A small almost Zen story

A proposal of reflection by A. Autino


Sit on a rock, at night, and look at the sky. If you don't have a rock available at the moment, use a balcony, a window, or any observation point that allows to exclude from your view anything but the starry sky. Think, if you like, to the hedge of the Giacomo Leopardi’s “Infinito”: "I was always fond of this secluded hill, And this hedge which hides from my view So large a portion of the farthest horizon".

Rise your eyes to the endless, do not look at mountains, houses, don’t listen the traffic’ noises. Just you, your rock and the infinite. Now you feel yourself as an astronaut, sitting on an infinitesimal dot in the universe.

Leave aside everything for a moment, even your small or great faith in God, if you have one. Consider, however great your Faith is, the possibility that there is no God is out there. Or, for a million reasons that you don't know, He/She could be busy for some other millennia in other galaxies (maybe He/She thinks that nowadays we should be grown up, and for a while we can find a way out alone (:-).

Therefore, in this case, you would be alone here, on this rock, in the endless space. Taste for some seconds the terror and the anguish of the absolute loneliness, as an astronaut adrift, for so long as his air supply holds out...

But you aren’t alone: you have 6.5 million human beings, belonging to your same kind. They share with you biology and languages. With You can always try to understand them and to collaborate with them. They have children as you do, they are worried for the future as you are, they are ready to do their best, if only they will have a chance, and they will want  to be appreciated. All those rascals won't now seem so annoying or important to you, and neither will dangerous competitors, ready to cut your throat to plunder your few or many possessions. They are now your only strength and consolation. And also, looking at our small planet fom a greater perspective, embracing at least the solar system, you realize as it is fragile, exposed both to endogenous and cosmic threats. And you also realize how much the survival of our kind is fragile and entirely causal too. When (and no more if) we will be established on at least another planet, we will be very less fragile: think about the very huge philosophical step ahead, that will result for our culture, and things we can build, on this new thought platform.

Now the mystery of the universe will perhaps come to your mind, and you can afford a small or great hope (this in case you were, as I am, an open agnostic; but even if you have a faith, or you don't have any faith): that behind the harmonic perfection of the laws regulating the universe there was indeed a Science with the capital S, a Designer that gave the start to everything, for a great purpose that perhaps one day we can understand. In fact, the only certainty that I would feel - call it faith, if you want - is the following: that the universe is very mysterious, that we are an intelligent species, evolved, against all odds on this small lost planet.

Our evolution is driven from an impulse (Evolutionary Impulse and the Human Psyche, by Steven Wolf), perhaps encoded in our cells, and this impulse brings us straight to Space, to populate our solar system, for a start. If we want to say it in a more traditional religious form, God created us to grow and to multiply, and He/She strives in every way to make us understand this, but we don't listen (as when He commanded us, 3000 years ago, not to kill). Now, the only science that can concretely help us all, believers and laymen, is at the moment our small, defective science - that however already allows us to fly in space. And this can make the difference between development and decline, for the 7 billion individuals on this planet. Our immature science allows us not to abandon hope, and never stop rearranging the thoughts and to keep on working for the greatest project we can afford. Yes, we ourselves, of this historical epoch, between all past and future Ages!

You find yourself thinking all the above, if you look at the infinite, as Giacomo Leopardi made, one century and a half ago. All living people are your friends and allies, and you hold all human lives dear and sacred. You will likely consider even the non human lives with greater gentleness, because they belongs to this planet too, and they allow us to feed ourselves and to survive. Perhaps you will also understand the deep meaning of that neglected Christian teaching: love your enemy. Jesus didn't say not to fight against injustice, and not to have conflicts, but He said "love your enemy", do not kill them, be responsible for your life and also for their lives, and for the lives of your children and the lives of their children.

Can we avoid conflicts with more primitive sectors of terrestrial society, still prone to the natural behaviors of violence and murder? Probably not, but we can change our way of managing conflict: when we have to deal with a tiger, that tries to kill us, we try to avoid killing it, and today we also try to preserve its habitat. Why should we treat the tiger better than the terrorist, or the people living near the terrorist’s hideaway? With the Iraq people (for instance) we could also speak, if only we take the trouble to learn their language, and to help them (to preserve and to improve their habitat, since they are people, and thus they can evolve) instead of shooting them before understanding whether they are terrorists or unfortunate poor people that don't even succeed in expressing themselves. Ok, the mind inclines to wander, when one contemplate the infinite (:-)).

If you come back now thinking about your daily activities, to all the things that preoccupy you, you will see that everything seems very feasible, communication with other people easier and more natural, because you watched this planetoid from space, and all the people living here seem nearer and more friendly. Tomorrow, or in an hour, this feeling, this philosophical discovery, will be submerged by the weight of your worries. But perhaps, if you will repeat the exercise from time to time, you can find it again and make it become part of your life.

This is the philosophical gift, the first and greatest  gift, from Space - multiplied a thousandfold  - to each astronaut, to the space tourists, and to whoever knows how to look for and to accept a vision of an open world. When they return to Earth, astronauts are carriers of a change of much greater, stronger and lasting, significance. Therefore Space Tourism appears no more as a waste nor a luxury,as  but the only line of viable industrial development, which  can bring us out of the crisis, and also a noble purpose, culturally very high in itself.

The more people will go to space, in the next years, the more people will share the correct vision of a greater and open world. All these (philosophically) renewed people will turn to see the rest of humanity trulu as co-planetaries, as precious and irreplaceable brothers, in the cosmic adventure of our strange species.

[English editing by Michael Martin-Smith]

[033.AA.TDF.2005 - 04.11.2005]