This Long, Awkward Silence

(October 23rd, 2011)

Remember that ultra-generic question we used to toss around as kids, “Do you believe in aliens?” Have you ever really stopped to wonder what this simple question is implying? On the physical surface there is no reason not to “believe in aliens.” The existence of aliens would not violate any known physical laws, as opposed to the existence of the subject of another similar ultra-generic question, say, of ghosts. Of course, I’m sure the question as most people pose it is not only suggesting the existence of extraterrestrial life in any form, but of intelligent extraterrestrials. I have come to the realization over the years that the meaning, based on the form of the question itself, of whether or not one “believes” in the existence of “aliens” comes up rather short when all things are considered—because there are actual observations that could be made, statistics to consider, and models to analyze, none of which intrinsically contradict the idea. In fact it is, arguably, rather logical to assume at least the possibility that such a case is, indeed, the case, and always has been—and always will be. So far this long, awkward silence returning all of our efforts has yet to provide us with any hard evidence. But some extraterrestrial civilization out there somewhere in the cosmos, going about its existence, entirely unknown to us (so far), does not defy anything fundamental, whereas the existence of ghosts would definitely raise some serious questions.

Of course, I understand that the same thing could be said of the existence of ghosts… an actual observation could very well be made at some point, and their reality could very well be proven physically. But when, as of this moment (and as far as I know), there is absolutely no shred of evidence to suggest that such a thing could be real without interfering with the demonstrable physical laws which make such intricate, beautiful sense of the world (emphasis on the word “evidence,” because no number of eyewitness accounts, no matter how powerful or convincing, necessarily means anything), then it really dwindles the amount of effort worth putting forth to entertain the notion (never to zero of course). I don’t mean to get in depth into this argument, but just on the surface of the idea I find it wildly difficult to imagine just a few of the factors involved in the considerations of the existence of ghosts—perhaps most of all, aside from what seems to be an all-too-convenient lack of demonstrable evidence, is the problem of how rare the “sightings” are, when one considers how many people have ever lived and how many such “souls” should be roaming around practically every square inch of the planet if the idea held any meaning. Most alleged cases of hauntings seem to stem from some troubled spirit that lingers on because of some “unfinished business” or some other physical tie to a certain location. And most of these hauntings seem to infect old buildings, which makes “sense” because of the simple age of the place, and the number of people who lived there throughout its history, and perhaps because of individual cases of particularly brutal situations during the time span of the “tortured soul’s” life.

But the very same argument raises questions because vast numbers of people presumably lived over practically every inhabited square inch of the planet throughout all of its history, and unless ghosts are naturally confined to the physical walls of the very same buildings they were living within, and only become “trapped” within them IF they died within such walls, then I don’t see a reason why there aren’t the very same troubled spirits wandering among every single person’s yard, or driveway, or just along the streets and fields everywhere. Unless ghosts did not start becoming spiritually attached to locations until the start of humanity’s building construction, and just happen to disappear if the building is demolished, and/or naturally disappear after some bizarre length of time, then they should be all over the place. I’m sure that many “troubled souls” have died on the very physical spot where my house resides, somewhere close to where I am actually sitting right now, but this particular building doesn’t (as far as I know) have a troubled history of its own, and so apparently this is why it’s not haunted. Or maybe it’s just not haunted simply because I think the idea is bogus. But that’s another problem… ghosts should not only exist while the people who are around to potentially witness their orneriness “believe” in them. If they truly exist they should make their mark regardless of location, or the presence of a building’s structure, or the belief of the people who are around (unless one would argue that the spirits can somehow sense whether or not a person is prone to believe in such things, and only suggest their own presence when this is the case). There are clearly very many logical issues associated with this idea, and this is all the space that I will devote to the argument in this particular writing.

Very similar arguments could be made of the practically countless alleged UFO sightings from all over the world. Just like other “supernatural” events, UFOs should not only present themselves to believers, or to people who are conveniently in the middle of nowhere or in some other way have no means to provide demonstrable evidence in the wake of the event. Unless the aliens are carefully choosing who to appear to, and have all of the necessary skills to make sure that no credible evidence is ever able to be provided, then there should be plenty of legitimate cases. This also assumes the government isn’t actually interfering with any such potentially legitimate case, and working to cover them up from the rest of the world that way. But this seems just as incredible as the overly-convenient lack of proof from the former explanation. People seem to be not only so eager to proclaim our government’s lack of organization and ability to work together and overall effectiveness, but simultaneously seem just as willing to believe that they could so completely cover up all demonstrable evidence of any number of extraterrestrial visitations (not to mention any other governments which would have to be in on it). I for one do not see how both of these realities could be. It could, of course, actually be the correct explanation, but… wow.

Clearly the belief—more specifically, the demonstration which would finally confirm such a belief—in the existence of aliens hinges pretty much entirely on the advancements of technology which will enable us to at last be able to detect their existence. Either that or such an alien presence would have to make their existence known to us. But again, this is not fundamentally the same as saying that some other “paranormal” entity needs only to be detected or make its presence known to us, because (again) an alien intelligence making its presence known to us would not question our understanding of the physical laws of the Universe, but only perhaps would question our understanding of the statistics we’ve applied to this event’s likelihood. We’re not asking for our basic understanding of the Universe to be shaken here, but only for a confirmation that would finally put the endless arguments to rest. We would go from thinking well it’s very, very, very unlikely that any extraterrestrial civilization is going to demonstrate their existence for us to witness to well an extraterrestrial civilization just demonstrated their existence for us to witness. And in the wake of such a monumental discovery nothing held sacred to our cherished understanding of the physical Universe needs to be drastically altered. (Well, unless they used a wormhole to get to us—that would question quite a few things, but would hopefully answer just as many!)

You can find life teeming in practically any place you might care to look, just about absolutely anywhere on this planet. Life is flourishing in the deepest depths of the oceans, in the highest reaches of the atmosphere, in puddles of radioactive waste, in volcanoes, in isolated conditions buried under perpetual ice, in harsh laboratory conditions, in practically all of the places we humans would hardly ever dream of exploring and who knows how many other places. Life has conquered just about every single niche that this lone planet has to offer, and yet we still have not uncovered any substantial evidence that life has ever existed anywhere else in the Universe. To me this idea is one of the most provoking of all in the considerations of life existing elsewhere, that you could go out into your own backyard with a spoon and scoop up a small sample of soil and find millions of organisms thriving within. But we can’t do the same thing anywhere else without getting ourselves out there. Robotic probes are a reasonable, respectable second, but with so much data exchange and mechanical processes occurring over so many thousands upon thousands of miles, efficiency and reliability suffer.

There are some dangerous areas within this idea, though. Of course the tiny microscopic organisms you would observe thriving within a spoonful of backyard soil are a huge long shot from the sorts of highly intelligent extraterrestrial beings which we most hope to discover (not that simple organisms would not be a monumental discovery in its own right), but the principle behind the idea is no less incredible—that life seems to be abundant where the conditions for life are favorable. But we also happen to live on the only known world where conditions for life (as we know them) are abundantly favorable. Mars, for example, is a vague possibility, but its atmosphere is so negligible and it’s so cold except for some fleeting periods, under certain conditions, where local temperatures can actually reach room temperature. Saturn’s moon Titan, and quite a few other moons of the gas giants are potential locations where liquid water might be sloshing around underneath icy exteriors, but we have yet to actually confirm any of them. And so the wild abundance of life on Earth is not necessarily enough of an argument for the necessary existence of life elsewhere, because we do not yet know that such conditions are even remotely likely anywhere else. Fleetingly warm temperatures are not enough, apparently, from what we can tell at this moment.

There are certain conditions which are pretty much universally accepted as being necessary to the development of life in any complexity, which include (to point out just a few major ones) the existence of liquid water, reasonable temperatures, substantial atmosphere and sufficient makeup of it, plenty of organic chemicals as building blocks and nutrients, and radiation protection. Many of these issues seem to require the presence of a given planet in its host star’s habitable zone, which is the range in which the planet would not be too close to or too far from the star to prohibit these conditions to exist. The range is rather small given the extreme distances that planets seem likely to exist in. In our own solar system, for example, both Mars and Venus are at the “edges” of the sun’s hypothetical habitable zone, although as I understand things Mars is somewhat better situated (without even considering the ridiculously harsh conditions unique to Venus). Even so, it seems to be too far away and other variables such as planetary mass, magnetic fields and geological activity also factor into the considerations and Mars has very little atmosphere, a negligible magnetic field, and little if any geological activity.

Clearly, the conditions for life to thrive (as we know them) are rather severe if the other bodies of our own solar system are any indication. The big emphasis, though, is on “as we know them” because there is, understandably, a lot to debate and ponder on how life might thrive under entirely different circumstances. And so the argument is wildly complicated and thus so is the search for potentially thriving environments.

