Man's Predicament
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"What is man that he should be mindful of himself and how has he come to be?  Perplexed he ponders, but can he ever know the same?"

Excerpt from the Limits of Man
by Donald Sagar



lthough it is not immediately obvious to the untrained eye, everything in the Universe is in a constant state of change.  Even less evident, the effect of this change upon each and everyone of us is all pervasive.  To understand what this means, we need only to take a closer look at life itself.

If we are lucky we may live to be a hundred years old; but, on average, the life expectancy of mankind is considerably less.  Comprised of flesh and bone that is joined to an intangible called the mind, we are vulnerable to any number of things that can prematurely compromise the quality of our life... or end it altogether.

Complex in nature, the body depends upon a delicate synergy between its many parts.  Obstruct this balance, knowingly or unknowingly, and the result is always the same -- infirmities -- each of which exacts their toll, the final cost of which is death.  In addition to our physical vulnerability, there are also significant liabilities endemic to consciousness.

The mind is a two sided anomaly that is comprised of an emotional and a rational component.  The emotional side is driven by a need to sustain the security we experienced when we felt as if were one with our parents.  As we mature, we attempt to do this by selectively forging dependencies outside of ourselves.  When these relationships are threatened, reduced, or lost, the result can seriously affect one’s emotional stability... even to the point of becoming life threatening.  Anyone who has experienced these wounds of the mind /heart knows that only time can heal them, and then it never does so completely.

The rational side of mind is dependency driven also.  But, unlike the emotional side, it is driven by a need to retain coherency within thought as it relates to the singularity of one's identity.  This causes us to try and order everything to which we are able to assign difference.  Since self realization is dependent upon process, and process involves change, it is inherently difficult to predictably apply thought to the world of perception.  When we are unable to do so, we feel insecure.  Unfortunately, this occurs a majority of the time.  As a result, the changing face of human knowledge has resulted in a roller coaster ride for mankind, constantly threatening the security he has found in prior beliefs.  Take for example man’s initial perception of his place within the Universe.

Initially, he believed that everything revolved around the earth and thus himself -- an extrapolation of his own ego.  Today however, we believe we know different.  Instead of having the security which came with believing in our singular importance, we are instead faced with the realization of an "unknowability" that inevitably surrounds us.  For a relative understanding of this term let us turn to science.

Astrophysics tells us, that depending upon how quickly one reads, as many as 20,000 miles could separate the point in space where you begin and end your consideration of this sentence.  This is because the Earth is moving through space at a speed of 500 to 1500 miles a second.  We can’t be more exact than that, because there are factors involved here that are inherently **unknowable for us.  To gain a sense of what they are, let us consider what we do know about the earth’s movement.

  1. The Earth spins on its axis.

  2. The axis precesses in space.

  3. The Earth orbits the barycenter of the earth-moon system.

  4. It also orbits the Sun.

  5. The Sun moves inside the Milky Way.

  6. The Milky Way moves inside the Local Group.

  7. The Local Group moves towards the Virgo Cluster.

  8. The Virgo Cluster moves within the Local Super Cluster.

** The Local Super Cluster MAY have a peculiar motion towards what can best be termed the "Great Attractor," but, nobody really knows for sure.  The reason is because the specifics involved here exceed our capability to comprehend them, thereby making them ‘unknowable’ for us.  All we really know is that everything is moving towards something at an ever increasing rate.  Hence the term 'Great Attractor.'


So, how does the movement that we can calculate translate into 500 to 1500 miles per second?  Here is what astronomers think they know:

•  The Earth has an equatorial rotation velocity of 1669
    kilometers or 1037 miles per hour.

•  It travels around the Sun at a mean orbital velocity of
   107,208 kilometers or 66,620 miles per hour.

•  The Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way, located
    towards the constellation Sagittarius, at a speed of
    900,000 kilometers or 559,200 miles per hour.

•  The Milky Way, along with the other members of the
    Local Group of galaxies, moves at a speed of roughly
    1,600,000 kilometers or 994,200 miles per hour
    towards the great Virgo Supercluster of galaxies.

**  Regarding the final (?) movement(s) of the earth through space:  Scientists have no way to determine the rate of motion of the Local Super Cluster toward the 'Great Attractor,' because they have no idea what it even is, let alone where it might be.  Nonetheless, it is still a safe bet that this final rate of movement toward the 'Great Attractor' is many times greater than the rate of movement of the Milky Way toward the great Virgo Supercluster.

So, given what we can approximate, we know that we are traveling at least 2,608,877 kilometers per hour.  That translates to 1,620,113 miles per hour or 27,102 miles per minute or 450 miles every second.  When you factor in the missing motion (or that which we are unable to calculate) it's fair to say that we are actually traveling many times faster than that -- perhaps as much as several thousand miles every second.

