Header 1

Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Monday, December 30, 2013

Will Man Last for an Eon?

“Sit down,” said the doctor to the patient. “I have some bad news. Your time left is limited. You've only got ten.”

“Ten years?” asked the patient.

“No,” said the doctor.

“You mean, ten months?” asked the patient.

“No,” said the doctor.”

“You mean ten WEEKS?” said the patient.

“No,” said the doctor. “I mean...ten, nine, eight, seven...”

We can make jokes like this about the topic of our future lifespans, but a more serious topic is that of humanity's lifespan. The only joke I know on that topic is the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, an organization which most sane people will regard as a joke.

One interesting question is the question of whether man will last for longer than man has existed. Scientists estimate that our species Homo sapiens has existed for perhaps 150,000 years. Will man last longer than this? Some people think that man will last for more than another 100,000 years, but others reject this opinion.

Let's imagine a dialog between two men, Tim and Tom. Tim thinks that man will be around for eons, but Tom thinks that man won't last longer than a few thousand years. Let's hear from both of them.

The Case for Thinking Man Will Last for an Eon

Tim: Nuclear weapons threaten man. But there will probably never be a major nuclear war, because no leader would be stupid enough to start one. Even if there was a full-scale nuclear war, it would not cause the destruction of man. It would probably just set back our civilization by a few centuries, and from a geological perspective a few centuries is a relatively short time.

Despite the threat of nuclear war, space travel will probably make man almost immortal. Soon man will establish colonies in space. Once these colonies are established, man will no longer have all his eggs in one basket, so to speak. Even if the earth is destroyed, there will be self-sufficient space colonies capable of independent survival.

Within a few centuries, man will learn how to travel to other planets revolving around other stars. By the year 3000, man will have colonized planets in other solar systems. Once this happens, man will be essentially immortal. No matter what type of war or natural disaster occurred, it could not wipe out man if man had spread to a number of different planets revolving around different stars. Because man will colonize many different locations in space, man will probably last for eons. A million years from now there will probably still be men living somewhere in the universe.

From a purely mathematical standpoint, it makes sense to think that man will last for a huge length of time. Scientists say that modern man has been around for perhaps 150,000. If we imagine that man will last for eons, we can believe that there is nothing special about our age -- we're somewhere in the middle of man's lifespan. That seems like a more plausible assumption than thinking that man's history is 99.9% finished.

The Case for Thinking Man Will Not Last Much Longer

Tom:  Man has existed for about 150,000 years, but there are reasons for believing that man will not last for more than a few thousand years. First, there is a large chance that a nuclear war will destroy man. Or perhaps global warming will make the planet uninhabitable for man. Or perhaps robots will take over the planet, leading to a long, slow twilight for man, one that results in our eventual extinction.

But let us consider what will happen if none of these things happen. In such a case man's science will continue to grow. Within a thousand years scientists will discover genetic engineering techniques that allow parents to have super-intelligent children. Once such techniques are available, parents will choose to have super-intelligent children. After all, why would parents want to have a child with an IQ of only 100, when they could have a child with an IQ of 500 or 600? By the year 3000, almost all normal parents will be using genetic engineering techniques to have super-intelligent children. The result will be that within a few thousand years Homo sapiens will evolve into another species far more intelligent than man. If man is not destroyed by a nuclear war, within a few thousand years the race of men will evolve into a race of supermen. Once this begins to happen, man will fade away, and will be replaced by a successor species. By the year 4000 the earth will either be a nuclear wasteland devoid of human life, or it will be the home of a species of supermen: Homo futuris, the successor of Homo sapiens.

Homo Futuris Inspects his Domain