E.O. Wilson has written: ’... the next century will see the closing of the Cenozoic Era (the Age of Mammals) and a new one characterized not by new life forms but by biological impoverishment. It might be appropriately called the “Eremozoic Era”, the Age of Loneliness.’
Humanity could soon find itself alone, in an empty world. Humans co-opt over 40 per cent of the Earth’s living tissue. If, over the next few decades, human numbers increase by half again, well over half the world’s organic matter will be given over to humans. Very likely this nightmare will never come to pass. The prosthetic world that humans are creating for themselves will be destroyed, long before it is completed, by the side effects of human activity – war, pollution or disease.
If the present wave of mass extinctions is followed by an Era of Solitude, it will surely be full of mystics. A destitute world will be the site of a revival of piety. Like prayerful astronauts, its inhabitants will look to the heavens for sustenance – and they will not be disappointed. What could be more natural for a species that has exterminated its animal kin than to look into a mirror and find that it is not alone?
Mystics imagine that by seeking out empty places they can open themselves to something other than themselves. Nearly always they do the opposite. They carry the trash and litter of humanity wherever they go.
Mystics talk of finding sermons in stones. For seekers after inhuman truth there could be no worse nightmare. It is only because nature cares nothing for us that it can release us from human cares. Fernando Pessoa writes:
Only if you do not know what flowers, stones, and rivers are
Can you talk about their feelings.
To talk about the soul of flowers, stones, and rivers,
Is to talk about yourself, about your delusions.
Thank God stones are just stones,
And rivers just rivers,
And flowers just flowers.
Anyone who truly wants to escape human solipsism should not seek out empty places. Instead of fleeing to the desert, where they will be thrown back into their own thoughts, they will do better to seek the company of other animals. A zoo is a better window from which to look out of the human world than a monastery.