Brett: Knowledge is what transforms the world. We can take some raw material that has no particular use and within that raw material, we can find uranium nuclei, which then can be used to create bombs or energy in a nuclear reactor. We can find within something that for almost the entire geological existence of the earth sat there inert and would have done nothing, absent people. People are the entities within the universe that create explanations. They’re able to explain what raw materials might be transformed into.
Now, what are they transforming these raw materials into? Civilization. People creating knowledge end up becoming literally a force of nature.
If we seek to explain something like the shape of a galaxy or the shape of a star, any astrophysicist will give you a story based upon the laws of physics about how gravity will pull things into spheres, how the laws of thermodynamics will cause certain kinds of gas to heat up and expand. All of the known laws of physics are sufficient to explain what we see out there in the cosmos.
But the laws of physics alone will not be able to explain the appearance of Manhattan. You have to invoke things other than merely the fundamental laws of physics. You need to invoke the existence of people and their capacity to explain the world scientifically, philosophically and politically. It’s all of those things that will come together to explain why we have certain structures like skyscrapers in Manhattan.
This is a profound idea. It’s an idea that seems to have been overlooked by scientists, many of whom have a reductionist idea about how to explain what we see in our environment. They seek to explain only the natural phenomena that are in an environment.
Of course, everyone wants to know how the laws of nature work. But if we want to understand how the universe is going to evolve over time, whether it’s locally on our own planet or, eventually, the galaxy, we’re going to have to talk about the knowledge that people create and the choices that they’re going to make into the future.
This is a different vision of the place of people in the universe.