Humankind's Fall From Pre-Eminence
Humankind's sense of pre-eminence, identity and self-worth have suffered mightily since the middle ages. Among the chief causes are:
- The discoveries by Copernicus that refuted the earth as the center of the universe;
- The discoveries of other celestial bodies of remote identity and distance;
- The theories of evolution, quantum mechanics, multiple universes and black holes that relegated humankind to some odd, accidental and infinitesimally small exception to an immense and impersonal universe.
The premise of this article is that, in the face of the degradation of human pre-eminence, those that support, promote and fund the search for extra-terrestrial intelligent life are not only curious about finding intelligent life, they are also intrinsically motivated to do so.
The question of what constitutes intelligent life is outside the scope of this article. However, it should be noted that until recently there has been very little challenge to the notion that humankind represents the highest form of both life and intelligence.
Creationism -- Unquestionable Human Pre-eminence
Prior to the Copernican declaration in the mid-1500's that the earth was not the center of the universe, western-world intelligentsia of both the religious and scientific communities believed strongly in human pre-eminence. This belief in human pre-eminence related strongly to the belief that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun, planets and anything else in the firmament revolved around the earth. After all, the Bible had declared that when God created everything, he spent much of his seven-day week making the earth. Furthermore, on the day God created the first man, Adam, God imbued Adam with intelligent life sufficient to understand God's spoken direction about the forbidden fruit. Later, God firmly established human pre-eminence by telling Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply, and to hold dominion over all the rest of creation, again presumably because they had the intelligence to do so.
Evolution -- Questionable Human Ancestry, but Smarter Than Ever
By the time Darwin established the theory of evolution in the 1800's the notion of the pre-eminence of mankind had already suffered loss. Copernicus started the ball rolling 300 years prior by demonstrating that the earth, and therefore humans, were not the physical center of the universe. Then others followed Copernicus with celestial observations that further dwarfed the physical status of the earth and humankind. So then comes Darwin with his findings of evolution that led to questions about the pedigree of humankind's ancestry. At the same time, however, the burgeoning industrial revolution salved the wounded collective ego with marvelous inventions that not only marginally improved the lives of the impoverished, but also kept alive the notion of human pre-eminence.
Ok, So We're a Speck of Cosmic Dust, But We're the Smartest Kids in the Universe, Aren't We?
Although Copernicus did not have the tools to even imagine that there were gigantic cosmic entities at unimaginable distances away from the earth, he nevertheless was the first in a long line of astronomers who inexorably demonstrated that the Earth was a tiny speck of cosmic dust. First there was the earth and the sun, and several other planets, and then of course other stars, and then our own galaxy filled with a hundred billion other stars, and then, in the twentieth century, discoveries that revealed many billions of other galaxies that each possessed their own billions of stars.
What's a poor human to think? Humankind's status had tumbled from the pinnacle of all creation to an infinitesimal cosmic blip.
Some have expressed the great loneliness of humankind in a universe where no other intelligent life exists. The search for extraterrestrial intelligent life may be an outgrowth of humankind's sense of isolation in an immense and impersonal universe.
lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 08, 2011:
thanks sparks,, my sense is that many cosmologists are just now coming to the same conclusions.
Marc Hubs from United Kingdom on September 08, 2011:
I believe we exist as a miniscule part of something so enormously vast that it will probably always beyond our understanding or intellecttual capacity even in millions of years time.
With all the Earth-like planets like Gliese 581c that have been discovered I think it's inevitable that life is actually abundant throughout the universe. In fact, shrinking things down so that a galaxy is just a dot it's likely there are hundreds of millions if not more of them and they are also probably part of something so enormously vast and bigger than them. Entire existence could just be one entity that we are a very small part of.
Although Darwins theory of natural selection is evident there also seems to be some kind of intervention indicated throughout religious artwork, scriptures and ancient texts that more or less seem to coincide with each other.
Fascinating stuff, well written hub. Thanks.
lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 07, 2011:
thank you so much Barbara,, I look forward to following all of your work..
