“Not only is the universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” –Werner Heisenberg in ‘Across the Frontiers’
[Those who enjoy this essay may appreciate the follow-on, ‘Radical Curtailment: The Parameters of Imagination and Encounter‘]
I really enjoy David Paulides’ posts on Facebook. Paulides is the author and researcher responsible for the Missing 411 book series. I read his first book, Missing 411-Western United States & Canada: Unexplained Disappearances of North Americans That Have Never Been Solved (2012) years ago and enjoy listening to his frequent radio appearances, especially the Coast-to-Coast ones with George Knapp (such as this).
Be sure to get the books directly from his website as there are unethical Amazon re-sellers who charge an arm and a leg for the exact same product. As with so many fresh and intriguing topics, there are a lot of copycats, especially on Youtube. Paulides’ name is exploited shamelessly by hundreds of unauthorized channels. So insist on the original. As Smokey the Bear once said (sort of), only you can prevent plagiarism.
Which is a fitting segue to a big focus in the 411 series, the National Park System…
Paulides extensively catalogs and researches people who inexplicably vanish, often from our national parks. Many of these cases offer no easy answer. Some are downright bizarre. A retired law enforcement officer, he exercises scrupulous discipline by avoiding fanciful speculation. Just the fact’s Ma’am. In the long run, this careful approach will yield rich results.
Meanwhile for the rest of us, it’s fascinating to think outside the box and bat some ideas around, of which I’ve formulated a few. I’d like to introduce one of them by way of analogy:
One summer afternoon, a friend stops over with last minute tickets to a Redskins pre-season game for that evening. We have to move fast. My son and I jump in the car and start speeding up I-95N from Virginia probably a little too fast, our minds completely preoccupied with that night’s game. We are oblivious to the thousands of bugs meeting sudden and gruesome deaths in our car grille. It’s a war out there. Who knew? Who cared?
For all we know –and we don’t– this stretch of highway which traverses a mosquito-rich wetland has a creepy ‘Missing 411’ reputation among the local mosquito population. No one quite knows why but an inordinate number of mosquitoes vanish without a trace here. One minute they’re flying behind their fellow mosquitoes, the next minute zap! They’re gone without a trace.
Let’s speculate further that, similar to human beings, mosquitoes tend to indulge a mosquito-centric view of the universe. Clearly some sinister force cares enough to hunt mosquitoes for their inherent and undisputed value, right? In truth (and at the risk of hurting mosquito feelings everywhere), we humans are speeding along in pursuit of a highly-valued reality in our consciousness: a football game. Adding insult to injury, football is a not even a high-order phenomenon in our reality. It is a sport, mindless recreation, hardly life or death. We could just as easily have gone shopping.
From our vantage, mosquitoes are at a basement tier of collateral damage, barely an afterthought. The only time we even reflect on the bug-killing potential of our vehicles is when we’re adding antifreeze or maybe tightening a fan belt. Hey the truth hurts.
Okay, it’s time to inject a concept, what HP Lovecraft called cosmicism which Wikipedia defines (in part) as the belief that, “humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence, and perhaps are just a small species projecting their own mental idolatries onto the vast cosmos.”
Hmm. Mental idolatry. Interesting term. It would be a form of mental idolatry on mosquitoes’ parts to believe their feelings –and egos— bear some cosmic significance. While I can’t speak for mosquitoes, I can say that human beings are famous for thinking themselves the Masters of the Universe. This is very un-Lovecraftian.
My only nit with this definition is that it should be broadened from intergalactic to interdimensional. There’s probably a lot of stuff happening, in, through and around us in realms foreclosed to our direct sensory perception. Just ask any cat-owner. Our feline friends are notorious for darting from one side of the room to another, clearly evading something. Think too of feelings of foreboding, ‘bad vibes’, a sense of a presence in the room, our neck hairs standing up for no physically apparent reason. We’ve all experienced things that seem to engage us from an extra-sensory plane.
Consider too the standard Hollywood alien and UFO themes where man is highly esteemed and earnestly sought after, albeit often with malevolent design. It’s an egoistic blind-spot that we must offer some value to the invaders. We are the object of their efforts for one reason or the other. We are not incidental roadkill. We matter. Lovecraft might call this mental self-idolatry
It’s hard for us to get our heads around the possibility that we might be utterly inconsequential to some higher order of existence. Moreover our deaths or disappearances at the hands of these alien entities (if such a thing is happening) arise not from intentionality (they’d have to notice us to formulate anthropic intent.) Like mosquitoes on a car grille, we simply get in the way. Even worse, they may be oblivious to snuffing us out. They may be hurtling to and from their own pressing versions of a football game.
Recently, futurist Zoltan Istvan suggested that, given the exponential velocity anticipated for self-replicating, self-improving machine intelligence, there is every reason to speculate our 13.7 billion light-year-old universe plays host to intelligences vastly superior to our own. If that’s the case, the mosquito analogy breaks down because the intelligence differential between our two species barely registers as a blip on the cosmic scale. Ouch.
What if, like unfortunate birds, some of us get sucked into the equivalent of cosmic airplane engines? Here’s the real horror if you think about it, as Lovecraft so clearly did. What if Something doesn’t even notice, let alone care? What if the universe greets us with indifference every day of our lives?
—Norman Ball aka Full Spectrum Domino
[Note: I feel obliged to add that I am not a Cosmicist. I am a Christian. I believe that we do have meaning and purpose and that we are under the watch and care of God. I also believe that the universe is self-organizing and that in the fullness of time our physical isolation will be superseded by a spiritual union. Still, we may be guilty of a stubborn, residual Copernicanism. We could be one center within an infinite number of convergent centers. I do not share Lovecraft’s grim pessimism. I offer this essay in the spirit of debate!]