It’s “Ask a ScienceBlogger” time again, and the question of the week is whether the human race will be around in 100 years.
Folks, I don’t want to get all Clintonian on you (William Jefferson, not George), but I’m going to have to say, it depends what you mean by “human”.
Certainly, it’s possible that nuclear mishap, poorly scheduled meteorite, or disease (ask Tara) will take us out in the next 100 years. My predictive powers in such matters aren’t so good. Yours probably aren’t either. It wouldn’t surprise me if the coakroaches are the ones left to tidy up, but 100 years seems relatively quick for that. The more interesting question, as far as I’m concerned, is whether we will persist as humans 100 years from now. And for that question, we need to figure out what it actually means to be human.
Are we human in virtue of our DNA? That may well be different (if only slightly so) in 100 years. I’m not sure how different the genome would have to be for it to be reasonable to say that we’d become something else. (Certainly, there would be a historical connection to our biological “humanity” circa 2006.)
Is what makes us human the peculiar way we understand the world and our place in it? That, too, may change significantly in the next 100 years. (Indeed, there are some ways in which one might hope rather vehemently that it would change — so we could get over the whole fighting-each-other-for-resources thing.)
Maybe what makes us human is that we are capable of a kind of self-awareness and self-reflectiveness. In other words, we can ask ourselves what it means to be human and what we want (or ought) to be doing to make our lives meaningful.
But being able to do this may not be enough. We might actually have to flex our self-reflective muscles rather than killing them with TV and beer.
My sense is that (barring thermonuclear disaster or bad bird flu outbreak) humanity will persist as long as we keep questioning what exactly it means for us to be human. We’re trying to live good lives without a users manual, and that requires a bit or work.
The future of humanity is in your hands. Take a moment to think about what you’re doing.