Humanity is a very lonely species. We aren't unique in our ability to experience loneliness, by any means, there are many animals the world over that form and depend on groups for security and community. What sets us apart, the fundamental irony that makes us so alone is the scope of our capacity for loneliness. Throughout our history, we have searched the earth and skies and stars looking for someone, something, anything else that we can talk to and finally be reassured that we are not the solitary figure on this vast cosmic stage.
Our history is a testament to that loneliness.
As our understanding of what a small place in the universe we really stand in has grown, through century after painful, slow century of tiny achievements, our desire for someone else out there to talk to has been constant. In antiquity, the mysteries and magics of the world around us were not explained as vast, unknowable forces but as the actions of gods and goddesses, powerful beings who not only caused the lightning to fall, volcanoes to rise, and seasons to pass but who actively engaged in dealings with humanity. They were there, we could talk to them and they talked to us through the signs and portents of the natural world. Men could look to the sky and see the storm and know that their Father, Zeus, was alive and at work.
Science has since pulled the curtains back, ever so slightly, and we're beginning to understand those natural mysteries - that a natural process of cloud movement and electrical fields , not a wrathful Zeus, produces lightning. Once again, when faced with that and the chance that we do, in fact, stand solitary and alone we cannot give up that need, that search for someone else. Our gods have changed, we call them Allah or Jehovah or Brahman, but we still see their actions in the world around us, we talk to them through our prayers, hopes, dreams and fears. The world keeps turning, though, implacable and silent as we hurtle through space at more than 66,000 miles per hour. Even science, where there is so little room for gods and religion, looks to the sky with hope. The sky calls to us, we launch probes into the vast emptiness of space, shouting out to someone, anyone, anything that we are here, we want to talk, we want to know that we're not alone. We peer through telescopes at other planets, carefully test for some evidence of other life looking for proof, even microbial and microscopic, that something else might be there.
With silence from the gods and no response from the sky, we've even turned our attention to the animal world. We grasp at evidence that animals communicate and we try to learn what they're saying. We try to teach them to talk as well, or for us to learn their language. We say it's to learn more about the world around us, it's to pull back that curtain of magic and mystery a little further, but under it all, we're still searching for someone else to talk to, a voice to come back out of the darkness and tell us that it's OK, they're standing just out of sight, and that finally, after so many generations of searching, we're not alone.