January 11, 2009

This Universe of Mankind?

Human–Made Universe!

In every “real” encounter with science and technology, one will always experience a kind of revolution. In Indonesian literary history, very few writers are well versed in exposing the dramatics of the encounter, and the impact that leads to the birth of a new awareness: an era unimaginable before. Among the few is Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a victim of the New Order regime and the most famous Indonesian prose writer in the 20th Century. In the second page of This Earth of Mankind, the first book of ‘Buru Quartet,’ Pramoedya presents Minke’s confession, the protagonist, that, “I was still very young, just the age of a corn plant, yet I had already experienced modern learning and science: They had bestowed upon me a blessing whose beauty was beyond description.”[1]

Detail terbalik "Penciptaan Adam" Michelangelo

Due to the rational learning and scientific knowledge that he has been taught at school and which he witnesses manifesting in the world around him, Minke experiences many exposures set him apart from the general run of his countrymen. From the revolutionary accomplishment of scientific logic originating from Europe, Minke grasps one magic word, a single word that surges greatly and germinates instantly like bacteria throughout the world. A single word which does not merely change Minke’s horizon and the course of his life, it sweeps continents and transforms everything in its path: Modern!


The realization of the magic word brings out an immediate effect to control time and space. Minke realizes that scientific spirit drives him to take notes. Like zincography and every form of documentation, note taking is a realization of human strategic action to humanize the unstoppable flow of Natural Time. That is, to keep in mind and to spread out a different kind of time, an anthropological one which is developed from ― yet stays attached to ― the cosmic time, as an island separated from its influential continent, or as a planet born out of yet still rotates around its shining sun. In this alternative awareness of time, various subjective times may be recalled, even eternalized, to  nurture and grow as a life form with its own evolution. While helping mankind saving the past from oblivion and extinction, this strategy also equips mankind with a storehouse of memory and knowledge bases to shape and fashion history.

Conquering time goes hand in hand with conquering space. The world is no longer seen as scattered unrelated points — distance has been abolished by telegraph, shortened by railroad webs slicing the whole world continents, on ground and underground. Alfred Weber and Karl Jaspers once mentioned that the spreading of horse domestication for race and carriage was the main force behind the emergence of die Achsenzeit, the Axis of History. Around the fifth century BC, thinkers, philosophers, and founders of world great religions were born. In China mainland Khong Hu Cu, Mo Tsu and Lao Tse shaped the spiritual base of a great civilization. The Indian subcontinent gave birth to Sidharta Gautama, Mahavira and the Unpanishad thinkers. In Middle East the Jewish Prophets went to preach at the city gates, which later gave ways to Christianity and Islam. Zarathustra’s teachings compiled in the Avesta holy book were widely spread in Persia. And in Greece, philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle propagated their questions and knowledge.

While carrying human body along with his thought and imagination, horse domestication provides greater self-confidence and a more dynamic sense of space and time. The leap from pedestrian transportation to equestrian one have enabled the birth of an era which changes the evolution of the human mind and soul. After 2500 years since the emergence of the axis of history, the thoughts of those great men matured by exchanges and collisions of ideas have left indelible traces discernible until today. If horse could give ways to die Achsenzeit, then it is imaginable what can be precipitated by space travel and galaxy colonization. One thing is certain, Minke’s exposures to zincography, steam trains and all other products of technology in his bygone era, has led him to become a chap tending a cluster of dreams impossible for “the conquered people.” He, for instance, imagines himself making love and sharing deep passions with Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina, the Netherlands and the Netherlands Indie’s ultimate ruler and at that time one of the great authorities of the entire world.

