OUR COSMIC STANCE
The Center's works combine the cosmic with the cultural in mapping media and destiny on Spaceship Earth.
Around the world, the human species is busy migrating to the electric metropolises and electronic screens, becoming ever more removed from nature and the cosmos. This mass migration makes it ever more important to ground cultural theory in our knowledge of the cosmos — as revealed by our most powerful media technologies.
Like all people and organizations, the Center has a worldview, an existential and philosophical stance toward the cosmos and culture that informs our thinking. Like the galaxy above, we hope our cosmic stance will warp some worldviews, perhaps yours. Below are 10 key ideas in our cosmic stance.
1. A HUMAN DESTINY: COSMOLOGY, ECOLOGY, TECHNOLOGY
Our long-term intellectual goal is the mapping and theorization of a species-based destiny, a cosmic destiny that is shared and universal for humanity, yet protects the planet and encourages long-term thinking. Given the dominant destinies and ideologies pursued by humans on our planet, this goal may seem delusional. It likely is.
But, since we are all passengers on Spaceship Earth, there is no escape from this responsibility. This destiny should be based on the cosmos as it is (not as we wish it was), as we best we understand it with our ever-evolving knowledge.
Our knowledge of the cosmos is directly linked to our media technologies. Our knowledge of the cosmos is based on our ability to make and represent discoveries about the universe via our ever-evolving media technologies. As our media technologies (telescopes, microscopes, etc.) have increased in power, our models of the universe have increased in age, size, scale, and complexity. This evolving and expanding universe is explained by science and represented in our arts, literature, and some aspects of pop culture. In fact, the Center draws upon artifacts of pop culture as starting points for deeper understandings and rethinking our destinies.
The starting point for a sane and sustainable destiny is the merger of cosmology, ecology, and technology into a species-based narrative represented through art, science, and cultural theory. The goal is a destiny that minimizes the harmful effects of tribalism, consumerism, theism, and irrationalism, while retaining the openness that enables the flourishing of cultural diversity and the emergence of new and better traditions. But that narrative and destiny must also provide for humans, collectively and individually, a life with wonder and meaning, reason and understanding, purpose and beauty, dignity and self-worth, benevolence and compassion, fun and humor, while providing a sense of integration with the planet and vast cosmos from which we emerged.
2. THERE IS NO EXIT FROM EXISTENCE
In the spirit of Jean-Paul Sartre, we realize there is no exit from existence. That means the Center accepts existence — all that is, was, or will ever be — as the starting point for everything, including the universe (or multiverse), human consciousness, and our species. "No exit" also means there is no escaping our freedom and responsibility to craft our destiny and determine our meaning from the new knowledge about existence and the cosmos.
Finding that meaning poses a philosophical challenge yet to be seriously met by secular philosophy and cultural theory, convulsing in the throes of relativism and cosmic vertigo, lost amidst the vastness of the big bang universe. If there is any real purpose and meaning to human existence, it comes from the cosmos in which our species and consciousness emerged, not from creation myths and the endless conflicts born of tribes claiming special destinies for "their people." Philosophy, biology, anthropology, and cosmology show that no tribe is inherently special on Spaceship Earth.
3. HUMANS ARE THE PRODUCT OF COSMIC EVOLUTION
There are three ways we view humans in the cosmos:
1) Humans are made of the universe, the products of eons of cosmic evolution, first in space and then on Earth. The most comment elements in the universe include hydrogen, helium, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen, which are produced in exploding stars. It is no surprise that the most common ingredients in the human body are hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon; and it should be no surprise that all humans also share 99.9% of the same DNA. So the universe runs through our veins and makes up every atom of our bodies.
2) Humans are self-aware stardust, as Carl Sagan said. The product of cosmic and biological evolution, the human species is made of elements from the universe and human consciousness emerged from those elements — meaning our species is stardust that has become self-aware. Our species emerged in Africa and has been migrating around the world for thousands of years, which means the human species is local, global, and cosmic.
