You know what's fucked up? I'm not even high.

It's interesting that people who are intellectually invested in defending evolution and denigrating intelligent design are also, in a strange way, backed into the corner of viewing intelligence as a uniquely human thing, qualitatively different (and more valuable) than whatever animates the other bits of space-junk randomly bumping uglies out there.

The design argument runs that the world has clearly been planned and built with such care that some intelligence must be in control, must have lain the ground rules and must in turn be enforcing them. Nonsense! cry evolutionists. It's perfectly plausible that it was merely a random string of events, and as we all know, on an endless timeline the infinitesimally unlikely becomes all but predestined. It's science, not intelligence! There's no wizard in the sky! The heavens are filled with trudging mechanisms, spasms of inky plasma, stars swallowing other stars and spitting out comets that crash operatically into balls of unimaginable flame in a fit of cannibalistic rapacity even more harrowing for the fact that the universe has no desires. It doesn't want to destroy. It doesn't care either way. It just destroys, because insensate things are fucking cruel. Except not really, because again, they don't give a shit.

It's odd, right? We say that there's no intelligent force governing everything, which in a sneaky way ratifies the idea that there's something fundamentally unique, special, and singular about human intelligence. Our atheism becomes a kind of self-congratulation -- we're special! -- that we're trying to critique in believers. Instead of arguing that there's no such thing as intelligence, or at least that human thought -- and life in general -- isn't qualitatively different than all the other crap that's going on, we implicitly argue that we're the only tiny pocket of intelligence for as far as the eye can see. Creationists argue that there is a god and we are created in his image; we argue that there is no god, because he would have to be created in our image it would just make too much sense and shit would be cool and nice and pleasant to live in when clearly that's not true. I mean, look around, man. Everything is a swirling mass, a primordial blob of who knows what, and we're a privileged enclave whose spasms of thought make us special, if for no other reason than the exquisite awareness of our impeding, collective doom, the fact that someday we will be washed away by the cosmic equivalent of Scrubbing Bubbles, and our recorded history will become a cold, dead monument to nothing. The power of observation will be gone, and with it will go any shred of significance, in any sense of the word.

On the other hand, we take heart by reading BBC Science articles and saying things like, "it's a statistical near-certainty that there are other intelligent life-forms somewhere in the deep reaches of space!" But we belittle people who believe -- based on what they swear is experience but what we insist is misguided faith -- that they've seen, say, a UFO. We have to say we believe wholeheartedly in the fantastically improbable, but we don't believe it cares about us, and to suggest otherwise would be lunacy. Because, again, we're the only thing in our neighborhood with the special skill to care about stuff; and even if we weren't, we're not that interesting anyway. (Narcissistic self-loathing.) If there's anything intelligent out there, it hasn't found us yet, because we haven't found it. And we're kind of the gold standard around here, I don't know if you noticed. We're kind of the only game in town.

Quantum and string theory -- not that I understand the first thing about them or can talk about them without mumbling like a nincompoop -- are fascinating in this respect: By suggesting that, say, the universe is just a tiny bubble in an endless sheet of bubble-wrap with and endless number of other sheets of bubble-wrap above and below it that an insane toddler is taking its sweet time popping, one bubble at a time, we get to imagine all kinds of insane Rube Goldbergish scenarios for the creation of the world.

If our argument, as Free Thinkers and all that shit, is that the universe makes an elegant kind of sense insofar as nearly impossible things become necessary in the long run, does it become logically necessary to suppose that at some point, a three-eyed troll in negligee named Carter Burwell once vomited up a celestial pool of filth, one lonely rising bubble of which was the Big Bang, or a Bigger Big Bang before the Big Bang that contains our Big Bang and a billion like it? And Carter Burwell is, in turn, a quivering quark in a monumental atom of gold so vast it's dense enough to make you cry and valuable enough to cause a war between a Greek in a loincloth and an Egyptian with a weird animal head, which the Egyptian wins because the Greek is crushed from out of nowhere between the thumb and finger of the lunatic toddler?

The forms bigness this big take on are predictably anthropomorphic & anthropocentric. I can't imagine the kind of new, mind-incinerating entities I hope straddle universes, and what kinds of personalities they have, and what kind of complicated things they might do that, if we had a vantage on them, would look strikingly like intelligence, except of a sort so vast that it merks humanity's like '86 Tyson did Marvis Frazier.

So I imagine awesome, slobbering babies and giant titans fighting over shiny stuff I wish I had. But this is optimism. More likely, the universe and the universes around it are cold, dark places lit up periodically with terrifying flashes of rending light none of it matters, in the scheme of things, any more than we do. Which is to say, not at all. Fortunately for us, the antidote to despair is ignoring its causes and acting like we're fucking awesome. We're so fucking smart, it's incredible.

Here's what bothers me about, but also saves me from going insane under the weight of, eternity and infinity -- it's impossible not to think of them as, respectively, A WHOLE BUNCH of time and A WHOLE LOT of space or stuff or whatever. But that's never seemed quite right to me. Eternity and infinity are the same as no time and no space; not just the biggest number you can imagine +1, but the smallest number you can imagine and then it vanishes. Absolute zero. This, to me, is a great consolation. If it turns out we're wrong -- if it turns out there's a smartypants god and he invented everything and the last will be first and the first will be last and the last and the first will be judged by their acts, it's comforting to know that an ever-lasting suffering in a never-ending lake of fire is also a never-starting suffering in a non-existent lake of fire. Hell takes so long that it's over in literally less time than an instant, the smallest division of time imaginable but even shorter; and heaven is so big it can fit in the shoe of one of the army of angels dancing on the head of a pin.