During my digital detox over the end-of-the-year period (a pretty grim one this time!) I came across a strange book written by a psychiatrist called Du principe anthropique a l’homme (From the Anthropic Principle to Man). Browsing it by boredom first, I quickly became intrigued.
The anthropic principle was first formulated in 1974 by astrophysicist Brandon Carter based on the notion of the expanding universe (discovered in the 1920s) and leading to the now widely accepted thesis of the “Big Bang”, of the entire universe being concentrated in one “explosive” singularity some fourteen billion years ago. The idea is that there must be an intrinsic relation between the original “data” of the universe (its laws and properties) and the apparition of the human. Formulated in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, in L’apparition de l’homme (1956):1 There must be a “law of complexity-conscience” that governs evolution and that has led to the human…
Based on this cosmological principle Bruno Meric, the author of the book in question, proposes a “local” anthropic principle, one that goes back only some 4,5 billion years (p. 18). Following this principle, of all possible planets, only the earth, through fractal reproduction of some of its geological properties, could lead to the apparition of the human. The geology of the earth and the biology of the human are thus intimately linked. The earth has a human finality; it created humanity “in her image” with regard to sexuality, orientation, memory and conscience. Global geographic properties of the earth (geographic and geomagnetic) are fractally reproduced in the biological parts that have developed based on fertile waters (ocean) and signals (poles and magnetic meridians). The earth’s lithosphere resembles a “geological primal scene” which is later reproduced by human genital organs, while the magnetosphere of the earth (created by the earth’s inner core) is replicated in the magnetosphere of the human brain (created by the neural Papez circuit).
Human memory is not stored in the human brain but in the “magnetosphere” surrounding it. Upon death, individual memories are restituted to the magnetosphere of the earth. It is not excluded, writes Meric (p. 88), that these memories can materialize as voices from beyond on voice recorders (as specialists of the paranormal contend) and that the “magnetic panorama” of each citizen may one day be accessible with the aid of artificial reading devices. Here, Meric imagines “unfalsifiable testimonies” in court (p. 89/90), similar to already existing “lie detectors” measuring brain activity, but strangely omits more dystopian uses such as Orwell”s “thought police” in his anticipatory 1984.
My own theoretical and ethical stance of a “general humanity” as a virtual humanity or mode of relation shared by all beings does not contain any teleology: humankind is not earth’s finality, rather an unfortunate evolutional dead end. There is no intrinsic capacity of the universe towards ever more complex matter, and the human species is certainly not the “peak of the pyramid of complexity” because uniquely endowed with consciousness as Meric quotes Hubert Reeves (p. 14).
But there is one aspect of the local anthropic principle that grips me: If the extinction of dinosaurs was caused by the fall of a gigantic meteor, the extinction of humanity may be caused by a similar asteroid (very unlikely, because rare) or (more likely, for human-made) nuclear war, loss of the ozone layer, rising ocean levels and the like. To persevere, humans may be forced to revolve back to aquatic beings (their biotic ancestors) and in particular to dolphins (p. 48ff). In this light, autism, usually considered a mental illness, appears as an evolutionary “backup”, a precious ancestral memory and an environmental pre-adaptation, in short: a contribution to “psychic diversity” necessary for the survival of the human species. Meric explicates his point with an impressive list of autistic traits: Autistic persons don’t cry (tears are useless in salty water), they don’t like change (the ocean is a stable environment), they don’t like to walk but they like to rock back and forth (like dolphins who use their horizontal fin to swim), they don’t like to talk but they like to repeat what they hear (echolalia, prefiguring echolocation used by marine mammals such as dolphins), they don’t like physical and face contact (no use underwater), and the list continues (p. 54ff).
While there exist other research tendencies that consider autistic persons as having evolutionary advantages in the digital age (e.g. computational skills), Meric sees in them aquatic beings in the wrong element: air, not water… and imagines some 480.000 autistic children living close to the sea being able to adapt to the new, aquatic ecosystem if need be and repopulate it. (For the precise calculation see p. 63). He also mentions “physical malformations” as additional predispositions for marine life, and delivers a striking comparison between a “normal” human and a human-beluga whale, the only aquatic mammal with a mobile neck and shoulders, and no back fin…
One thing that Meric seems to be forgetting in his alluring hypothesis is that the ocean itself, due to rising acid levels and pollution of all sorts (oil spills, plastic continents etc.) has become almost as inhabitable as the earth… and that a possible repopulation of the ecosystem will most likely take place… on another planet. But for now, no planet visited or studied has shown any signs of “life” in the sense we earthlings understand life and for “intelligence” in the sense that we earthlings understand “intelligence”. So will the solution be to adapt to a milieu that is unsuitable for human life and the a/biotic community that sustains it? Will the solution be the technical adaptation of the human to breathe other gases, to directly metabolize sunlight, and to develop bodies whose bones and sense of orientation can adapt to a different gravity than that of the earth? Such a solution would contradict the “anthropic principle” which considers earth to be the “chosen land” for life. And it would also oppose my own “terrean principle” that sees earth as the common ground for all life on earth, while not excluding the possibility of other life forms existing or emerging on other planets. And here is where our arguments converge. For Meric’s local anthropic principle, despite its human teleology, blurs the boundaries between geological and biological evolution and constitutes a “terrean principle” in its own right since earth forges life “in her own image”. (Here, we could draw alliances with different chtonic myths, of the first humans born from earth.)2
For me, personally, the perspective of my offspring becoming dolphins holds much more charm that that of them living in a simulated biosphere on Mars, entirely dependent on technology to ensure their vital needs for oxygen, nutrients, sunlight, gravity, not to speak about shelter, locomotion, comfort, community – even if that very technology had become fused with the human form. In any case, the energy and materials needed for human life on Mars would be mined from Mars itself, thus continuing the extractive and predatory relation that we’ve already practiced ad nauseam on and towards earth. As Ray Bradbury imagined in the 1950s already, in The Martian Chronicles,3 tin cans thoughtlessly thrown away by pioneers landing on Mars marked the beginning of the end…
1 Teilhard de Chardin, Collected Works, Vol. II (L’Apparition de l’Hommme, Paris, Seuil, 1956) The Appearance of Man (New York: Harper, 1965; 1959).
2 Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible (Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1957). Originally published in French as Forgerons et alchimistes (Paris: Flammarion, 1956).
3 Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1950).
Featured image: Crop of composite photograph shot by Curiosity land rover, Color Variations on Mount Sharp, Mars (White Balanced), November 10, 2016. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Source: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA21256. Public domain.