Are We Alone in the Universe?

There are three deep questions that philosophers and scientists continually raise in their quest for enlightenment: What is the meaning of life? What kick-started life? Are we alone? Now, as humans we are virtually still in our infancy, having existed for a mere 200,000 years on a planet that is 4.5 billion years old (pretty difficult to comprehend how slow evolution takes to create physiological changes.) When you unpack our anatomy, both chemically and biologically, you’ll notice that we are comprised of the same “stuff” that pervades the universe. Astonishingly, we’re as much related to the universe as it is to us. However, stumbling upon another species that is more or less intelligent than us would be a significant milestone, considering that we have only been exposed to our own biosphere. However, things would change. Determining whether or not the extraterrestrials were hostile or benevolent would require us to tread lightly.

Given the gargantuan number of stars existing in our galaxy alone (100+ billion), it would be naive to say that life couldn’t form on any of these surfaces. Exoplanets—planets that are orbiting a star that is different than ours—are being discovered by the boatloads. Astronomers are shrewdly sifting out which planets are eligible to be exoplanets by recognizing certain light emissions and measuring distances from the star and the planet. Scientists swoon over these observances because it brings them one step closer to finding planets that are able to sustain life. Life, according to our standards, needs to be in a proximate distance from the sun in order to be viable. This zone is called the “Goldilocks zone.” When you exist in this region, your climate is neither too hot nor too cold. Earth, of course, teems with life because it is perfectly seated in that destination. Also, water is vital to survival and the conception of life because it can mix organic compounds together. It is only a matter of time until we find a twin-earth that has been around long enough to have life emerge into a multi-celled organism. Scientists are dutifully and cleverly using tactics to efficiently weed out all of the planets that do not satisfy the “habitable planet” criterion.

But what if life does not have to be based on a human-encoded rubric? What if life can exist interdimensionally? Firstly, if life can exist without the chemicals that are strewn throughout our molecular structure, then it is probably safe to say that life is abundant in the universe. Secondly, we cannot tackle such a question without having known that the other species is definitely disparate from us. But, let us think hypothetically: If this species were entirely made up of an undiscovered element, rather than our 6 elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus), then we would have great trouble analyzing it. If they are thousands of years ahead of us technologically, then we would concede their dominance in an instant. Anything that much more advanced than us is indistinguishable from magic. If you take a peasant who existed in the barbaric medieval age and give him a glimpse of what life is like today, he would be befuddled and flabbergasted within seconds, taken aback by unsettling thoughts such as “how’s that even possible!?” Technological growth is exponential, and these beings may be able tap into interstellar travel as easy as it is for us to ride a bike. Such a scenario is totally plausible when you think about how far we have come in the last century alone.

Interdimensional life that may thrive in a higher dimension would be peculiar and unquantifiable. Since we exist in 4 dimensions (length, width, height, and time), we cannot wrap our heads around anything existing elsewhere. Scientists theoretically postulate that there are 10 dimensions, which ultimately leads to infinite universes e.g., string theory (yes, I know, sounds preposterous.) Some scientists even posit that our universe is one among many that pop in and out of existence like little bubbles. As dehumanizing as it sounds, it shows the complexity of all things and how meticulously we are all interconnected. Therefore, it is a lot more reasonable that we find aliens of our nature than anything else. We are simply not evolved enough to witness imperceptible beings who dwell in other dimensions.

Would aliens be hostile or benevolent? That is an undeniably hard question to answer. But we can be introspective and take a look at ourselves. Human nature tends to be selfish and altruistic. In order for us to propagate and survive, we had to be cooperative. However, we also had to preserve our evolutionary upbringing. It is all in our genes; some people are more helping and caring than others, mostly not by choice. Of course you can acquiesce and override those natural feelings to do something you want, but only to an extent. When it comes to good and evil, we lie in the middle of the train tracks. For example, people are ostensibly “good,” but behind closed doors they may be malicious and duplicitous. The worst possible scenario in discovering intelligent beings would be to find ones that are plundering planets because they need to colonize somewhere. These beings would not be kind in their approach to obtaining our resources. But when you think about it, if we were on our last leg of existence and we knew there was a prospering, less-evolved life form in our backyard, would we aggressively seek out our necessary ingredients to survive? Most likely, given our track record, but we have not yet been pushed against that wall.

