You are living a life that future generations may greatly envy.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published October 29, 2011
Earlier today, I came across an interesting, though hard to understand (for me, anyway) article by a theoretical astrophysicist entitled Why we think there's a Multiverse, not just our Universe.
The article explained the scientific rationale for the existence of the multiverse, the "set of multiple possible universes", a profound concept that is all the more startling given its apparent theoretical reasonableness.
I arrived at the article via a news aggregating site, where I also found a comment on the article by someone wondering if they were "born too soon", because of the exciting new knowledge they expect humans will discover in the next 100, 200, and 1000 years.
As a science geek and a sci-fi fan (those are probably pretty much the same thing), I've often felt the same wistful longing for the future that is depicted in science fiction. Not the dystopian kind, but the mind-blowing stuff that's replete with faster-than-light travel, alien civilizations and true artificial intelligence.
In particular, I think many people anticipate a future where disease and disabilities are absent or easily curable, and where the human lifespan is elongated and perhaps even unlimited.
On the other hand, I think everyone who thinks they were born too early needs to recognize how lucky they are. There is no guarantee that the future will be better than the present, and there are many plausible reasons to believe that it could be much worse.
Future generations could find themselves dealing with serious catastrophes: the highly disruptive consequences of climate change; disruptions in the food chain due to ecological destruction; nuclear war (still a serious risk, even if it has faded from the public consciousness); massively destructive accidents (like the gray goo scenario); and so on.
Other long-term challenges, like peak oil and water scarcity, will test the ability of modern societies to maintain their present quality of life, carefree energy use, and casual disregard for the environment.
If we look into our past, we also find that we have much to be grateful for. We are better off than everyone before us since the first humans walked the earth.
Life in prehistoric times was harsh and brutal. Life in ancient and medieval times was better, but no cakewalk. Life expectancy in 16th century England was just 35 years, and "murderous brawls and violent death were everyday occurences".
In fact, as Steven Pinker points out in A History Of Violence, the present age is far less violent than any previous:
Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.
Of course, we don't have to look into the future, or gaze backwards at the past, to feel grateful for the privileged lives we lead as Canadian citizens. Just because you are currently reading this, you are almost certainly among the richest 1% of the world's inhabitants, able to access technology (and medical attention) as far advanced to someone in Sudan as the sci-fi technologies we dream about.
I realize that in spite of all this, many people - and many Canadians - are unable to enjoy the present. Indeed, that is one of the principal things that is wrong with the present age: it is characterized by great disparities in health and wealth, and I hope that human society does manage to improve this situation over time.
But if you are like me and many other Canadians, you are living a life that future generations may greatly envy. In fact, they may look back at this as a golden age.
So enjoy it!
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