There is an equation, developed by Frank Drake in the ‘60s, which attempts to address, logically, the likelihood of any number of extraterrestrial civilizations which presently exist. Although understandably very controversial, the equation undoubtedly stirs many interesting arguments for various possibilities and is important even if for these thoughtful reasons alone. The famous equation is:

 N = R* x fp x ne x fe x fi x fc x L

Where “N” represents the number of extraterrestrial civilizations capable of communicating, “R*” represents the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy, “fp” represents the fraction of these stars that have developed planets, “ne” represents the average number of such planets that can potentially support life, “fl” represents the fraction of such planets that actually do develop life, “fi” represents the fraction of such planets that actually develop intelligent life (civilizations), “fc” represents the fraction of such civilizations that develop detectable signs of their existence into space, and “L” represents the length of time that such civilizations release such detectable signals (in other words, how long until they either destroy themselves or simply stop broadcasting signals). It is most definitely worth noting that all of these, except perhaps the very first variable, are entirely hypothetical. At this point it’s all guesswork. And this is why the thought-provoking nature of this idea remains the most relevant quality of all.

According to the “Drake Equation” Wikipedia article as of this writing, the most current estimates (for whatever that’s worth) are that “R*” (the rate of star formation of our galaxy per year) has a value of 7, “fp” (the fraction of such stars that have developed planets) is .5, “ne” (the average number of such planets that can potentially support life) is 2, “fl” (the fraction of such planets that actually do develop life) is .33, “fi” (the fraction of such planets that actually develop intelligent life) is .01, “fc” (the fraction of such civilizations that develop detectable signs of their existence into space) is .01, and “L” (the length of time that such civilizations release detectable signals) is 10,000 years. Based on all of these assumptions, the value of “N” (the number of extraterrestrial civilizations capable of communicating) is 2.31, which suggests that, at this point in time (or any other when these variables are still relevant), there are 2 civilizations capable of communicating their existence out into the cosmos.

Because of its controversy, there is very much debate over how reasonable these particular variables actually are, especially when considering such factors as how often life might re-arise on a planet before finally establishing “intelligence,” and how many planets might be influenced by an outside intelligence (such as seeding, a hypothesis which is not entirely overlooked for our own beginnings, or perhaps a case in which a developing civilization is visited and warned about the dangers of making itself known to all others). Such theories add quite a bit of complication to such an all-encompassing equation, but the general idea (successively calculating the rate of star formation, the rate of planetary formation, the rate of development of simple life, the rate of development of intelligent life, and the rate of the fall of intelligent life) still stands strong as a foundation for trying to predict such likelihoods. There are any numbers of other assumptions which could be made which would throw out just about any reasonably-attempted guess at most of these variables.

And so, any person attempting to assign a set of reasonable values to these parameters could potentially get anywhere within a wildly enormous range of conclusions, anywhere from (not limited to) the pessimistic view of only 0.000065 communicable civilizations to the optimistic view of 20,000 communicable civilizations. The worst case scenarios seem to suggest that we are, almost without a doubt, the ONLY intelligent beings in the Universe, while the more optimistic scenarios seem to suggest that we  are likely just one of many, many thousands (or more!) of such intelligent civilizations. You can input your own assumptions into each of these variables and, hopefully, have some interesting thought processes into why this result may or may not be the likely case when all things are considered.

Such complications lead my thoughts (as I hope they lead yours, as well) toward another very wide-encompassing argument, popularly known as the “Fermi Paradox” which is the apparent contradiction between the high probability for, and the lack of evidence of, extraterrestrial civilizations. As is made clear by the (more optimistic) various possible inputs for the Drake Equation, many combinations suggest that there should be a great many, if not only a few, other intelligent civilizations out there in the Universe. Yet we have absolutely no evidence for a single one, and so this “paradox” (more of a contradiction) seems to need explaining, for which there are many, many proposed explanations to explain this long, awkward silence that we have become so accustomed to and so apprehensive of. There are many arguments centered on this "Fermi Paradox" idea, which I hope my sharing might help to refine any reader’s own thoughts on the variables of the Drake equation just as they have my own. Some of these arguments I'd considered long and hard even before first encountering it but now have considered much longer and harder, along with plenty of fascinating and thoughtful new arguments, which include the following:

--No other civilizations have arisen.

This is obviously the most wide-ranging and optimism-halting assumption of all… because if no other civilizations have ever risen, and we are the only ones who have ever pondered our own existence and the vastness of the cosmos we are part of, then of course we are going to come up short in all of our searches, forever. There really isn’t much else to say about this argument, because it is so all-powerful and, by definition, we won’t ever actually truly know this to be the case. We will forever search, and forever come up disappointingly empty. Personally, I do not “believe” this to be the case, although observable evidence does not yet rule it out. It is simply me believing. Belief is so valuable in such a case, where hard evidence seems always just out of reach, because perseverance in our search could very well spell the difference between eventual contact and the halting of all such efforts altogether—which at times does not seem so far from happening with all the budget cuts and program cancellations. But such a belief should never get in the way if we ever do come across evidence that we truly are the only ones (if that’s even possible). Believing is only reasonable amidst such abundant uncertainty, which might very well always be the case… but there are other possibilities which could explain why this long, awkward silence is the case even if we really never find anything.

--Few, if any, other civilizations currently exist.

This theory at least allows for the possible existence of other intelligent civilizations, although it assumes that they are so few and far between that none of them will likely ever become aware of any of the others because of the vast distances and time delays between them. Perhaps there is, at this very moment, another intelligent civilization five thousand light years away—it will take five thousand years for any possible signals to reach us. Even if, against all odds, they were at a comparable technological level with us five thousand years ago, any signals they might have emanated out into space at the time would just now be reaching us and even then we would only recognize them if they were unique enough to be recognized amidst all of the background noises of various naturally-occurring signals coming at us from all over the sky. Even in this most optimistic case—even if we did pick up such a signal, and were able to verify its celestial origin, and were overjoyed that they seem to be technologically similar to us, we would have to accept that it’s a five thousand year-old signal and very, very likely no longer represents the status of the civilization it originated from. A lot will happen in five thousand years—they might not even exist anymore, or they might be totally unrecognizable from the signal they sent out so long ago. Such a case is very likely only reasonable for contact if the civilization was close enough to us (say, a couple dozen light years at most) to still be relevant at the time of acquisition, or if they just simply hadn’t developed further and were still comparatively technological from that point in time (which does not seems likely in the slightest). But, still, any detection at all would prove the point that a civilization did exist, at the very least. Perhaps that simple knowledge is all we can reasonably hope for…

--It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself.

This is perhaps the most depressing of all of the theories suggesting why we have had no observational evidence of, or contact with, an extraterrestrial civilization. Admittedly,  much of the concern over this idea stems from the Cold War days, when it was very much a legitimate fear that a couple world powers would overindulge their paranoia and set off a chain reaction of nuclear detonations which would, very likely, result in the self-extinguishing of our species. And so it’s only one small leap forward to consider the idea that other civilizations might have run into similar troubles, since by our own experience (the only case we have to evaluate) it seems that technological development goes hand-in-hand with the development of ever-more destructive weaponry, and so any such developed civilization is likely to have dealt with similar issues amongst themselves. I sincerely hope that this needs not always be the case, but of course with only one example to learn from there isn’t really any demonstrable reason to believe that any other species would necessarily act differently. But I certainly hope that another might have developed just slightly differently enough to have either never developed such savage weaponry or, at least, never have come to even the slightest provocation of even considering utilizing it. I like to hope that we humans are past this phase ourselves, and the sum of our nuclear arsenals will forever remain nothing more than deterrence from actual usage. If this is likely the same case everywhere, then so be it. Overcoming such a global trial should definitely help to instill a sense of oneness, of the vast benefits that species-wide cooperation should aspire to. At least it should help to develop the appreciations of life, and cooperation, and perhaps is just a typical stepping stone in a civilization’s evolution among itself, and in the end fosters so much more devotion to goodwill and acceptance while never actually bringing about the widespread destruction that we ourselves have feared for so long. In such a case, the fact that a civilization still survives long after its own such Cold War age will hopefully suggest that they have come to peaceful terms with themselves and are that much more ready to spread their influence out into the wild unknown where it could perhaps meet up with other such burgeoning intelligences and achieve the truly cooperative beauty that only our greatest science fiction writers have dreamed of.

--It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy others.

This theory is somewhat similar to the previous one, although suggests the disturbing possibility that another intelligent civilization would use its technological prowess not only to develop powerful weaponry, but to use such weaponry to eliminate other “competing” civilizations (probably only after moving past the self-destructive phase touched on above). I hope that this theory can be discounted on the grounds that it’s either not relevant or, if it ever turns out to be relevant, we won’t be (or wouldn’t have been) around much longer to consider its implications. Personally I don’t like the idea of advanced, space-faring civilizations taking a liking to wiping out each other. I think they would be much more appreciative to what each other has to offer, intellectually and resource-wise, and in working together to achieve higher goals than each could aspire to individually. But this is, of course, hopeful thinking—I have no demonstrable reason to proclaim this to be true. I just like to think that civilizations which are in all likelihood vastly more advanced than we are would not concern themselves with destructive tendencies. Depressingly, the nature of civilizations to wipe each other out is not so far-flung from the nature of our own race while establishing new terrains even on our own planet, and it goes without saying that any space-faring civilization has technological powers we can still only dream of. So let’s just hope and pray that this particular argument does not actually hold any actual reality, because otherwise the wonders of the Universe are not places which are in our best interests to investigate.

