In my discussion with colleagues about Philip Kitcher’s book Living With Darwin we discussed the concept of the history of the universe thus far being hard to understand as merely a “3-billion year long curtain-raiser” to get us to the main act, which is us, humanity. Certainly some religious language and traditions may give this impression or even embrace this viewpoint. If you ask me, I doubt that the curtain raiser is over yet. This is still the overture, the prelude to Act 1. I realize that this will perhaps lead some to make comparisons between God and Wagner, and perhaps such comparisons would not be entirely inappropriate. Some are interested only in shows that are short and sweet, where the plot is easy to follow. Epic stories, however, take a long time even to introduce, and even longer to tell the story in all its important details and dramatic elements. The story of the universe is just such an epic story.
When will ‘act 1’ of the history of the universe really begin? Perhaps when we make contact with other civilizations, and we begin to have a genuine interconnectedness on a galactic rather than merely a terrestrial level. That would be a major step towards the next major evolutionary development in the history of the universe, what George Zebrowski called Macrolife.
The mistake, then, is not in thinking that there could be a period of billions of years that is but an introduction. The error is in thinking that the introduction is over, that humanity in its present form, still struggling to figure out how to live together, is the climax of the universe’s story. The story is far from finished. It has barely started. And what still lies in store we can scarcely imagine. Nevertheless, imagining it is important, for without attempts to imagine our unimaginable future, we cannot take the tiny steps that are our part in the universe’s ongoing history.
The overture is still playing, and we are the orchestra. If we stop playing, if we live as though our musical introduction is all there is, then instead of a 3-billion year curtain-raiser, we shall have a 3-billion year unfinished work that ends tragically.