3) Humans are passengers on Spaceship Earth, as Buckminster Fuller explained. We are passengers and there is no flight plan, except the laws of nature and the cosmos. Our planet evolved a single biosphere and ecosystem over 4 billion years, a complexity of systems shared by all species on the planet. The biosphere is local, global, and cosmic, as is human destiny.
4. HUMANS ARE NOT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Humans are a species of the universe, but they are not the center of the universe. In fact, humans are the center of nothing, except the satellites orbiting our planet. We have no special destiny as claimed by creation myths and sacred texts, which cannot account for the vast universe revealed by our sciences and cosmic media technologies.
Our home planet, Spaceship Earth, is on a journey through space and time, orbiting the sun at 67,000 miles per hour and zooming through the cosmos at 492,000 miles per hour, the speed at which the solar system orbits the center of the Milky Way (on a journey that takes 225 million years to complete an orbit). The observable universe is 13.7 billion years old, contains 100 billion galaxies, and is expanding at an ever-increasing velocity powered by vast voids and dark energy that are shoving the galaxies away. Here is a short video depiction of that universe.
5. EMBRACE THE VOIDS
The Center is existential and philosophical in its cosmic stance, unafraid to embrace the deepest questions posed by our media technologies and cosmologies, the vertiginous questions we all face as a species in a vast universe of which we are not the center. Since the very nature of existence requires humans confront nothingness — in our consciousness, our culture, our cosmos — the task of the future is to imagine new destinies in confronting the voids of what might be a meaningless universe.
In our projects, we welcome the voids, the nothingnesses, the emptinesses that are very real parts of the cosmos and human consciousness — from which emerge our freedom, responsibilities, and challenges, as individuals and as a species. If there is any meaning to this existence, any purpose to our destiny, then it is up to us to discover what the meaning and purpose might be.
6. COSMIC MEDIA ARE THE MOST RADICAL TECHNOLOGIES
Media technologies are central to art, science, knowledge, and human existence. There are two broad categories of media technologies — cosmic and social — that humans use to map their lives and give meaning to their existence, collectively and individually. Cosmic media technologies look outward toward the stars or our planet, while social media gaze inward at humans and their activities.
Across the millennia, humans have long used cosmic media to situate their civilization and themselves within the cosmos — from Stonehenge to the Sun Daggers, Earthrise to Pale Blue Dot, Galileo's telescope to the Hubble Space Telescope. Cosmic media technologies include geoglyphs, petrogylphs, telescopes, satellites, space probes, computers, and any other media technology that maps our place and planet in the cosmos. Cosmic media technologies are the most radical media technology, precisely because they have removed human existence from the center of the universe.
Social media technologies include language, writing, television, the conventional social media of today, and any other media tewchnology whose focus is human activity and identity. The recent acceleration of social media technologies is our existential consolation for the discoveries of cosmic media technologies, compensation for the revelation that we are not the center of the universe. In contrast to cosmic media, social media let us pretend we are the center of everything — such that outer space is countered by cyberspace, the space age by the face age, and Hubble by Facebook.
7. THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE
Media technologies are central to human existence, but they are not neutral in their effects. As Marshall McLuhan explained, the medium is the message and massage — meaning that each media technology has a greater effect on human consciousness than the specific messages of the media, precisely because each media technology massages human consciousness into ways of viewing and understanding the world. For example, the messages of the printing press include literacy, linear and deep thinking, individualism and nationalism, the mass societies of capitalism and socialism, and the spread of art, science, and freedom of expression. The messages of television include viewing is doing, image is everything, spectacle and staged events, surveillance and voyeurism, celebrity and sports culture, sound-bites and shrinking attention spans.
