Imagineering: Hiding in the Past


Hi all. A very recent post stated my intent to explore the notion of abandoned space-borne structures. Abandonment in general is a beautiful and melancholy place to find oneself in sometimes. Anyone who likes to explore lost and lonely places would no doubt be aware of a keen and poignant sense of displacement, coupled with a tangible sense of loss. When standing in the midst of an abandoned structure; whether it be a stone hut mouldering away amongst overgrown forest, a factory, with echoes of activity and enterprise whispering just beyond the reach of hearing or an entire town or city the urge to stand still and just listen to an awe inspiring silence is powerful.

Caught in the wake of history…

What about space? The universe represents the ultimate emptiness. We are a single technological civilisation clinging to a blue green dot. Looking out into all that space, it’s natural to assume there are others out there. That is to say, we refuse to believe we’re alone in all this.

Venus: from this?..

To this? An earth-sized graveyard, abandoned by life?

Science fiction of course explores this concept all the time. I think it’s difficult to find someone alive now who hasn’t heard of aliens or UFOs. As I mention in videos and posts from time to time, humans have always been at home with the notion of beings from other worlds. After all, angels, demons and gods are nothing new. A scientific field like astrobiology is really not an invention of the space age. It’s a little reductionist perhaps, if nothing else!

What do I mean by that?

The Forge of the Gods? The Garden of Eden is now a dusty cloud.

Well, human beings always have had a predilection for the transcendent. Dreamtime, Heaven, Valhalla, Elysium, call it what you will. This quirk in our nature is still highly apparent in this seemingly rational age. Trans-Humanism, Post-Humanism, the Singularity. All of these concepts and their enthusiastic uptake speaks of a human desire to exceed the limits of existence. Science fiction again has always skilfully catered to these tastes. The television show “Altered Carbon”; whilst a little uneven, succeeded in portraying a world where human consciousness can be transferred on cortical “stacks”. These are small devices which are embedded in a human brain and which “record” a consciousness. This allows people to hop bodies, or “sleeves”, simply by placing their stacks in different bodies. The human form is reduced to an avatar whilst the consciousness can theoretically live forever. The implications and possible permutations of this are rich pickings for storytelling indeed.

But I digress. I illustrate that humans still seek to go beyond the veil, to touch the face of something greater than themselves. Astrobiology doesn’t seek God. It seeks microbes. Or amino acids adrift in molecular clouds.

Are they the same thing?

I argue that such traces of hypothetical life (if found) are far more profound and important footsteps than we could ever imagine. I feel that reaching out and touching a trace fossil of some unknown creature on a distant exoplanet someday is far more akin to seeing “the face of God” than imaging the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation.

An electron micrograph of a plasmid. Image: Wikipedia

All of this happens in the vast abandonment of space. If life does exist elsewhere in the universe, or has existed, then the entire cosmos is an endless deserted factory floor.

What a metaphor this is. Image:

Something else lived in it. Something else was born in it. We are that to other observers in the universe. We exist in the distant past or future for others out there. We are hidden in the past perhaps, until the gaze of future observers is turned upon us.

I like to think that even though someday we may meet intelligent life (biological or mechanical), finding true life, emerging from the firmament would speak of a true higher order. One can always dream…


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