Global Warming and Al Gore Faustus Adventures inside the Earth
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Woody Allen: I don't want to achieve immortality through my work.
I want to achieve it through not dying. In discussing this prospect with various groups, I was surprised to find that the idea of extending one's lifetime to thousands of years was often seen as a dismal suggestion. What if you outlived all your friends? What would you do with all that time? Wouldn't one's life become terribly boring? What can one conclude from this? Perhaps some of those persons lived with a sense that they did not deserve to live so long.
Perhaps others did not regard themselves as having worthy long term goals. In any case, I find it worrisome that so many of our citizens are resigned to die. A planetful of people who feel that they do not have much to lose: surely this could be dangerous. I neglected to ask the religious ones why perpetual heaven would be less boring. However, my scientist friends showed few such concerns: "There are countless things that I want to find out, and so many problems I want to solve, that I could use many centuries.
Anatole France: The average man, who does not know what to do with his life, wants another one which will last forever. Certainly, immortality would seem unattractive if it meant endless infirmity, debility, and dependency upon others—but here we'll assume a state of perfect health.
A somewhat sounder concern might be that the old ones should die to make room for young ones with newer ideas. However, this leaves out the likelihood that are many important ideas that no human person could reach in, say, less than a few hundred well focused years. If so, then a limited lifespan might deprive us of great oceans of wisdom that no one can grasp. In any case, such objections are shortsighted because, once we embody our minds in machines, we'll find ways to expand their capacities.
You'll be able to edit your former mind, or merge it with parts of other minds — or develop completely new ways to think. Furthermore, our future technologies will no longer constrain us to think at the crawling pace of "real time. To such beings, a minute might seem as long as a human year. Today we are only beginning to understand the machinery of our human brains, but we already have many different theories about how those organs embody the processes that we call our minds.
We often hear arguments about which of those different theories are right — but those often are the wrong questions to ask, because we know that every brain has hundreds of different specialized regions that work in different ways. I have suggested a dozen different ways in which our brains might represent our skill and memories. It could be many years before we know which structures and functions we'll need to reproduce.
No such copies can yet be made today, so if you want immortality, your only present option is to have your brain preserved by a Cryonics company. However, improving this field still needs further research — but there is not enough funding for this today — although the same research is also needed for advancing the field of transplanting organs. Some writers have even suggested that, to make a working copy of a mind, one might have to include many small details about the connections among all the cells of a brain; if so, it would require an immense amount of machinery to simulate all those cells' chemistry.
However, I suspect we'll need far less than that, because our nervous systems must have evolved to be insensitive to lower-level details; otherwise, our brains would rarely work.
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Fortunately, we won't need to solve all those problems at once. Then this may lead, through smaller steps, to replacing all parts of our bodies and brains — and thus repairing all the defects and flaws that make presently our lives so brief.
And the more we learn about how our brains work, the more ways we will find to provide them with new abilities that never evolved in biology. Correggio Domani e for peggio! The Words of a Born Optimist. A careful assessment and years of experience that show that the long-term future is most bleak: Entropy will continue to increase, and a heat death actually a misnomer as it means the degredation of usable energy in a dull cooling worthless background of chaos is the very likely fate of the world.
This is the fate that awaits us, if we manage to work our way past the energy crisis that looms as the Sun runs out of fuel and in its death throws expands as red giant star likely to engulf us after boiling away the seas before it collapses back to a slowly cooling cinder eventually to leave the solar system in cold darkness.
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This energy crisis will eventually spread to the whole Milky Way Galaxy which will use up its available energy resources in a time scale of roughly ten times the present 14 billion year lifetime of our observed Universe. In that same time the accelerating expansion of the Universe continually reduces what we can observe and potentially access until in the distant future only the cinders of stars in our own galaxy are left.
Argument goes on whether a sufficiently advanced intelligent society could manage to live continue to have experiences and process new information and create new things indefinitely in such an environment taking on the most carefully constructed and extreme measures that are physically possible. The chances of success look relatively low for even the most optimally managed and intelligent society.
Given this and the history of human society in cooperatively plundering the resources of a meager but beautiful planet with currently abundant resources, who can possibly be optimistic about the long-term future of humanity? How many examples do we have of humans addressing global problems in an efficient way and with enlightened self-interest?
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Historical experience is that humans have generally been engaged in warfare, exploitation for personal gain and religious strife. Real issues are generally not addressed until they become serious crises and often not even then. We could mention here, various episodes of genocide, large-scale pollution, and ecological devastation, which are often interrelated. In this background the rise of culture and science is remarkable. That is until we understand their usefulness. In our modern world it is clear that material rewards and political power accrue to those that have the most scientific and technological knowledge and the educated workforce with the cultural background of hard productive work as part of a larger system.
Such societies have economic and military success and large tax revenues. Is it this culture and knowledge that offers us hope to be at least as successful as the dinosaurs which dominated the Earth for nearly times as long as humans have held sway? It is often said that the United States systematically underestimates the stubbornness preventing the peaceful resolution of long-term ethnic and tribal conflicts — perhaps because of being the melting pot of waves of peaceful immigration — less a few Indian wars.
However, could humans share the planet with reptiles? Or how about intelligent machines?
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Could they share with us? Now leaving cultural and religious value systems aside, let us move to realistic assessment of the title "Courage for Tomorrow will be Worse".
Every physical process in the Universe follows the second law of thermodynamics. That is in every process entropy a measure of disorder which equals loss of information and usefulness will tend to increase for the Universe as a whole. No process decreases the entropy of the Universe. Only completely reversible processes leave it unchanged. All living things and all man-made machines operate with processes that increase the entropy of the Universe. One cannot live by the Hippocratic dictum "Do no harm". But the best one can hope for is the weak mantra "Do minimal damage".
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I was often bothered by this inevitable conclusion and tried to see that if one could write a great work of literature, make art, or most optimally a great science discovery could one objectively leave the world better than one found it? Each time I worked out an example, the impact was negligible however great it was found by human culture compared to the damage done by mere existence. The only discovery that would make a difference called for repealing or avoiding the laws of probability or making a whole new universe.
Both of these are quite extreme. Perhaps the discovery of extra dimensions would allow some leeway in what otherwise seems an inescapable doom after a long period of unrighteous degradation of the universe.
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We face a continuous downward spiral of no return. This is not a moral or ethical statement only an engineering evaluation though it is some indication of original sin. So even living one's life as a vegetarian that only eats fruit dropped into one's hand by a willing plant is only going so far as to be very kind and considerate to other beings that are also worsening the universe for the sake of a little more order in their own self. With such sure knowledge of one's own impending demise as well as for all humanity, how can one get up and face each day with any hope? Well in science it is a central tenet to be skeptical and to question and as certain as this seems, one could cling to a shred of hope that there is some trap door of escape that will be found and opened either because of the greatness and infinite flexibility of mankind or our incredible ingenuity under extreme pressure.
I suspect that the odds of winning the lottery are higher — much higher. Instead one might look to the definition of courage and optimism and go forth cheerfully and eagerly even when there isn't the smallest sliver of hope and still do great and glorious deeds, build great civilizations even in the face of their inevitable doom.