Man, Center of the Universe

It would appear ridiculous to make such a claim in this age of science. Isn’t uniqueness of man a discredited idea from Europe’s Christian past? Man was the center of creation according to bible. God created the universe in six days and placed man at its center. Well, every educated person knows that it was just a story. Science has demolished all such illusions through a series of enlightening discoveries. Copernicus removed earth from center of the physical universe and Darwin’s theory of evolution established human beings as just another species playing out the battle for survival with millions of other species.

History of science will list down how man was gradually removed from god given privileges, but did it really happen? I believe we must look at this matter more carefully. Isn’t man still clinging onto some of his divine rights? Science rests on a tacit assumption that man is the measure of everything. Knowing (objectively) is uniquely human. Man accepts anything as worthy of serious attention only if translated into ‘objective knowledge’. Isn’t man assuming divine rights by claiming his unique way of knowing as the measure of reality?

Nature, in all its beauty and splendor existed for billions of years without human beings cooking up their objective explanations. We assume that other living things do not understand anything (seriously) because they are not able to communicate their thoughts with us. Why is the human way of looking out superior than a giraffe’s way or a banyan tree’s way? Man has colonized the universe with his powerful weapon of objective knowledge, and is unabashedly claiming mastery like the ‘rational thinking’ Europeans, in the past, did to native populations all over the world. Claiming superiority for ‘objective knowing’ is nothing but placing human arrogance at the center of universe. 

It is not surprising that man began his attempt to understand nature by imagining himself at the center. The capability for ‘knowing objectively’ was something unprecedented. Self-awareness was like a tiny flame struggling to illuminate a dark, alien world. It was indeed center of the known universe. Knowledge and awareness were emanating from man, there by placing him at the center spot, by definition. This is the experience of centrality colorfully reflected in all creation myths.

Something strange happened as knowledge grew in strength. Man realized that universe has an order independent of his existence as observer. Objective knowledge some how represented deeper truths about reality. Copernican revolution was a rude awakening. Earth lost its central place in the distribution of heavenly bodies. Darwin’s theory shattered another illusion; human life became no different from other forms of life. A supernatural God was no more necessary as a universal causal agency.

Unfortunately this realization is yet to sink in. Science teaches that man evolved as the result of natural processes going back billions of years in time. How many of us realize the full consequence of this truth? How often are our thoughts and actions guided by science? We are on our own the moment we step out of the dry rationality of science, in a world spanning barely 3000 years of written history. We hide a great secret in the darkest corners of our mind. Most of us are creationists, believing the universe is only as old as our grandparents. 

The greatest challenge facing man is to place his 60 or 70 year lifespan in the context of biological evolution. Individuality is a minor spurt on the surface of a live, flowing stream of life. Realizing the warped nature of our sense of history is a sacred experience. We will make completely different decisions if we understand and accept this truth. But we continue living irresponsibly, imagining ourselves to be masters of the universe, unleashing our arrogance on every species that share mother earth with us. 

Knowledge cannot be de-linked from responsibility. We believe we could do so and this is our problem. We believe we could take our knowledge forward uninhibited and someone else will clean up the mess. It is only getting worse because we are arrogant enough to insist that human rationality is the only way, not one of many possible ways that evolved in nature as tools of comprehension. Science of life has failed to understand human stupidity, and I believe it is incomplete for this reason. We need a new science of life, one that will start with the evolutionary history of objective knowledge. 

Let us be very clear that the objective way of looking at nature began with self-aware humans. This was indeed a new beginning and man slowly realized that rational thinking reveals beautiful patterns in nature, universal truths independent of time and space. The success of science in explaining unknowns was almost miraculous and fired the imagination of generations of fearless adventurers. Unfortunately, method of science applied to life produced a self-defeating explanation. Life became a product of Chance and Time. Variety and splendor of natural world became the end result of competition for limited resources. This was science steering off its course, like religions explaining age of the earth.

Imagine looking out from other vantage points. Imagine a giraffe or a banyan tree theorizing about the nature of reality. I believe our own science will coincide with other possible sciences except in the science of life. A giraffe with sufficient intelligence could work out the theory of planetary motion, but not a theory of life such as neodarwinism. Theories of life are intrinsically linked with theories of knowing, and man has a theory of knowledge which places him at the center of the universe. I doubt any other life form will be so insensitive. 

Temporal limitations of individual life severely distort our perception. We need to realize that lines appearing straight and parallel are in fact tiny segments of huge intersecting curves. It is our arrogance that draw borders, making it convenient for us to ignore non-linearities lying beyond the tip of our noses.

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