--Human beings were created alone.

This is, clearly, primarily a religious point of view, for which it should not be discounted entirely—because, all things considered equal, demonstrable evidence has yet (if ever) to suggest that we were not created as “special” beings. But I like to stress, even in line with (admittedly not particularly literal) biblical considerations, we could have been created, here in our solar system with all of our uniqueness, apart from any number of other extraterrestrial beings who may even have “special conditions” themselves in which they are showered with praise and admiration of their own but have, perhaps like us, no physical means to ever communicate with another due to mere distances and/or any of these other theories. (I realize that this argument contradicts the initial premise of having been “created alone” but I’m considering “alone” as meaning that we will forever remain ignorant of any number of other created beings.) If we will never become aware of any others, what’s the difference?

But even so there is that possibility that we were created entirely alone in this vast Universe and as Carl Sagan liked to say, “Isn’t that an awful waste of space?”

But of course, turned around, the same idea could be said as something like “Isn’t that a wonderfully beautiful use of space?” Look at all of the wild imaginations and daydreams and inspirations that are brought about simply from looking up into the sky and being curious. There is a place in my heart that appreciates that all of this wonder could possibly be ours, and only ours, to appreciate. If there is a person alive who is not at least occasionally, when their eyes and their curious minds are allowed to wander, completely awestruck by the considerations of the beauty and vastness and potentials of the Universe all around us, then I would be genuinely surprised to say the least. But I really do hope, with all of the might that I wish the sheer force of my will could possibly hope to extend, that such wonder is much more widespread and able to be shared between unimaginably different civilizations—both individually and cooperatively

--It is the nature of intelligent life to remain silent.

What if there are intelligent civilizations all over the place out there in the vast reaches of the Universe, but they just don’t broadcast their existence in any powerful way? Such a consideration is so wide-reaching in its implications because it could mean that any numbers of extraterrestrial civilizations are out there and yet we might very well never, ever be made aware of their presence. There is a potentially infinite number of reasons for such behavior, but the most reasonable to me seem to be that such communication is all but fruitless considering the ridiculous distances and time frames involved in such attempts at communication; the expensive nature of continuously trying to make such broadcasts, both in resources and time; the possibility that any given civilization knows of some danger it would bring on itself by such a broadcast (such as another civilization receiving it and invading) or just chooses to remain silent by this mere possibility alone; or perhaps because they simply don’t trust any potential recipients to return their efforts in kind. Another civilization may be reluctant for one or any combination of these reasons, and more, and so the simple lack of evidence is therefore called into question—as Carl Sagan liked to popularize, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Never, ever receiving a communication is not necessarily proof, indeed not even powerful evidence, that there are no intelligent civilizations out there to communicate. It may simply just mean that they are not communicating.

--They choose not to interact with us.

But perhaps our efforts so far have not proved fruitless, and our presence is indeed known to at least one other intelligent civilization (or maybe not by our own efforts, but by observations of our planet’s atmosphere, or by some other unknown method). It could very well be that these civilizations, however many there might be, are willingly choosing not to interact with us, for any number of reasons—the ones that most readily come to mind are the possibilities that they have somehow observed our lifestyles, and have deemed us unworthy of relations perhaps either because of “childishness” or outright “barbarism” on our part, or maybe because we happen to be in a period of development in which it is best not to intervene in any way, maybe either by “common sense” or by some galactic code of conduct. Perhaps we have not yet proven that we are “mature” enough not only to handle the implications of extraterrestrial communications but to handle the responsibilities of some sort of “friendship” or “collaboration” that might be desired of us. This does not seem like much of a stretch of the imagination, given the current state of the world (not to sound like the generic pessimist proclaiming that we are doing everything wrong—I do like to think that we, as a species, have many admirable traits which would actually help to impress another civilization if they were indeed observing our nature).

I can’t say I really blame them for being apprehensive, if such is the case, but I hope that, if it is, they might soon see enough “good” in us to at least realize that a simple communication, or even some helpful assistance, could be of great use to us. I believe we still yet have every reason and every chance to aspire to any level of greatness that any of these supposed extraterrestrial civilizations could respect and seek (or accept) friendly relations with. But then again I do not know their mind, and I am of course only arguing the best attempt at a logically emotion-fueled consideration of why no contact has so far been made. No single person can ever hope to speak for the entire human race, and if the actions of powers anywhere around the globe are painting us in a ghastly light then there really isn’t much hope other than the furthering collective efforts of the people who actually can make the global improvements that might deem us worthy of contact. If I could I would rise up and lead humanity out of its unnecessary internal struggles toward such a bright future, not just because it might increase our favor in the eyes of some potential extraterrestrial contact, but because it would provide us with unimaginable benefits amongst ourselves regardless.

--Communication is impossible, for technical reasons and/or due to problems of scale.

Even assuming that there is a generous collection of intelligent civilizations out there going about their entirely alien existences, the average space between them would still be astronomical—the average distance between 1,000 civilizations inside our galaxy would be 10,000 light years. In some respects, 1,000 civilizations seem so incredibly few considering the unimaginable vastness of just our own galaxy and all of the stars, and in turn all of the potential planets. But then again 1,000 civilizations like us (or quite possibly much more advanced) also seems incredibly many considering all of the arguments centered around the remarkably rare conditions for which such highly evolved life is apparently required to come about. And 10,000 years (the time it would require for speed-of-light transmissions to reach across such a distance) is a long, long time when one really considers how far we have come in the same amount of time—10,000 years ago we had nothing even remotely close to any technology that could broadcast our existence. Indeed, we have only had such technology for roughly (very roughly) 100 years. And already we are moving away from the technologies that readily broadcast their signals into space—presumably the first transmissions which would be possible for an extraterrestrial civilization to detect would be some television broadcasts in the 1930s or so, and of course all other such signals in the following years, but today most television signals are sent through cables at the surface and much, much less so through broadcast technology.

Unless yet-to-be technologies are discovered and implemented soon, much of the evidence of our existence due to freely broadcast transmissions are no longer relevant. And if we assume that another technologically advanced civilization follows anything close to our own habits, theirs will not last so long either. Of course, this argument does not include any deliberately broadcast signals, such as those that are sent out by the METI program, and so there is always some glimmer of hope. But considering all of the opposition to such an apparently expensive and time-consuming operation, such a program might not be around much longer in any wide-reaching capacity. Unless we expect such an extraterrestrial civilization to continue actively and aggressively attempting to make contact, even where we ourselves have halted much of the same attempts, then any such broadcasts are arguably very likely to be as short-lived as our own might soon turn out to have been. And 100 years, on any cosmic time frame, is not very long at all…

--It is too expensive to spread physically throughout the galaxy.

In all honesty, this one here seems to be the most realistic of all in my own mind. We have only been to the moon (as astronauts), aside from Earth orbit, and that was WILDLY expensive. Even today, with so much more knowledge and experience, the same program would still be ridiculously expensive (perhaps even more so, as I imagine the technologies and safety requirements involved would be much more aggressive). Even the best traditional chemical rockets take years upon years to get just to the outer solar system—to date, the fastest spacecraft (Earth-relative) we’ve ever sent out into space, the New Horizons mission on its way to Pluto, is going to take nine years to reach its destination, and that’s actually only a fraction of the true extent of our solar system (the Oort Cloud, the supposed “true” boundary of our solar system, is assumed to extend as far as a full light-year from the Sun). This craft, New Horizons, was left with an Earth-relative velocity of roughly 36,000 miles per hour (oh, how I wish we Americans would adopt the Metric System), although it has since slowed slightly to its current velocity of 35,000 miles per hour. This (unmanned) mission cost an estimated 650 million dollars over the life of its (as-yet-unfinished) journey, all things considered. Although not to trivialize the mission in any way (I have enormous respect for it), this is, again, an unmanned mission sent to study one faraway object (and, of course, other objects in its vicinity, such as a few moons).

It goes without saying that, with current technology and economics, any long-reaching mission (manned or not) is expensive pretty much beyond all hope of reason. Arguably, we could send such a probe, with a similar velocity, toward a faraway star that has potentially high hopes of being populated, but even accepting all costs and difficulties associated with such a few such prospects it would take years and years to even arrive there. Even New Horizons would take well over 70,000 years to reach even the nearest star (or star system), Alpha Centauri. And we don’t even have good reason to believe that this destination is even a decent choice in finding extraterrestrials.

