The Relative Primacy of the Human Condition

Deducing a reliably accurate birth date and life expectancy for the cosmic
environment that we live in really helps to put the human condition into perspective.  
In the last few decades cosmologists have become increasingly confident in the
dates that they have derived for the age of our universe.  Current data suggest that
our universe is about 14 billion years old and, reassuringly, we have found that there
is more than one method that leads us to this number.  Not only do cosmologists
estimate that the universe began about 14 billion years ago, but they also have
deduced that it will probably never end.  Experts have determined that the matter in
the universe is still accelerating “outward” with the force that was originally given to it
by the big bang explosion.  It is currently predicted that the effects that counter this
expansion (friction and gravity) will never be able to pull all of the pieces back
together again.  

When you understand that the universe will continue to exist indefinitely, you realize
that we live in a relatively brand new universe!  14 billion years is miniscule
compared to infinite time, and when you think about it, it seems downright odd that
we would exist so very close to the beginning.  It is estimated that stars, which are
thought to be a necessity for planetary life, should be able to continue to shine for
another 100 trillion years.  This means that roughly the same processes that created
our star, our solar system, and life on earth will continue to operate for a very long
time.  Thinking in terms of the universe’s infinite longevity, and its long term potential
for creating shining stars, (and thus planets that may be hospitable to life) enables us
to see that our earth must be among the first planets in the history of the universe to
host life.

The human condition seems even more “uniquely new” when you realize that there
would have been barriers keeping intelligent life from evolving in the very early
universe.  For instance, the early universe would have probably been far too hot and
tumultuous to allow the evolution of intelligent life forms.  Also, we know that life
began on the earth, very soon after conditions permitted, and it took 3.2 billion years
to produce intelligent organisms.  Assuming that it would take about as long to
produce intelligent life on other planets, life would have to have started there before
the universe was about 9 billion years old for us to have been appreciably preceded
by other intelligent organisms.  But were conditions hospitable to life before the first
9 billion years?  If we knew the answer to this question then we could get a feeling for
just how “unique” the human condition is.

So we live in a very “new” universe, and we must be some of the first sentient beings
to have evolved in it.  Given the fact that we have come to realize these things only in
the last few decades, contemporary humans (like you and me) must also be among
the first sentient beings that recognize their primacy in the universe.  

accurate: adj.
Conforming with fact, containing no errors.  Capable of providing a correct

corroborate: verb
To support or strengthen with other evidence.  To confirm with new facts.

discern: verb
To detect or perceive. To recognize as being different to distinguish.

precise: adj.
Clearly expressed or pinpointed. Strictly distinguished from other measurements,
not general.
Essay 13  05/15/05 Cosmology, Anthropology, Exobiology
Organization for the Advancement of   
Interdisciplinary Learning