Neil deGrasse Tyson says that he loses sleep over the fact that dark energy — a mysterious energy that pushes the galaxies away from each other — will render much of the universe unknowable to humanity. I lose sleep over how this very beautiful planet that is the entire humanity’s only home would someday soon be rendered uninhabitable not by dark energy but dark motives. Just as law breakers were born before lawmakers, polluters were born before cleaners.
I also lose sleep over a rather bigger problem. Humanity has always faced problems and threats. What is different this time has two major aspects: one, the last time there was a mass extinction when the dinosaurs were killed — also called the 5th extinction — the dinosaurs didn’t know or understand the incoming comet or asteroid. We know what is killing us: fossil fuels. Two, I am failing to see a genius that will change the destiny of humanity’s scientific voyage and lead us to a better world.
Albert Einstein gave the world his Special and General Theories of Relativity, which changed not only how we viewed time and gravity but also gave us ideas such as the curvature of space and space-time. Today, we use simple things such as the GPS thanks to Einstein’s equations. I do not see someone like that emerging in our world. And while Einstein wasn’t running up against time even though he redefined time, we the Earthlings of today are very much running against time and we are losing. If we do not stop the consumption of fossil fuel in a few years from today, the Earth’s temperature would in a few decades go up by 4 degrees, which would leave much of the planet uninhabitable.
The universe is forming stars but the tiny planet in the universe called Earth is not forming geniuses anymore. The Earth started about 4.5 billion years ago when the universe had aged close to 10 billion years. At the time, Earth was full of fire and violence. A part of the Earth separated from it after it collided with Mars. That part became the Moon, which today slows the Earth’s rotation to where life is possible. After that, life emerged on Earth. Single celled organisms came. Another 800 million years passed. The dinosaurs came and went. A branch of vertebrates called mammals emerged. Among them, a branch evolved called primates, which would develop frontal lobes and the power to do complex thinking. A sub-branch of those primates would develop speech. We call them Homo Sapiens, meaning us.
One of the sapiens was Einstein who questioned the Newtonian laws, which were the norm for over 200 years. I am afraid we are done with that sort of intelligence. It took 200 years for someone like Einstein to happen because back in those days, schools weren’t as common as they are today. It has been more than a 100 years since Einstein’s theories despite more schools, more people, and more of almost everything ever since.
Not only has the world lost the love for reading books and creative thinking, we have become a planet inhabited by humans who follow the crowd and respect the norms. If we do not push the frontiers of our thinking, we might as well end up like the dinosaurs. They also had numbers and physical strength.
Today, we live in a world where TikTokers and YouTubers are youth’s ideals. Our very media glorifies these lesser mortals. The odds of a deep thinker emerging out of this lot are tiny. If any intelligent alien civilisation which lives in a higher dimension watches us, they will see us polluting our skies to where the planet that lived and hosted life for billions of years would soon be home to the 6th mass extinction made by the very creatures that take pride in calling itself intelligent. They’d instantly judge the absence of any intelligent life on Earth. And they’d be right.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2022.