For all our technological advancement, we are still little more than apes with tools.
|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.
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.|
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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2. We are still hampered by religious thinking
|This guy and his followers think using a condom is bad and that some science amounts to "playing god".|
How? By religion!
Why this is a problem
Decades ago when heart attacks were 100% fatal, people held the view that the heart (and similarly, the brain) were the domain of only God, and that trying to perform surgery on either organ was tantamount to trying to play God. Less than a decade ago when Stem Cell research was in its prime, President George Bush made it illegal because of his religious convictions. When time travel is finally discovered, the religious elite will ban it because they secretly know we will be able to prove whether or not Jesus or Mohammed were truly divine.
If religion didn't exist, we would have been well on our way to being a truly advanced civilization. Religion generally operates on black hole logic, where it capriciously infuses insoluble rhetoric ("Only God knows such things") where genuine human curiosity would suffice. Religion encourages us to embrace ignorance and be satisfied with being a primitive species.
How we could fix it
We need to become an epistemologically agnostic race. We need to shed our propensity for holding on to myth and embrace our natural desire for knowledge. We need to reject ideas that capriciously truncate this desire with vacuous, dogmatic drivel and challenge the long held institutions based on these ancient tropes to validate their positions on proof and not faith.
The good thing is that we're already doing this.
A time is coming when the last vestiges of the religious institution will find itself pressed against a wall of hard evidence so resolute that they would be forced to either take up arms or change their minds. We will one day figure out how to live forever. It is inevitable. What value will religion hold when we defeat death, the single greatest proponent of religious faith?
What value will religion hold when we build a faster than light ship that will allow us to kiss the face of the sky without ever finding god there to greet us? What value will religion hold when we humans have finally achieved ascendancy as a species such that we can create our own mini universe in a laboratory or destroy entire worlds with the slightest push of a button?
Religious belief is steadily on the decline because more and more people are realizing its obsolescence. A lot of it has to do with the fact that younger generations are growing up in a society where scientists are rock stars and science is proving to be more intriguing than myth. While religion will probably never completely disappear, it will become more of an innocuous cultural quirk, much in the same way people knock on a table to not "jinx" a spoken outcome.
1. We still rely on the spoken language
|Can't speak the language? We've got an app for that!|
Our reliance on the spoken language is a major drawback to evolutionary ascendency of the human race. Language is merely a means of encoding and decoding ideas, which, irrespective of the language, remain the same across cultures. This is why things like music, mathematics and laughter are not indigenous to any culture. All human ideas are accessible to all humans.
The problem is not our ideas. The problem is language.
Why this is a problem
If we were evolved enough that we could exchange ideas without running the risk that language encoding could change the meaning of the idea (something that happens everyday), we would have probably evolved a lot faster as a cognitive animal, advancing to Star Trek like societies by the 5th century AD when all of humanity was still in the midst of the dark ages instead of potentially in the 26th century AD. How is this possible, you ask? It's simple, really.
Language encoding is a cognitively intensive process. First you have to learn the axiomatic principles of the language, usually through immersion (which is how you learned your first language). When someone encodes an idea using this language, you have to decode that idea by breaking it down into its components, then finally reassembling the idea in your mind.
This is how a conversation happens (or how, for example, you can read a book, or this blog). However, it is perfectly possible for you to wrongly decode the idea (either because you don't speak the language very well, or the speaker did not encode the idea in the language very well). Either outcome is undesirable as miscommunication has rather disastrous implications:
It wastes precious time.
A lot of the time we spend in our lifetime is wasted doing interpretation. Every time a teacher introduces an idea in a classroom that you don't understand the first time is a direct result of a failure of the coding / decoding process of language. The idea is always perfect on its own. The problem is introduced when you try to put an idea into words. That's where we often get lost.
Think of all the countries in the world with the strongest economic ties: The United States, The United Kingdom and Australia. They all speak English. Think of The Netherlands, Germany and Austria. The speak languages that are very close to each other. Think even of the relationship between countries far away from each other: Guadeloupe and France, Jamaica and the UK, Spain and South America, The Netherlands and Suriname—they all speak the same language!
There are a lot of brilliant minds being born everyday in the world, past and present. However, if we summed up all the time that even these brilliant people had to spend learning to speak English (or the most widely spoken language at the time they were alive), then we would have realized that we lost centuries (yes, centuries!) in time spent learning a new language.
What if the entire world spoke with just one tongue? What if there was no learning curve to communicating between cultures and political divides? Do you have any idea of how far along we would reach as at today's date as a species if all the humans in the world spoke the same language? We would have made all of the social, technological, cultural and economic advancements in today's world centuries ago. Today's world would be a very different place. For if humans always spoke the same tongue, today's science fiction would be today's reality.
(And now you know what inspired the Biblical story of Babel's Tower).
How we could fix it
Sadly, we can't fix this—not without fundamentally changing our biology to the point where we can read brainwaves. Even though we will probably evolve into an animal that can do this naturally, we will probably build machines that will enable us to communicate without the use of language. We have already built machines that enable us to perform tasks with our mind.
Idea transmission isn't far behind.
|The Flower Nebula: To a god like race, this is art. To us, it is an extinction level event.|
But do you realize that for most of the shortcomings in our humanity that I've listed here, we have built tools (or are designing tools) that would aid us to circumvent those shortcomings? If you really think about it, the entire history of human civilization is essentially the story of how we progressively created better tools. That's why we often find ourselves talking about the stone age, the iron age, and even the electronic age. Now we're entering the space age.
If there was a massive coronal mass ejection from the sun tomorrow morning, most of our tools today would instantly be rendered useless and we would instantly be plunged into the dark ages. We would have no electricity, no radio, no television, no internet, no computers, no cell phones — most of the tools we have invented over the last 200 years would be useless.
What does this say about humanity? It says quite emphatically that for all of our technological advancement, we are still little more than apes with tools. It means that even as the most sophisticated animal on the planet, we are incredibly powerless. We have not changed substantially as a species in the last two million years! We are still relying on the use of tools!
What this essentially means is that even if we were to build a star ship that embodied all the technological advancement of human history and we discovered an enemy race of beings that have evolved past the need to utilize tools, (meaning than they can do everything biologically that we need a star ship to do), we humans would still be ridiculously outmatched. It would essentially be the local equivalent of a death match between an ant and a nuclear warhead.
If such a race of beings exists, then we could rightfully call them gods. Then again, if such a race of beings could exist, they probably wouldn't care for picking fights with a race of apes in an intergalactic go-kart. They would probably have more pressing things on their mind, like fashioning a planet out of diamond, or making an exploding star look like a gigantic rosebud.
Why would they do such things? Because they could.
Either way, humans are far too powerless and far too insignificant to be called an "advanced species". If you think our iPads, our Super Computers, our Mercedes-Benz AWGs, and our stem cell research qualifies us for consideration, then bear in mind that in the universal scheme of things, that would be the cognitive equivalent of a gorilla that learned to use sign language.
In the same way, before humans could be considered an advanced civilization, we'd have to free ourselves from the very things that make us human. We would have to learn to harness the imaginary powers of gods, and ascend to a level of transcendence where the universe would become our backyard. Right now, it's more like a parking lot to a molecule of bacteria.
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