Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Site: thecosmist.com

I have created a new site dedicated to Cosmism: thecosmist.com where I will be blogging from now on. Please update your bookmarks, and enjoy!

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Dark Cosmist Observation

For today's Observation I'd like to take a walk on the dark side and share a few videos with a Dark Cosmist feel. I find these videos stunning; for me they evoke the spirit of cosmicism beautifully: Awe and terror at the vast, alien Cosmos. Play these on full screen with headphones and enjoy!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Two Schools of Cosmism

As I see it, there are two main schools of Cosmist thought, which I like to call “Light Cosmism” and “Dark Cosmism” (aka "Cosmicism"). To better understand these schools, I offer the stirring words of four great cosmic thinkers who capture the spirit of each side: Carl Sagan and Marshall Savage vs. H.P. Lovecraft and Friedrich Nietzsche:

“The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. From it we have learned most of what we know. Recently, we have waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen our toes or, at most, wet our ankles. The water seems inviting. The ocean calls.” –Carl Sagan, Cosmos







“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age." –H.P Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu



  

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home, the Earth. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.” –Carl Sagan, Cosmos

“In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of "world history" — yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.  One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened.” –Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense

“The human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure ‘Victorian fictions’. Only egotism exists.”  –H. P.  Lovecraft

“Teetering here on the fulcrum of destiny stands our own bemused species. The future of the universe hinges on what we do next. If we take up the sacred fire, and stride forth into space as the torchbearers of Life, this universe will be aborning. If we carry the green fire-brand from star to star, and ignite around each a conflagration of vitality, we can trigger a Universal metamorphosis. Because of us, the barren dusts of a million billion worlds will coil up into the pulsing magic forms of animate matter. Because of us, landscapes of radiation blasted waste, will be miraculously transmuted: Slag will become soil, grass will sprout, flowers will bloom, and forests will spring up in once sterile places. Ice, hard as iron, will melt and trickle into pools where starfish, anemones, and seashells dwell — a whole frozen universe will thaw and transmogrify, from howling desolation to blossoming paradise. Dust into Life; the very alchemy of God.” –Marshall Savage, The Millennial Project


So there you have the two Cosmist schools in a nutshell: The universe is a black sea of infinity in which science is suicide, life is futile and only egotism exists, or it's an inviting cosmic ocean where science is the key to boundless life and progress. I find them both incredibly poetic and compelling, and have difficulty choosing sides. What say you?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Edgar Mitchell: Cosmist Prophet?

Edgar Mitchell is a mystic for the Space Age – an astronaut who experienced a cosmic epiphany while returning from the moon during the Apollo 14 mission. Born in a small town in Texas, raised a Baptist, with a PhD in aeronautical engineering from MIT, Mitchell wouldn’t seem to be a likely candidate for any kind of “New Agey” mystical revelation. However, so powerful was his epiphany in space in 1971 that Mitchell soon devoted his life to trying to understand the experience.  According to Wikipedia:
Mitchell's interests include consciousness and paranormal phenomena. On his way back to earth during the Apollo 14 flight he had a powerful Savikalpa samadhi experience, and also claimed to have conducted private ESP experiments with his friends on Earth. The results of said experiments were published in the Journal of Parapsychology in 1971. In early 1973, he founded the nonprofit Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) to conduct and sponsor research into areas that mainstream science has found unproductive, including consciousness research and psychic events.
The sight of the Earth, moon, sun and a 360 degree panorama of the heavens from his cockpit window triggered a Samadhi experience in Mitchell:


“And suddenly it settled in, a visceral moment of knowing that the molecules in my body, the molecules in the spacecraft, and the molecules in my partners had been prototyped and manufactured in an ancient generation of stars. It was not an intellectual realization, but a deep knowing that was accompanied by a feeling of ecstasy and oneness that I had never experienced in that way before.

In that instant, I knew for certain that what I was seeing was no accident. That it did not occur randomly and without order. That life did not, by accident, arise from the primordial earthly sea. It was as though my awareness reached out to touch the furthest star and I was aware of being an integral part of the entire universe, for one brief instance. Any questions that my curious mind might have had about our progress, about our destiny, about the nature of the universe, suddenly melted away as I experienced that oneness. I could reach out and touch the furthest parts and experience the vast reaches of the universe. It was clear that those tiny pinpoints of light in such brilliant profusion were a unity. They were linked together as part of the whole as they framed and formed a backdrop for this view of planet Earth. I knew we are not alone in this universe, that Earth was one of millions, perhaps billions, of planets like our own with intelligent life, all playing a role in the great creative plan for the evolution of life.”
Other astronauts report similar changes in their consciousness from being in space, a phenomenon which has been called the “Overview Effect.” One of my more speculative ideas is that the human mind may be able to more easily sense some kind of universal “Force” from outside the electromagnetic, gravitational or other influences of the Earth. I have even imagined an entire science fiction future history based on the idea that entering the larger cosmos will cause this latent ability to awaken in homo sapiens, who will become “homo cosmicus” – real Jedi, Bene Gesserit and Kohlinaru space mystics!

