An excerpt from Space and the Longevity of Man by Stefan Possony and Jerry Pournelle:

Animals, it is believed, live only in the present. Man, the time-binding animal, lives in the future and past as well, and his assumptions about the future will profoundly affect his actions. Of particular importance is how long the future is assumed to be. It makes sense to spend the nest egg and eat the seed corn if the world must end tomorrow. Much contemporary irrationality may be caused by a sharp reduction in mankind’s historical dimension.

.. the paper (published in 1981 through a magazine curated by Isaac Asimov) goes on make an informed guess as to the current age of our species. It reasons from then-understood scientific facts about the amount of time our species has before the universe goes kaput, one way or another. It was written with a hopeful eye to the sky and it brims with enthusiasm for space exploration. It urges us to pursue extra-terrestrial settlements, and colors them as inevitable considering the unthinkably large span of time ahead of our species.
The emphasized part of the above quote is what struck me as interesting: Possony and Pournelle identify that our narrow view of the future is what causes so much “irrationality”. That is – if we all had a sense of being a part of a species that would persist for millions of years from now, our priorities would shift radically. We would treat our (currently small) habitat with respect, and we would call our differences trite, our histories lessons (not war fuel), and we would work commonly toward a noble goal, worthy of a species that will rule the planet for millenia to come.

That being said – this “narrow historical focus” is what I want to focus on…
An edited excerpt from the wikipedia article on the Stanford marshmellow experiment:

Children were led into a room where a treat of their choice was placed on a table. The children could eat the marshmallow, the researchers said, but if they waited for fifteen minutes, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. In over 600 children who took part in the experiment, a minority ate the marshmallow immediately. Of those who attempted to delay, one third deferred gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.

The gist of the experiment is: children who successfully delayed gratification went on to lead significantly more productive lives than those who succumbed to the temptation of marshmallows. The experiment has since gained wide public notice: it’s often raised in self-betterment articles, and popular culture prose on the idea of instant gratification.

It’s not a useful metaphor to call 7 billion humans a single child, but it’s interesting to wonder: if, by the predictions of the universe’s heat death, we are genuinely in our species’ childhood: what choice are we making? Are we stuffing ourselves with marshmallows by engaging in petty wars and disrespecting our environment?

Last connecting through: it’s the above train of thought that causes me to be so inspired by Curiosity. No war, cold or otherwise, fuels its voyage – it’s just out there, being curious. I think that’s a noble thing to be, and a noble thing to be remembered for.

Advertisements