As media technologies expand in power, they transform our consciousness and how we view the cosmos, our planet, our species, and our selves. For example, consider the telescope, electric light, and electronic media. The telescope removed us from the center of the universe, radically altering how we see our place in the cosmos and our destinies in space and time. Electric light created a 24/7 civilization that removed the night sky, erasing the cosmos from much of human consciousness and placing us in the center of an electric universe. Electronic media connected humans around the planet, thus transforming the possibilites for building a human species-based global civilization. To read more, click here.
8. WE SEEK UNIVERSAL TRUTHS (NOT MONOCULTURE)
Since all humans share 99.9% of the same DNA and are comprised of the most common elements of the universe, the Center believes there there are some truths and destinies that are universal to our species, especially those verifiable truths that can shape better destinies for cultures and individuals on the planet. This is not a call for monoculture, but the recognition that humans have a shared destiny on this planet — as individuals and a species — and would benefit from a cosmology and culture grounded in the universe as best we understand it. We can have species universality and cultural diversity in a sustainable and shared global civilization that moves beyond war and exploitation.
In an age of hyperspecialization, fragmenting knowledge, shallow relativism, and all-too-real cultural differences, the Center's projects seek universal themes that appeal to the highest common denominator among the human species — the evolutionary product called the brain, the neural network comprising 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections that serves as home to our curiosity, creativity, reason, and futures and destinies.
The Center is open to new theory and knowledge of the universe and Spaceship Earth — as they emerge in the correlation of the theoretical, empirical, and verifiable. Theory and knowledge comes from the combination of the arts, humanities, and sciences. The sciences and technologies discover the new knowledge, while the arts and humanities combine with science to theorize, represent, and make meaning of that knowledge for the human species. Our theory of knowledge is presented below: Neither Gods Nor Fools.
9. THERE IS NO ONE TO SAVE US FROM OURSELVES, EXCEPT OUR SELVES
We accept that no one is going to save us, our civilization, or the ecosystems — no one, no entity, and no deity. Saving our species will be no miracles, no mystical salvations, no mythical superstitions, no movie superheros. The "one" is not Neo. The solution is not another super "man" — Batman, Superman, or Iron Man. Catwoman and Trinity are pretty cool, but they too cannot save our species.
The only solution to our long-term destiny is the human species — acting collectively and individually as enlightened and empowered beings. That's why the only "one" who can save ourselves is our selves, our species. The best chance we have is using our brains, which evolution provided with 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion neural links to create and store knowledge. And that's just a single brain. Collectively, all those neurons and links provide us with the expanding areas of art, science, knowledge, and human understanding of life and the cosmos, all made possible by the rapid evolution of media technologies. To paraphrase Carl Sagan's famous metaphor: since the Milky Way has at least 100 billion stars and our brains have 100 billion neurons, then we each have "a Milky Way in our minds." The product of cosmic evolution and powered by a galaxy of neurons, we need to think cosmically and act globally and locally.
10. WE ARE SOMETIMES DREAMERS
The Center is ambitious and serious in its embrace of "the big picture" regarding human destiny and the cosmos — what are we doing, where are we going, and what does it mean? That's why we are sometimes dreamers, but we see no reason why we should dumb down our discourse to satisfy the dominant memes and myths that are controlling culture and human consciousness to perpetuate war, bigotry, tribalism, exploitation, anti-intellectualism, government oppression, runaway consumerism, and ecological destruction. The only way to change the destiny of global culture is to challenge and change the dominant memes of the global consciousness. In a culture of incoherent ideologies and militant irrationalism, global sanity has to start somewhere and that somewhere is existence as it exists.
SUMMATION: OUR DESTINIES SHOULD BE COOL AND CHALLENGING
Since the evolving structure of the universe is the thermodynamic movement from hot to cool, why should our destinies not be cool and challenging, fun and exciting — not merely delusional, dystopian, and apocalyptic? If our destinies do not include awe, wonder, beauty, pleasure, humor, surprise, and a lot of cool and challenging ideas, then they are not very desirable futures. That's why we like to have fun while exploring serious topics, mixing pop culture with high concepts — art and science, theory and technology, and documentary and science-fiction films.
