The Misguided Quest for Other Worldliness
Why the determined effort to achieve an off-Earth existence?
Why, in particular, when arguably the strongest force in the universe (at least on an astronomical scale), the one that holds the sun, planets, and galaxies in place and keeps the whole meta-thing precariously balanced, constantly warns us not to?
In our physical quest to escape Earthly bounds, our biggest opponent is gravity — but gravity is not only our adversary — it is the bane of the entire universe, an unrelenting super-force pushing and pulling gargantuan bodies caught up in an eternal power struggle. One person’s small puny efforts to challenge his/her own limited instance of gravity on Earth seems insignificant in comparison.
Underlying our Earthly understanding of gravity seems to be the unassailable logic that we can count on it to keep us securely attached to our planet, and also to prevent us from flying away from it. Gravity, like everything else in the universe (except for rascal-y sub-atomic particles), obeys the law governing it:
A particle attracts every other particle in the universe using a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
If we go up against the law of gravity, we’re in trouble. Examples abound: anything from falling from a step-stool while trying to reach that jar of olives on the top shelf of the pantry, to the much less forgiving results of plunging (with a stricken airplane and everyone and everything else aboard) from the sky, to the impending and unavoidable cosmic disaster that will occur when one body is captured by the gravitational force of another more massive body, gradually pulled toward an unavoidable collision and subsequent obliteration. Disobeying gravity has some serious consequences.
So why do we keep trying?
Because we don’t actually believe we belong here. We are not only citizens of the Earth; we are citizens of the universe. It’s like living in a grandiose mansion but only being allowed to explore one tiny cubicle within it. If we believe we are still in our evolutionary cradle, the room we are confined to is the nursery. We have to stay put until we grow up enough to explore safely and intelligently beyond its confines. The place we live may be lovely and safe, but it is also restrictive.
As the relatively few who have traveled into space have quickly learned, all our notions about gravity — and our relation to it — change drastically the moment we expand our zone beyond this specific instance — gravity on Earth. Everyday actions like reaching, stepping, eating and drinking require retraining in order to live effectively in microgravity. Orientation as to what is up and what is down disappears in weightlessness; one must master float-ability, bounce-ability and more.
Only a few have lived for a year or more in microgravity; we are just beginning to understand its long-term effects on our bodies. Space travelers to distant worlds will require hours of exercise per day just to keep muscles from atrophying, bones from disintegrating, and the heart from shrinking. The body must be constantly urged to maintain its condition — the one oriented to the specific instance of gravity as we know it. But that’s only to insure the traveler’s ability to return and readapt to gravity on Earth. No one has ever left without intending to come back home.
Relocating permanently to a different world will require another type of conditioning, one that will gradually disavow Earthly gravity while enabling the human body to adjust to its unique gravitational environment. The process will not be easy; the body will react, protest, suffer, and perhaps if one survives all that, will adapt. It will have to be humans who evolve, because gravity does not vary. Only our relation to it — and that depends on our location within the universe.
The ultimate consequence of achieving physical otherworldliness would not be inhabiting multiple worlds (assuming different gravities on each — about one-third on Mars, one-sixth on the moon), but adapting to, and needing to stay put on, another world. The whole time we are thinking we’re becoming otherworldly, we’re actually just relocating to a different world, and the “other” world we’d yearn for then would be our no-longer-home planet Earth.
Image source: New Old Stock