To see the world through the eyes of a newborn, prior to all categories of thought, to experience the cosmic unity of all things, to be in awe of reality, to glimpse infinity – these are the essence of the mystical experience. In the Zen tradition it is called “Satori”, in Hinduism it is “Samadhi”, for Gnostic Christians it is “gnosis”, in Kabbalism it is “Ein Sof”, Taoists call it “Te”, in Sufi Islam it is “fana”, and apparently for astronauts it is the “Overview Effect”.

This effect could even become the prime motivator for manned space exploration – imagine space temples in orbit or on Mars which offer panoramic views of the heavens to visiting spiritual adventurers, or pilgrims voyaging ever deeper into space in search of a more profound cosmic gnosis, or a new cosmic religion exploding out into the universe, inspired by a prophet such as Mitchell. To me these scenarios are no less likely than Stone Age Egyptians suddenly erecting vast pyramids, or Arab barbarians conquering the Near East, or Christians colonizing entire continents, and it's certainly a more inspiring vision of our cosmic future than a solar system full of mindless space probes and automated asteroid mines!

Hardcore skeptics may dismiss Mitchell as a New Age crackpot, but to me he is a modern shaman – one who has journeyed outside the bounds of mundane reality and returned with a message for the entire human tribe. In these trying times, faced as we are with a global shaman's test, perhaps the consciousness-expanding Overview Effect is the mystical revelation we need for a new cosmic age. May the Force be with us all...

Further Reading:

For an interesting discussion of the scientific study of the Overview Effect, see
http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2009/05/will-our-brains.html

Two organizations dedicated to promoting the Overview Effect are The Overview Institute and Homo Spaciens.

For the definitive book on the Overview Effect, including interviews with Mitchell and other astronauts, see The Overview Effect by Frank White. Mitchell's autobiographical account of his epiphany and his subsequent mystical investigations is also quite interesting.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hell on Earth, Heaven in Space


The more I study and think about various options for life off-Earth, the more apparent it becomes that life will be much easier for our species in suitably designed space habitats built from the ground up for human beings.

The fact of the matter which the frightening scenes of the recent Japanese tsunami drive home so powerfully is that this amazing planet of ours is fraught with perils, chaos and destructive forces which we will never be able to predict or control.  As lovely as our earthly environment is, it is ultimately our enemy in that it will never stop trying to turn us into fertilizer until we, or it, are gone.  This is the deep truth that Greens and Gaians need to try to grasp: our human intelligence has no inherent allegiance to this planet as we find it; rather, it compels us to try to escape from Gaia’s cruel and capricious whims by creating tools and habitats that don’t exist in nature.  The logical extension of this impulse is to create entirely artificial environments where there are no predators, pests, viruses, droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis or super-volcanoes at all, and the only place to do that is in space.

Consider for a moment one such habitat we could build quite feasibly with current or near future technology.  Imagine a medium-sized main belt asteroid, perhaps five kilometers in diameter, hollowed out with the help of mining robots.  A large cylindrical cavity is dug along the axis of rotation of the asteroid, which could be altered with rockets or mass drivers to ensure the desired rotation.  The mined materials could be used to construct the habitat or be ferried back to Mars, Luna or Earth by solar sail tugs to earn a tidy sum for the pioneers.


Meanwhile, a livable environment would be constructed on the interior surface, which would have one g pseudo-gravity due to the centrifugal force of rotation.  A breathable atmosphere could be produced from elements mined from nearby asteroids and pumped into the air-locked living chamber.  An artificial sun could be created with a solar or fusion-powered filament running along the axis which turns on and off in a circadian cycle.  The thick rock walls of the asteroid would provide ample protection against cosmic rays and solar storms.  Ice, which we now know is common in the asteroid belt, could be hauled in periodically from nearby asteroids or comets and stored in great reservoirs and lakes dug in the asteroid interior.  A sophisticated recycling system would ensure that water, air and other elements are reused efficiently.  Tens of thousands of colonists could live quite comfortably in this way inside one small asteroid.

