Is 42 the final answer or should I phone a friend?
Even existential dilemmas have become super complicated these days.
There’s a visceral concept in Zen Buddhism called enso, which explores the eloquence of the circle, a form that embodies both void and completeness. Circles are microscopic (as with the nucleolus in the cell of the smallest living organism) and massive, as with the sun. They also marked the beginning and end of my academic ambitions, calligraphied in red by my teachers, even though they weren’t Zen monks. Sadly, my parents saw only the void, while I chose to focus on the completeness.
Now here I am, more complete than a neatly cracked Sudoku. There’s no P, H or D attached to my name, but that doesn’t prevent me from dusting off the old cerebral cells occasionally, and taking them out for a walk. Thus, in one of my ambles down the dusty corridors of my cerebrum, I stumbled upon a word that refuses to recede. It is this: testosterone. That’s where it’s all at, isn’t it? Testosterone is what jump-started our magnificent civilisation, and it’s very likely to be the cause of its sorry end. Enso.
We can’t say we weren’t warned, people. Nostradamus tried pretty hard; we labelled him a crazy old coot. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed and even poor old Gandhi gave it a shot, but we stuck our fingers in our ears and went ‘La la la la la’, dismissing them as men with hidden agendas. What is our defence now, against the ominous predictions of undeniably the smartest and sanest man alive today? In a public forum in London’s Science Museum last month, Dr Stephen Hawking urgently reiterated that human aggression, unchecked as it is today, is most likely to do us in. On an earlier occasion, he had postulated three possible ends to human civilisation, but last month he confirmed that violence and self-destruction seemed to be coming up near the finish line of the human race. And, no, being gobbled up by a hungry black hole wasn’t among the other two options. According to Hawking’s scientific calculations, our end will be in the hands of artificial intelligence, or not-so-artificial aliens or, finally, via our very own and very real aggression.
Let’s consider artificial intelligence. Prime suspect: Siri, the genie in the smartphone. I’ve always thought of him/her as a shifty, ambiguous and insouciant character, too full of itself. I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if there’s a coup being masterminded by you-know-who, to topple poor old Google and become the self-appointed, invisible Kaiser of the information highway. I swear I heard him say, “Hasta la vista, baby”, the other night, when my brat told him to er… buzz off.
Somehow, though, as long as our trusty desi lads keep crunching binary codes in Palo Alto and building space probes for NASA, I feel no threat from the mechanical Orwellian world. My hunch is that if ever there’s a war between man and machine, women will be safe — because it’s all about the base. The base testosterone level. We’re cooked only if the bots unleash a Jude Law sexbot, because I don’t know a single human female (and I suspect this phenomenon is gender agnostic) who would not gladly surrender to it.
Next up, Big Brother — bored stalkers from outer space, looking for some action on the third rock from the sun. Fortunately, thanks to Dick Solomon, we know that this species of highly evolved narcissists can’t keep their superior intelligence in their pants, so big giveaway. Another threat could come from shrewd life forms with pointy ears, frustrated by our impenetrable denseness and absurd refusal to get the big picture. These guys can be melted into a puddle of confused ectoplasm by simply carpet-bombing them with a range of high-octave emotions. And, finally, how would we handle a fleet of desperate extraterrestrials, like the Na’vis of Pandora, fleeing from some cosmic catastrophe, looking for shelter on Earth? Duh — invite them home. Ladies, have you seen the length of their… legs? The shortest of them is ten feet tall. Do the math.
Moving on, here’s the scariest scenario. What if you’re trying to kill an alien which is actually you, back from the future, attempting to share some deep, dark secret that will literally rock your world? There are so many levels of scary here. 1) What you would look like after 200 years. 2) If you succeed in killing your future self, how did you make it to the future? 3) What is that critical secret that brings you back to a planet that is hopelessly collapsing around you? 4) Why can’t you just get a double promotion if you score well in the past, skip the present and go straight to the future? Even schools allow that. Not fair.
As a self-respecting human, I am conditioned to respond to conflict in two ways: fight or flight. First response: run. Bail out. Escape (from myself, if I have to). It does seem to be the nobler, less violent option. And, if Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic’s celebranaut waitlist is any indication, it is the preferred one, especially by those who can afford to vamoose. Princess Beatrice, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Justin Bieber, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise and Brad and Angelina are all standing by for the hyperspace jump. Branson will be dancing with the stars, on the moon, when the Vogons come for the rest of us.
Closer home, given the speed with which the Mangalyaan shot into space, I suspect our government knows something we don’t. What if the galactic hyperspace bypass has actually been approved by our extraordinarily progress-driven government, which thinks it’s a high-speed internet scheme for connectivity in villages? The aliens land up with a colossal wrecking ball, our politicians utter the magic words “Beam me up, Scotty” and Mangalyaan, zips into action. From what I hear, Rahul Gandhi was the sole volunteer for the trial run.
If you follow the scent, it leads right back, in a very enso-esque way, to where we started — human aggression, the loudest, most irrational form of testosterone, which is sloshing about abundantly across the planet these days. Rebellious teens are going on shooting sprees instead of sulking and smoking pot. The global stock market is booming, and despite being the highest traded commodity, women still have a suspiciously low value. My god is wiser than yours. My pay cheque’s got more zeros. My girlfriend’s hotter than yours. My laws override yours. My selfie’s got more likes. My device is way smarter. My car costs more than yours. My digital footprint is bigger than yours. My opinion matters more than yours. And, finally, my fist is heavier than yours, and if it isn’t, my gun certainly is. Bam. The big bang theory that’s been in play since the dawn of time. We came into existence with a bang, so it figures that’s just how we should leave too, doesn’t it Dr Hawking?
In fact, given that our egos are way larger than our value for life, the exit bang must be bigger and better, since there must be someone watching from somewhere. The point is, we’ve come full circle. Perhaps the end of the world isn’t really the end of the world, but the beginning of new life. You know what they say about life beginning at 42, right? I suspect it’s at a restaurant at the end of the universe, and I think Dr Hawking has a table reserved.
Priya mirchandani is an independent writer and editor