RIP Freeman Dyson: Disturbing the Universe

“Disturbing the Universe.”

“The question that will decide our destiny is not whether we shall expand into space. It is: shall we be one species or a million? A million species will not exhaust the ecological niches that are awaiting the arrival of intelligence.

“When we are a million species spreading through the galaxy, the question ‘Can man play God and still stay sane?’ will lose some of its terrors. We shall be playing God, but only as local deities and not as lords of the universe. There is safety in numbers. Some of us will become insane, and rule over empires as crazy as Doctor Moreau’s island. Some of us will shit on the morning star. There will be conflicts and tragedies. But in the long run, the sane will adapt and survive better than the insane. Nature’s pruning of the unfit will limit the spread of insanity among species in the galaxy, as it does among individuals on earth. Sanity is, in its essence, nothing more than the ability to live in harmony with nature’s laws.
. . .
“I have told this story of the greening of the galaxy as if it were our destiny
to be nature’s first attempt at an intelligent creature. If there are other
intelligences already at large in the galaxy, the story will be different. The
galaxy will become even richer in variety of life styles and cultures. We must only be careful not to let our wave of expansion overwhelm and disrupt the ecologies of our neighbors. Before our expansion beyond the solar system begins, we must explore the galaxy thoroughly with our telescopes, and we must know enough about our neighbors to come to them as friends rather than as invaders. The universe is large enough to provide ample living space for all of us. But if, as seems equally probable, we are alone in our galaxy and have no intelligent neighbors, earth’s life is still large enough in potentialities to fill every nook and cranny of the universe. The expansion of life over the universe is a beginning, not an end. At the same time as life is extending its habitat quantitatively, it will also be changing and evolving qualitatively into new dimensions of mind and spirit that we cannot imagine. The acquisition of new territory is important, not as an end in itself, but as a means to enable life to experiment with intelligence in a million forms.”

– Freeman Dyson, “The Greening of the Galaxy.”

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