It seems painfully obvious that unless some fundamental breakthrough in space-faring technology is discovered there will never be a realistic way to reach even our closest interstellar neighborhoods, but of course we could go ahead and send a New Horizons-like probe towards Alpha Centauri and hope for a return on our investments roughly 150,000 years from now. So it follows that some extraterrestrial civilization out there would have to have developed some ridiculously efficient method of interstellar travel to be able to come anywhere near us; either that or the idea of civilizations spreading progressively throughout the galaxy, over generation after generation, gradually increasing the area of their influence, would have to be taking place in order for them to come anywhere close to another. And maybe this really has been happening over eons. Maybe our current methods at communication attempts just aren’t effective enough to pick up any signals from such civilizations, for any of the above reasons. Maybe they’ve expanded all the way to Alpha Centauri already. Maybe they’ve been closely monitoring us for eons. Maybe they even have probes of their own carefully hidden within the asteroid belt, or in the shadows of the moon’s craters, where we’re never likely going to notice them. Maybe they’ll be upon us soon.

Or maybe there aren’t any out there.

Whatever the case, I for one will never stop imagining, letting my curious mind wander and dreaming of the day when another civilization is brought into contact with us and unimaginable secrets of life, the Universe, and everything are readily shared with us, happily provided so that we can emerge out of these tragic depths of greed and poverty and self-destruction and truly set out to make use of the vastness of the Universe as we have every reason to desire and acquire. So our resources are dwindling… every resource here on this planet is undoubtedly found on others (probably very near to us!). So there is conflict between and within all of these arbitrary boundaries we’ve established all over our planet… branching out into space, utilizing the collective efforts of (practically) all powers in order to do so, is pretty much the most significant, meaningful cooperation I can imagine. I deeply believe that such accomplishments would do so much to help unify us. And if we actually do encounter intelligence out there, or even simple microscopic life, then our existence, relevant to us, full of so many ethical and national boundaries and conflicts of interests though it might be, will be demonstrably that much more powerful. It will mean that much more to be human, to be part of a single collection of similar beings, no matter how different any two of us appear to be. In the face of a new discovery of extraterrestrial life, the two most demonstrably different people on the planet will in relation appear to be practically no different at all. If that possibility doesn’t stir the most deeply-cherished feelings of belonging and collective-worth in a person, then I don’t think they truly understand the implications… or they just literally don’t care in the slightest. But I’d prefer not to even consider the latter as a possibility, unless I’m just completely wrong about human nature… in which case I guess I’d prefer to just continue being completely wrong.

It just seems like such an awfully large amount of space for one single intelligent race to develop into. But of course such a belief doesn’t necessarily prove anything… this very well could be the case for any combination of the reasons I’ve touched on. But I really do hope that we, as our own race, unified whether or not any of us believe that to be the case in light of all of these complicated circumstances, keep on searching. This long, awkward silence will either continue forever, in which case we will become more and more sensitive to our apparently-unique position of intelligence in the Universe, or we will discover something, and whether or not we ever actually make physical contact, we will know, at long last, that we are not alone, and humanity thus has every reason to appreciate all of our traits which might prove to be unique to us still, even when existence itself is no longer.

And if contact is at long last made with another civilization and this long, awkward silence is finally broken, then who knows, maybe we could even teach them a thing or two about life, the Universe, and everything.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 11:06 PM | 0 comments

Coursing Through My Veins

(October 13th, 2011; revised March 5, 2012)

Have you ever caught a glimpse of yourself in a window reflection or in a picture and for a split second thought you were looking at your mother or father? Or maybe you’ve looked at a picture of your mother or father and momentarily mistook them for yourself? If you are a mother or father, then you might have experienced this in your child. Maybe your son or daughter has reminded you of yourself from some time, or of your own father or mother. And maybe you haven’t actually been so fooled, but perhaps you have noticed a striking resemblance, especially from certain particular angles or expressions or mannerisms or done something or said something that in hindsight you recognized as their likeness. I am perpetually amazed by this idea and find it to be one of the most beautiful and powerful connections in this world, those you have with your most immediate families, your parents or children or other relatives.

And I recognize that the idea of evolution is extremely controversial, but even when not considered as a basis of “creation” it nevertheless stands strong in analyzing where various physical (and emotional) traits come from. I think that, despite any strength of claims refuting evolution as a theory of origination, every rational person must agree that evolution is playing its perpetual role in the progression of human diversity even if only as far as generic traits such as (to list an inadequate few) eye and hair color, height, and body and facial shapes are concerned. In this sense I don’t think that any person can truly argue against the overall concept of evolution, because it fundamentally shapes who we are, regardless of how far into the past one is willing to consider it. In this regard it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether one believes that humanity owes its existence to ape-descendants or to a supreme being, or any other theory for that matter—this miracle is no less incredible and awe-inspiring. You owe absolutely everything you are to your parents, and them to theirs, and so on entirely down the line.

Physical attributes are undeniably the results of the interactions of your parents’ traits through conception. But it also seems undeniable to me that certain emotional attributes are also the results of the same interactions. I’ve seen so many people who exhibit such similar habits and desires and emotions as their parents, and this aspect of the whole idea fascinates me even more than the physical similarities do—because this connection is so much less obvious in its formulation. That the unimaginably intricate workings and combinations of parent-traits into the development of a new life from so little should incorporate not only the above-mentioned more obvious physical traits (incredible on its own!), but the emotional ones as well, is just… mind-boggling.

I guess the underlying reason for this fascination is that physical traits are so relatively simple, because we really don’t have much control over them. Over their natural state, at least… surgery or various other methods could of course alter this appearance, but you will remain, genetically, as you were conceived. But to me an emotional trait seems so much more complex. That a person should be quick to anger in a manner so similar to a parent’s, or appreciate the same sorts of intellectual pursuits, or indulge the same addictions, or enjoy the same types of music or movies, is so much less obvious and so is much more deeply, meaningfully telling of a person’s heritage. A given set of physical characteristics, such as eye and hair color and a pronounced jaw line and a certain build of body could, on its own, be enough for a person to, without any other knowledge than knowing your parent(s), draw the conclusion of whose offspring you must be—sometimes even multiple generations’ worth! But if you exhibit these traits and various other “emotional” ones then a person is much more likely to independently realize whose offspring you must be, based solely on such outstanding and recognizable characteristics.

Of course the primary factors involved in establishing a person’s emotional characteristics must be in their upbringing, because most such traits are learned simply by being taught by and observing them in their idolized parents. But what about those people who were raised mostly, if not entirely, apart from one or both of their biological parents? Such a case is where the deepest appreciations of this idea are nested, because any such identifiable emotional traits which develop on their own in such a similar manner just emanate the deepest beauties because they could not have been established by direct learning. That a person might not ever lay eyes on one or both of their parents, let alone communicate with them, and yet still exhibit some shred of any of their most characteristic traits, is incredible.

It’s so fascinating to me that, once the seeds have been sown, then (mostly) left to its own devices a life is gradually formed, nourished, birthed, and grown into an entirely separate, unique-yet-strikingly reminiscent being, ready and capable of making and understanding its own remarkable mark on this crazy and beautiful world of ours. For the most part, we all share the same fundamentals—we grow, we develop a body, we have arms and legs and faces and brains and the rest, and we learn how to function with these parts of ourselves in order to interact with the world we come to familiarize ourselves in. Everything else is details: what specific colors our skin and our eyes and our hair are, where we live, the sound of our voice, the language(s) we speak, the things we like to do, the things we like to learn, our friends, our jobs, our tastes in music and movies and the rest of everything that could possibly be used to describe what constitutes any single person. So much of that is passed directly into us by our parents, into the very code of our being, before we even experience our first conscious thought upon the world. And so much of the rest is heavily influenced by our interactions with those parents and help to strengthen what genetics alone is not quite powerful enough to shape independently. You exist and are who you are deep down within your core because your parents are coursing through your veins.

I have come to some very deeply-cherished feelings about where some of my own characteristics have come from. In so many cases the observational evidence seems so abundantly stacked in neat, orderly fashion that it’s almost unreasonable to question their origins. There is little doubt in my mind that I got my senses of kindness, gentleness, patience, honesty, integrity and compassion from my dear mother. She is without a doubt the single person in the world that I would trust, above all others, to tell me how she really feels about something, and to listen to how I really feel about something. I remember, years ago, during junior high after just moving another time (we were an often-moving military family), I felt so alone and discouraged in myself and among my peers. And I remember realizing, after a time, that there was a powerful correlation between “good” and “bad” days which hinged strongly on whether or not I simply got the chance to see and talk to her, however briefly, each morning before leaving for school. It was her kindness, and her empathy and, perhaps most of all, my utter familiarity with her, that simple yet complex identification with her through so many years, that motherly bond, which instilled the positive energy I needed to feel just that little bit extra of in order to better enjoy and appreciate my day. I’m not sure she was ever made aware of this at the time, but if possible I would somehow go and make it known how valuable even the most fleeting exchange was to me during those times in the dark, lonely, troublesome mornings of adolescence.

This trust continues still to this day, and sometimes when I find myself sharing with her an exceptionally deep feeling of mine, or vice versa, before I know it there are tears appearing, forming out of a depth of emotion so intertwined with hers inside me and I am so touched by so powerful a connection as if there is a tangible link of empathy between us just effortlessly ferrying the thoughts and feelings to and fro. I realize in a moment like this that there is an invaluable treasure here, in this bond between two separate human beings which allows for an understanding to be shared so much more deeply than any combinations of words alone could ever fully portray. I realize that I am sharing my feelings about something in this world with one of the people that created and instilled into me the very capacity to do so. I realize all over again that this wonderful person in my life is coursing through my veins, and I share this incredible amount of depth of wonder with no one else in the world.