There most likely is other life out there somewhere, just based on probability. Until we find “them,” we should be wary in our approach to discovering them in case they’re unfriendly. Space exploration is an important sector of science because it provides us with a way to expand our resourcefulness, rather than remaining bound by earth’s finite assets. UFOs that have been spotted in our atmosphere are mostly bunk and, if anything, anomalous behavior. Even if they were actual extraterrestrials, and that is the way in which they choose to communicate with us, then they are certainly not doing a good job of it. Most UFO observers eventually get exposed or are just delusionally unscientific. It would be cool to find different life out there; we’d gain a lot of uncharted insight. I just hope I am alive for the eureka moment.

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Facing Your Fears

Fears and phobias, by and large, instill tremendous anxiety from the outset of any unsettling personal thought. Phobias, being less focused on in this essay, are illuminated inside the purview of fears and create a sense of psychological impairment. For example, I’m 96% sure I have arachnophobia, well, according to me. Anytime I’m confronted by the eight-legged freaks, I suddenly become perturbed by involuntary reflexes and emotions. It’s really as if I have no control of my body. Fears, on the other hand, don’t seem to go that far in the domain of “scarediness.” Many people fear heights, but will be unhesitant to ride Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure; a phobia of heights (acrophobia) will leave you grounded in the kiddy park. Day in and day out, people tend to tackle fears in a way that is highly admirable; but, unfortunately, many of us remain stagnant: staring through the lens of uncertainty and worry, only to find ourselves back at the spot where we once were before. Fears, disconcertingly, act as a safeguarding response mechanism to things that may threaten or hurt us. This is something that doesn’t seem maladaptive. But, once fears get overanalyzed when there’s no injury in the way such as public speaking, we can overcome these “glitches” in our system by recognizing and preparing for what’s at stake.

Nearly everyone has faced an internal battle with their own nerves. From the knots in the stomach to light-headed wooziness: these profound feelings evince stress. What’s worse, when the aforementioned feelings arise, you can’t help but prolong the process of queasiness because of the vicious cycle of negative thinking.

The fear of public speaking is widespread, and seems to coincide with acute anxiety. Understandably, it’s nearly impossible to mollify the feelings of distress that creep up on you in the wake of a presentation or speech. A slew of people would pay a large sum of money to abscond standing in front of a big crowd of people. What exactly is making us so afraid? In my estimation, it’s disapproval. When you’re in the visual radius of 50 to 100 people who all seem to be judging you, you can’t help but think the utmost worst of how they’re perceiving you. All our lives we thrive to be social butterflies and once our reputation gets an overwhelming amount of scrutiny, our fight-or-flight response activates, thus leaving us in a stupor of uncomfortability. By besmirching your purported “image” or “character” you may be overwrought by an outcome that seems undesirable. We, for most part, strive to make the best impression on our peers and those of higher status to gain some credibility in society.

The biological reactions that fire off and take over our bodies is something that’s been embedded in us. Survival tactics once were extremely vital to the savior of one’s body. If there was some rustling in the bushes nearby, you had to be fast on your feet to realize if it was a portent of death or something like a kindred spirit. By choosing the former, you gave yourself the undeniable ‘live-another-day’ card. Animals who became a bit too curious would ordinarily bite the dust. Our unconscious instincts drive us and have landed us to be on the winning side of the survival of the fittest gauntlet. Without these death-preventing measures, we may have had a short shelf life as human beings.

