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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

8 Ways We May Be Regarded by Future Generations

How will the current generation of humans be regarded by future generations? Let us consider a full spectrum of possibilities.

They may view us as sluggish airheads

Before long parents may be able to take advantage of gene-splicing and genetic enhancements that can enhance the human mind. If such techniques are used over enough generations, we may see the evolution of a much smarter human race. Einsteins may be as common then as texting teenagers are today, and there may also be many super-Einsteins.

If this happens, future generations may look back at our generation and regard us as slow-paced dolts. They may ask themselves: how did these airheads ever manage to invent the Internet? They may also regard it as a major miracle if our generation somehow manages to avoid blowing itself up or destroying itself through technological or environmental folly.

They may view us as geniuses

Suppose, on the other hand, that there is no such great blossoming of human intelligence. Suppose that we merely see continued progress in automation and computers. It could be that the teaching of mathematics is dropped from elementary and high schools, or limited to be only a subject taught only to very enthusiastic learners who request it. This outcome is all too plausible. One can imagine parents saying, “Why are you torturing my child with algebra when Google will solve almost any math problem for you instantly for free?” The same thing could happen with computer programming courses: they could be dropped if we ever figure out how to make computers that can program better than humans.

In such a case it could be that the human brain gets a little soft and spoiled from not having to work so hard. The average human IQ might actually drop a little bit, and it could happen that some future generation regards us as the geniuses. In the year 2150 people might say, “I can't believe how brilliant people were back around 2015 – they actually had to learn geometry and trigonometry all by themselves.”

They may view us as disgusting savages

We regard the people who lived five thousand years ago with a certain level of disdain. We might refer to such people as barbarians or savages. They may have had a certain degree of civilization, we think, but they weren't really civilized.

But that's exactly how people living in the future may regard us. In the future, all people might be vegetarians who regard meat-eating with disgust. Such people might look back on us and say to themselves, “I can't believe people actually ate their fellow mammals back in those primitive days.”

Future man may also abolish war. If war is ever abolished, future generations will look back at all the wars fought in the past 100 years, and regard the humans between 1913 and 2013 as bloodthirsty savages. One can only imagine the history books of the future: “Before man became truly civilized, he engaged in the fruitless fratricide known as war.”

They may view us as zombies

In his sprawling online manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative, the philosopher and futurist David Pearce has imagined a future in which humans experience super-lives filled with super-pleasure, based on chemical and brain enhancements which dramatically improve our well-being and the richness of our emotions, as well as our capacities for appreciation. Pearce rhapsodizes here about the possibilities:

(S)he might then hear, and have the chance to play, music more exhilarating and numinously beautiful than his or her ancestors ever dreamed of; the celestial music of the spheres heard by privileged medieval mystics will be as a child's toy tin-whistle in comparison.... Erotic pleasure of an intoxicating intensity that mortal flesh has never known will thereafter be enjoyable with a whole gamut of friends and lovers.....A painter or connoisseur of the visual arts will be able to behold the secular equivalent of the beatific vision in a million different guises, each of indescribable glory....States of divine happiness orders of magnitude more beautiful than anything the contemporary mind can access will pervade the very fabric of reality in generations to come. Even the most virile of imaginations can apprehend in only the barest and formal sense the ravishing splendour that lies ahead.

Imagine if something like this comes to pass, and most humans get drastically enhanced emotional capabilities. They might know not just love but Super Love, not just joy but Super Joy. Such humans may regard our generation as a race that can barely even feel anything. They may regard us as kind of zombies, vacantly stumbling through life without any real appreciation of things.

They may view us as lucky ducks

If things go bad future generations may regard our generation as the most fortunate of all generations. There are many possible scenarios for how things might go bad: we might run very low on oil; we might suffer the effects of a nuclear holocaust; we might lose all our electricity in an electromagnetic pulse event (caused by a nuclear bomb in the high atmosphere or a very bad solar flare); we might suffer an economic collapse like the one that almost occurred around 2008.

If any of these things happen, future generations may regard us as people who were living in a kind of golden age. They may look back on us and say: “Those people in the early 21st century – they had it made in the shade. Plenty of energy, a moderate climate, electricity available to anyone, free internet downloads –no generation ever had it so good.”

They may view us as slaves

In the future automation and robots may lead man to an Age of Leisure. The four day work week? Instead it may be a three day work week or a two day work week, and quitting time may be at noon. Or instead of a single weekly Day of Rest as in the nineteenth century, there may be a single weekly Day of Work. It's possible that almost all work will be assigned to robots and machines.

If that happens, future generations may look back on our generation and think of us as corporate slaves. They will read about our work habits: working at least 40 hours a week, and often as many as sixty, as well as working fifty weeks a year, from age 22 until age 65. They may regard us with the same kind of pity that we feel thinking about the cotton picking slaves of the Old South.

They may view us as saints

In the future social mores may change. Monogamy may be regarded as an outdated relic of the past. The average citizen may have multiple spouses, or may engage in sexually promiscuous swinging behavior, cavorting with multiple sexual partners at the same time, including both human partners and robot partners. In addition, there may be a legalization of many drugs that are now prohibited.

If this happens, future generations may look back at our largely monogamous and hard working generation, and regard us as being saintly paragons of virtue. They may ask themselves: how did that generation ever keep trudging so tirelessly down the straight and narrow path?

They may view us as selfish narcissists

Another possibility is that future generations may look back on us as self-centered egomaniacs. They may look at how we let global warming get worse and worse, while we were busy engaging in environmentally destructive conspicuous consumption, largely so that we could add another “look what I bought!” Facebook update to make a fleeting impression on our social network friends. They may look back at how we spent much more time posting online pictures of ourselves than we spent worrying about how to stop environmental decay that led to the extinction of countless species. They may then regard us as the “me first, Earth last” generation.

A narcissist's favorite painting