THE SUPREMACY OF MAN

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THE SUPREMACY OF MAN

We need another and a  wiser and perhaps mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, a man in civilisation surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth”

wrote Henry Beston, in praise of all animals with whom man shares this Planet Earth.

The Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy constructed an earth- centred model, that remained intact for over one thousand years. He was even able to explain the apparent backward motions of the outer planets which we know now are due to the faster-moving earth catching up with them. 

However, In the 18th century, Copernicus abolished the primacy of our planet within the solar system… Copernicus felt that the motions of stellar bodies could be explained easily by assuming the earth to be just one planet among equals, all orbiting the sun. 

Subsequently, Darwin in the 19th century abolished the primacy of man on earth.

Charles Darwin

Darwin offered a convincing theory to explain how humans could have evolved from lower organisms through a process of” natural selection” without bringing in the idea of divine intervention. It was proved that man was simply the most evolved creature during a  particular infinitesimal period of the earth’s long history—the present.

In his poem” Lotus- Eaters” written one 1832, Tennyson uses two metaphors” roof and crown “ for describing mankind’s position at the top of creation. Though Tennyson must have been aware of the heliocentric theory of  Copernicus, he would not have been aware of Darwin’s “ theory of “natural selection” which was published only in 1860. Naturally, he believed in the supremacy of man.

However, a few scientists, particularly those working in the field of quantum theory are beginning to question the theory of Copernicus, about the insignificance of the earth in the Solar system and Darwin’s theory about the insignificance of man on earth.

In an ironical and perverse sense, Quantum physicists seem to agree with the creationists before Copernicus and assert that man is at the centre of the things but for an entirely different reason – not because some divine power ordained it, but because of the apparently inexplicable laws of Quantum Mechanics.

Two theories seemed to support this new trend of thought that the earth and mankind have special relevance. The first theory is known as the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) according to which the forces of the universe have deliberately conspired to create us. If for example, certain physical and physiological constants were slightly different, we would not be here at all. If the electromagnetic forces were a bit weaker or a bit stronger so as to influence the position of protons and electrons with respect to the nucleus the elements we are made of would not exist. Similarly, if the earth were a bit farther from or closer to the sun, we would not exist. This proves that there was a purpose in creation and the appearance of man on earth But this theory is not convincing, as it conveniently ignores the fact that man shares the planet with millions of species of animals. It’s just that he enjoys a pre-eminent place because of two mental faculties, intelligence and imagination 

Anthropic Principle

Quantum physicists postulate another theory known as the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP). According to this principle, the universe exists because we exist. Some people would be to tempt to dismiss such a notion as absurd speculation without basis, but the fact that this theory has emerged as one of the important consequences of Quantum Mechanics has naturally compelled scientists to take it seriously.

One of the apparently illogical axioms of the Quantum Theory is that the person conducting an experiment creates the phenomenon observed by him. In support of this conclu­sion, science writer Michael Talbot refers to a so-called ” thought experi­ment” devised by Nobel Laureate Erwin Schrodinger. In order to perform this hypothetical experiment, one has to imagine a live cat in a room, a vessel of poison gas, a radioactive sample, a counter to detect radio-active decay and an observer who stands outside the sealed room. The vessel of poison is so arranged as to break and release the poison if the counter detects the radioactive decay of an atom in the sample that according to the laws of probability has a 50 per cent chance of decaying.

THE SUPREMACY OF MAN

It is not possible to know if the cat is alive or dead unless the observer opens the sealed room and looks inside, to ascertain the outcome. In other words, to this observer, the precise math­ematical way to describe the situation inside the locked room is a superposition of states until of course, he looks inside. Let us assume that the entire arrangement consisting of the cat, the counter, the vessel containing poison gas, the room and also the observer represents a closed system. If now this observer has taken a look inside, then to a second observer outside this closed system, the first observer’s knowledge of what has been found inside has the same dual state of the cat’s existence, until this first observer, in turn, communicates the knowledge to the second observer. Thus it becomes an endless chain of observers.

One may wonder how can the cat be both alive and dead at the same time? Common sense would reject such as theory. But common sense has been found to be inadequate to explain many phenomena as Quantum mechanics has now proved.

We cannot know what goes on in the box unless we look inside. Quantum physicists would like us to believe that the case of the cat is the same as the question concerning an electron i.e. whether it can be a particle and a wave at the same time.

Physicists like Eugene Wigner and John Wheeler now consider the possibil­ity that the whole universe exists only because its existence is being observed by us i.e. intelligent human beings. They conceive of the creation and evolution of the universe as one of the logical theorems based on the principle of Schrodinger’s Cat Paradox.  

Put briefly if the man were not there, the universe would not exist- an absurd and unacceptable hypothesis notwithstanding the fact that it has the sanction of quantum mechanics.

It also seems odd, to say the least, that in the vast immensities of astronomical space, and geological time in a minor planet, which itself is a mere satellite of a medium-sized star called the sun, in an insignificant galaxy, a series of extremely improbable events had led to the appearance of a phenomenon called life. It is even odder that another set of strange biological laws gradually made that primitive life form to evolve into other life forms and finally into a creature that is able to study itself and its environment in innumerable ways. Why has such an advanced life form, as we flatter ourselves to be, been relegated to a small planet inside a small solar system in the remote corner of an insignificant galaxy in the universe? I am therefore inclined to agree with physicists who reject the conclusions of quantum theory that the universe exists only because we are able to observe it. There is no known biological or physical law to support such a theory. There is also no biological theory to suggest that man is the most important life form on earth. As mentioned earlier, It’s just that two faculties, intelligence and imagination have given him an unfair and temporary advantage over all other life forms with whom he shares this planet. 

As David Attenborough observed while beautifully  summing, up as only he can,  man’s achievements on Earth, and also delivering  his final verdict on man’s precarious position here upon” this bank and shoal of time”

David Attenborough

“ This is the last programme in this natural history, and it’s very different from all the others because it’s been devoted to just one animal: ourselves. And that may have been a very misleading thing to have done. It may have given the impression that somehow man was the ultimate triumph of evolution, that all those thousands of millions of years of development had no purpose other than to put the man on Earth. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever for such a belief. No reason to suppose that man’s stay on Earth should be any longer than that of the dinosaurs. He may have learned how to control his environment, how to pass on information from one generation to another, but the very forces of evolution that brought him into existence here on these African plains are still at work elsewhere in the world, and if the man were to disappear, for whatever reason, there is doubtless somewhere some small, unobtrusive creature that would seize the opportunity and, with a spurt of evolution, take man’s place. But although denying a special place in the world may be becomingly modest, the fact remains that man has unprecedented control over the world and everything in it. And so, whether he likes it or not, what happens next is very largely up to him.”

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