That’s when Arthur C. Clarke said we will start building a space elevator. A ridiculous sounding (yet smart and doable) idea, the space elevator would work like spinning a jump rope around your head. Go fast enough and the rope stays in place. Centrifugal force. The earth is constantly in motion so simply make a long enough jump rope and it will go all the way to space, moving yet standing still. Then we won’t need extremely costly jet fuel just to get to the heavens. Instead we’ll ride in Swiss ski lift-style gondoliers on that long rope floating like a street magician’s trick into the outer darkness, the beginning of space. From there we can glide much easier into the abyss. Space would be a few minute ride away.
Chris Impey, a British astronomer was talking on NPR recently about the elevator and how it will change us. With simpler transport, soon the day will come when we will conceive and birth the first human in space. That moment will surely signal a shift in human evolution. The body will show marked physical adaptations in a few generations. These new space babies will earn a new fancy latin name. Spaceus Sapiens? But putting physical evolution aside for a moment, these true life Star Children will act as a cultural hinge between those who were born and die on earth and those who will die among the stars. They will take from our existing culture and mix it with what concerns them. Of course life for them, literarily time and space, will be experienced quite differently.
Will they have a need for religion? If they do, what would it look like?
Impey also spoke about being asked to teach astronomy to Buddhist monks. Part of the Dalai Lama’s new initiative to bring Buddhism into the future. The Lama says he does not want Buddhism to end up in the museum. He even went as far as stating that if science proved his beliefs wrong, he would change them. And on some questions, he has. A new report out this week says the numbers of people identifying as Christian in the US is down. Perhaps firebreathing literalist science-denying evangelicals could take a page from the Lama’s book. What if we took the beauty of religion, the quiet reflecting on our place in the universe and our deaths and refocused it on unanswered cosmological questions instead of using it as a political opiate?
Questions about eternal return have been part of religion for centuries but physicists have only been seriously thinking in those terms in the past few decades. Both kinds of investigations are necessary in the shaping of future culture. The intellectual, but also the spiritual.
It’s the shift in the way we ask questions. If someone asked you if a rope can stand vertically without your help you would likely say no because the laws of gravity would force it to the ground. But in fact it’s those very laws of gravity that make it possible for a rope to defy logic and stand vertically by itself, you just have to reimagine the question. You must shift your perspective. Spiritual thinking does just that. Science depends on radical outsiders to bring profoundly new thinking to the table. That’s how breakthroughs happen.
Arthur C. Clarke came up with the idea of the Star Child in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Many astronauts have profound revelations upon seeing the earth as a whole. “That’s a powerful experience,” wrote astronaut Edgar Mitchell, “to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon]. And I suddenly realized that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in the spacecraft and my partners had been prototyped, maybe even manufactured, in some ancient generation of stars. But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… And that was accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”
Could there really be a hybrid religion/science? Maybe 50 years after people stop laughing.