My father is, for complicated reasons, not so clearly defined in my eyes and, in turn, in myself. But even so there are many characteristics whose source I cannot deny as his. His sense of humor, for one, perhaps most obviously, is most definitely a trait embellished within me which absolutely could not have come from my mother. Growing up, my siblings and I used to make our own comic books and sometimes would leave all captions blank in order to let him fill them in with us. And the things he would write, while making all four of us howl with laughter, would send my mom gasping and running to another room. He had a love of sports, which I share to some degree, but most notable of which was his interest in the numbers, the statistics of the various players, which even to this day I find myself looking for when devoting some interest into the competitions. He was very neat and organized, very detail-oriented, which I see in myself. I find myself similarly obsessively alphabetizing all of my books, movies, games, and CDs and such on the shelves, and I seek a specific spot for remotes and controllers even if I have perhaps too much of an excess of other random things, like my mother, occupying the spaces of my rooms to make them stand out so neat and orderly. But the order is there, and it reminds me of him, and so I feel him coursing through my veins.

I respect her, my dear mother, above all others to do the right thing without hesitation. She is very driven, always wanting to achieve success and make a positive impression on others, desires which I admire and feel I also have in abundance. She is logical and careful in her considerations, admirably patient, other things which I relate to and have worked to establish to a high degree for myself. She is very deeply rooted to her family, always striving to help them when they are in more troublesome times than she is, even when it sets her back from her own goals. I feel this is compassion in all of its glory, and I can only hope to continue to develop my own character to continue to fit such an ideal. But I think I’ve gotten it right so far. I have high hopes for myself with such an incredible role model to look upon. There have been so many times that I’ve felt something, or said something, or done something, and afterward thought to myself, this seems like the sort of thing my mom would have done. If the half of me that is directly descended from her can be worked into just half of the incredibly caring and successful person that she is, I will feel deeply and prideful that I have done well for myself. And so it is, without a doubt in my mind, in every single decision and every single motive and every single moment, my mother coursing through my veins.

My mother once told me, many years ago, that I have a way of looking over my shoulder which reminds her exactly of the way my father would have done. She was picking me up from school one day, during my junior high school year, and I had gotten bored sitting around waiting and was just casually walking up and down the sidewalk along the street that passed by the school. I was listening to my CD player, and so wouldn’t have heard as cars were approaching, so I looked back every minute or two in hopes of seeing her approach. When she eventually arrived and I got in the car, she told me about how vividly she was struck by the image of my father in the moment that I had turned slightly to look behind me. As trivial as it is, this comment struck me powerfully and has always stayed with me. I think it’s one of those little things that I’ll never forget, as long as I live, that for a moment—on the surface—I so closely emulated my father, who himself hadn’t been around for several years.

I remember as a kid waking up sometimes in the middle of the night and realizing that my dad was sitting, by himself, in the dark of the living room, slowly rocking in his favorite chair, singing along to his music. Sometimes I would get out of bed and sit in the doorway, close enough to hear it somewhat better, and just listen, out of sight. He was good, he could really sing, but to my knowledge he only sang during such times when nobody was supposed to be listening. I always felt like he must have had a deep appreciation of the music he enjoyed. He sang with soulful emotions to, I’m assuming, songs he really identified with. And this is another trait which I recognize I share with him. I imagine he must have identified with his emotions along with his music, appreciated the depth of the efforts put into their creation and formation and how this could relate to his own feelings, and he indulged this passion in his own time. Looking back, I realize that this was a depth to his character that he didn’t really outwardly express—I am only aware because of those disappointingly few times I happened to wake up and find him expressing himself when he thought he was all alone in the world with his appreciation. And so when I find myself doing the same thing, oftentimes sitting outside on the back porch just to enjoy the fresh air and darkness of night with my headphones or going for a late night walk or drive so that I can isolate myself from everything but the music itself, I get this deep, powerful feeling as I realize that he is coursing through my veins.

There are even some characteristics which I can identify as apparently originating from both of them. They are both skilled and effective writers. They are both logical thinkers, analyzers. They both have this powerful way of speaking their mind, of establishing the ideas they want to share, of portraying their thoughts into vivid arguments. They are both genuinely kindhearted. They share a deep capacity to feel, and empathize. I like to think that these traits, and so many others, that are common between them are the ones most deeply rooted in my own self. It is definitely both of them, simultaneously and cooperatively coursing through my veins. And what a beautiful mindset they have created, so well-set to admire and appreciate such a glorious world it was brought into. I’m just overcome with wonder when I consider this all and relate with them.

This idea is portrayed wonderfully in a song by Richard Marx called “Through My Veins” in which he reflects on having seen his father in his own reflection in a café window, and then delves into the many wishes and desires, and appreciations, he has felt since his father passed away. It’s so beautiful, and I wish that everybody would listen to it, and feel so inspired to really take time and consider how valuable and precious a connection with a parent really is… because of how much unimaginable impact they have had on your life, on the very fundamental composition of your existence. There is a particular line in the song which goes “I guess there’s not a lot that you forgot to tell me.” And I like to take this as meaning that, even though there may not have been certain things, certain thoughts and feelings, shared, especially if the parent was gone most (if not all ) of the time, they are within you just the same. Anything they may not have gotten the chance to share with you could very well yet be within the fabric of your being regardless.

And so your parents, to whom you owe your very existence to, deserve your every recognition and your highest regard, even despite the most unfortunate negative circumstances that may exist between you. They at least deserve this, and I hope deserve every single bit more that your overflowing heart can muster. Nobody else can place themselves into your very being like the ones who are coursing through your veins at this and every last moment. No matter how far from them you travel, no matter how many other people come and go in your life, nobody else can possibly have that same influence. They will forever be inside of you, and no amount of sharing or lack thereof, no amount of good or bad relations, no level of animosity, will ever change this.

And perhaps even more striking and beautiful, though I can only yet imagine, is the same idea turned around and applied toward your own children. To look at your child, and truly understand that half of what makes up everything about this child is directly descended from the foundations of your own genetics, and not only this, but the other half of them being directly descended from the foundations of the person with whom you created this magnificent miracle of life, must be absolutely beautiful beyond compare. It is one of my deepest and most longed-for desires to witness one day. I want to see half of myself, and half of someone I’ve come to truly love and appreciate for her deepest and truest qualities, come together into a separate human being, and grow into the wildly successful and worldly-prepared life that I know I could pour my devotions and wisdom into. I can hardly even imagine, though I try sometimes, but perhaps one day I won’t need to, and I will have a child that I can look at, and hold, and play with, and share my thoughts and feelings with, and witness the perpetual growth of and the boundless success of, and feel my soul overflow with pride and admiration as I recognize deep down in these depths of my soul that it is me coursing through those precious veins.


Posted by Eli Stanley | at 9:53 PM | 0 comments

We Are Logically Emotional

(October 9th, 2011)

Time and time again I have heard people blame logical responses as a fault and praise emotional responses as a virtue, as if they occupy opposite, discreet sides of a spectrum, and I have struggled to understand where this distinction comes from and why. And so I am going to attempt to address the issues as I see them, and hopefully make some sort of argument which might invoke some insightful thoughts from the people who otherwise tend to entirely separate the two when in reality (I think) they merely constitute alternate functions which each serve their own purposes, constructively, together, in promoting the success and uniqueness of humankind.

I came across a very interesting website when looking into this subject, at and I found a quote, presumably by Mark Pettinelli (listed as the page’s editor), which really struck me and helped to stir many thoughts:

It could be viewed that emotion is entirely driven by intellect, that everything that you feel you feel because you are who you are, and who you are is determined by your thoughts and your own intelligence. Or it could be rephrased the opposite way, that intelligence is entirely driven by emotion for the same reasons, those viewpoints are obvious when you take emotional highs where it seems like you are acting out of control - because then you realize why it is you are having those emotions, and you are having them because of something you did (which was driven by your intellect) or something you were feeling (which is driven by your emotions). Your intellect determined how you felt the emotion, because you are your intellect, and that (you) would then determine how you feel about something that happens. Someone’s emotional template (who they are, how they respond to the world) could be viewed as being an intellectual template because intellect is understanding real things, and your emotions determine what it is that you process and how you process them.

Of course they are very different realms of the mind, these emotions and logic, but the point is, they coincide in many meaningful ways and I think that a more open-minded and all-encompassing viewpoint would be very beneficial to all—most importantly, perhaps, in understanding why somebody does or doesn’t do something or feel something when one would otherwise apply a lame judgment to this person to account for their seeming lack of one or the other as one thinks they should be exhibiting.

The general idea seems to be that an “abundance” of logic (I’m curious where the line is drawn) simply leads to an absence of emotions, and vice versa, as if they are polar opposites of each other—as if neither can be established to any powerful degree without diminishing the other, as if you cannot be abundantly logical in your thought processes without in turn equivalently losing touch with your emotions, and vice versa.

