I was thinking about the deeply depressing and melancholic song by Gilbert O’Sullivan, Alone Again(Naturally). The song begins with the singer describing how he’s been jilted, left standing at the alter, alone. He begins to reflect on all of the sad and depressing situations in his life that have left him alone. The song ends with him describing his mother’s passing and how he was left alone, again.
For many of us loneliness can be devastating and difficult to deal with. Some, however, prefer to be alone. Others, such as monks and some aesthetics take loneliness to a level where they believe spiritual purification dwells. But for most of us, loneliness is just uncomfortable, but no less profound.
So profound is the loneliness that the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program spends millions of dollars annually to find out if we are alone in the universe. Based on the sheer size of the universe and the billions upon billions of galaxies and trillions of stars, scientist believe that there must be other life out there, somewhere. Whether there is intelligent life out there is another question.
Scientists are not able to search very much of the known universe, far less than one percent of it. In fact, scientist are not able to search for intelligent life beyond our galaxy. Given the limited range of the search many scientist don’t believe we will ever make contact with intelligent life. Add to that the complexity of evolution, that is the billions of years that it has taken for life to evolve just on earth in this small corner of our galaxy; and given that despite tremendous efforts to search for radio signals from life beyond no contact has been made. The chances of ever making contact are extremely remote-far less than one percent.
There is a reluctant consensus beginning to develop among scientists searching for extraterrestrial intelligence that we may be alone in the universe. Oh my, there’s that word again; ALONE. But given the scientific requirements for the evolution of life not to mention intelligent life; requirements such as the right combinations of organic compounds at the right temperature and pressure; add to that the right conditions needed for self-organizations of those compounds and the right combination of conditions for self propagation and the billions of years needed for this to occur, the odds against life are staggering. The odds against intelligent life evolving from a representative single cell organism are incomprehensible. Yet, as we are living testaments to, it did happen. The chances of it happening elsewhere in the universe on the same time schedule and under similar conditions as life on earth are almost non existent. Hence, the chances are we are ALONE.
Why should it matter whether or not we are alone in the universe? The answer to this question, I believe has consequences on a scientific and spiritual level. From a scientific point of view, which seeks only to answer the “how” questions, the uniqueness of life can lead to an understanding of what elements went into the creation and evolution of the universe and the intelligent life we represent that is now capable of asking the question. This understanding should lead to knowledge and wisdom about how to live our lives as the sole inhabitants of the universe. It should result in a deep reverence for life and an appreciation for our common humanity.
From a spiritual point of view, aloneness should also lead to a deep reference for life and an appreciation of our common humanity. However, it should also lend spirit, purpose and meaning to our lives. The spiritually minded among us must not, like the scientist, abandon the “why” of our existence. We must seek to combine the “how” and “why” of our existence and in so doing create the meta-question, which is not asked in words but in a longing to know. This longing to know should be the number one desire of your heart. It is the same as wanting to know, God. The fact that we as human beings can ask questions is the most important tool of our survival and existence. If we have evolved most of our abilities as survival tools, then asking “why” questions about the nature of our existence, our origin, our destiny are the ultimate survival questions.
Ah, but here is the deeper reason for the ability to question. It is not only a matter of physical survival that causes us to ask questions, it is also a matter of knowing our purpose for existing; and knowing this purpose gives meaning to our lives.
Even if it turns out that the only place in the universe that was ripe for intelligent life to evolve is on this third rock from the sun, the combination of scientific knowledge that we are such stuff as stars are made of and the spiritual knowledge that we are made in the image of God should so connect us to existence itself that we should never feel alone. And for that:
To God Be The Glory Forever and Ever