Modernity, along with its science and technology, indeed played significant roles on the spread of colonialism. Yet modernity with its offspring was the ones which later, due to the pressures to rationalize the colony, helped to give birth to nationalism throughout the world. It was due to Ratio (reason) and science, carrying with them a set of dependable certainties, that Minke pioneers an era where the inlanders strives to change one’s world to be a human world, not a God arbitrarily cruel ruled world, also not a world solely ruled by the powerful long-nosed and hairy whites. A colonial subject takes a path toward an era that never before existed: the free Indonesia, a liberated and sovereign motherland equal to other nations. The revolution that changes Minke is made possible by scientific achievements at the crossroads of 19th and 20th centuries, which are rather primitive by comparisons to the achievements and possibilities of science in this transition of the second to the third millennium.

Human Microcosms

In June 26, 2000, the completion of the first phase of human genetic mapping was announced simultaneously at six points on the planet Earth hemisphere: Washington DC, London, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and Beijing. This genetic map appears to be more than “the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind,” as proclaimed by Bill Clinton, the president of the United States; nor a mere “the first great technological triumph of the 21st century” as remarked by Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair. Configured by DNA consisting of three billions chemical alphabets, the genome map is a starting sign of human’s true winning to take over from Nature’s hand the control of biological evolution.

The Genome map clearly sheds some light on the interconnections of whole living beings: the brotherhood between human species with the rest of creatures. From the map we know that human has 51% in common with the genetic makeup of yeast, and 98% in common with chimps. As for the difference in skin color, hair, eye, smell and other physical attributes used to distinguish mankind apart and taken as essentials in human history, its all are caused by minute genomic differences of only 0.2 per cent.[2] It is indeed too many natural likenesses among human compared to their ostensible differences. Nature contributes only a tiny drop to the ocean of human differences which in history so often become excuses for many ethnic cleansings and holy wars.

Aside from opening wide a post-Darwinian life within which the blind natural selection is no longer the dominant factor of evolution, the genome project alters the balance in mankind’s historical struggle to outwit nature. It changes the battle ground between two factors never coexisted before in humanity’s experience: the depressing objective fact of the decaying of body, and the long journey from organic body to one disinfected by intrusive time and biological decomposition. With the accomplishment in human gene mapping, the whole proteins and peptides (to be followed by the whole genes, proteins and peptides of the all living beings); humanity will be granted a new force to win the long battle, to make a new life forms that have never before walked the face of earth, with effects to change the civilization far greater than the domestication of horse and the invention of wheel, gunpowder and Gutenberg printing machine. The genome project, for instance, enables human to surpass, at least to suspend, biological death which historically has been taken as the limit of existence. A man might just consciously chooses to die for the sole reason of having enough of this world, or in order to feel a supposedly ultimate happiness and truth unattainable in life. He may leave a note to be resurrected in certain time in the future, just in case that his idea about the beauty of life after death is turn out to be wrong.

Along with major breakthroughs in other disciplines, the genome project is charting a great revolution to be welcomed warmly by the transhumanists. At a glance there is indeed some naivety exhibited by the transhumanists, particularly those who stake too much faith in scientific and technological power — their goal to reach self transformation could be fulfilled without all the wonder provide by science and technology revolution.  Friedrich Nietzsche who died 100 years ago had brilliantly proposed that the natural body is capable of experiencing sensations never known to human before: the sensations of being God. Übermensch is not a “new transcendence” — it is based on the potentials inherent in every human being and can be realized at any time; nor is it a far ahead stage of human development defined solely by reasoning. Übermensch, thus spake Zarathustra, is the meaning of this world.

Nevertheless, if with a mere natural human body (post-ape body), a creature can become the meaning of the world, what is in store then for a post-human body? A body grows by the explosion of information processing speed and storage capability, with the fusion of all horizons of human knowledge and experience accumulated along the history, with cell rejuvenation which even denies aging process—obviously it will open up far more fascinating possibilities than those previously imagined by Julian Huxley, the first promoter of transhumanism.[3]

There are indeed many problems await to solve, quite demanding to genetic cartographers. The hardest part in the genome project is not in the sequencing, it is more on the assembling and annotation stage. This stage is far more difficult and time consuming. But then, that is how science lives. Science is a gigantic bioorganism where problem is its sole source of food, and solving problem is it’s reason d’etre. In its effort to sustain its life, science elevates human to shape history. As for the scientific effort in charting a detailed genetic map, which is human microcosmic map, it would effluent humanity to, quoting Clinton, a language with which God created life. The mastery of God’s language is the obvious path to becoming God.

