The human jettisoned in space

A Mosaic Image of the Crab Nebula, Hubble, 2005. The Independent

It is The Indpendent’s turn today to get all doe-eyed over NASA’s hubble telescope photographs of far away detritus (yesterday’s pics were from The Times).

Happily – as I’m in the mood for writing – this is all pretty pertinent to philosophy today, and the Independent – albeit unwittingly – explains just why:

‘When Galileo constructed his first telescope in the early years of the 17th Century, it allowed him to record the phases of Venus, to pick out spots on the surface of the Sun, and to discover the four moons of Jupiter that would later take his name.

But no early Italian genius of astronomy could ever have conceived of the images that today’s most famous telescope have given us. Since the space shuttle Discovery left it dangling in the heavens on 24 April 1990, Nasa’s Hubble Telescope has produced unfathomably beautiful photographs of expanding supernovas six light years wide; thousands-strong clusters of stars held together by their own gravity; far, far away galaxies resembling deep-sea creatures; echoing black holes and vast, glowing clouds of hydrogen gas, floating somewhere out in the dark.’

The Universe changes form year on year, according to new discoveries. The crucial question for philosophy – for those who haven’t been following the correlationist vs. OOP/SR debate – is over whether what we discover is what was already there, or whether what we discover comes into being as and when we discover it.

We could rather turn things around by jettisoning some human made objects in space – suppose they are art objects – then asking whether they hold any ‘meaning’ or ‘value’ (the kind bestowed on objects by humans) millions of years from now, when humanity no longer exists (assuming that might well be the case). We might go further, and jettison a human in space, in a sealed craft, with perhaps some means of it resisting the aging process. This will no doubt be possible in time. Maybe a small group of humans, hermetically sealed in floating oxygen bubble (like the floating foetus at the end of 2001 Space Oddyssey, but multiplied). They might interact in limited ways, create a psychic bond even. Yet devoid of stimulus, devoid of an overarching outer meaning bestowed upon these beings what would they amount to? Would they exist before their dicovery by aliens, and would those aliens take them to be what they were held to be when they were jettiosned in space by their scientist forebears some millenia before?

In a sense this is the question over what intrinsic meaning life on Earth might have if we admit of humanity’s base objectivity. For one could argue that just as questions over the nature of the existence of the Crab Nebula (above) prior to its discovery still resound in philosophy* (and they haven’t been adequately buried by Brassier, Harman, et al., not yet, at any rate), it might also be asked over whether humanity can be said to exist prior to its discovery! This is the price of Rationalism, and it is arguably to art we must look in circumventing the nihilistic implication which abound in a Universe devoid of meaning. For art is the ‘just because’** the ‘why not?’ which may give the impetus for humanity to take a decent moral path despite its base meaninglessness.

* And this is not to say for a moment that it is at all possible that the Crab Nebula didn’t exist prior to its discovery by man. But at the same time it is beyond denial that the human subject is the vehicle of philosophy, and it must remain that only everything within the purview of that vehicle might be philosophised upon, otherwise philosophy extends beyond its own realm into a hegenomy over the object (in assuming to know that object, when it can’t). It is in this sense that we must stop philosophy at the bounds of what is perceivable, and not because Post-Kantian philosophers really think that thought manifests the World and Universe. I don’t know of a philosopher that was daft enough to say that. All ‘correlationists’ I can think of work out from within the limits of the knowable, rather than arguing that what exists is limited to what is known, that is the very point of Kant’s ‘noumenon’… there could not be an unknown thing in itself if all existence was manifested in human thought. Arguments to the contrary – which abound in OOP and SR circles – are a mis-representation.

** The ambiguity here is deliberate it is ‘just [only] because’ and a ‘just‘ because (in terms of ‘justice’).

Creative Commons License
Questo/a opera è pubblicato sotto una Licenza Creative Commons. This work is published under a creative commons licence. You may distribute but not sell or change the work. Credit Mike Watson.

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