The Future – And End – of Our Species

The video above presents a scenario in which sentient beings visit our planet 100,000,000 years from now. It takes as a fundamental assumption that our species will be gone by then. In fact, it’s pretty much guaranteed it will be.

First, the our galaxy is huge and full of unknowns. A meteor took out the dinosaurs, and other mass exctinction events have taken place over millions of years as well. Something out there or down here could overwhelm us in a way for which we aren’t prepared.

Second, we could obliterate ourselves with nuclear war, or something worse if even more destructive weapons are created. After the Cold War this has felt like a distant possibility, but with 15,000 nuclear weapons distrubuted among 9 countries, something could always happen. The United States and Russia continue to maintain their nuclear armaments on ‘high alert’ status, ready to launch within minutes of the command. Elect the wrong person to the US presidency, and it could be all over for us.

Third, climate change could get us. I tend to doubt this one, because although we stand to lose lives over this in heat waves, flooding, and other natural disasters, as a species we seem likely to survive.

Fourth, there’s a more cheerful reason why our species may not exist millions of years from now: evolution. The genus homo has existed for around 2.5 millions years, but anatomically modern humans have only been around for 200,000 years. Think about that. 300,000 years ago there were no humans like we know of today. Given 100 million years, how could humans like us still exist? And yet, though our species will be technically extinct, we really won’t be gone if our far distant decendant species exist. In fact, there could be numerous species throughout our galaxy that trace their origins back to us and this world. In fact, Earth could even still be home to some of them.

In terms of deep time, homo sapiens sapiens is guaranteed to go extinct one way or the other. How we’ll go into that eternal oblivion is the open question. Our task is to think of the next several hundred years, starting with the world now and the following few generations. Individually, it seems wise to me to practice mindfulness and make the most of the one life we know we have. 

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