Outside, a large solar sail could be attached like a giant parachute to the planetoid, providing continuous power to the colonists as well as a means of propulsion should they decide to go sailing around the solar system.  Arrays of antennae near the poles would connect the colony to the entire solar network of colonies and planets; optical telescopes more powerful than the Hubble would provide awesome views of near and deep space.

What a free and glorious existence!  An entire human-created world, orbiting like clockwork around the sun, with no terrestrial chaos to threaten the safety and serenity of its inhabitants.  This would be something new in human experience: life of a truly cosmic nature, close to the stars and unbounded by earthly gravity wells or ancestral limits on the imagination.  And if something truly apocalyptic were to occur back on Earth, such worlds would become arks which could carry human progeny forward indefinitely into the future.

Is this vision science fiction?  At the moment, yes.  But there is nothing about this idea that is scientifically or technologically insurmountable, or even particularly difficult.  When the infrastructure of our space industry reaches the asteroids and begins to mine the incredible riches there, I would expect such colonies to arise naturally among the miners.  There might be a new gold rush environment out there, an incredible sense of frontier freedom that modern earthbound humans can scarcely imagine.  What is not to like about this scenario?  What is preventing us from creating such a boundless future but our own timidity and lack of will?  The disasters will keep coming here on our home world, the cataclysms, wars, famines and plagues, and it’s only a matter of time before a truly biblical apocalypse strikes.  But out in the Cosmos, countless heavenly new worlds of our imagining can be created for our long-term comfort and survival.  What are we waiting for?

Recommended Reading:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Overview Effect

There has been an enormous amount of speculation over the years among space enthusiasts about the scientific, technological and economic dimensions of space exploration, but relatively little about the spiritual and religious dimensions.  This strikes me as a bit like trying to understand the historic spread of Western civilization around the world while ignoring the role of Christian missionaries – it misses the key to the whole enterprise!  However, the folks who put a bible aboard the Apollo 14 capsule with Edgar Mitchell 40 years ago haven't lost the plot, and neither should we!




As ridiculous as the idea of putting a microfilm bible on the Moon might sound, I must admit I like it.  I am anything but a Christian, but I love this story because it supports the main thesis of this blog: that cosmic exploration is a spiritual and religious enterprise at least as much as a material one.  If settling the High Frontier requires the missionary zeal of Christians (or any other religious group) to make it a reality, then so be it.  In space there are no natives to be exterminated, marginalized or forcefully converted, and there is plenty of room for every religion and creed, so there's no danger of any repetition of unpleasant history.

Nor am I particularly concerned about space colonies becoming fundamentalist outposts, because I don't think Christianity or any other terrestrial religion can survive prolonged contact with the Cosmos.  As many astronauts have already discovered, being in space alters your worldview profoundly – a phenomenon which has been called the overview effect.  The most famous example of this is the bible-toting astronaut Ed Mitchell himself, who has become something of a New Age icon since his cosmic religious awakening during his return from the Apollo 14 lunar mission.  Here is how Mitchell described his moment of Cosmist revelation in a recent interview:
“While we were coming home, the spacecraft was rotating to maintain thermal balance, and that allowed the Earth, the moon, the sun, and the stars to come into my view in a 360-degree panorama every two minutes, which is a pretty powerful sight. Now remember that in space, because you’re above the atmosphere, you can see 10 times as many stars as you can from the ground, and so the stars you see are brilliantly bright.

And suddenly it settled in, a visceral moment of knowing that the molecules in my body, the molecules in the spacecraft, and the molecules in my partners had been prototyped and manufactured in an ancient generation of stars. It was not an intellectual realization, but a deep knowing that was accompanied by a feeling of ecstasy and oneness that I had never experienced in that way before.

In that instant, I knew for certain that what I was seeing was no accident. That it did not occur randomly and without order. That life did not, by accident, arise from the primordial earthly sea. It was as though my awareness reached out to touch the furthest star and I was aware of being an integral part of the entire universe, for one brief instant. Any questions that my curious mind might have had about our progress, about our destiny, about the nature of the universe, suddenly melted away as I experienced that oneness. I could reach out and touch the furthest parts and experience the vast reaches of the universe. It was clear that those tiny pinpoints of light in such brilliant profusion were a unity. They were linked together as part of the whole as they framed and formed a backdrop for this view of planet Earth. I knew we are not alone in this universe, that Earth was one of millions, perhaps billions, of planets like our own with intelligent life, all playing a role in the great creative plan for the evolution of life.

