Life is wonderful. The realization of (and surprise about) our own existence creates the hope that others will continue to share it. "Only you remain in the long run", as Alexis de Roode wrote in the Letters of Utrecht.
Why contribute to milliongenerations.org?
- To help identify ways for civilizations to continue
- Or at least to clarify intrinsic risks and develop concepts required for permanent (not static) existence
- Perspectives on the survival of civilization, and even of the human species, on this planet for even a few hundred more years tend to be pessimistic. History provides plenty of examples of collapsed civilizations and we have consumed most easily accessible resources, significantly alter our environment and possess or develop means for potentially disastrous conflicts or mishaps, make ourselves superfluous with technology and our "monoculture" is vulnerable.
- To benefit possible future individuals and increase the likelihood that they will be.
- "You have to begin somewhere" (as Ruben van Gogh wrote at the beginning of the Letters of Utrecht.
- Mabye because you enjoy life you want to enable others to do so, too? For your children and theirs? Things could develop quickly and you might live long, it probably will matter for your own future, too!
- Knowledge grows, so future civilization will know ever more, practically everything, also about us. So contributing good thoughts to their benefit will improve your reputation.
- Be an early adopter: the farther you look into the future, the less likely individuals will exist inevitably without the explicit care of earlier generations. If they exist, those individuals will actively care for their descendants (they would not be otherwise).
Why an open source think tank?
- Existing methods have so far failed to provide obvious and attractive solutions that are widely adopted. The recent financial crises demonstrate that neither some wise organization nor any automatic mechanism ensures everything will be all right. More useful concepts need to be found and shared.
- The advent of online collaboration pioneered prominently by Wikipedia opened new ways to gain and share insights. Together we might succeed to develop viable visions that increase the chances for all possible future generations to enjoy the benefits of knowledge.
Is there a problem?
Nature demonstrates how the biosphere can survive, evolving over billions of years, resilient even in face of extreme challenges. The sun is expected to provide conditions suitable to life on the earth for several billion more years. The earth will stay.
Some maintain that our intelligence will solve any problem or even propose that intelligent information-processing will inevitably continue forever.
History, on the other hand, provides plenty of examples of collapsed civilizations and most perspectives on the survival of civilizations of our species on this planet for much shorter periods tend to be pessimistic:
- Expectations of an end of the world (as we know it) are a part of many traditions (Last Judgement, armageddon, Ragnarök, Kalki, Li Hong).
- Martin Rees, Stephen Hawking and others maintain(ed) that our only chance of long term survival is to spread into space, as continued civilzation on this planet is far from ensured (see e.g., Dr. Hawking's talk at TED 2008). Their concern is about the survival in this century rather than billions of years, even though scientific expectation on the fate of the solar system and the universe would leave room much, much longer time spans. See here for more discussion.
- The animated short film "Das Rad" provides an entertaining example of the idea of accelerating cultural development followed by collapse.
At any rate, it is uncertain whether humans and their descendants can indefinitely maintain civilizations capable of providing benefit to their members. History provides examples of collapsed civilizations associated with dramatic reductions in population. We have consumed most easily accessible resources, significantly alter our environment and possess or develop means for potentially disastrous conflicts or mishaps, make ourselves superfluous with technology and a global "monoculture" has no backup. Indefinite progress resulting in ever more possibilities will be fatal if the asymmetry between offensive and defensive capabilities remains ("bad apples" would eventually get the means to destroy everything). There are also euphoric optimists about progress and transhumanists see humanity enhanced to merge with technology. Yet there are no signs of technical civilizations on other planets within several hundred light years around us, which suggests either that life is extremely unlikely, interstellar travel impossible, or that benefitting from knowledge for extended periods is difficult.
Dr. Hawking recommends space flight as the only solution. If feasible, spreading into space and consuming planets would indeed provide back-up and be a longer phenomenon than just staying on earth until we've used it up or destroyed our civilizations in conflict. If those making the jump went on like we did, however, livable places in the galaxy could be expected to be consumed essentially as quickly as people can travel (in the order of millions of years, not billions) and such consumption would be at the expense of beings that could develop there otherwise. Unless, that is, some civilization, somewhere found and implemented ways to continue civilizations while conditions favorable to life exist. Found ways to combine the growth of knowledge and the power it brings with long term existence. This would offer a longer perspective and would postpone a miserable ending for those left behind almost indefinitely. If we started here on earth, it would also leave much more time to make a jump to other solar systems feasible and possibly justified.
The effort on these pages therefore is about reflecting on how growing knowledge and existence can be combined until reasons beyond control prevent it. This hopes to contribute to allow as much happiness as possible. Naturally, more existence increases the opportunity for suffering as well as happiness. Most alive prefer to remain so and the growth of knowledge should allow to further improve the balance. All possible beings should have the choice. We therefore believe it is worthwile to identify conditions necessary to allow millions of generations who pass on their knowledge and individuals who realize that life is wonderful.
Why this perspective?
milliongenerations.org asks what follows if one assumes that civilization(s) manage to continue. This hopes to engage large numbers of people in thinking about the requirements for sustainable civilizations. The perspective of looking back from a future assumed as almost infinite hopes to make conclusions on some issues a lot easier and convincing than they would be based on projections. Just starting the process of thinking along these lines clarifies the concept of sustainability, the goal of survival of civilizations and the value of life, future life. Such a perspective should contribute to a frame of reference by which to define design objectives and policy initiatives and assess proposed solutions independently of particular agendas. In the long run it is obvious that any descendants are our common descendants. This realization might even help lighten some of the differences we have today.
With many minds contemplating the subject from a well defined perspective, we could hope for the emergence of viable visions about civilization that can continue beyond the next few generations. Such visions in turn might be more readily adopted and appropriate actions taken if the goal were understood by many. The indefinite continuation of civilization might be automatic and inevitable. In this case the effort of milliongenerations would be unnecessary and useless. There are examples of discontinued civilizations where much knowledge was lost. Most who think about it, seem to believe that there are many threats to civilization or even that our continued existence as a species is anything but ensured. From that perspective it certainly seems a good idea to think about how to increase the time civilization continues and to find out how it could last indefinitely. We might find that continuing civilization could actually be feasible after all and with a better understanding increase the chances for the existence of generations far in the future. It is worth a sincere effort.