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Friday, November 18, 2016

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF PLANET EARTH AND HUMANITY?

Scientific American recently had a special issue on the future.  In particular, there were nine questions deemed worthy of exploration:
  • What mark will we leave on the planet?
  • Will climate change us?
  • Who will be the winners and losers in an increasingly crowded world?
  • Can civil society endure extreme economic disparity?
  • Will we learn to control our genetic destinies?
  • Can we defeat aging?
  • Would we want to live forever (if we could)?
  • How long will our species last?
  • Can we trust our own predictions?
Over the next few weeks I'll delve into one or two of the above.

There also were 20 Big Questions about the Future of Humanity, and here are a few responses:
  • Does humanity have a future beyond Earth?  Martin Rees (right) of the UK:  By the next century private funding will take a few to Mars, but it will take a few centuries for posthumans (think cyborgs and the like) to travel beyond the solar system.
  • When and where do you think we will find extraterrestrial life?  Carol Cleland (right) of the University of Colorado:  Perhaps microbial life on Mars might be found in 20 years, but Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Titan seem compelling and will take longer.  (My comment:  What about aliens like in the movie Arrival?  Not addressed.)
  • What is the chance Homo sapiens will survive for the next 500 years?  Carlton Caves, University of New Mexico:  Odds are good.
  • Will sex become obsolescent?  Henry Greely (right), Stanford University:  No, but sex to conceive babies will become less common.
  • Can we avoid a sixth extinction?  What were the previous five you ask?  Here.  The most recent one was when the dinosaurs went.  Anyway, from Edward O. Wilson of Harvard:  It can be slowed, then halted, if we take quick action.
  • Will be ever colonize outer space?  Catherine Conley (right), NASA:  If we are talking a working colony from Earth...very far in the future, if at all.
  • Will we ever figure out what dark matter is?  Lisa Randall and Frank Baird, Harvard:  Hopeful, but not guaranteed.
There were others, but I thought the questions and subsequent responses hardly qualified as truly BIG.  What about the ultimately monumental queries?  I can answer that.  Scientific American is a respected and scientifically accurate publication, unlike, say, me.  They do comment on paranormal and supernatural phenomena, but only to discredit those fields.  They tread carefully on religion, but almost half of scientists don't believe in God:


Above, in a Pew Research Center survey, an astounding 95% of the American public believe in God, but if not, some universal spirit or higher power.  In this same survey I found it a bit surprising that there are more Evangelical Protestants than Catholics and twice as many Protestants as Catholics:


Note the very high percentage of Atheists, Agnostics and Nothing in particular for scientists.  I suspect that some significant fraction of scientists who indicated a religion in fact has doubts about any kind of supreme being.  I wondered about what percentage of the general public who had religion  nevertheless did not believe in something like a God, and Pew has a recent poll that gives this information:


I rather doubt that irreligious people go into the sciences.  Thus, there must be something to logical thinking and "maturity" of thought that must make the difference.  (For the record, Pew is non-partisan, derived a quarter century ago from the company that owned the Los Angeles Times and does not appear to have any particular bone to pick.)

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