Another way to envision the ‘unknowablility’ that encompasses us is to consider our relative size in the Universal equation.  The earth is approximately 7,500 miles in diameter.  To us, this seems very large. In fact, many people have yet to come to grips with the fact that the Earth’s resources are actually finite.  In comparison, the biggest star known to man is the super giant Mu Cephi (Erakis) -- about 1800 light years from earth.  Based upon current computations, it is believed that Mu Cephi has a surface that would extend beyond the orbit of Saturn if its center were placed at the center of our Sun.  This makes Mu Cephi approximately 2,853,880 kilometers or 1,773,319 miles in diameter.  In regard to Mu Cephi there is little doubt that the earth is definitely small.

Now that we have some sense of how fast we are moving and how small the earth actually is in comparison with one of the larger stars, let us take a look at our relative place in the greater scheme of things.  When we do this, the idea of the ’unknowable’ again assumes to form.

The human eye can see about 5000 to 6000 stars in the northern and southern hemispheres combined, but the entire Milky Way has perhaps 200 to 300 billion stars in it.  Within the part of the universe we can observe, there seems to be at least 100 billion galaxies; so, that means there could be as many as 300 billion x 100 billion = 3000 billion billion stars in the part of the universe we can see.  For those that have difficulty comprehending that number, it’s 3 followed by 22 zeros or 30 sextillion stars.  But, all this is a gross underestimate when you include dwarf galaxies that are too far away to even calculate -- either in number or star populations.

This inability to know what’s really out there causes conjecture to fracture into two possibilities.  If the universe is closed, then perhaps there may not be more than a few trillion galaxies in it... but again, nobody knows.  On the other hand, if the universe is infinite as it now appears to be, given that its rate of expansion is actually increasing -- then, taking our portion as typical, there are an infinite number of galaxies and hence an infinite number of stars.  That thought makes the earth really small in comparison to the Universe... infinitesimally small to be exact.

** Statistical information on the Universe courtesy of:
Dr. Sten Odenwald
Goddard Space Flight Center


It is our inability to use numbers to depict relevant magnitude, as in the case of the universe, that undeniably confirms the ‘unknowable.’  And, as our prior consideration of it has shown, the ‘unknowable’ breaks down into three distinct areas of "general" relevance for us, known as the beginning, the middle, and the end.  In terms of "specific" relevance however, we refer to these distinctions as the past, present and future. Here is how each breaks down:

Beginning or Past --  We know we can’t understand what preceded the Universe, since its current form obscures all evidence that might otherwise allow us to know.

Middle or Present --  We also know we can’t comprehend its current form, because several of its aspects exceed our ability to quantify them.

End or Future --  Finally, we know we can’t understand the final form the Universe will take, since that insight requires us to have access to a temporality (time) that is incompatible with the mortality that defines us.

Since we can’t say anything intelligent about what might have preceded the Universe, or what its current form actually is, or what its final form will be, we are left with an uncertainty regarding who and what we are and how we’ve come to be.  Existing but a single instant from the inability to know anything (or death) doesn’t help us feel any more secure either.

In the beginning of man’s quest to try and make sense out of everything, he confused the idea of the ‘unknowable’ with that of the unknown.  This subtle switch in potential resulted in a number of efforts aimed at trying to quantify the ‘unknowable.’  Initially, astrology, numerology, alchemy and myth based religions arose to meet this challenge.  Later it was the more heady approaches of philosophy, theology and metaphysics.  Today, it is the many sciences.

In addition to the advantages gleaned from this quest, it has simultaneously confirmed that all things are not possible for mankind.  Quantifying the Universe is but one example.  Quantifying consciousness is a far more enigmatic problem.  This is because it denies us a constant by which to thereafter qualify everything else.  In doing so, it denies us access to objectivity.  When you factor in the bias inherent to the function of our physical senses, everything becomes that much more murky.  In the end, we are left with a process attempting to define the conclusion of which it is incapable.  A closer look at how our senses function should help to clarify their shortcomings.

In the simplest of terms, we experience the world by way of 5 senses -- sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.  Their function is dependent upon the brain to decipher aspects of the potential of which they are capable.  When doing so, only non-contradictory information is allowed into the construction of one's current composite.  The rest is held in suspension awaiting resolution.  In this way, the brain is able to maintain the unity (singularity) of itself while encountering the multiplicity of possibility as it finds temporal form in experience.  However, this process is anything but straightforward.

In the case of sight; stimulus emanating from an external source causes changes within the eye that result in electrical impulses being sent down the optic nerve to the brain.  There they are fielded, deciphered, merged into a composite, and projected into a relative form of space called place.  Similarities between the results of separated inquiry are then predicated into convention and mistakenly characterized as space determinants -- further masking fundamental inadequacy.  The function of all our other senses are similarly complex and misleading.

