Stanley Kubrick was one the great talents of the 20th century. Stanley was not only a master of film and a brilliant artist, he was also a great thinker.
After the release of his 1968 masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, Kubrick was asked in an interview about the religious themes of the film and elaborated as follows:
“I will say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001 but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of God. I don’t believe in any of Earth’s monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of God, once you accept the fact that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, that each star is a life-giving sun and that there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in just the visible universe. Given a planet in a stable orbit, not too hot and not too cold, and given a few billion years of chance chemical reactions created by the interaction of a sun’s energy on the planet’s chemicals, it’s fairly certain that life in one form or another will eventually emerge. It’s reasonable to assume that there must be, in fact, countless billions of such planets where biological life has arisen, and the odds of some proportion of such life developing intelligence are high. Now, the sun is by no means an old star, and its planets are mere children in cosmic age, so it seems likely that there are billions of planets in the universe not only where intelligent life is on a lower scale than man but other billions where it is approximately equal and others still where it is hundreds of thousands of millions of years in advance of us. When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made in a few millennia—less than a microsecond in the chronology of the universe—can you imagine the evolutionary development that much older life forms have taken? They may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities—and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans.”
Kubrick’s description of god seems not only plausible to me (unlike that of the popular religions) but maybe even very likely.
The estimated number of stars in the observable universe is 300 sextillion [source] (300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 1 billion times 1 billion times 3 hundred thousand). The average number of planets per star is at least 1 [source](some have many planets, some have none). If we imagine that out of all these planets only 1% of them lie in the warm ‘habitable zone’ of their solar systems, and of those only 1% have developed life, and of all of those only 1 in a million have developed intelligent life, we are still left with 30,000,000,000,000 planets with intelligent life. That’s 30 trillion planets hosting intelligent life right now. I think Kubrick was right to assume that there might be very many civilizations throughout the universe more advanced than ours. [This conclusion is of course contingent on many, many variables. See ‘Drake equation‘ for more info.]
It is no doubt futile for us to try to imagine a civilization or life-form millions of years more advanced than us but I think it is safe to assume that they would be nothing short of god-like. There might be some absolute limits like time travel or superluminal (faster than light) travel that even they cannot break, but given enough time they might become like Kubrick describes above: ‘…beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities… limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans.’
It seems to me that the universe is just too vast, there are just too many stars and planets, and such incredible spans of time for there not to be at least a few instances of life making the leap from mortal and limited to immortal and unlimited. Even if these beings never ‘transcend’ matter, like Kubrick suggests, their technology would be so far beyond anything we could grasp that they would be effectively god-like.
So when the topic of religion comes up and whether I believe in god or not, I am tempted to answer with something like Kubrick’s quote. I think that it is likely that there are ‘gods’ out there but they are not divine, in fact they were once like us. Or, we really are alone.
Footnote: There are several ideas above that will be addressed in greater detail in future posts. Each of the following deserve their own post (and so much more):
- Stanley Kubrick (his ideas, philosophy etc.)
- Stanley Kubrick’s films
- Life elsewhere in the universe
- The Drake equation/SETI (and some of their shortcomings)
- The size of the universe and how we struggle to comprehend large numbers