There is a major discussion list for the Lifeboat Foundation (see its web page!) on whether the human species will 'soon" go extinct (within a few decades or millennia), and what to do about it. Here is what I sent them this morning:
I have often wished I could make a nice color slide of a great scene from the Star Trek movie of 2009. Spock tells Kirk, "Captain, your plan has a 95% chance of failure -- and if it fails all humans will die." Kirk replies:"If you have a plan we can start right now with a higher probability of success, please tell me right now. Otherwise, doing nothing means a certainty that everyone dies; we need to do our best to make this one work."
That has been my view of human extinction until about a year ago. Some folks think that it is almost irrelevant that oxygen levels in deep waters of the Pacific are now on course to reach zero in 40 years -- zero oxygen levels plus unprecedented nutrients being washed into the oceans, fulfilling both conditions for an H2S mass extinction such as the earth already experienced 5-10 times in the past. (Before humans, but not before primates; the last one killed all primates, and they re-evolved form mice over many millions of years. Se Peter Ward..).
Many folks seem to believe that nuclear weapons no longer threaten as much as they did in the 1960's, or that the folks at risk of war starting today are far saner and more predictable than the Soviets were. And they feel religious faith that artificial intelligence, deep brain stimulation, and Artificial stupidity (or artificial sharia, as in IBM's new deal to merge those nonsustainable rule-based systems in the Middle East) could not possibly lead to extinction scenarios.
But what do we do if we assess the net probability of human extinction as upwards of 95%? And if we see that this assessment fits the grim realities of Fermi's paradox as Brin once discussed on this list
(still discussed in his novel Existence)?
Well, it turns out that there is another way to look at this grim situation (other than denialism).
Many Buddhists would say that this whole world was unreal anyway. No way am I ready to go that far... but there is an intermediate picture, between the Kirk/Spock picture and the Buddhist picture. A different Middle Way, if you will.
It comes form quantum physics and quantum weirdness.
Let me emphasize that I am NOT a seeker of weirdness. Quite the opposite. As far back as I can remember (at least to age 8, on this issue), I have been an intense devotee of Occam's Razor -- looking for the simplest possible coherent model capable of explaining the facts of experience. In physics, I am as conservative as one can get without being outright ignorant or schizophrenic; I still see hope for Einstein's clear nonmystical vision of explaining everything that exists in terms of partial differential equations over four dimensions ('three space, one time"), maybe with some well-defined "dice' (stochastic PDE) but none of the weirdness familiar in more mainstream versions of quantum theory such as canonical/Copenhagen or Feynman. However, unlike a certain very famous well-placed schizophrenic, I do not deny the hard core results of experiments like the "Bell's Theorem' experiments, which require that we change our ides about time if we want to be hard core objectivists.
However... just how much do we have to change our views?
I do not want to introduce more weirdness into everyday life, but I had a paper published a few months back in the International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos tracking in detail what happens to a photon as it goes through a polaroid polarizer (like your sunglasses!). There is no escaping the fact that there are multiple scenarios in play here -- whether we call them scenarios or paths or timelines or universes.
There is no escaping the fact that the patterns of organization we think of as "minds" or "consciousness" are attributes of such scenarios, not just of the "final" objective reality, however we call it.
Beyond third person science, my claim is that quantum computing capabilities are part of what we share AS PART OF THE NOOSPHERE, as the noosphere is an instance of what evolves in a much larger ecology than just earth. In a sense, then, in Brin's parlance, the aliens are already here, as HALF of us, the so-called "spiritual" half.
It begins to feel like the scenario in a story by Anderson in the very-hard-core science fiction anthology Far Futures. Hundreds of world-lines running in parallel, like the strands of a quantum computer.
Even if only ten percent of those strands get behind strategies with a 5% chance of survival in each case, the overall system may see a near certainty of human survival (and earth achieving a certain status in its larger environment)... though individual strands face a high probability of being "z-ified." (See the Z term in my IJBC paper.)
Again, this is the most hard core objectivist model pf physics consistent with established replicated third-party experiments. There are other possibilities which are weirder still, though I do not recommend taking them too seriously in the absence of qualifying empirical support. (That includes superstring theories or Zen.)
It raises an interesting question: when is our probability of extinction so high that the main value of our strivings is the informational value of what we give to the noosphere, which straddles all these worldlines, and when is there enough chance of our line surviving (or of the quest for survival itself providing useful new information) that we put more energy into the kind of quest Kirk was engaged in in the movie (whatever the details)?
By the way, Plato and Zelazny also painted beautiful thought images which, like Anderson's metaphor, fit the new conservative physics.
The Z term describes how shadowy our entire 'world" or "universe" is.
Certain policies, like those Shelby, Lamar Smith or the Moslem Brotherhood, not only raise the probability of extinction on our time line, but of z-ification, retroactively turning our lives more into shadows,
weakening and attacking our past as well as our future.
All this from thinking hard about the life of a photon, as it would appear
in detail even in a conservative model of physics, and also in Feynman's model which is similar but weirder still. In technical terms, "interference may seem like a small effect -- until you learn how technology and natural selection can use it."
I have more stuff on that in quantum optics, and lots of new technology possibilities, but curiosity now drives me beyond, even further, to better modeling of electrons. And those little creatures are so much more powerful and esoteric than light and photons! Zitterbewegung of thoughts themselves in the quantum noosphere? But I do not yet understand; the biggest work for me personally right now is to try to understand.
Best of luck,