Because our physical processes insulate us from the external world, we cannot claim direct contact with it.  Furthermore, whatever we do conclude about the external world is always latent to whatever provokes our response -- due to the 'time' it takes for us to react.  In everyday experience this time difference is admittedly small and thus its importance tends to be deceiving.  However, this is anything but the case.  A look at the universal implications of latency confirm this.

Take for example a star a hundred and fifty light years from earth that suddenly explodes into nonexistence.  Because of its distance from earth, light from this explosion will not reach us for another hundred and fifty years.  During that time, we will be totally unaware that anything has happened. In this case, the latency factor involved actually exceeds human life expectancy.  This in turn prevents everyone currently living from ever knowing that this explosion has occurred.  This example clearly demonstrates the problem that we have with laying claim to certainty as it is perceived by way of our senses.

In addition to the latency issue, there is yet another problem which confuses our ability to determine reality.  We know that if any aspect in our complex physiological process varies, even slightly, it directly affects what we see accordingly.  Take for example two people who see color or arrangement differently.  Since both differences are natural variations within the same genus, it raises an issue over what constitutes normalcy. In most cases this issue is easily resolved by consensus and convention prevails.  However, in the case of higher brain functions, there can be no resolution.  Take intuition for example. Since it begs measurement a determination relative to its credibility is not possible.

Based upon a consideration of the limitations that attend consciousness, additional conclusions about the ‘unknowable’ are possible.  Since awareness of the universe is by way of consciousness, it should come as no surprise that these limitations parallel those that apply to the universe itself.

  1. Just as we lack the capability to understand what preceded the Universe, we also lack the ability to understand what preceded consciousness, prior to its first realization of itself.  The reason is because consciousness is absent from its own birthing; and hence, necessarily blind to the specifics of its own beginning.
  2. Just as we lack the ability to understand the current form of the Universe -- being forever latent to it -- so too do we lack the capability to understand the current form of consciousness.  This is because reflection subsequently alters comprehension, thereby destroying any constant by which it might otherwise objectively characterize the present.

  3. Just as we cannot understand the final form of the Universe, we likewise lack the ability to understand the final form of consciousness..., since it requires an act of reflection that is not implicit in the idea of its temporal completion or death.

The bottom line here is that consciousness is a process which is necessarily restricted to considering only that which lends itself to being characterized as a process -- or the direct result thereof.  Anything that doesn’t lend itself to our relative space /time framework ('place') is by necessity inherently ‘unknowable’ for us.  Since we cannot determine the true nature of either ourselves or the World in which we live, we are clearly left to wonder what we can talk about with certainty.  Let us consider that next.

For one thing, we know that communication, whether it is internal in the form of contemplation or external in the form of language, always employs ideas.  We also know that ideas are comprised of words which, when used in conjunction with one another, fix the limits of some possibility.  The act of fixing conscious limitations may seen abstruse, but it actually comes quite natural to us..., because our physical body is constrained by limits.  Denied sufficient food, water, oxygen or any other necessity, it will die.

However, just as our fragility qualifies us for talking about limits, it excludes us from understanding anything which is unlimited.  This inherent constraint, endemic to consciousness, reduces us to admitting the viability of differing observations based upon variations in natural perception.  The result is a huge compilation of conflictual data that is lumped into the category of subjectivity -- which to the dismay of many, includes the highly respected scientific field of relativity.

I have elected to include two final examples of the limited nature of consciousness.  They are taken from the work of Bertrand Russell in his book The ABC’s of Relativity.  The first demonstrates a temporal limitation of consciousness, the second a spatial limitation.  Both prevent consciousness from ascertaining truth relative to situation.

Temporal lapse: An observer takes note of a building he/she regularly passes.  During their absence, a work crew totally dismantles the building and then, using the original material and architectural plans, reconstructs it to specification.  To the observer, who is unaware that anything has happened, it appears that nothing has changed; since the building looks identical in every way to the one he/she knows.

Spatial lapse: Two explosive devices are set off in sequence at sea level.  One is 1,090 feet further away from the observer than the second. The more distant devise is set off one second earlier than the other.  To the observer there only appears to be one explosion, since the sound waves from both explosions reach him at the same exact time.

As these examples clearly demonstrate; if you restrict the data necessary for consciousness to link difference by way of process, consciousness is incapable of determining what, if anything, has occurred.  When you add up all the limitations that afflict man’s attempt to characterize the real world, it causes one to wonder if there is anything that we can talk about with certainty.

Fortunately there is, and it can be found on that portion of this website following the consideration of the dynamics that constitute the Eden project.  I would only ask that you consider Eden project particulars first; because, it has far greater temporal immediacy than the theoretical aspect of this offering.  In the end however, they both remain indelibly linked.


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