Logic, to put simply, is a pattern of thinking and reasoning with the goal of distinguishing truth, in which the main focus is the set of principles governing the validity of arguments, in which certain assumptions generally follow from a certain set of given assumptions—which has, arguably, on the surface, not much to do with emotions. But it goes much deeper than “the surface.” Again, this is a very basic description of all that logic is put to use for. Ultra-simplified statements such as “if it is raining, then it is raining” are used as examples of logical deductions, and I wonder if this argument I am trying to make would be refuted by any professional logician as soon as I incorporate it into the realm of emotions, but I think that in the day-to-day lives of any “typical” person this argument holds much relevance and potential for a better overall understanding, at the very least more consideration of peoples’ thoughts. I’m not necessarily arguing each (logic and emotion) in their purely scientific definitions, but in a more broad sense, how they seem to be considered in these day-to-day lives. Put another way, when I hear people separate the two ideas and degrade one of them, I can only imagine that they are, themselves, considering the ideas in such a more generalized way, and so I am making this case in a similarly generalized way. This is, of course, my interpretation, and I hope that at least the context will be understood to its usefulness.

So there is more to each of them, logic and emotion, than what is clearly defined “on the surface”—there is an entire ocean underneath what is visible at a glance from above. The way I see it, a person's (effective) use of logic will encompass all of their thinking, because truth and understanding should always be the deepest pursuits of ANY endeavor, which does relate to a person’s feelings, which does relate to their emotions. Undeniably, the two do originate from the same mind. This much is irrefutable and, no less so in my belief, the depths of one’s mind does spawn both “logical” and “emotional” responses, each in their own contexts. But I do not believe that they deserve such extremely opposing distinctions. They each work to make sense of, and interact with, the world, by their own characteristics, as seen from each individual. But I believe that logic is the more all-encompassing of the two, because of its nature and its usefulness in systematically evaluating each and every aspect of this crazy world, forever working to distinguish truth from nonsense, and so I argue that the best relationship between logic and emotion is how logic is used to govern emotion.

There is this idea that I’ve obsessed over for as long as I can remember, always trying to come up with the one exception that would prove it wrong. But I’ve never managed to, in all of the countless times that I’ve spent pondering over it. This idea is that, reduced to a basic consideration of desires, every single decision you ever make is the result of something you wanted. This might sound trivial to some, but I think it has very profound considerations. It means, for one thing, that no act is truly selfless, if only because there is something in your actions that you want for yourself. The most basic of which, I think, is the desire to feel proud, to feel that warmth in your soul when you’ve done something generous. One of the closest things to a selfless act that I have ever been able to come up with is any of a number of acts in which nobody is made aware of your act. This includes, for instance, an anonymous donation, or… well, “anonymous” and “donation” really cover just about anything I can think of, if you consider things such as giving to charity, or gifts, or tips, or work, etc. as “donations.” The key is the anonymous part. Because when absolutely nobody has been made aware of some effort you’ve made, this could be argued as the closest thing you can come to a selfless act. But there was undoubtedly something that you gained for yourself out of it, even if this something was merely the satisfaction of having done it. And even if nobody was made aware that it truly was you that made the donation, someone still was made aware that somebody made the donation. You know it was you, and so you feel the resulting pride (or whatever positive gain) of having made it.

Perhaps one of the most striking examples is one in which (made personal and dramatic to give specific emphasis) a mother sacrifices herself for the benefit of her child. Maybe even to save the child’s life. To push the idea to its limits, let’s say that the decision had to be made spontaneously, without any time to consider alternatives or make the “best” overall decision. If a child is about to be hit by a bus, and the mother must immediately react to push the child out of harm’s way, but in turn is hit by the bus herself, this goes a long way in suggesting a selfless act without regard for her own well-being. But I think there is a complicated mesh of ideals and desires playing their role even when something is done spontaneously, such as the ingrained desires of the mother to be seen as heroic, or caring, or simply valuing the life of her child over that of her own, because the child has, in all likelihood, “more life” ahead of them at any moment than she does. She may act at a moment’s notice, and sacrifice herself for the benefit of another, but even done spontaneously this is going to be the result of a lifelong successive buildup of what she values and wishes to give to the world—her child’s life most likely being among the highest values of all.

I’m simply arguing that, even in the most extreme of all possible scenarios, there is some shred of selfishness (not necessarily to say that selfishness is bad, which seems to be the cliché assumption) in the act. But selfishness has its place in the world, indulged within reason, and there really is no escaping it. So embrace it, because on the whole I believe most people tend to do the “right thing” even when selfishness is the underlying motivation.

So there seems to me to be a deep connection between what a person desires to do, based on the sum of their emotions and aspirations, and what they believe they should do, based on the sum of their logic and reasoning and considerations of as many things as they are capable of considering. Every single last thing a person does is in some way related to a decision based on things they want to gain from the act, forming at some level a complicated combination of emotions and logical reasoning suited to bring them something they desire. And the people who are most in tune with this combination, who have learned to effectively combine their emotional drives with what their logical reasoning can bring to shape them into usefulness are, I believe, the people who possess the deepest potentials to pursue the truly great and beneficial things in life, both for themselves and for others to reap the benefits from. To make the world as beautiful and glory-filled as it can possibly be!

Perhaps the most well-known and most-referenced example of this extreme difference in mindsets is in the TV series Star Trek, where the character Spock is idealized as a being (along with the rest of his race) who has mastered the art of separating all emotions from his pursuits, and instead imposes absolutely nothing but logic on his surroundings. I should point out that I’m not very familiar with the Star Trek universe. I only understand so much of what is actually the case, in this case. But this is the impression I’ve gotten, with what I have seen. Perhaps there are episodes in the series which aim to glorify the separation of logic and emotions in the Vulcans’ psychology (favoring logic), and perhaps there are also episodes which seek to emphasize the value of the emotions that happen to slip through their “training” in certain instances. I just don’t know, but it seems obvious that the iconic figure of the Vulcan is an attempt at a prime example of what can be achieved with an entirely secluded logical mindset. In any case, it should be easy to allow this to be the case, even if the typical Vulcan was ultimately shown to be just about as much a slave to emotional responses as any human (even if only in the more extreme cases). I think we can imagine, for a moment, a truly all-logical being, even if an “average” Vulcan is only a vague approximation. The idea is simple enough.

That being said, I just want to say that I do not see how this is possible in reality. Emotions play their role in everything, from the most trivial, mundane decisions to the most significant, life-altering ones. Both emotions AND logic apply to pretty much (if not absolutely) everything. (I hope the Vulcans ultimately portrayed this.) Of course you can devote more of your efforts toward one or the other, in individual cases, to the benefits of each, but both logic and emotions are certainly always playing a role in your day-to-day activities and decisions. This is one of the qualities that make our race so unique, and so powerful, this cooperation of extremes. This cooperation should be embraced, and cherished, and developed to its full potential—not played out to some lopsided ratio, in which the more demonstrably “logical” people are shunned off to the side as if they have little if any capacity to indulge their emotional desires. Alternately, the more demonstrably “emotional” people should not be shunned off to the side as if they have little if any capacity to make and pursue informed, logical decisions. Every single person on the planet has every reason to exhibit the best of both traits, if they are wise and perceptive enough to realize them, and every single person on the planet has every reason to appreciate and embrace these traits in others, together, again, if they are also wise and perceptive enough to realize them.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and reduce the two as far as seems possible, and suggest that logic is a more hard-wired trait, intrinsic in our minds’ capacities to evaluate and analyze and make sense of the world around us, which of course takes some amount of time to consider, while our emotions are more chemically induced, also intrinsic in our minds’ capacities, but put to use in reacting to more spontaneous, individually-oriented reactions. My argument still centers on them being complementary, but it is of course worth noting the fundamental differences between them—the most powerful of which, perhaps, is the time required to devote biological resources to their usefulness.

If logic exists so that we can take our time (not necessarily to suggest leisurely basking around a campfire for days on end in making any single decision) in evaluating and analyzing our surroundings, making sense of the best pursuits among all that are laid before us, then this is beneficial because such time and consideration is often necessary for certain extra-significant, not-time-pressing decisions—such as (to name a few in no particular order) inventing fire, or the wheel, or the telescope, or calculus, or the steam engine, or electricity, or the theory of relativity, or the automobile, or transistors, or computers, or cell phones, or the Internet, or the Large Hadron Collider, or pretty much any significant invention throughout history. All of these took time, consideration, learning, and logic (and perhaps some “luck” as well). Careful logic is just more reliable when there is ample time, and collective efforts, to spare for analysis. I’m sure that Albert Einstein enjoyed (maybe?) numerous lengthy “sit-down” periods while he was considering the many thought experiments that helped him to develop his many theories that revolutionized the world in his day, and which are still being proven by more and more refined experiments. But even the more time-critical, immediately-pressing decisions will make use of some logical deductions when called for. Sometimes—actually, almost always, it will be beneficial to utilize the ability to make informed decisions based on the factors of past, present, and (projected) future events, desires, and the ways in which they make sense of each other. Logic is always useful, even if we do not always have the time to devote to its full potential. It only falls short when we don’t have time to carefully consider.