Science’s drive to push human intelligence further into the realm of God is perhas ardently exposed in cosmology. The whole cosmic theories in this early part of the 3rd millennium will eventually require certain intelligence to create an entirely new universe, in order to prove the soundness of the theory. They also propose a version in opposition to narrative conception inherited from greater religions, in particular “deistic religions”. Hawking’s no-boundary proposal, Lee Smolin’s organic cosmos model, or Andrei Linde’s fractal cosmos, for instance, are some of attempts to correct the Big Bang theory which is perceived by some to serve the base of Creation Moment. Hawking’s proposal, we understand, is a model of the universe without boundaries, where time knows neither beginning nor end. And where the Creator has nothing left to contribute in the cosmic creation and evolution. According to Hawking, in this kind of universe, a Supreme Creator is not required.

In the creation of earth and heaven preached in monotheistic religions, Adam the human is expelled out of heaven for tasting the forbidden fruit; in the latest cosmic model it seems that it is God the Creator who is expelled out of the universe (God actually was never thrown out, since He was never been in, never been anywhere). In both narratives of creation, knowledge played the lead actor without apparent performance yet with extraordinary significance. One of scientific knowledge’s main principles declares that if an event can be explained without God’s intervention, then stating that any deistic intervention is epistemologically intolerable. Along with other principles that enable science to grow and sustain life, this principle will vigorously impel the intelligence to create a new universe.

The Fiction of Creation

In past history, the loftiest imagination a human dare to attain was confined under the sacred canopy of narrative (more accurately: fiction) about miraculous creation of the universe and its constituents. For that matter, its most divine urge is only that of a dust grain’s spiritual passion to submit itself in the almightiness of the cosmos Creator. Or, merely an urge of the scum of evolution and the twig of coincidence who attempted to revolt existentially against the sacred by disparaging all universe creation fiction as meaningless. Breaking this sacred canopy will be similar to breaking open the farthest heaven and it will definitely shake logic and history from its thousands years of sleep.

At a glance, the idea of universe creation by human intelligence may seem unbearable. Or instead unnecessary from the wise views of religion and art, which have always been creating miraculously amazing cognitive universes. However, it is nature itself who always produces mankind that would never been satisfied by a mere imaginary construction, also tend to crack and dispose the whole heaven protecting and at the same time, limiting his ancestors ideals. In an ever-changing nature, life can be sustained if bioorganic reproduction produces off springs which are not entirely similar to their predecessors. The successors have to be prepared to face new environments unsuitable for their predecessors. Even at the level of chromosomes, reproduction always generates “abnormality”: mutation and a multitude of otherness at genetic level.

This natural law of “otherness-production” enables life and civilization to keep on growing through the certainty of the emergence of talented people hatching great inventions, offering fresh opinions, different view and exciting approach with certain blend of “naivety”. It is they, those intelligent creatures determined to dig far into the hart of reality; odd creatures not only willing to examine the farthest limit of imagination and scientific knowledge. As they probe intimately the deepest essence of cosmic reality, they push further the horizon where mind and language said to lost their prowess. They, who would suffer by mere theoretical possibilities and could be satisfied only by empirical reality, understand that in true knowledge there are things that cannot be taught: you have to experience it yourself.

