Sunday, April 17, 2011

Humans are important

In both real life and Internet dealings, I often hear people say things like "We humans are so insignificant in the grander scheme of things," or "How important could humanity possibly be? We're sooo arrogant, and yet the universe is soooo big!" It's almost become a cliché at this point, really -- and while it sounds good, or at least gives people philosophy points in social circles, it really isn't anything more complicated than a self-deprecating platitude.

Here's a thought: What if our worth, our significance, depends upon something far less trivial than physical mass?

I guess I don't get it; what does being relatively small have to do with the significance of the human species? Furthermore, given that we don't know how far down and up the scale reality extends, we could ultimately be relatively voluminous; after all, quarks are incomprehensibly tiny compared to a single human individual. And let's not forget that human bodies are not set physical objects, but continuously changing subroutines utilizing all of the universe in their procedures; abstracting a chunk of the suffering entity that we call the universe is tempting, given our evolved sense organs and their scale of operation, but it's not a very legitimate way of seeing things.

However, for the sake of argument, let's temporarily assume that this isn't the case, and that humans really are on the smaller end of the scale. Let's assume that, if you were to take all of our sensory abstractions of the matter, energy, time, and space in the universe and order it all in a straight line according to mass, humans would be in, maybe, the bottom one percent. Why would it matter?

The Grand Canyon is far larger than I, but if there's an avalanche nearby, is anyone obligated out of practical responsibility to rush the entire Grand Canyon to the hospital? No, but when a human being -- a vulnerable, sensitive creature subject to the intense chemical administrations of its own irrational cognitive processor -- gets trapped under the rocks, then anyone nearby is obligated to at least do something to help.

We're not insignificant; in fact, until we have proof that super-intelligent extraterrestrials exist, we're the most significant thing in the universe. Not only do we suffer as a consequence of chemical syntheses irrationally acting to stop their corresponding systems from breaking down, we also can deliberate upon our suffering for hours, days, years both before and after it occurs, creating even more suffering and compounding the void that is sentience. Oh, and on top of that, we're the only living organisms capable of doing something about it.

That makes us pretty significant to me.

So why not worship ourselves, then? Well, that's simple: In addition to being the most significant thing that we're aware of, each of us is also imbued with an incredible potential for algorithmic decision-making and model-building. The problem is that almost none of us is taking advantage of this, leading to the most tragic waste of energy in the history of reality as we've come to know it thus far.

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