WHAT WE CAN KNOW: We are neither gods nor fools
We live in a post-millennial age torn between claims of: 1) sheer relativism and radical uncertainty, or 2) cosmic commands from mythical deities in the sky. This schism poses challenges and questions. Why should the Center think long term about "big futures" when science reveals a universe of "uncertainty" and complexity? Why jettison the creation myths and sacred texts believed for two millennia by most people on Earth?
Such questions are addressed in our Cosmic Stance (above) and Chapter 9 ("Is Their Cosmic Meaning for Our Existence?") of Barry Vacker's book: The End of the World — Again. Barry is the founder and director of the Center. Here is one of the book's key passages, which summarizes the Center's theory of knowledge and what we can know:
"Situated on our planet, we are not gods. Neither are we fools. (Well, let’s ignore the news for a few moments and stick to philosophy and science.)
Chaos theory transforms how we understand knowledge and human certainty. In The Postmodern Condition, Jean-Francois Lyotard summarizes this challenge:
Postmodern science — by concerning itself with such things as undecidables, the limits of precise control, conflicts characterized by incomplete information, “fracta,” catastrophes, and pragmatic paradoxes — is theorizing its own evolution as discontinuous, catastrophic, nonrectifiable, and paradoxical. It is changing the meaning of the word knowledge, while expressing how such a change can take place. It is producing not the known, but the unknown.
Lyotard is right, in a sense. But we are producing more of the known and unknown together. More known implies more unknown. Yet such uncertainty should not be mistaken for utter ignorance. That we are expanding the unknown is the natural product of expanding the known in a universe of staggering complexity at the micro- and macroscales.
Science and some postmodern/hypermodern philosophy can be embraced without a commitment to naïve empiricism or empty relativism. We are not omniscient beings, and our methods of knowing have natural limits. Such limits are determined by evolution and the cosmos. Knowledge is asymmetrical, evolving, and open ended. Like the cosmos from which we emerged, our models of the universe are always evolving and adapting to new evidence, new theories, and new technologies. Over time, some theories prove to be true, such as gravity, evolution, and relativity; others are proven false, such as geocentrism, the notion of a flat Earth, and the steady-state universe. It is natural that theory evolves, and such evolution does not mean all knowledge is relative.
This is not to say science is perfect or omniscient, but it is the best we have for understanding the world from which we evolved. The imperfections in science and human understanding reflect the very nature of knowledge and how it is acquired. Over time, science does its best to discard theories that lack evidence and builds upon theories with verifiable evidence and predictability. The same process should hold true for all our fields of human inquiry and cultural theory. The big bang theory and chaos theory are supported by mountains of empirical evidence and provide models that offer various levels of verifiable predictions, even with the unpredictability of chaos and complexity. Because of the increasing power of media technologies, our knowledge of the universe is expanding rapidly, but always evolving. The fact that science evolves is often used to question scientific authority in matters of cosmic truth, but this is a flawed critique rooted in human yearnings for omniscience and eternal truths, mistakenly believed available to nonempirical, nonevidentiary modes of awareness. Science is not omniscient, and neither is any other field of human knowing.
Human knowledge is evolutionary and open ended, always subject to revision when presented with new facts, conditions, theories, and evidence from new media technologies. That’s why some predictions prove to be correct and some prove to be false. That’s why science is filled with surprising discoveries and big disappointments. It is natural that we are expanding the known and unknown, which is why there is a void in cosmic meaning.
If knowledge, certainty, and prediction signifies the complete grasp of every possibility in the entire universe, then we are left with the false alternatives of being either omniscient gods or ignorant fools. If certainty and prediction mean omniscience, then we must certainly be ignorant now and blind to the future. From the fact that we cannot know everything, it does not follow that we cannot understand anything — that we are not gods does not mean we are fools."
 Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, 60.
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