One thing is for sure, human effort to create a universe of its own with all of its constituents is closely related to its evolution and sustainability as a species. It is still unknown what cosmic disaster the nature is currently preparing — which may also work through human hands; a universal disaster great enough to push human to create a new universe and its constituents as a medium to continue to live, to eternalize and propagate themselves. Even before such a cosmic disaster occurs, human seems capable of attaining a certain level of consciousness enough to accommodate a spiritual ecology for knowledge to be able to create universe. Universe creation is indeed a part of a better way to solve many ontological problems that have shadowed human ancestors for too long.

Even when the seeds of cosmic creation have sprouted, it does not necessarily mean that the supporting ecology can be formed. Conservatism is an archaic syndrome not to be easily dismissed in this world, and its narrow minded and violent opposition might kill the idea of cosmic creation prematurely. Or, the idea will deactivate itself awaiting the right momentum to blossom. This de-active possibility occurs if the era is governed by human giant movement to free them from their own selves, from their imagination and quest for the unknown. Human race stops thinking, or thinking only for the mediocre, trivial, banal.

Mankind may then continue to live on under a great narrative of the universe as a narcissistic mega monster which in order to express and multiply itself, cunningly nurtures a complex living being to be able to replicate the universe. It so happened incidentally that the evolutionary intelligence race was won by a mammalian species, not reptile or insect. Given enough time and supportive environment, reptiles and arthropods can also develop high level intelligence. Possibly in another spot in this vast cosmic space, alternate preys are being farmed and developed, alternate intelligence, silicon based for instance, to act as a medium for cosmic self multiplication. Not to fall victims, mankind must revolt against their destiny as medium for cosmic replication.

This kind of thinking-quite-mediocre brain is a good nesting for primitive meme containing, for instance, religious understanding declaring that if human tear up the world sacred canopy within which he is destined to be trapped, he will get himself facing a vast sea of knowledge terribly over saturating his mind. Greatly advantageous as it is, such knowledge really threatens human existence. The revolution of science and the prowess of cognition, will appear therein as a colossal version of Mahabharata hollowness and absurdity. Mankind is then no more than a god refusing to be a God, and must keep refuse to be human, which is to be a powerless slave.

What is more depressing than experiencing that human, after successfully creating a new universe for instance, then find out: he is nothing more than an object for amusement of a certain God which is also an object of another greater God, which is also an object of another greater Creator, etc., etc.? What if it turned out that the creator of this universe – whom for the past thousands of years was the source for all the truest beliefs and the most ultimate form of devotions – was actually a Cosmic Hacker personage, as imagined by Andrei Linde. Or the personification of a second class God (full of jealousy, nosey and megalomaniac) in his encounter with the devil, as mentioned in a fiction by Jorge Louis Borges?[4]

Inventing the God

The above mentioned possibilities will indeed shatter the mankind’s universe of meanings, and that would be very good. The Luddite and the critics of Reason and science were right in asserting that any intervention of scientific revolution into the “sacred” areas belong to God’s prerogatives, will lead to gigantic impacts. It will shake up many people religious beliefs, tearing down to shred some others and smashing moral systems of many cultures to the roots. Life would be very absurd, “Universal code of conducts” guiding human race for thousands of years would be going to broke, and human being will be scattered around tormented with horrible consternation.

However, it is from there indeed, from the absence and the destruction of meanings, human culture and civilization is originated. Cosmos is only born out of a Chaos. Culture and civilization blooms and develops because mankind, through various ways often by risking his very life and destroying generally accepted logics, gives meaning to the meaningless, attaches point to the pointless. From this stand point, science and particularly technology, in the broadest sense, are indeed “the fate of humankind”, the amender of the cosmic metaphysical constitution that is presupposed as the fundamental core of all human opportunity of action or potentiality of universe-making.

Intelligence and knowledge therefore have no unshakeable reason to freeze themselves, and so will continue to grow to eventually create a universe then a multiverse and give meanings to the newly created universes. It will probably take longer for human to create a more glorious supercosmos than the one currently lived in. Yet while waiting for that time of the grander multiverse recreation to come, human (whose imaginations and sacrifices are capable to make miracles) will already change and humanize the perceivable cosmos into a universe of mankind, not a universe unintended and unreachable for human.

