Humanity’s Place in the Universe

An important trend throughout history is the overturning of our beliefs about humanity’s central position in the universe. We now know that the Earth, the Sun, and the Milky Way are not the center of the universe. We have learned that Homo sapiens evolved from the same genetic heritage as all life on the Earth. We have also learned that specific aspects of intelligence long held as the sole domain of humans are in fact present in other animal species, such as self recognition, the manufacture and use of tools, communication through language, social organizations, and comprehension and memory storage of vocabulary words (most recently discovered in dogs).

Many people find this trend threatening. For some reason, they feel that it is necessary for humans to be uniquely separate from everything else in the universe. If one must insist on the superiority of Homo sapiens, then one should do so while remembering that our position is by accident rather than divine decree.

There are other beliefs at work that have been or soon will be overturned, including the belief that in the entire universe life only developed on the Earth, that complexity requires intelligent intervention, that self-replication of machines is not possible, and that machines cannot be built to think as humans do.

A recent simulation supports the feasibility of self-replicating machines while new research has found that the human brain appears to follow almost exactly the laws of artificial intelligence. All of this shakes our core beliefs in what it means to be human, intelligent, and individual. The truth does not bend to our beliefs, but falls to our ability to discovery it through logic and science. In all current debate regarding science and technology, the argument can be reduced to the following: do we remain ignorant and find bliss in our beliefs, or do we learn and suffer for that knowledge. The parable of Adam and Eve suggests that we will always take a bite out of the apple because the delusions of paradise are simply too horrible to ignore.

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a fiction writer and poet, with his first published poem forthcoming later in 2017 from Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), his Micro.blog (@richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).