dubito ergo sum (“I doubt, therefore I am”) – Augustine
We exist, at least we believe that we exist. I am going on the assumption that if you are reading this (or listening to someone reading this) that you are a sentient conscious being that believes in your own existence. I am sure that there probably is no dog reading this or dolphin or whatever else that we could think of other than a human. As much as we would like to think there are aliens or other beings that could communicate like us, as far as we know, we are alone in our cognition.
So, if you are reading this you exist. You are here – Congratulations! Pinch yourself or give yourself a big hug, something to let you know that you know who you are.
For something (anything really) to come about there must be a certain number of sequential events that are time dependent. The best illustration is your family tree. If you are like me you might find it hard to trace back anywhere before your great grandparents. Most of us are lucky to know our parents and even though we were there at our birth we don’t remember the event (hopefully), we can deduce that our parents came from their parents who came from their parents who came…
So, just from that, logically you can see the twisted path that got to you.
Most educated people in college level mathematics have studied statistics and know its ability to predict that an event could or could not occur in the future. If something has already occurred well then we are 100% sure that it did occur. Like you are 100% sure that you exist. Probability only matters for people who have not been born yet. So when someone says what is the probability that I was born what they really mean is what was the probability that I was going to be born before I was actually born. This clarification helps because that seems to be the main argument against this approach to finding value in a person mathematically.
Anyway, taking the mathematical approach you can see that the fact that YOU exist seems to be mathematically improbable (very very unlikely).
It gets worse than that, though. Remember how you came to be is a result of a series of events, mentioned above and illustrated by your family tree. Well, the conventional theory is that humans evolved from many, many sequential events by chance from some single celled organism over millions of years. The probability this happened cannot be truly calculated.
But, it did happen though. Humans did come about somehow (that is 100% certain) and unless the rules of mathematics have changed over time we can only use the tools we have been given and our intuition that this event is at the very, very least super extraordinary according to our limited scientific observation (we have only really been scientifically observing ourselves adequately in the last what – 200 years? maybe.)
Now I know that there are many people arguing each way and really there is no way to conclusively prove either side. At the very least, I think one should take a humble position on it. Anyone that claims they can fully understand the math and can fully rationalize all of the factors can’t. It is a paradox – a mystery. Does that mean we stop trying to find the answers mathematically or scientifically – NO.
My point is that these situations exist and they force us to choose a side. They force us to take a side in the paradox. Whatever side you are on has a rational that supports why you are on the side you are on. It is ludicrous to say, though, that you are on a side because you have proven it. Some have been taught from childhood to be on a certain side and they have been told that you are crazy to be on the other side. The other side has done the same. Now some stay on a side because of faulty reasoning and that can be pointed out by the other side but many times that does not cause someone to switch sides.
Switching sides can only be done by looking into it yourself and weighing the evidence and what your own intuition tells you. Now I am not even arguing for God’s existence here. I am only arguing for the two sides of the paradox that ‘we should not exist but do’. Some may say that the paradox is an illusion and made up and that really ‘we should exist and do’ but to me that implies that something is in charge of the ‘should’. At best, it just seems to boil down to ‘we do exist and aren’t we lucky’. So, we take sides on the ‘should’ and the ‘should not’ but the ‘are’ we are in agreement on.
All we know is that we are here and that we are complex, very, very, very complex.
When I was around 9 I remember I had a radio alarm clock with the numbers that flipped.
I remember that it stopped working for some reason so I thought I would take it apart and see what was inside. I was curious. I remember the blue of the capacitors on the circuit board and all of the parts and pieces that made no sense to me. I remember that all I was left with were a bunch of pieces that ended up in the garbage. I tried to understand it from books but could never grasp exactly what was going on. Concepts like radio waves that are modulated sound waves traveling through space inducing electric currents in my little radio transforming them back to sound went right over my head. Even back then, though, I was fascinated by the engineering that allowed this thing to do something that seemed almost magical. There was something inside of me that appreciated the beauty of the science involved. I think many people feel that same feeling and it is a great motivator. Whether it is trying to get code to execute the way you want it to or to get an old engine to run that hasn’t in awhile, creating something that works out of chaos has a rush to it.
Now, focus that on our body and especially our brain like many people have throughout history. Think about the feedback systems. The efficiency to take in vast amounts of types of food and adjust to multiple environments. As a machine, our bodies are an engineering marvel. I think of the part in Terminator 2 where the chip left over from the incomplete destruction of T1 becomes the basis of the research done at Cyberdyne (very paradoxical).
The point is that some technology beyond our comprehension has been dropped in our lives (we live in it) and we are only beginning to really understand how it works. It is more complicated then anything man has created or probably ever will create. It is the zenith that we try to reach. We try to make mechanical, chemical, communication and computer intelligence systems all function together in ways that the multiple systems inside our bodies function, but all of these man made systems are rudimentary compared with even the more simplistic of earth’s creatures – let alone man.
We are like a 9 year old boy opening up a radio or Myles Dyson trying to figure out the technology of T1.
Or, look at nature from the engineering point of view and how ecosystems come together and symbiotic relationships and self regulating systems function. Out here in the Northwest US you can go to Mount Saint Helens. It is humbling to stand on Windy Ridge and try and comprehend the enormity of what went on there. The forces involved are massive and the destruction sobering. It gives you a tiny bit of perspective on the forces and the physics that are affecting our planet. From the human scale these forces of weather, evaporation/precipitation, tides, natural disaster are massive and hard to comprehend. Even though things go a little crazy sometimes it is amazing it all works as well as it does.
Or, look at the cosmos and how our earth is positioned in just the right place in our galaxy to make the conditions on our earth ideally suited for life and especially human life. (Space is dangerous)
My point is that if you are a scientist or engineer and someone came to you with a device and said ‘We don’t know where this came from (maybe it is alien technology) but we know that it does this and this and this. We don’t know how but it does it. Can you help us figure it out?’ Would we conclude that this thing came about by random events over a long period of time? I don’t think so. Our intuition says ‘no’ this device was put together using some sort of intelligence that is beyond ours at this time. Why is this different for electromechanical systems than it is for biochemical systems? Cells transfer and hold massive amounts of data using molecules way more efficiently than we do using electrical signals. DNA is essentially a program that tells a cell how to reproduce itself in kind based off of a greater context of the organism as a whole. It like creating an object from a class in programming but on an incredibly complex distributed scale with crazy amount of Polymorphism.
Like Myles Dyson we too look into the machine of our universe, or nature, or ourselves for clues on how to advance. The technology has always been there as long as we have, hidden, waiting for us to find it. The Universe has not become any more or less complex as time has passed. It is like a giant puzzle that keeps giving and giving.
Maybe, it is so that we are completely overwhelmed by science, by beauty, by scale and in that state of wonder we are humble and thankful.