The Nobility of Space Exploration
I've been watching a lot of science fiction lately on cable TV, mainly re-runs of the three reincarnations of Star Trek since I still find the original program a little too hammy.
I'm not becoming a Trekkie -- I don't have enough nerd genes for that. I'm thinking about THE BIG QUESTIONS:
Who Are We? Where Did We Come From? Where Are We Going? And How Do We Find God?
These are the oldest philosophical/spiritual questions posed by mankind and the best science fiction addresses them in new ways.
My favorite science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, attempted to answer two related questions in all of his writings: What Is Reality and What Does It Mean To Be Human?
When I was in high school, the first sub-orbital flight by an American astronaut was broadcast live on the school's PA system and it awakened something profound in my young mind. Although I wasn't a big fan of science fiction in those days, I suddenly realized that the space program was much more than science fiction coming true. It was a modern manifestation of mankind's most noble identity as an explorer of the unknown.
Ever since then, I have been an ardent supporter of NASA from the moon landings to the space shuttle and the international space station despite their enormous financial costs and the inevitable deaths inherent in such a dangerous undertaking.
Nowadays I'm glad to see an increasing number of other nations and private companies getting involved in their own space programs because a whole-world effort will be needed to explore the unimaginable vastness of the universe.
If mankind has a destiny -- and this is not yet certain, but rather one of The Big Questions to be answered -- it will involve becoming godlike in manipulating reality to explore the universe. To find God, we must become godlike ourselves for all knowledge is ultimately self-knowledge.
Faster-than-light travel will be required, along with teleportation and other feats of what seems like magic now. Scientists have already taken the first steps in experiments teleporting photons of electro-magnetic energy. Matter will be next. If time travel is possible, it could prove to be a vital tool in exploring the universe. Manipulating black holes and wormholes are other means we might use some day.
Whether we ever make it to the edge of the universe (if there is one) or even to the nearest star outside our own solar system will be a race between two opposing forces in human nature: the desire to explore the unknown and our tragic tendency to self destruction. If we succeed, it may be largely for all the wrong reasons -- military paranoia (which drove the space program during the Cold War), economic exploitation of natural resources, perhaps even enslavement of technologically inferior civilizations (as Europe did in the New World after Columbus' discovery.) But I'll take success at any price because some who explore and others who make it possible will do it for the right reasons and they will leaven the whole loaf like a tiny amount of yeast in the dough.
I have a pet theory that the vastness of the universe is a sort of holographic reflection of an underlying infinitesimal reality, that "distance" is a fractal illusion, that success in traveling to the "farthest" reaches of the universe will eventually rest on inner rather than outer-directed exploration.
And I find a strange kind of inspiration in T.S. Elliot's poetic sentiment that the real purpose of all travel is to return to the starting point and see it with new eyes, as if for the first time.
"The earth was made round so we can't see too far down the road and know what is coming." -- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa