? Is humankind merely an accidental accumulation of individual lives lived through their own individual sense of meaning? Does humankind have a meaning?
Even though humans have existed only for the merest fraction of the universe’s or even the Earth’s age, they have worked themselves up from merely surviving, to a level of awareness and understanding where the question of ‘where to’ would seem pertinent. Even if it was just because of the accidental flow of history which brought us here, it would appear that we are on the cusp of what by all accounts may become an age like never seen before.
Through science and technology we have gained the means to shape our futures and that of the world around us in ways previously inconceivable. We have discarded superstitions and gods to realise the power that we have always had the potential for: the power to shape our own destiny. Which again circles us back to that second question: what is the meaning of humankind’s existence?
Freed from the bounds of superstition, we can travel beyond the limits of this biosphere that has sheltered us for so long, to observe this mote of star dust from afar and contemplate humankind’s past, present and potential future.