Monday, June 18, 2012

Humanity is still a Primitive Species

For all our technological advancement, we are still little more than apes with tools.


Xenocrates
This is what we would look like to an advanced extra-terrestrial civilization.

You may have looked around yourself lately and thought how magnificent it is to be alive during the time that you are, especially with all of our technological advancements. And yet, if there exists a civilization advanced enough to cross the galaxy to meet us, all of this would be worthless. Why? Because we are still quite a primitive species and I'm about to tell you how.


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Technologically Advanced? Hardly.


I know what you're thinking. We have computers as thin as manilla envelopes today with the total processing power exceeding that of every space craft launched in the last 50 years combined. Our medicine is so advanced that we are literally bringing people back from the brink of death and building spare parts for humans. We can be best friends with people from across the planet who speak a different language whom we have never met. So how could I possibly say that we are still a primitive species? Well, I have 5 good reasons why I say this:


5. Our Life Span is terribly short

Albert Einstein's coffin being taken from Princeton University

How long can the average human live? About 80 - 90 years once cancer (or some other terminal illness) doesn't set in, right? Even so, as we get older, our bodies start to break down and if cancer doesn't claim us, then heart disease, dementia, diabetes, osteoporosis and a myriad of other old age killers are waiting for us. Even if that weren't the case, we now know that there is an actual genetic marker that tells our body to die. I am not making this up.

Why this is a problem


You might be thinking that dying is necessary so as to maintain a sustainable population for our tiny planet to support. Well, that's not necessarily true. Our planet is still not yet at capacity. We'll hit that number in less than a decade (about 9 billion people). However, so long as we continue to cognitively evolve, population growth isn't actually a bad thing for humanity.

The real problem with our population growth is not our planet's capacity to support us. Rather, it is that it takes too long for us to evolve cognitively to advance to the next stage of exploration. It usually takes a lifetime of research for a regular person to make a significant enough of a scientific discovery that causes humanity to leap forward. For a genius, it would take roughly 5 years. The problem is that only a handful of geniuses are born every century.

Even if many more geniuses were born per century (Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla were the geniuses of the 20th Century), they don't live long enough to solve the ultimate riddles that would propel humanity forward fast enough. There is also the problem of the sparse distribution of geniuses. There aren't enough of them in the more influential fields of science.

Every time a genius dies, his work will take a lifetime for other regular people to figure out and get to his or her level. (Einstein's theory of relativity was only proven 60 years after his death!) The advancements that these regular people posthumously make on the work of the genius is only incremental before they too die. So we won't make any significant leaps forward until another genius level intellect is born about 100 years (or roughly 3 generations) later.

At this rate, cognitive evolution is a nauseatingly slow process.

How we could fix it


We must conquer death. It's that simple. There are several ways to side-step death. Stem Cell research allows us to clone spare versions of our organs in case one or more of them goes bad. We can utilize gene therapy to replace dying brain cells and cure hereditary disease. Having regular treatment using these strategies means that we could technically live forever.

Another alternative is to use our knowledge of the human genome to either clone ourselves and copy our synaptic pathways from our old brain to the new one, thereby preserving our memories, all our knowledge and our personality. The only challenge with this is that you will still die. It's just that your clone, while still effectively you, would actually be a different person.

Yet another alternative is to replace our biological selves with truly artificial intelligence into which we could download our minds, completely ditching our frail biological bodies. It would be the next stage of human evolution. Problems that would take humans years to solve could be done in seconds. However, we still have a very limited understanding of biological life. Therefore creating artificial life is still quite a long way off from becoming a viable alternative.

The best alternative however, is simply to turn off the genetic marker that causes ageing. While we have identified the marker that causes us to age (and therefore, die), we still don't know how to turn it off. While significant research is still ongoing on how to switch it off, that will take decades to figure out. A genius level intellect could do it a lot sooner and much faster. However, making human beings live forever could be potentially catastrophic, especially since:

4. Humanity is still disjointed

It's been centuries, and we still can't get along due to perceived differences.
While the younger generation of humans (born in the 21st century) will grow up in a much more inclusive society, Xenophobia (an irrational fear of foreigners) is still a problem—even if it is a dying problem. Racism and prejudice still plague our societies. We're still getting caught up in wars. We're still speaking multiple languages and there is vast wealth inequality among us.