What suddenly emerges out of a person’s will to overcome fears that have scarred them for nearly their whole life? Maybe we’ve suppressed our bravery. Maybe we’ve had a past experience that tainted our outlook on a certain perspective of a “thing” or endeavor. Human beings are remarkably fascinating. The thresholds for pain that get transcended by indefatigable feats and acts of valor are truly laudable. Friends of mine have plodded through fears like soldiers in Vietnam. They’ve accomplished things they would have been afraid to play a part in just a mere 5 years ago. There was no cognitive behavior therapy that they used; just sheer guts and determination to triumph over the normal standard of human limits that we arbitrarily place on ourselves.

An erstwhile experience of mine was a shining example of fear itself. I had the unenviable displeasure of dealing with a drowning child in my pool. Given the massive amount of brain-rattling terror when I was gazing at the face of an 11-year old with a distended stomach along with eyes rolled back in his head, I instantly felt the amalgamation of every worst possible emotion. Whether it was from witnessing a quasi-dead person in my backyard to the forethought of having not saved this innocent young child, I couldn’t let this ride on my conscious any longer before my unconscious swiftly stepped in to handle things on autopilot. My fear was characterized by apprehension. At first view, I became unshakably paralyzed. As all these chemicals were going off in my anatomy, I eventually came to with the proper know-how to muster up some courage to administer CPR. Without the help of my father and my cousin, that poor kid would have perished that sunny Monday back in June of 2011.

People have the mental wherewithal to face obstacles and rise above the hardscrabble by foreseeing themselves succeed. Positive reinforcement and an optimistic attitude on life creates an urge to embark upon things that once seemed inconceivable. A lot of fear manifests itself out of distasteful outcomes that we ostensibly have no control over. Moreover, fear can be debilitative; stripping us our total potentiality and dehumanizing us down to quail sheep. Just remember: what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. It’s our prerogative as sentient creatures to conquer everything that lies in our way and obstructs our betterment. The best way to beat fear is to unravel yourself out of the cobwebs of doubt by looking past your irrationality of what’s exactly at hand. But here’s the twist: maybe we’re all just comprised of billions of cells of which we had no hand in making within a universe replete with infinite particles and a product of behaviors that exist in faculties of our brain which we cannot breach (unconscious), ultimately leading us down the steep hill of a lack of free will. Plausible? Yes, but it remains to be seen…

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Are Humans Getting Dumber or Smarter?

           Here’s the caveat: I am leaning toward the former. You would presumably think that since technology is diffused more so than it was 100 years ago that we’d be tremendously smarter, but it seems as if our intelligence is getting impeded by our ignorance. Albeit, it’s generally difficult to put intelligence under one heading; it’s an ambiguous term that can be quantified in many different ways—the most popular being the IQ test. However, studies indicate that our IQs have been steadily climbing in the past century, but Smartphones seemingly buttress any type of uncertainty we’re fraught with, whereas 200 years ago these things needed to be committed to memory. Cellphones take away from the hands-on working memory we’ve been burdened with for the past 100,000 years, which puts an abridged life span on things we assimilate. So, we may be getting both dumber and smarter, but we are struggling to adhere to basic principles and facts that befall on our civilization, unremittingly. Another thing, which I will primarily focus on is willful ignorance; which isn’t going to provide our planet with prosperity; instead, it takes the route to dystopia where people are constantly muddling misinformation and bickering over pseudosciences. My gripes, that continue to get my blood to boil, are the persisting battle to accept homosexuals and the never-ending rejection of science. I stick with my theory: the smart people, or those who want to be smart, are becoming more intelligent, but unfortunately, the obtuse people remain stagnant and obstinate, leading to less overall intelligence.

          I think intelligence not only corresponds with a comprehension capacity, but also to the cognizance of what’s happening to oneself and the environment. Smart people are aware of malnutrition and thus look toward healthy foods to keep themselves around longer than usual. The rise in technological advancements has led the way to pure laziness, which obviously engenders obesity. Sapient beings should realize this and attack it at its roots, but we don’t—willful ignorance. According to the Health Organization, from 2004 to 2010, obesity increased from 11% in American adults. It’s not hard to adumbrate that this is a bad omen for years to come since many food distributors are selling deleterious processed foods to get more gain on their product.

