I have a message for future generations. And that is "please accept our apologies."
When I consider the big questions, I read and speculate about astrobiology, which might be defined as "the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe." Outside the fundamental laws of physics and cosmology, that just about covers everything as far as I'm concerned. Studying astrobiology gives one the gift of perspective. Life on Earth, and possibly elsewhere, can be viewed from the proper distance and in the proper time frame. Astrobiology straddles the dance of Chance and Necessity.
I ran across a passage from a book about astrobiology which I would like to share with you today. The book is Beyond UFOs by Jeffrey Bennett. I'll comment after the excerpt. I have listed some related posts at the end.
A couple of chapters back, I offered you words from Christiaan Huygens and Carl Sagan, each explaining how new perspectives on our place in the universe should help us grow up as a civilization. But we have not grown up yet, a sad fact that we are reminded of everyday in the news, as we read about terrorists, hatred, wars, and abject poverty. A grown-up civilization would have learned to do better.
In fact, there's no guarantee that we'll ever grow up. We constantly discover new ideas and develop new technologies that could make the world a better place, but we seem as likely to put them to work for destructive as for constructive ends.
Sometimes, when I'm feeling down, I despair that as a species, we just don't care enough to realize our potential, and that centuries from now, archaeologists will sift through the ruins of our civilization and wonder what went wrong. In even deeper moments of angst, I fear that we'll do so much damage to our planet that we'll go the way of the dinosaurs, and it will be millions of years before the Earth sees another set of intelligent beings.
In these moments, I think of the art, the music, the dance, the literature, the sports, the science, and the other great things that humans have created...and I'm overcome with sadness at the thought that all would be lost forever.
I share these unhappy thoughts because I think they are important for everyone to contemplate. We need some global guilt. We need for everyone to look at the faces of children, and think about how we'll feel if they grow up in a world in which our civilization is collapsing because we, as individuals and as a society, made the wrong choices.
Sometimes, I picture future generations looking back at us, putting us on trial, and judging us for our sins. But then I remember that if we don't change, if we don't learn to grow up, there may be no future generations. There will be no one left to judge us-except perhaps God, who surely would not be pleased-so we must judge ourselves.
I think if we all take a hard look at our society today, we'll judge ourselves failures, not because we haven't done a lot of things right, but because we still do too many things wrong. It's only once we recognize our failures that we'll be able to turn them around, and prove ourselves worthy stewards of the incredible good fortune that we have inherited from generations past on this remarkable planet.
Think hard about those words—it's only once we recognize our failures that we'll be able to turn them around. In this message we find the only true Hope that the human species has. I'm well-known among the relative few who know me in life and on this blog as a pessimist, though I prefer the term realist. I often ridicule those who hold out false hopes in the face of overwhelming, relentless disasters caused by humans themselves, or as the Bennett put it, humans making the "wrong choices."
I am a pessimist because I don't think those "wrong choices" are choices at all. As I've said in the past, Homo sapiens is a species, albeit misnamed, so what you see is what you get. And that is why in my view the one and only true Hope is very tenuous indeed. For example, will we humans stop our destruction of life in the oceans, and finally, the health of the oceans themselves? I find little convincing evidence that we will. I believe the growth urge is innate, and "harvesting" the oceans for all the animal life contained therein follows from that imperative, as does warming (and acidifying) the oceans by burning fossil fuels. Bennett refers to our "potential," but I believe that we are seeing that "potential" being played out right now in the 21st century.
Bennett says we need a sense of "global guilt." My preferred term is humility. We humans need to get realistic about our true powers and limitations pronto. Humbleness is required because, let's face it, Homo sapiens thinks it's pretty hot stuff. Our comeuppance is fast approaching, and it won't be pretty. We need to grow up, to mature as a species. I have a private visual joke I'll share with you. There's a group of Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis, left) and a group of paleolithic modern humans squared off, it's a lot like high school, as so much of human life is, and the human cheerleaders are out front, chanting—
Our team is red hot
Your team is doodley-squat!
And of course that's precisely the way it turned out. Homo sapiens came to dominate the planet. The Neanderthals are gone. Hot stuff.
Will the human species grow up? I doubt it, but there's always that one true but very slim Hope.
Also — You can watch various videos from Jeffrey Bennett at his website.