On the other hand, if emotions exist (as seems to be the case, generally) so that we can exhibit a “fight-or-flight” response to an external stimulus on a whim, then this is beneficial because we do not always have enough time to sit and consider all alternative opportunities, nor do we always have a collective effort of mindsets to pursue an idea. This is most evident in a lifestyle in which, to dramatize an example, a saber-toothed tiger may unexpectedly pounce upon your freshly-prepared supper, or simply emerge out of the bushes you were walking toward. To stand and consider the possibilities that exist in whether or not you should simply turn and run, stand your ground, play dead, throw a rock, growl, dance erratically, or any other such response, will most likely spell your untimely demise. Emotional responses, in such cases, effectively compel you to act spontaneously, because there are situations in which even the most intellectually-evolved human mind does not have time to come up with a safe, intelligent, all-things-considered diplomatic solution. Sometimes you simply need to flee, or fight, or grovel, or cry, or barter, or otherwise react at a moment’s notice. But even so, some shred of a logical conclusion can be made almost instantaneously in such cases, fueled by the emotional desire to react immediately, as they coincide in your decision-making process. In such cases the emotional response to react right then and there triggers the logical response of how to deal with whatever the stimulus happens to be—to fear a saber-toothed tiger is the application of the logic which contains the idea that such a creature should be feared. It’s just that the emotional response triggers this much more quickly than careful consideration of all variables would have.

That’s how it seems to me, at least, although it is, most likely, not a purely logical response to flee from a saber-toothed tiger, simply because any prior experience with a saber-toothed tiger very likely means that you have no more responses left to indulge—because you would probably be long since dead. But then again, in this case, which is which? If you find yourself face-to-face with a deadly predator, with no prior experience of how to deal with such a situation, is it an emotional response or a logical response to just turn and run (or play dead, or act tough)? Any intuitive response is, it seems to me, more emotional (like simply running), while another response (such as acting tough) seems to be more logical, in that you are deducing that such behavior might hopefully deter the creature’s desire to pounce on you. At this level I end up confusing myself. It seems like some reactions are passed along on an evolutionary basis, such as the fear of certain dangerous predators, and we will fear them even in the complete absence of any knowledge whatsoever of their dangerous nature. These seem like more of an emotional response. However, with the inclusion of any knowledge of a situation’s pros and cons, the decisions become more logical. An argument could also be made that logical evaluations are made based on ideas about what sorts of creatures, and other external stimuli, are likely to be dangerous, based on observations such as the creature’s size, or other appearances such as pointy teeth or razor-sharp claws, or its body language, etc.

Even in today’s world with all of what the Internet has to offer a curious mind, and knowing full well how dangerous the situation is, coming face-to-face with a saber-toothed tiger is likely still going to push the emotional response to the forefront of your thoughts, i.e., to get the ^*(%*&*^ out of there, and all other thoughts will surface only when your life is no longer in danger. Fleeing from a saber-toothed tiger is the result of the emotional trigger to act rationally.

Because of this nature, emotional responses evaluated only by their own merits suggest a weakness when imposed on the sorts of situations in which time is actually abundant. And so my argument, in this case, takes a turn toward emphasis on logic, because today, in most cases, we actually have such abundant time to dwell on most decisions. Saber-toothed tigers (for most of us—almost certainly for anybody capable of reading this writing) no longer pounce upon our freshly-cooked meals, or hide in the bushes while we wander toward some distant destination. For most of our daily decisions in life, we genuinely have the time required to actually consider as many variables as may exist, and evaluate them in relation to each other, and choose the most appropriate. Emotions will always play a role, of course, because what you feel is important, and should be considered, but what you feel is not always (and arguably not even usually) what makes for the best decision. Emotions can very easily lead you astray, because the feelings invoked most likely do not consider factors that a rational mind will desire to make sense of. The emotions should not be simply discounted, but should be weighed against other variables which should help to make sense of the pros and cons of an impending decision. I’m trying to say that, despite whatever advantages a more emotionally-driven mindset might have had in the past, this reality is much less relevant in today’s world.

But perhaps I am dwelling too much on the situations of the distant past. If saber-toothed tigers no longer wait out our approach from the bushes, then there is not so much emphasis on the need to react to such a situation, yes? But there are other situations, relative to today’s society, which push against the boundaries between logical and emotional responses in their own ways, and so the distinction does remain relevant.

To give a simple example, say someone has gone through a bad breakup and is now faced with a choice of moving on or trying to make things work again. If proper reasoning has suggested that the same problems will persist and the relationship is simply bound to fail (because this has happened numerous times already or because you see that there is a fundamental clash of ideals), then logically it should not be pursued. This poor person is not necessarily an unemotional jerk for moving on... I would argue that a relationship bound by all demonstrable traits to fail is, no matter how hurt or desperate someone is or how much they think they need to be in a relationship (which seems all-too commonplace), not worth the trouble and the pain of pursuing. Each person has better things to do and pursue, because there must be more suitable endeavors out there. The casting aside of an emotional response because of the demonstrable destructiveness that this response will most likely bring is not something to be harshly judged upon. It just is the most reasonable solution, considering all sides, and all likely futures. This person is not devoid of emotions… they are just effectively pursuing them. There is more at stake than the rapid beating of your heart when your eyes meet those of another. There is much more emotional pain waiting to be felt and suffered through when a person blindly pursues their emotional desires for a person, regardless of all rational, demonstrable traits which would otherwise suggest a more constructive path.

I believe this is why so many people end up heartbroken so often. They get stuck on pursuits which hold no reasonable justifications, because they lose sight of the factors which should be opening their eyes and leading them towards the paths which actually hold promise. Not to say one should just drop all possibilities because of one bad experience and for this reason alone—but only to say that one should carefully evaluate the sum of all experiences relating to a given pursuit (in this case, a relationship) and, based on this, determine, as closely as possible, the likelihood that either continued effort or cancellation of effort will bring a more desired outcome. If a romantic interest has stood you up time and time again, nine times out of ten, repeatedly, then the floods of emotions rushing through your head are not the true fairy-tale feelings that you wish them to be—you need to let them go. You need to realize that the emotions are not mutual, and this requires much-needed logical input. Otherwise you will remain stuck on somebody who will not ever reciprocate and you will remain forever plagued by disappointment and heartache.

I understand that this is controversial, because, as it seems to me, people have been fed this emotion vs. logic argument (favoring emotion) pretty much everywhere and pertaining to everything. We are bombarded with various media forms depicting “true love” spawning from spontaneous encounters and senseless pursuits. (Most Disney movies come to mind.) And while even in reality some of these do work out remarkably well in the end, that isn’t to say that they worked out because of blind devotion and unquestioned emotional drives. Some examples will seem to work out as beautifully as anyone could have imagined them, because some pursuits simply mesh together in the ways that make this happen, and blindly pursued emotions may very well end up showering its recipients with untold treasures. But such a case was bound to happen, as closely as anything can truly be said to be bound to happen, because by the “luck of the draw” the people involved actually did mesh together in this way. Some, such as these, may have been pure “luck”. But most others very likely made effective use of logical reasoning in choosing whether or not to pursue, and how to pursue, the resulting drives. But consider the countless love stories of heartbreak—these did not work out for the best hopeful dreams of both parties, and in many cases this was probably a consequence of unjustified devotions based on nothing but powerful emotional responses.

Any two people have every reason and every opportunity to make this deep connection a reality. It is going to take a healthy mix, from both sides, of both logical and emotional considerations. The key is to understand each other, know what each is looking for in terms of the romance, and pursue mutually those emotional drives which are understood to be shared interests. And this, of course, requires both parties to communicate with each other, so that each knows and understands what the other desires. Then the partnership has the best chances of actually establishing these things as being shared. Otherwise, every act is a stab in the dark, and every time one acts on a whim that the other does not approve of, tensions rise and heartbreak becomes that much more likely. So communicate!! Provide the information that the other needs in order to be rational with their emotional pursuits, and you’ll be that much closer to beating the odds and enjoying, together, one of those touching, heartwarming, beautiful “true love” romances that pretty much every single person in the world is envious of.

But, as things are today, this mindful cooperation seems to be in large part still a fantasy of the sorts of people like me who see this beauty-filled, entirely possible co-existence as the ideal reality. And so people who “like numbers” and enjoy evaluating situations in such ways are lumped into a category of unemotional logic-pursuers, which, by this lame definition, seems to deem them unsuitable to meaningfully pursue any emotional drives they may “feel.” But this is silly, and degrading, for even the most ideologically “logical” person must have depths of emotions that any other person can only guess at. If a person acts, in most cases (especially where numbers and variables really are the prime factors) in a “logical” fashion, that does NOT condemn them to in turn respond to romance in a similar fashion—a person can appreciate all of the numbers and variables and constants inherent in mathematics and physics and astronomy and most other physical problems of the world without any consequences applied to the way they view and react to a romantic pursuit. Any other assumption is just this—an assumption, based upon vague leaps of the mind which most likely do not actually correlate and in reality only set apart, from you, a person who has every possibility of sharing with you the very things you most deeply desire. Let their actions tell you whether or not they have the emotional capacity you are seeking, by giving them every chance they deserve.

