Saturday, February 14, 2015

Should we reach out to the stars?

When we meet a civilization from another planet, it will almost certainly be much more advanced than ours just because ours is so new. The question here is will they treat us the way we treat less advanced and weaker civilizations? If so, we should beware. But how likely is that? 

Our European-grown global civilization, descended from the great Roman slave empire, has a quite extraordinary record of discovering new (to us) civilizations around the globe and conquering, plundering and consuming or destroying them. There have been voices denouncing this practice for a long time, voices of the victims and of radical critics from Padre Las Casas to Mark Twain, but It's only in the past century that any serious effort has been made by governments to restrain or reform our predatory practices. So it's only natural that we imagine this is what others would do to us. 

There have been many science fiction stories and films, starting with HG Wells' classic War of the Worlds, where aliens discover and trying to conquer or destroy us. One awesome recent science fiction film, Avatar, turned the story on its head and told of the plundering of a distant planet inhabited by intelligent beings - by us! But ultimately all these stories are not about alien life, about which we know nothing. They are about ourselves. Only a few, like ET, Close Encounters and Carl Sagan's Contact, depict aliens as benign. 

So how likely is it, really, that an alien civilization would be dangerous to us? I think it's unlikely. 

Any civilization that reaches our level of development must either bring its predatory phase to a close or destroy itself. That is the moment we are in. They will have survived and gone beyond it. 

Second, the distances are so impossible in terms of a human life-span that the only thing we really have that they could want is our story. 

The huge benefit of contact to us would be hope, hope that we too could survive our predatory phase, that humanity could have a future. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pain-killers are not the problem. It's our attitude toward Pain!

I commend Maura Healey for her promise of action in support of heroin recovery programs. I hope she continues to work with all the great people coming together to deal with addiction issues. But we as a people have to come to terms with a deeper issue: our attitude toward pain. 

I was just released from UMass Med. The care I received, from physicians, nurses, PCA's was wonderful. Its weaknesses were those not just those of American medicine but of America, and one of those was their attitude toward pain. 

As they poked, stuck and prodded, cleaned and swabbed and asked me to put a number on my pain, almost every time I flinched or grunted or reported a pain they treated it as a problem. I was told 1000 times how sorry they were something hurt, asked 100 times if I wanted something for pain - with the attitude of course I would. 

No, I didn't. No I don't. I was reporting to them as clearly and promptly as I could what was hurting, because they needed to know. 

Pain is not a terrible thing to be avoided at all costs. Pain is first of all information being sent from somewhere in your body to your brain that something needs attention. Or from one part of your brain to another. Knowing when and how to override our body's reaction to pain is something we must learn as we grow older. Yes there are times when we need to make our pain shut up. But generally it's something to pay close attention to, and if you figure out and deal with what it is saying, it usually fades to background. 

When I left, my physicians insisted I take another prescription for Oxycodone, even though I told them I'd only used one pill from the last batch. (I was sorry I did!) 

With that attitude toward pain no wonder there are so many addicts. Heroin, coke, speed, pain pills, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, love, even 12-step programs, the list of addictions is endless. Human beings need to fully commit to something larger than ourselves, such as family, neighbors, community, even humanity. 

The more we do, the less our pain matters.