Saturday, 26 February 2011

De Futilitate

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of conservationists, species do become extinct. At some point the human race will follow suit. Rather like personal death, most people would rather not consider it. But while it is sad on a personal level, to see a species becoming extinct, we have to perhaps also learn to accept that part of this, at any rate, is part of the fabric of evolution. As Stephen Jay Gould wrote:

"Extinction is no shame. It is, in one sense, the enabling force of the biosphere. Since most species are extraordinarily resistant to major evolutionary change and since many habitats are fairly full of species, how could evolution proceed if extinction did not open space for novelty? Would I be writing, or you reading, if dinosaurs had survived and mammals remained, as they had for 100 million years, a minor group of small creatures living in ecological nooks and crannies that dinosaurs didn't penetrate?"

So extinction can also be an engine of change, opening up habitats to other species, and providing them with a different niche in which their may flourish.

We can try not to deliberately destroy species by hunting them to extinction, but we cannot hold the earth in forever in stasis.

The most successful life on the planet will probably still be around for thousands of years after human beings - bacteria.

The Wellsian vision sees humanity terraforming and jumping from one planet to another for survival, but in the end, all suns also die.

And with that in mine, I wrote this poem - a cosmic Ecclesiastes....

De Futilitate

All comes to pass, futility
Although mankind tries to flee
In sacrifices and in blood
But stasis fails, and time still flowed
All will die, there is no cure
Entropic elegance so pure

All striving, and all work of hands
Across the globe in many lands
All knowledge, all that we know
All born away by time's great flow
That wears away the hardest stone
And none to save, but time alone

Nothing in my hand I bring,
No security that I can cling
The void is all, the empty space
That leaves behind no single trace
A funeral pyre with ashes high
All is emptiness, all will die

Extinction ending every breath
Draws all life to end in death
On this and other worlds unknown,
Darkened heat death upon a throne
Rock fragments, an end to be
Let me sing of futility


Nick Palmer said...

Life wants to survive and thrive. Some aspects of human "intelligence" is not much use if it drives people to pursue behaviour that puts our current reasonably benign environment at risk.

Discounting "superior" aliens from over the hills and faraway out-competing us, our particular ability to extract useful underlying principles and use those to form ways of acting and reacting to whatever the environment throws at us means that humans potentially could live through and adapt to situations that would do for many of the more complex forms of life. Just because we could doesn't mean it is sane to allow a situation to develop that would necessitate us using that potential. The future might be survivable but just not very nice.

It's all very well to take a "God's eye" view of evolution, like some early 20th century science fiction writer, but it's not very smart to use that detached viewpoint to make policy.

John Lennon and Freddy Mercury wrote (although they weren't really advocating the concepts...), "nothing is real and nothing to get hung about" and "nothing really matters - to me". Advocating this sort of philosophy is a rather pathological use of our ability to indulge in abstract thought. It's actually negatively intelligent (i.e yet more stupid than breathtaking stupidity) if it leads to life complacently contemplating it's own imminent demise through a situation which was amply warned about and which it took no action to avoid but embraced because it was sure it could evolve or adapt to cope.

Life should want to survive and thrive and concerns about the futility of trying to avoid the ultimate entropic heat death of the Universe should be placed on the back burner. Never say die.

Just imagine if the denialists get hold of them. Mind you, they're half way there with their moronic "climate's always changed" and their "adaptation not mitigation" memes...

TonyTheProf said...

"Life should want to survive and thrive and concerns about the futility of trying to avoid the ultimate entropic heat death of the Universe should be placed on the back burner. Never say die."

There I differ. I think that a failure to come to terms with mortality, not as pessimism, but simply as taking it onboard as part of a philosophy of life, would help considerably with regard to how people behave to one another.

The denial of death is one of the major features of the late 20th and 21st centuries, and death has become a taboo word, shrouded in a thousand euphemisms. This is the existential "denialism".

People tend to put aside any thought of their own mortality, and behave as if they were immortal. This is writ large with dictators who cling onto any scrap of power, and don;t care about what happens after they die.

Nick Palmer said...

Maybe you missed the point. The content of your comment is, of course, very wise but you should not been inspired to write that from my comment. I was trying to show that it's not sensible to have a philosophy that is so aware of personal, cultural or species mortality that it uses or abuses that awareness to do little or nothing to put off that mortality as late as possible.

The person/culture/species who "never says die" will do more, and fight harder, to survive than the ones who are hamstrung by philosophical acceptance of their ultimate fate and which don't bother to take the low chance/high reward options that can sometimes pull the fat out of the fire.

Of course, dictators are not what I would call a normal form of healthy life but are clearly pathological.