Vox Populi 3 – The Realistic Future

October 13, 2010 § 4 Comments

Welcome to the third in the series of “Vox Populi” articles on my blog, where I ask for your feedback and thoughts on a given topic. Hope you enjoy these short topical pieces, and please leave your feedback in the comments.

Topic 3: The Human Future

I tend to see myself as a slightly pessimistic Extropian, but with my pessimism based in realism. However I still think we need to strive forward.

Michio Kaku has a lot to say on this subject. In one interview by George Noory, the interviewer says something along the lines of “It always seems like a race between self-destruction on the one hand, and Type 1 Status on the other.” I tend to agree. We are racing toward self-destruction, but at the same time are making advances toward the longevity of humanity and the planet at the same time. Which will win? Well it really depends upon a lot of things.

However along with my pessimistic extropian ideals comes a healthy dose of optimism, but only when I see the “ifs” than need to be satisfied. For instance, nuclear fusion, solar power, geothermal and wind-power, if harnessed in the right combination could result in an inexhaustible source of energy for nearly free, and with this would allow us to leap forward on a technological scale without further damaging the atmosphere with carbon based pollutants.

While we make advances in medicine, we also negate common causes of death, which leads to lower mortality rates from given diseases. Humans can now be fertile well into their forties (but not always successfully). If we cure cancer we could stop a certain form of suffering in humans. But by giving people a longer life of  better “standard”, we also allow for more people to be born, thereby increasing the possibility of population growth.

Religion has played a role in the views of the future also, and there are several things I would point at to illustrate this. One of the problems with religion and belief is that the doctrines of religious belief stand in opposition to the very real need humanity has to face about our future. There are even those who believe that The Rapture is a very real thing, that the faithful will be swept up into heaven, and all the heathens and non-believers will be left behind on Earth to fend for themselves, abandoned by God. What sort of incentive does this give one to strive for betterment of humanity? To give up on striving, and to place your future in a god is like having no want for the future at all, except for the false future of the afterlife. “The Rapture is not an exit strategy.”

Catholicism’s ban on abortion and contraception is counter-intuitive to viewing the needs of the future, as well as allowing for the spread among the world’s poorest people of HIV/AIDS. And it is precisely the places where the poorest are denied birth control, that there is a very real need to curb population growth based on very real resource shortages.

Religion is one of the main reasons I tend to err on the side of realism, for religion is irrational and disruptive, and sometimes dangerous, and is not going anywhere any time soon.

The main problem that I see with optimism is this; if we move blindly forward with an optimism that suggests that everything will be ok, we are denying the reality of the situation, and may ignore many of the realistic problem we face.

What do you think about the future? Are you optimistic? Do you think the extropian idea of the exponential betterment of humanity is possible? Is it even feasible?

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We’re All Doomed, Time To Get Positive! (part 1)

September 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

The world is in some real strife at the moment. We are approaching a point where experts believe that we will live in an unsustainable way within the next few years, and the population of Earth will reach 9 billion by the middle of this century. While it is true that, for the majority of people living on Earth today, our lives have improved in health and longevity, many of the poorest people are poorer than ever. Some countries like the USA are using on average up to 5 times the amount of resources than is viably sustainable on this planet, and in countries like India, population growth is out of control. The earth is unwell, and we are the cause of this illness.

I recently posted the RSA Animate video “Smile Or Die” on my blog, in which Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the darker side of positive thinking. She talks about “The Secret” and how it is misleading people into thinking that if you think positively enough about something, it will happen. If it doesn’t happen it’s because you weren’t thinking positively enough, or you were never meant to have it.

I totally agree with her in this sense, that positive thinking by itself is useless, except in that it may make you have a better outlook in general. But if you never act on these positive thoughts, all you are doing is effectively throwing your money into a wishing well and hoping for things to get better. I see the idea of The Secret and the idea of prayer in the same light. So many people put their hopes into the “hands of the divine” rather than actively doing something about their situation. Be it Oprah or The Bible, hoping for good things passively is not very helpful for anyone.

I can understand that when people are in times of extreme distress, where a bad situation is out of their hands, like after a natural disaster, in wartime, during times of illness and death, that one might feel less helpless if they at least hope or pray for better times, or to be delivered from a bad situation. This action alone, however, is as useless as masturbation. It might make you feel good for a while, but it won’t achieve much.