Barbara Badder from USA on September 07, 2011:
This was an excellent hub. I myself believe that man is being conceited if he thinks there isn't other life out there. That would mean the world centers just around him. Hmm. Sounds like some people that never got passed their childhood.
You are a superb writer.
lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 06, 2011:
thank you for your review...
Cindy Murdoch from Texas on September 06, 2011:
I love the picture you have of the human evolutionary chart. It makes me smile.
As always, I find your hubs to be thought provoking. Are we the only fish in the sea? I believe that time will tell!
lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 06, 2011:
Thank you for your comments, and the time you took to respond in detail... I totally respect where you're coming from. it still amazes me that all of the extraterrestrial emphasis has been based on some apriori, implicit assumptions about what life and intelligence are.. for all we know we are the mollusks of some giant encompassing reality that we cannot yet comprehend, or that we are ignoring the native intelligence all around us (e.g. the dismissive attitude by some regarding animal migration) that we so far interpret as inferior intelligence.
Mankind is indeed clever, ala the invention of mathematics (which every mathematician i've talked with has agreed is an invention, not a law) and other tools that have allowed us to survive. I agree with you in that regard. I just think that scientific arrogance associated with apriori assumptions, as well the western notions of external reality (see my hub on human existence -- time and the hope for immortality) have led us all down the garden path of science becoming our great religion under the guise of physical truth and objectivity.
Thanks again for your review and discussion of this!!!!
DavyJones02 from Netherlands on September 06, 2011:
Hello landmusik, I agree that the pre-eminence of the humankind has taken some damage, but I think the damage isn't that bad. For one, many people still believe in creationism despite all the evidence in favor of evolution. And since the inventions in the industrial revolution we have made much more scientific breakthroughs which show what an extraordinary bunch we humans are. We are beginning to understand more and more about how life has begun and how it is build. Scientists have build DNA from scratch and implanted it in an empty bacteria which functioned normally after that. So the day that we create life from chemical components draws very near. This will be a huge boost for the pre-eminent feeling of us humans. And this is just one of many examples. Of course, knowing we live on a tiny planet in an endless universe humbles us but we have achieved some amazing things and who is to say that the extraterrestrial life which undoubtedly exist isn't less advanced then we are. It would suprise me if we would be the ones invading another planet. So I wouldn't say we have fallen to a infinitesimal cosmic blip. That we have fallen from the pinnacle of creation is a fact but we haven't fallen that far.
Nevertheless nice hub! Enjoyed reading it.
lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 05, 2011:
Thanks for your comments. I think humanity has always taken itself way too seriously, at least as far as western cultures are concerned. I didn't say so outright in this article, but the arrogance of people like Carl Sagan taking it for granted that we agree with his central assumptions about life and intelligence -- in a sense he and others have established a theology of human life and intellect that is so immutable that it doesn't even require explaining.
Sounds like you've had experience with the Catholic church. I was raised a conservative Baptist and have spent my life trying to shake off the brittle worldview of my parents.
More hubs on all of this later.
Thanks again,, i look forward to following your writing.
Rod Martin Jr from Cebu, Philippines on September 05, 2011:
Hello, Lundmusik from Tucson. Welcome to HubPages. And four years ago, I lived in the Phoenix area, now in the Philippines.
Interesting article. Are you saying that SETI and similar activities are the last straws to break the human pre-eminance "camel's" back?
Well, I think that is a good thing. Even way back when, the Catholic church should've known better, because the founder of their church held humility in such high regard. Pre-eminance is anything but!
Ego is a nasty bugger, and likely the source for all evil, including that perpetrated by the church. So, bursting the pre-eminance bubble is a good thing, I think.
Even if we don't find other civilizations out there, I think it is quite likely that a large percentage of the star systems in the universe have some form of life. But if, like we see in some episodes of the old Star Trek, we find beings elsewhere that look at us as a simplistic and primitive species, the bubble would be entirely destroyed. But why wait to learn a little more humility?