Forget the movies. They are idealized fictions. There will always be the extremely extreme cases, which seem to fit the most glorious fairy-tale based stories, but there will always be extreme cases. It is UNREASONABLE to expect them and accept nothing less. You will, in all likelihood, be perpetually disappointed while doing so. The key is deeply-rooted sharing and understanding and appreciation. Seek these virtues, not the silly Hollywood-induced reality-shunning dreams. Only the most “lucky” people will have this fall into their lap. But they are not the realistic examples all others should weigh their own fortunes against.

I was told, by one of the people I most aggressively tried to pursue not long ago, that one of the reasons she did not reciprocate was because she “never felt that fairy tale feeling.” But what about the possibility that the “fairy tale feeling” does not come until two people have, even at a basic level, committed themselves to each other? Should you really expect to feel such a powerful emotional response while still establishing the fundamentals of what might turn out to be a deep relationship? I don’t see how this can be expected, even in the most exceptionally rare and beautiful cases, and to demand such a thing is to all but guarantee that it is not going to happen. A little bit more rational devotion would go a long way toward developing the relationship which could then actually have the chance to provide this wonderful sensation.

Forget the movies.

And this is where, as I have argued in so many previous writings, efforts put forth towards sharing the deepest thoughts and feelings between any two (or more) people plays such a crucial role in understanding each other—because if base logic really is all that a certain person ever exhibits, never seeming to follow an emotional drive (as can be seen on the outside by others), then people really have no demonstrable reasons to think that there is anything deeper to this person (even though there must be more to them). The burden does fall on each person to actually demonstrate that they are capable of pursuing an effective and reasonable combination of these mindsets, as much as it is anyone’s duty to keep an open mind and see all that there is to see in a person. So it is the duty of each individual person to exhibit the traits that need to be witnessed by others to grasp, in some way, who they really are, by their efforts put to reasons and feelings. When all things are considered, the sum of these two invaluable traits will establish an extremely valuable, deeply-rooted sense of who this person is and what efforts are worth putting forth into your (romantic or friendly) relationship with them.

If Spock really could control his mindset, as could be seen by anyone on the outside, to the point of extinguishing all emotional responses, then of course nobody has any reason to think that he will ever react in any other way. But such a case is unrealistic, I think, because there is not a person alive who can accomplish such a thing. As much as I feel like there is some amount of control that can be placed upon the emotional responses of a person, namely by the implementation of a logical set of reasoning, I do not believe that one can ever entirely replace the other. When faced with a certain situation of adequate stress, sometimes a base emotional response is all that can be expected to be displayed (and will perhaps be the most effective response in dealing with the stress). And when faced with a person who exhibits all of the traits that are most “romantically” desired, even the most logically-tuned person is going to feel his heart race a bit faster and his desires float up to the top of his mind, and a balanced pursuit of these emotions within the set of logic they have at their disposal is going to determine how effectively they can make use of this rush of feelings. Everyone wants to love and be loved, right?

Logical responses are more readily learned, solidified, and shaped to a personality, while emotional responses are more prone to spontaneous reaction and to indulge desires. An effective logic-base should help enable you to react most effectively to a sudden emotional response, because such a response will originate from the depths of your mind where these things have been established and rooted to fundamental beliefs. If you’ve never in your life laid eyes on a saber-toothed tiger then you will have no underlying reason to fear the creature, and to react accordingly. However, if some information or instinct is passed along genetically, or rationalized by comparisons with known similarities, then you will have the necessary momentary reaction necessary to realize that this is a creature to be feared and avoided. The “fight-or-flight” responses must come either from the knowledge that a certain creature is unfriendly or from an instinct that a certain creature is unfriendly. Obviously, in some cases indirect knowledge is necessary because there must be a first time for everything, and if everyone assumed the “best case” scenario upon first coming face-to-face with a saber-toothed tiger then there would not be very many people left (if any) to pass along the knowledge that an unavoided encounter is unwise for survival. Of course, for every person who has been devoured by a saber-toothed tiger, there could have been any number of people who witnessed this unfortunate demise and fled back to civilization to report the dangers. But still.

All of this considered, perhaps there are people who are just simply devoid, biologically, of most emotions and happen to have powerful logic. I don’t know specifics, but I’m sure there are medical conditions similar to such cases. In these cases I can see where the connection is made, that a high degree of logic relates to an inadequate capacity for emotions, although I think it leads more to a dangerous fallacy than it does to any actual relevance. Perhaps people are born occasionally with a lack of genetic material to give them typical emotional capacity, and so perhaps the brain overdevelops their logical capacity to make up for the shortcoming. But this certainly does not prove the standard for everybody that happens to show similar tendencies. Some people may realize the value of good logical reasoning and put it to an extreme practice, some people may have had their emotions damaged and just don't want to follow them, and so also put logic to an extreme practice (the emotions in both cases are still there, even if they simply habitually deny them), and some people may just be reluctant to use their logical reasoning, for whatever reasons, perhaps because they relish the feelings of an emotional drive above all else and maybe even are all but blinded to the benefits of a combined beauty because of today’s media influences. But none of these should condemn a person to a lame judgment, because there are always many, many reasons for a person’s behavior. None of these extreme cases speak for the human race as a whole, just because any numbers of people really do display logic without hardly any hint of emotions (and vice versa). There are always going to be exceptions on the extremities of practically any idea, especially one as large-ranging as this. But exceptions do not prove a negative case, they build a positive case.

I think in general people are too judgmental. People spend too much time trying to decipher other people's emotions and intentions and not enough time just accepting and appreciating. Emotions are definitely powerful, and they are definitely valuable. But emotions will more likely lead you astray. I believe, all other things considered equal, an emotional drive will only better serve to satisfy a more immediate goal—in many cases this “immediate goal” ends up building into a lifelong romantic relationship which, in turn, seems to correlate to nothing but emotional responses all along the way. I am arguing that, in such long-term considerations, the vast majority of your considerations, as emotional as they have been felt along the way, were governed by the logic-base of your mindset. It’s just so easy to be overwhelmed by the strictly emotional, because they provide such a powerful instant feeling of gratification, at each and every step along the way. But despite this, you were, in parallel along with each and every emotional step, applying logic and reasoning (to some degree) to your overall plan. I’d also like to make an argument for the idea that the typical relationship-turned-ugly is because of an over-devotion to purely emotional pursuits, in large part because of the denial of logical reasoning that could otherwise have addressed potential differences, complications, and other such things that ended up tearing two people apart. Emotions, if considered completely on their own terms, will very likely blind you, unless you are ridiculously lucky enough to have found a pursuit which happens to perfectly match you and your partner entirely without any use of logic and reasoning (I’m not sure I believe this ever has, or will, happen).

Ideally, a person will have found an effective balance of logic and emotions so that they complement each other to the highest beauties that each has to offer. But if I somehow had to choose between the two, I would trust my mind to rationalize the way, each and every time. Indulging in emotions comes second to realizing that they are, indeed, a meaningful, rational pursuit.

So, just, please, be rational. Don’t be in a rush to be judgmental. Let people’s actions speak for themselves, because you are always in a prime position to consider them from the outside. Understand that there is a wildly complex mesh of both logical reasoning and emotional drives buried within practically any act, and the people who get themselves into trouble probably just need some useful guidance and constructive criticism. Who knows, they may even have some things to teach you when you find yourself in a similarly unfortunate situation.

I very strongly believe that everything can be rationalized—if nothing else, from the basic idea of free will. And if people have free will, people are going to make terrible decisions. Some people just want to watch the world burn. This concept of free will is completely destroyed as soon as we expect some higher power to intervene whenever something unfortunate is about to happen. The things that seem most irrational, like cruelty, can be explained as the choices of people who, for whatever reason, wanted to make their decision. In an episode of House, M.D., his (House’s) patient asks him to rationalize one of these cruel acts, to which he responds, "We are selfish, base animals, crawling across the earth. But because we have brains, if we try real hard, we can occasionally aspire to something that is less than pure evil." Billions of people are constantly making their own choices. Any number of them has the potential to overlap others and produce unforeseen consequences. Everything makes sense at some level, from some viewpoint. It is unfortunate for the person on the “wrong end,” but reality is reality. Time cannot be reversed, actions cannot be undone, and feelings cannot be unhurt. Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it feels at the time. Time doesn't heal wounds; we just forget how much they hurt. Rational optimism speeds this process nicely. And so does cooperation and understanding with others, and an effective balance of logical reasoning applied to the emotional drives flooding your system. We are logically emotional. Let them work together and, no matter how low you have sunk, you will soon find yourself on the path to more beautifully green-filled pastures than you ever thought could possibly exist in this crazy world. Positive emotions will well up within your soul at last, and you, and those of your careful choosing, will be free to logically pursue them to your flooded heart’s content.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 12:17 AM | 0 comments