What has all this got to do with the state of the world? Well, with  the world being in such a state as it is, and with dire warnings from the likes of Stephen Hawking, telling us we “abandon Earth or face extinction”, it’s easy to fall back into an attitude that everything is hopeless. And I see increasingly an attitude among people who know of the plight of the planet which is “We are all doomed, nothing we do matters, why bother trying?” And this is further exacerbated by the media and its constant portrayal of all the bad things which are happening on and to the Earth. Apart from the aforementioned population and climate problems, we constantly see terrorist warnings, financial warnings, product recall warnings, disease outbreak scares, apparent increases of violence on our streets and the like. These constant warnings compound people’s tendency to fall back on the negativity that we all feel at times. It all seems hopeless.

These two ideas, the hoping helplessly for betterment and negativity toward the future are linked, and sometimes one can lead to the other. If one fails, why not try the other? People in hopeless situations can feel a bit better if they feel like things are out of their hands, and there is nothing easier than just giving up responsibility.

But is it actually hopeless?

Ozone Hole over Antarctica via NASA Earth Observatory

Ozone Hole over Antarctica via NASA Earth Observatory

Recently I read an article on Discovery Blogs entitled “Ozone Layer No Longer Thinning” which explains that after 20 years of concerted effort by the world’s populations to stop pouring CFCs into the atmosphere, we have actually halted the depletion of the ozone layer. This is great news! and the implications go far further than just making sure New Zealanders don’t get sunburnt all the time. What this means is twofold; that we can effect change in the atmosphere; and that we have effected change in the atmosphere (take that climate change deniers). What I mean by this is, it is accepted as fact that the emission of CFCs into the atmosphere cause ozone depletion, and that we by our actions as a global community have taken positive steps to rectify this situation.So why is it different these days? Why do people still claim that there is no link between climate change and human activity?

I propose there are a couple of reasons. Part of it to do with the apparently hopelessness of the situation, and partly because people are unwilling to change the way they live, especially in the USA, Europe and Australia (yes we are very bad too). We love our stuff, and we love it so much that it seems we would rather watch the world around us destroy itself and have a flat screen TV than try to employ more environmentally sustainable practices. Sad, really, but this really seems to be the case.

Let me, at this point say this about negativity. Negativity is worse than false positivity, because not only does it not achieve anything, but it also makes the person thinking negatively feel bad too. The likelihood of being antisocial is increased and may lead to a depressed state. At least people who think positively, whether well-founded positivity or not can be seen as positive people.

I’d like to propose something different.

Firstly, rather than being negative about the future, why not find some thing that are positive in the world. Technology is making leaps and bounds toward the betterment of society. People like Michio Kaku, Carl Sagan and even Ray Kurzweil to a certain extent talks of things that are worthwhile us striving for. The idea that we can strive for all people to be fed, to live longer, to reduce human population, save the rainforests, using the planets resources for ourselves instead of squandering them, all of these ideas are real and if not achievable now, will be soon. Space travel, solar and geothermal energy, green cities and the end to fossil fuels are all within our grasp, or just outside it, a few small steps away.

The key here is education. We need to be educated about our current situation, the way it’s headed now, the possible futures and the futures we want. It is not hard to learn, all of the basic information is on the internet, or in books. Learn what must be done, and learn what can be done.Start with the simple things and then make decisions based on ecology, economy and society.

There is one major hurdle here, and it comes in the form of global mega-corporations, who seem from the outset, to be against everything that we need to do as a planet. Remember however that these corporations are at the mercy of every human who uses their products. If we stop buying products from a company, they go broke. Humans are the ones who drive the market, regardless of what people may tell you. I’m not saying we need to boycott products by all corporations, but we do need to choose wisely what we buy, and what we see as necessary in our lives. Pressure on governments and corporations does work, but it is a slow process.

And don’t just hope for it. We need to actively participate in this discussion.

I do not have all the answers here. How could I? I’m not a scientist, philosopher, or an economist, but a person with a layman’s understanding of what’s going on here. And one thing is very clear to me; with a negative or even a passive positive attitude we are treading water and will soon lose steam.

See part 2

Michio Kaku On Extraterrestrial Life

September 1, 2010 § 3 Comments

I don’t think I will live to see communication with extraterrestrials. However I do think it is something that is possible for humanity in the future.

Michio Kaku puts this all so eloquently. This further adds to the idea that we are alone in the universe. Even if there are intelligent beings in space of type 3 or 4 civilizations, why would they want to visit us? The anthill metaphor is a great way to understand this idea.

And if that’s not enough, he goes on to talk about the “multiverse”, which in itself is enough to give you plenty to think about. This is great stuff really!

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