Martin LeFevre: If scientists make poor philosophers, journalists make terrible theologians. Take this metaphysical and eschatological declaration by Janna Levin, a cosmologist at Barnard College for example: “There will be a last sentient being, there will be a last thought.”
Such false certainty is full of assumptions and rife with projections, not to mention being absurdly anthropocentric. Yet because some cosmologist uttered it, and Netflix includes her in a hubristic documentary entitled, “A Trip to Infinity,” we’re supposed to take it seriously.
Lapping up such specious philosophizing posing as scientific knowledge, the New York Times features a risible article today entitled, “Who will have the last word on the universe?”
The piece contains such gems as this, destined to last as long as today’s news cycle:
“At some point in the future there will be somewhere in the universe where there will be a last sentient being. And a last thought. And that last word, no matter how profound or mundane, will vanish into silence along with the memory of Einstein and Elvis, Jesus, Buddha, Aretha and Eve, while the remaining bits of the physical universe go on sailing apart for billions upon billions upon billions of lonely, silent years.”
Such thinking exemplifies confused epistemology (the nature, methods and limits of knowledge), and bad eschatology (the inquiry into death and the final destiny of humanity).
“If what we think we know about physics and cosmology is true, life and intelligence are doomed,” the pundit moans. “Will that last thought of the last sentient being be a profound pearl of wisdom? An expletive? How did we humans get into this fix?” In the lingo of the day, WTF is he talking about?
It takes a special kind of ignorance to put Jesus, Buddha and Elvis in the same sentence, and it takes a special kind of arrogance to say that they will, altogether, “vanish into silence.”
Notice the things of greatest value in this inane way of thinking – thoughts, words and memories. Notice the thing of least value and greatest fear — silence.
Both the scientific theorizing and reviewer’s ruminations are devoid of insight. When the NYT reviewer heard the cosmologist’s pronouncement of “the last thought” during a showing of the film, he said, “it broke my heart…it was the saddest, loneliest idea I had ever contemplated.”
It doesn’t even occur to the cosmologist or the commentator to ask whether there is consciousness without thought in the human being or in the universe. And so they skim along on the surface of the latest scientific fad (“dark energy” leading inexorably to a “Big Rip strong enough to tear apart the tombstones that mark your grave”). Apparently what they fear more than death itself the silence that is present with the ending of thought.
Scientists don’t know what “dark matter” and “dark energy” even are, and have never observed them. They are, like Einstein’s cosmological constant, admittedly mathematical “fudge factors.” Yet upon that rickety scaffolding, the scofflaws of science and journalism build an entire eschatological edifice.
In short, this worldview is not a statement about scientific fact but religious belief concealed behind a veneer of scientific knowledge.
Even more disturbingly, it’s a desperate projection of the present condition of man onto the imagined canvas of infinite spacetime. Speculations about the death of the universe are absurdly premature, especially since they are conflated with juvenile eschatology: “Maybe death could be like a revelation of all of the past and future…and when we die the future dies too.”
As the writer narcissistically admits, “According to this point of view, the universe ends with me, and so in a sense I do have the final word.”
Such silly philosophizing is interspersed with intimations of disconcerting reportage: “Rather than whine about the end of time, most of the physicists and astronomers I talk to say the notion is a relief. The death of the future frees them to concentrate on the magic of the moment.” If that’s true, many physicists and astronomers have become New Age snowflakes.
“The end of time” is a state of being that comes with the complete quieting of the mind-as-thought. It ushers in true consciousness, beyond the flat, stultifying consciousness we know. It is not something to fear at all, but something to awaken with all our being.
There is no time without thought. The ending of time brings with it a fearless communion with death. It’s a state of pure awareness.
Time as we think of it is a fiction; there is no other time than psychological time. The universe and nature are unfolding in ongoing creation beyond time.
The human crisis is intensifying by the week, if not the day. Yet we are stuck, and even the strongest are being sucked into the black hole humans have made of cumulative content-consciousness.
In a trillion years, the pundit mindlessly projects, “it will be like living inside an inside-out black hole, sucking matter, energy and information over the horizon, never to return.” How unspeakably sad that he doesn’t realize he’s not referring to an unimaginably distant future universe, but to the unfathomably dark world of today.
Homo sapiens, a sentient, potentially sapient species, has started the Sixth Mass Extinction in the history of life on Earth. By the end of the century, if we don’t change course, perhaps three-quarters of all animal species along which we evolved and with which we share the planet, will be extinct.
We are undercutting our own prospects for surviving much less thriving and flowering on this stupendously beautiful planet. Yet the NYT features insipid journalistic theologizing inspired by faddish scientific theorizing about the end of the universe.
This kind of writing and thinking contributes to the rampant despair so many people, especially young people, are feeling these days. It does nothing to address the crisis of human consciousness on Earth at present, but projects its personal, speciously science-based theology onto the universe. It is deeply irresponsible.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.