If human-made universe is to be seen as probably an inevitable future of human scientific knowledge, then  one  might perceive a certain shadow play of “Deistic Plan and Game” is revealing  its extravagant performance,  with a  lot more colossal immensity. An intelligence with an mind-boggling prowess, is working out a plan far too grand for human, too noble for the cousin of bipedal ape considering the whole of his background and history. Million after million years of evolution, Homo sapiens still remains to be a large-brained creature that, when it comes to ideas, as said by perhaps the greatest American philosophers and inventor of pragmatism Charles Sanders Pierce, usually prefer the cheap, the light and the profane. Humanity even eager to consume the venomous trash to death if allowed, killing off other species all the while. An imagination of an intelligence that in a very complicated way is engineering the way to-exalt-to-be-God for the creature once considered as the most self-destructive species in history, makes the deistic almightiness preached and propagated by all great and powerful religions seems “childish”. And we further realize that all religions are indeed the expressions of human greatness as well as his limitations in history.

The authentic religion, as written by Huston Smith in The Religions of Man, is a gateway through which the infinite cosmic power pours down into human existence. As a produce of the search for something capable to provide guidance and meaning to mankind, nothing compares to religion’s ability to touch and inspire the creative epicenters of human life. Getting manifested from those epicenters into rites and myths, through the selective process of forgetting and remembrance, religion generates symbols that moves history and civilization, until eventually losing its prowess under the world new tides of change; and humanity awaits for another creation of new universe of meanings.

The idea of an “expelled and dissipating” God from the universe, along with a humanity that is guided or entrapped to master the deistic language to create life and the great supercosmos, seems to be as the integrating idea combining all philosophies and latest advancements in science. What comprised then is a cosmology where humanity previously nailed on the perimeters are now given a chance to play the lead: human is indeed destined to be free with the whole amount of bitterness involved, in a universe never been interfered by any God, left in its entirety in order for life and intelligence to develop within.

The dawn of the 3rd millennium arises with an emerging necessity that everything must be recreated. And among others, the ones in urgent need of reinvention are: Human, Universe, and God. Humanity is far greater than we can ever imagine, and our interconnectedness with the entire cosmos is not a mere philosophical speculation. In our fate to bear the consequences of freedom, the creature capable of abridging horizons of all millennia before and after, embracing the universe of limitless history and boundless humanity, we move reverberating that The Inexpressible in Words are keeping warm an “overly” love, which is inhuman; a love that even prophets, saints and mystics may never able to imagine.

The overarching awareness that the whole world religions and philosophical thinking are  fundamentally humanity’s great works along the historical struggle to provide meanings to life, and for that matter they are also  as inspirational and fictive as the great literary compositions and other impressive work of arts, will open an era where if humanity speaks of God, of His/Her Greatness and Almightiness, if we still use these archaic and inadequate words, we will refer to a cluster of meanings never before existed in the known universe.***

Jakarta, August 2000

Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka

This postscript chapter without footnote was published in Indonesian Language in Bentara–KOMPAS Newspaper, Jakarta, October 6, 2000, under the title “Semesta Manusia”.

[1] Toer, Pramoedya Ananta. 1996. This Earth of Mankind. New York: Penguin Book. pp. 2. Originally published in Indonesia by Hasta Mitra Publishing House, Jakarta, 1980, under the title Bumi Manusia. Translated and with an Afterword by Max Lane.
[2] International Herald Tribune, June 27, 2000.
[3] This See Amend, Victor E. and Leo T. Hendrick (eds.). 1964. Ten Contemporary Thinkers. USA: The Free of Glencoe. Pp. 456 – 460
[4] Borges, Jorge Luis. 1998 Collected Fiction. New York: Penguin Books. Translated by Andrew Hurley.

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