A Cosmic Speculation about The Purpose of Humans in Universe
Posted on 19 November 2010 by cjf
In Buckminster Fuller’s essay Guinnea Pig B, he lays out the hypothesis that the purpose of Humans in Universe is to support the integrity of cosmic evolution:
This precept of the function of Humans in Universe is, to me, one of the most deeply motivating responsibilities that I have ever taken on as a working hypothesis. I love the way it engages me as a co-designer in Universe. And I love the way in which it inspires me to a higher purpose.
Recently I read a National Geographic news article that Time Will End in Five Billion Years, Physicists Predict and my mind went into a tizzy. The following fairy tale emerged:
“I have just returned to Earth after a 7,042 year survey of our galaxy cluster testing the integrity of the fabric of space-time throughout the isotropic vector matrix. What a trip! Our team has verified that all the millennia of research and development by countless humans and other sentients throughout Universe has succeeded in holding time together: the Universe will continue for the foreseeable future! We have verified that all vital parameters for managing the entirety of the cosmos are within fail-safe tolerances!
“Of course, there are a few issues (there always are); we found a few anomalies and recent theoretical articles suggest that in another 2-4 three-illion years we will probably need to embark on another major collective problem-solving project to re-design Universe for the next phase of cosmic evolution. But since life expectancy is currently only 700,000 (700 one-illion) years, that project will be left to tomorrow’s youth. I hope to help them get started, but now I’m back on Earth to rest, catch my breath, take stock of the project that has consumed the last 600,000 years of my life, write my magnum opus on the cosmic syntropy/entropy ratio, and celebrate the success of my biggest scientific accomplishment: the proof that the largest engineering project in the history of sentient life has succeeded!”
[A quick note about entropy and syntropy. Entropy is a complex and subtle concept. For the purposes of this fantasy, you can think of it as the amount of disorder in a system. The famous second law of thermodynamics observes that entropy is always increasing and by extrapolation there is a long history positing the heat death of the Universe. Syntropy is the order or "negative entropy" in a system. Syntropy is often associated with life which can take disordered soil and water add sunlight and build beautiful flowers. Buckminster Fuller also associated syntropy with notions like ephemeralization where human design tends to provide more and more capability with less and less material, energy, and time. These ideas are not typically factored into computations in the physical sciences. But I'll let Brenda finish telling the story. ...]
“It is funny to think back 5 three-illion (that’s 5 billion in the short scale) years to when Earth’s aborigines first gleaned their purpose in Universe: to be its stewards and to take on the glorious role of individual initiative-takers serving as trimtabs and linchpins in support of the integrity of cosmic evolution. I suppose we should thank R. Buckminster Fuller for making that great insight so palpable even though by now most of his ideas have proven too quaint to be of much use in present day science or engineering (of course, several of his ideas still provide good rough first-order approximations, but we’ve learned a lot in the last 5 three-illion years!). He was also an early supporter of the hypothesis that syntropy can overcome entropy which has become the heart of my life’s work.
“I’ve dedicated my life to understanding and measuring just how minute is the excess effectiveness of syntropy over entropy. The story is adequately told by the history of our major “plagues”. First, from the 1300s–1720s we had the Black Death until health and sanitation practices could meet human needs in the same way that rapidly evolving science and technology could expand the food supply. Then in the 2020s-2210s we had the great ecological collapse where we lost 90 cities and nearly 2 billion people before emergence from emergency spurred us to learn how to effectively engineer Earth’s ecosystems. Eventually, we were able to sustainably support all human needs but it required a major overhaul of the economic system which had previously favored short-sighted profit over the critical importance of a long-term perspective.
“The clarion call of cosmic evolution seems to never end. So when Humanity finally tuned in to the imminent, long predicted demise of Earth due to our Sun’s overheating 4 three-illion years ago, we undertook solar system scale design operations to fix it. Our ignorance led to the loss of a number of planetary and asteroid colonies. But the solar system re-engineering campaign was ultimately effective, Earth was spared and the regenerativity of life continued. Perhaps, the most devastating “birthing” of a new era was the third major galaxy-scale engineering project when we lost a few star systems (9 three-illion sentients, mostly human, perished). Fortunately, the just completed, first ever attempted, Universe-scale re-design project has succeeded! Of course, it took hundreds of generations to design and dozens more to implement with countless trials and errors along the way. Everyone understood that the consequence of failure would be the end of time itself. So every resource was dedicated to squeezing every last unit of syntropy out of every energy source and life form throughout the cosmos. In the end it was the first “new era” project ever undertaken with no serious unexpected consequences and no major loss of life!
“The story of sentient life’s quest to meet the succession of greater and greater cosmic design challenges that ushered in each era is remarkable in many ways. For one, the bone-chilling enormity of the consequences of failure were daunting to the first people who identified each new challenge. History records that many found the prospect too enormous and psychologically “checked out”. They didn’t realize that unexpected resources would appear once you start asking the right questions! Even when large segments of society started moving diligently toward the solution, their conditioned reflexes honed during the previous era of technological development hindered clarity of thought allowing mistake to compound with mistake until each plague became unavoidable. It was fascinating for me to discover how all this can be explained by the fact that the cosmic syntropy/entropy ratio is less than 4 joules per 10-illion gram-kelvins! But you’ll have to wait for my book for the details.”
Reflecting on a Cosmic Evolution Fantasy
Back to reality. Of course, I have no idea what the future holds. And I’m not confident that this off-the-cuff “syntropy/entropy ratio” is the right concept let alone if it’s meaningful. But I like the idea that the function of humans in Universe is to solve design problems with greater and greater scope. It has been our history. It may be our future to see our design capability develop beyond the city-scale to the global-scale to the solar system scale and ultimately to the cosmic scale. It is an exciting quest … one that I’m proud to be a part of.
Some results in physics suggest that Sun and then eventually time itself will wind down and end. But we have split the atom, put men on the moon, keep a team of people in space all the time, populated a world with more than 1,000 billionaires, invented airplanes that can be powered by bicycle, computers that have automated previously laborious tasks, an Internet where anyone can learn about almost anything and communicate with almost anyone. We’ve nearly eliminated hunger and slavery. We completely eliminated smallpox and rinderpest. War and violence are the lowest in history. Most of our poor live lives that the Queen of England could have only dreamed of 100 years ago. Is the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe really impossible? Might it be that the real function of Humans in Universe is to support cosmic evolution on an on-going basis?
Right or wrong, I think it is a fantastic working hypothesis. Even if Universe and time wind down to cosmic death, wouldn’t it be more exciting and more psychologically healthy to toil “to the last syllable of recorded time” trying to design a solution in which life goes on and on eternally?
What do you think of all this? Post a comment and we’ll discuss your thoughts.