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Saturday, December 29, 2012

The End. (or is it?)


The September 2010 issue of the Scientific American ran with the cover page 'the end. or is it?'. The edition was full of articles that explored, in the words of Michael Moyer, 'why we are suckers for stories of our own demise'. In his article, he says,
 "The desire to treat terrible events as the harbinger of the end of civilization itself also has roots in another human trait: vanity. We all believe we live in an exceptional time, perhaps even a critical moment in the history of the species. Technology appears to have given us power over the atom, our genomes, the planet—with potentially dire consequences. This attitude may stem from nothing more than our desire to place ourselves at the center of the universe. "

Other articles discuss the various consequences that would result if the human race does end. But I was fascinated by this insight. We want to believe that we are at the core of something special. But why? Why do we have to think that? Moyer answers,
 "Our pattern-seeking brains and desire to be special help explain our fears of the apocalypse. Our fears of the apocalypse may in the end mirror the most fundamental fear of all: fear of our own mortality. "
I hear adults claim that the world was a much better place when they were kids. Its a terrible lie! Just look at how the world was ten or even twenty years ago: There were no mobile phones for instance!, the diseases that we are able to cure now outnumber those we were able to cure twenty years ago, the ease of living has improved rapidly. We have instant access to vast quantities of information because of the internet. Agricultural methods have improved to yield more and better crops.. the list goes on..


 The strange thing is, most of the above statements would have applied had this essay been written twenty years ago. They will still apply after another twenty years!! Except that 'phones and internet' will be replaced by something new - a new technology(ies).

Conclusion: Every generation has progressed from its predecessors towards a better world. Every generation has added something new and better. In fact, the more modern the generation, the happier it is.( If you doubt this, just try and think of the era when human beings were being traded as slaves. We are lucky to be born now instead of in those times. Or consider all the 'religious' customs that were practiced barely a 100 years ago.. some were just cruel and now are considered  heinous crimes.)

 Still, why do people claim and even believe that we are headed for a cliff? I don't know.
I remember reading somewhere: Prices will rise, politicians will philander, you will grow old and when you do, you'll imagine that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians noble and children listened to their elders!. Its probably some psychological reaction or a story that our brain makes up when we grow old so that we don't feel like we are missing anything when its time for us to depart. (I am no expert on human psychology or for that matter on most things :) ) I may be a hundred percent wrong but that's my best guess  currently.

 One plausible argument for the view that we are headed for a cliff is the climate change and the depletion of fossil fuels and other natural resources. These are problems that we have not encountered before and its quite possible that the changing climate may end our rule on this planet. Just like it ended the Dinosaurs' rule 65 million years ago. 

But I am not too worried about that. Again, to explore whether the fossil fuels will continue taking us where we want to go, scientists studied all the claims made by doomsday prophets and concluded  that our current reserves will last for at least another hundred years. By then I am confident that people will have found an alternative fuel. Hopefully, something that reduces the carbon footprint.

More importantly, we must remember that humans are not governed by natural selection alone! We are now talking about 'personalized medicine'. That is: a drug that is tailored to your needs, your genes. That may take another century to mature or two centuries. Time does not matter. What matters is eventually we will get there. We may even get to grow our organs to replace the ones we have if they wear out by using the stem cells present in the blood that's present in our own umbilical cords.

 The future looks bright to me. The next twenty years will be much better than the present. And two decades after that will be better still. The world is not coming to an end anytime soon. And I personally believe that if such a time does come, the human race will have mastered space travel and we will all be living comfortably on some new planet. A new home. Just forget the crazy notions you have about the end or the future... forget the past too. Live and enjoy the present!. Its the best time in the history of the earth yet!

Wish you a Happy New Year 2013!!