          Climate change is a dire problem that is nearly irreversible at this point because of the narrow-mindedness coming from the naysayers and deniers. But, the evidence for global warming is incontrovertible: a study revealed 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is anthropogenic (man-made). Now, I’m not sure if the average lay person is more astute than any esteemed scientist (embrace the pun), but if I were a betting man, I’d listen to the scientists who painstakingly and feverishly work at understanding what’s happening to our climate. And, for those unsure about global warming, here’s a short summation: Global warming is the excessive release of greenhouse gases (Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, etc.) into our atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation that traps the sun’s heat in our atmosphere, giving rise to the earth’s average temperature. Furthermore, this opens a Pandora’s box: sea levels rise, storms’ intensity increases, droughts become longer, extinction plagues animals, a scarcity of food and water occurs, and there is a proliferation of fatal diseases.  In order to remedy this bleak situation, we must look toward alternative energy sources, but we remain unchanged and are elongating the resolution process. This, my friends, is willful ignorance: you can try to run on a broken foot, but there comes a time when one must be prudent and get healthy before making things worse.

          In the year 2014, the ubiquity of hatred and ostracism of homosexuals truly baffles me. It’s obvious that genes have something to do with being gay; I mean, if you’re heterosexual, try to choose to be suddenly gay–you can’t. That’s beside the point, though. We’re splitting hairs over the same sort of nonsense that divided us as a nation only a mere 60 years ago, and that’s racism. Now it’s just a different minority. A homophobic person really is masquerading something more sinister deep down. Whether it’s because they aren’t cut from the same cloth as you (narcissism) or because your religion tells you it’s bad (dogma), it’s still morally reprehensible to dislike someone because they’re different than you. It’s not like we all sat in front of a big screen and got to create ourselves, atom by atom; we had no choice in any of our physical make up. Therefore, there should be no problem with homosexuals on any level. Given the multifarious diversity of life on planet Earth, it would be perverse of you not to understand that differences exist.

          The Pew Research Center recently released a study that indicated one-third of Americans do not believe in evolution. This finding is exasperating to say the least. The planet screams evolution in thousands of different ways, from the growth of disease to the rise and fall of dinosaurs; it’s clear that the planet is billions of years old. It is old enough to have tiny nuances in each new generation that brought us from single celled organisms and common ancestors millions of years ago. A total of 98.5% of scientists treat biological evolution as a fact—as the process of continual development from successive generations. Once again, willful ignorance is apparent. The numbers don’t lie, and evolution has provided us with a myriad of apposite medicines because diseases themselves evolve.  Most people assert that evolution is just a theory, and indeed it is. But, it is a scientific theory, which, in the hierarchy of credibility, stands higher than a law. Theories come with a preponderance of empirical evidence that is tested thoroughly throughout years of intricate studies. It has yet to be disproven, and it fits perfectly with what we know about the planet.

          The willful ignorance that I touched on is an epidemic that is preventing our consciousness from expanding. All of the information I presented is a couple clicks away; it just takes a spark of curiosity and common sense to discern the malarkey from the truth. I’m no luddite, but I know that the tsunami of information that gets blasted into our brains daily can easily render us susceptible to gullibility and unsureness about what’s true and what isn’t. So, back to my main point: are we getting dumber or smarter? The answer is both; scientists and pundits of enlightened subjects seem to be thriving exponentially while laymen remain static, constantly looking to confirm their bias and turning a blind eye to reality. I try to question everything but am extremely receptive when learning new things. The truth may be discomfiting and somewhat incomprehensible, but for us to become smarter, we first have to accept what’s patently staring right at us. Einstein once said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” Let’s not be the ones who fall victim to those sentiments.

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Photo courtesy of Lee Verdecchia