The Search for Intelligent Life
The Search for Intelligent Life
Fog enshrouds the town as we enter the mountain community from the valley below. With a few hundred meters more of elevation, the fog clears, though the skies remain cloudy. Reaching the man-made lake, there is a brightening, and even a small patch or two of blue.
A few men, with pickup trucks loaded with tools, are fishing on the stump-strewn shoreline of the receded lake. They joke about playing hooky from work for a couple of hours at mid-day.
We walk about a mile to the far end of the reservoir. The first significant storm of the season brought a good amount of rain the previous night, and everything is still drenched. Indeed, the area is supersaturated, and the heavy, misty air adds depth and dimensionality to the palpable silence of the place. The first trickling water flows into the lake; in the astounding quiet, it’s heard before seen.
Walking down to the edge of the water, I am overwhelmed by the stillness, silence, and beauty of the odiferous woods, glassy water, and reflected sky. It’s the kind of place in which you find yourself almost holding your breath. The lake is dead calm, and not a man-made sound can be heard, except when the fellows fishing talk to each other over half mile away.
Suddenly a large flock of Canadian geese, honking at the tops of their lungs, swoop in and glide to a halt on the water. From a couple miles away over the ridge on the other side of the reservoir, another flock answers their honking, and the sound echoes across the lake.
This place is an unintentional echo chamber of the cosmos, a watery Arecibo (the largest curved antenna on the planet, located in Puerto Rico) of the celestial. The sensitive, self-knowing individual can ‘hear’ the infinite silence of the cosmos here, and with it, that which can only be called sacred.
Jarring me back to the reality of this world, some trucks start up in the distance, and a back-up beeper rings out. Walking in, there was evidence of recent logging around the lake, and it’s probably resuming on a distant ridge.
Listening without resistance or reaction, the stillness and silence envelop the noise. Then, surprisingly, it stops, making one appreciate the extraordinary place and moment all the more.
The human brain is, potentially, a receiver for the background awareness and intelligence of the universe. But paradoxically, ‘higher thought,’ which gave us this capacity, has to fall completely still, so that the brain is free of enchainment to words, images, and memories. Only then can one ‘hear’ what is far beyond the range of our ears.
It seems clear that evolution, like the laws of physics, follows the same principles throughout the universe. I propose a new principle—namely, that the evolution of ‘higher thought’ occurs regularly in the universe, and tends to produce the kind of fragmentation and chaos presently coming to a head in humankind, requiring conscious transmutation.
In other words, with the right conditions (liquid water), and enough time, a diversity and complexity of life forms emerge, and eventually sentient beings like us, who have to pass through the same self-made crucible of fragmentation. They may look nothing like us, but their basic characteristics--symbolic thought, language, and technology—are common to all potentially ‘intelligent life.’ Within the lifetimes of many people now living, we’ll probably find out if this ‘theory of human nature’ is true.
‘Higher thought’ is hardly the goal. Indeed, though symbolic thought is a necessary step to realizing the intrinsic intent of the universe to evolve life forms with consciousness of the whole, it’s also a huge stumbling block to truly intelligent life. That’s because thought, which is an inherently separative mechanism, tends to dominate the brain and society, generating more and more division, conflict, and disintegration, ecologically and socially.
Human numbers have grown from a few million to nearly seven billion in a mere 10,000 years, but in the process we’ve become the locusts of the earth. Global warming, massive poverty, widespread human rights abuses, etc., mean that sentient life on Earth must now make the transition to truly intelligent life.
For human life to have any meaning, we have to awaken insight within ourselves through self-knowing, seeing into the evolution and operation of our cognitive capabilities. Then, with a quiet mind and empty heart, we have the capacity to hear and participate in the silence, sacredness, and intelligence of the universe.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.