The universe is a psychopath. It doesn’t care, one way or the other, whether or not we live or die. If we trace our lineage back far enough, say about 13.8 billion years, it is the parent of our existence. Talk about a Big Bang. And it is one cold-hearted bastard to its children.
In such a universally dysfunctional household, and on this tiny domain of dust in perpetual motion around a medium-sized star on the outer fringes of our barred spiral galaxy, perhaps the incessant hazardousness of life in this cruel world is the secret to our species’ survival. You know, tough love— that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Although highly probable that it exists elsewhere, life does seem to be the exception rather than the rule, at least in this little corner of the universe. And yet here, on our rotating and revolving globe, life has flourished.
Which is to say, there have been a lot of biological forms occupying the planet throughout its history. But unfortunately, or maybe not, most of those life forms, roughly 98 percent of them, are now extinct, due to, according to scientists, a string of mass extinction events that have plagued Earth from its humble beginnings (volcanoes, asteroids, etc.).
Statistically speaking, that could mean bad news for the human race. With numbers such as these, what odds might a Vegas bookie give to humans?
But, then, underdog Buster Douglas did actually knock out the previously undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, on Feb. 11, 1990, after most casinos refused to give odds on a fight they considered “a foregone conclusion.” So, perhaps hope does spring eternal.
Consider a brief history of mankind: At one time, several million years ago, it has been estimated there were only 10,000 of our distant ancestors living in Africa, or fewer than the number of polar bears in the world today. Truly, we were an endangered family.
However, through sheer luck, or by some grace, we reached a global population of one million about 12,000 years ago around the advent of farming. That million proliferated to one billion by around 1800 at the beginning of industrialization. And in the past 200 years we’ve increased exponentially to seven billion.
Proving, if nothing else, our species certainly enjoys gettin’ all jiggy with it. Thus, we have gone forth and multiplied. But, like a speeding train running out of control toward the end of the line, there are consequences ahead.
Some scientists now postulate that we have been living in a period of mass extinction for the past 50,000 years— the Quaternary extinction event. The cause of this has been neither asteroids nor volcanoes, but rather, according to them, the systematic proliferation of humans across the planet’s face. Creating that favorite doomsday scenario, global warming.
Somewhere, a black rhino is thinking, “Fuck you, human race!”
But other scientists are not so pessimistic. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, who is scheduled to speak at UNLV on Feb. 10 for the Barrick Lecture Series, believes our exponentially increasing technology is the next stage of evolution. And that our salvation is nigh.
Soon, according to him, humans will be organically bonding with their machines (computers and nanobots), and those machine/humans will become self-evolving, allowing us to transcend “the biological limitations of our brains.” He says 2029 is the magic year when this process will begin.
Biosphere? No, we don’t need no stinking biosphere anymore. Did I mention that somewhere a Florida panther is thinking: “Fuck you, human race!”
But wait a minute. Preeminent cosmologist Stephen Hawking says the human race is totally screwed due to its own devices unless it gets off the planet and into outer space. Quickly.
“Our genetic code carries aggressive instincts. We won’t survive another 1,000 years on our fragile planet,” he has proclaimed.
But we all pretty much know the human body isn’t made to endure long space journeys. Hence, perhaps the best bet for our continued survival is for Hawking and Kurzweil to get together for five minutes and figure out how to download human souls into one of Kurzweil’s self-evolving computers and send our souls into the final frontier. Where we will be watched over, in writer Richard Brautigan’s words, by machines of loving grace. Until we find another beautiful planet we can conquer and, well, basically strip-mine to our hearts’ content. Oh happy day!
But seriously, who knows what fate really awaits us here? Roughly 150,000 people die in the world every day. But another 370,000 are daily being born. Which means we’re probably gonna need a whole lot more cheeseburgers. Real soon.
Shit, dear reader, sometimes I think I’ve been playing Cassandra— with these unheeded, odious warnings— for so long in this column that my man-boobs are starting to sag, and I’m becoming chronically cranky. I’ve often wished for the day that I could mutter, like Hamlet in his mortal moment: The rest is silence.
CHIP MOSHER is a simple classroom teacher.