It means that as a species, we haven't yet coalesced to the point where our cultural, ethnic and biological differences are mutually irrelevant. It means that we are not yet one planet; we are not one indigenous population—we are not yet one people. Our humanity is represented by a vast array of cultures that we are still struggling to integrate into our modern societies.

Why this is a problem


Simply because a house divided cannot stand. The only reason why the Europeans were able to garner slaves from Africa during the 18th century was because the African kingdoms were not (yet) united. That only happened centuries after Europe carved up Africa, enslaved an entire race, indoctrinated the continent and robbed them of their history. What if an advanced alien civilization came to Earth? It would be just like Africa all over again, but on a global scale.

How we could fix it


We are actually already in the process of fixing it—it's just happening very slowly. Globalization has effectively flattened the cultural strata of the world. We are all slowly becoming westernized. That's why Chinese men are wearing ties to work and why most Africans can speak English. The initial culture shock of meeting people who are not biologically or ethnically similar to us still occurs. However, it is becoming a much less prominent feature of our society.

Ever since humans learned how to explore the earth, we have been intermingling with people with minor biological differences. Interracial marriage is on the rise. The internet has created a global village. We are slowly converging on having a single culture, fewer languages, fewer governments, and fewer economic  and political systems. We're slowly becoming one people.

However, until the human race fuses all of its biology, culture, politics, technology and finance into one seamless political species, we are still much more vulnerable to systemic extinction from a xenological threat. Humanity needs to evolve such that the earth becomes one bee colony (instead of 206). History has shown us that individuality is tantamount to extinction.

Just ask the Bear Dog of North America. This presents another problem:

3. We haven't yet colonised another planet

We now know that lots of planets like this one are out there... uncolonised.

How many Earth like planets do we know about? Hundreds, right? So why is all of humanity holed up on this one planet? How could we possibly consider ourselves an advanced species when the only world we have ever settled (as far as we know) is the one that we were born on? We may have discovered and even explored other worlds, but we have never settled one.

Why this is a problem


Do you know why you keep a backup copy of your work? It's so that you have a copy to go back to in case you lose it, right? Well, how many backup copies of humanity exists? Just one, right? If a meteor the size of New Jersey were to strike this planet, everything we know, all of our history, all of our culture, our music, our science and technology, would be gone. All gone.

...and no other civilization would ever know we existed.

We cannot truly consider ourselves to be an advanced civilization when the human species could be so easily erased from the active history of the universe. Even though our lives technically mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, we could change all that by colonizing other worlds. The entire human race should seek to become the Europeans of the universe. We must learn how to reach out and touch the sky. Until then, we are basically sitting ducks.

How we could fix it


The reason why we're all still stuck on this planet is because we're just figuring out how to safely explore space. We haven't quite figured it out all yet, but we do know that space is pretty vast — so vast in fact that it is impractical for us to use conventional propulsion to try and explore it. Even if we could build a propulsion engine that could travel at the speed limit of the universe (the speed of light), the journey to the nearest star would take so long that we'd have lived several lifetimes before actually getting there (which brings us back to reason #5).

To fix this problem, we need to build faster-than-light travel. We need to build an engine that would allow us to efficiently travel back and forth between here and the farthest corners of the universe. We need to get to a stage where we can travel to the edge of the solar system to the penal colony on Pluto, blast out to the nearest human colony several thousand light years away to pick up a colleage, attend a meeting on Proxima Centuari, explore the Crab Nebula, dance on the rings of Saturn and be back before lunchtime on Earth on the same day.

Impossible, you say? Not at all. That's what they also said about escaping the Earth's gravity —and we now have robots running around on Mars. The same mathematics that allowed us to put a man on the moon also says that we can manipulate a naturally occurring phenomenon of space/time to bend vast distances of space into short bridges. They are called Wormholes.

The trick with building a wormhole is that it requires a vast amount of energy to induce one (let alone to keep it open). The total amount of energy required is greater than all the energy ever produced on Earth in the history of mankind. But we'll figure it out—although probably not in my or our children's lifetimes. Until we get to the stage where we can build a boat to cross the universe within an average human lifespan, we're not an advanced species. Not yet.

There is still a bigger problem, though:

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1 comment:

  1. I don't understand how you completely forgot the worst plague to ever ail human advancement in the history of our kind...

    Religion.

    ReplyDelete