This experience continued for three days while coming home, and whenever I looked out the window and wasn’t distracted by my duties this experience of ecstasy and interconnectedness returned. I’ve continue to experience it on certain occasions and sometimes in meditation, and so it’s stayed with me ever since.” –Edgar Mitchell, quoted in Cosmic Conversations: Dialogues On The Nature Of The Universe And The Search For Reality, by Stephan Martin
So here you have a Christian from a small town in Texas sounding like a cosmic visionary to rival Olaf Stapledon and Arthur Clarke after one brief trip to the Moon.  God, the Conscious Universe or the Cosmic Void only knows what kinds of revelations await astronauts who spend years in deep space!

Now, it’s true that Ed Mitchell has other ideas that sound like pure crackpottery, such as his statement that he is  "90 percent sure that many of the thousands of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, recorded since the 1940s, belong to visitors from other planets".  But I see nothing in the larger quote above that is particularly irrational – it is perfectly consistent with statements made by other proto-Cosmists like Einstein, Clarke and Sagan, and with my own perceptions.  And Mitchell is far from alone; the overview effect has had a similar impact on the worldviews of other astronauts such as NASA adviser Rusty Schweickart and Fox News space analyst Thomas Jones, neither of whom is likely to be accused of being a New Age nut.

As space tourism begins to enter the realm of non-fiction and plans for private space hotels and commercial lunar missions are drawn up, it strikes me that the main selling point of space travel will be the incredible spiritual benefits if offers.  I can easily imagine, in the not very distant future, orbiting hotels with prayer/meditation centers, churches, temples, mosques and Cosmist observatories on the Moon, and Cosmist-Christian/Buddhist/Hindu/Muslim missionaries establishing colonies on Mars and outposts in the asteroid belt.  There will be material riches and glories to be had in all these places, to be sure, but I suspect the greatest wealth will be the new spiritual horizons these pilgrims open for all mankind.

I'll leave you with this beautiful video produced by the folks at homospaciens.com.  There are more stunning images and stirring words on their web site, which I highly recommend!

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Few Random Items


I'm inviting readers to visit Cosmos University and enjoy the free educational resources I have compiled there, take part in the forums and help me build it into an interesting community of cosmically-minded humans.  The site is still very much under construction, but I hope it gives you some idea of the vision I have in mind.  At some point I would like to turn Cosmos U. into a real online school and make it a non-profit organization for educating and inspiring new generations of cosmic explorers around the world.  If online schools like "The Grey School of Wizardry" can attract thousands of students to study magic by modeling itself on the Harry Potter stories, surely a school that appeals to people's scientific imaginations and is inspired by shows like Cosmos and classic science fiction is a no-brainer!


For those of you who may be bored or in need of a challenge, take a look at physicist John Baez’s list of open questions in cosmology and astrophysics.  I can’t help noticing that our current models of the universe seem to be in disarray like never before in the history of science (96% of the mass of the universe is unaccounted for?  WTF?).  So it seems the time is ripe for a new Einstein to come along with some outrageous theory that revolutionizes our understanding of reality and sheds light on some of these cosmic mysteries.  Maybe you can be that person?  Give it a shot!  What do you have to lose?

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is helping to usher in a new era of private space flight
Is a new Space Age dawning?  Highlights of the 2011 Space Conference, among many other things, certainly give me that impression.  Consider recent developments like the privatization of space flight, the escalating space ambitions of China and other nations, the discovery by the Indian probe Chandrayaan-1 of widespread water on the lunar surface, the Japanese IKAROS solar sail spacecraft en route to Venus, the Super Bowl broadcast of the first ever 360 degree view of the sun by STEREO solar orbiters (heralding the dawn of solar system weather forecasting), plans by several companies to provide commercial space-based solar power in the next two decades, and of course the exciting news that the Kepler space observatory has already discovered more than 1200 exoplanets, including 54 in the habitable “goldilocks zone”, and you have the makings of a renewed global economic and cultural interest in space that we haven't seen since the days of Apollo.

In a multi-polar world where many governments and corporations are now competing to open the High Frontier, I am optimistic that the days of post-Apollo stagnation are finally behind us and a new space industry boom is set to begin.  Provided this doesn’t lead to Space War I, there can be no losers in such a contest, and the winners are the entire human species.  The incredible thing is, once the space boom really gets underway, it can in principle continue until we have colonized the entire accessible universe and become Kardashev Type-4 gods of the Cosmos!

Finally, here is a stunning video that is a combination of a film school student's trailer for Arthur C. Clarke's classic story Rendezvous With Rama and an artist's software rendering of the interior of the Rama ship. Enjoy!