Monday, May 18, 2009

Final Frontier 10: The Virtue of Exploration

There is no project that a person can devote themselves to that is as important to the actual survival of the human race – and, with it, the fulfillment of a great many human desires – than the development and settlement of space resources.

In this series of posts I argued that it would be useful to give people an idea of what that future might actually be like, and to explain some of the differences between what people might expect and what will actually happen. I have written that the asteroids contain enough material to build 600 billion space cities, each with a surface area of 25 square kilometers (5 kilometers by 5 kilometers)

The day will come when none of our descendents will be alive except those who have gotten off of this rock and moved into a community in space. If there are not enough people living in space at that time to sustain the human race, then we will have become yet another extinct race.

It is quite likely that the universe is filled with communities that failed to move fast enough. at that will bet is quite likely that some civilizations that have existed waited too long. Their existence is now only marked by whatever relics survive them – probes that have gone out into space themselves, while the forces of nature destroyed what left of the that civilization built on the planet.

We may discover some relics of such a civilization some day – a planet with a set of communication satellites still in orbit and a few probes littering the surface of the nearest neighbors in its solar system. Or some other race of beings may discover such relics here.

Preventing human extinction qualifies as a public good. Assume Person A and Person B both have a desire that the human race continue to exist. Creating a universe in those desires are fulfilled will require, let us say, 10 units of effort. However, both A and B have reason to hope that the other puts in the effort so that they can have that desire fulfilled and yet also save their effort to fulfill other desires.

We end up with human beings playing a game of chicken with the survival of the human race, each holding off acting, hoping that others act first, with the constant risk that nobody will act until it is too late for their actions to do any good.

Public goods problems are best solved by community action – by supporting a policy in which people agree for everybody to put some effort into this common good. It is an area where there is good reason to argue for government policies that move humanity in the right direction. By helping to ensure that each person contributes a reasonable share, it helps to make sure that these projects are not underfunded.

Of course, this requires a public that knows and understands what the right direction is.

People who think that we live in a universe where a benevolent God is watching out for us and has no intention of seeing humanity harms, or another type of God who plans to destroy the world so that there is no long-term future to protect, put the future of humanity at risk. They are people who will discover too late that they were wrong.

‘Too late’ in this context has some very bad implications.

There is good reason to bring the social forces of condemnation and criticism to bear against these people. We have a great deal to lose if we do not.

Allow me to add that it is not 'intolerance' to criticize views that one disagrees with. 'Intolerance' in its morally significant sense means bringing violence to bear against those who present ideas that one disagrees with. It does not apply to bringing facts or reason to bear against those ideas. Those who wield the label of 'intolerant' against those who use words instead of guns to argue their position are typically people desperate to protect ideas that truth and reason cannot defend.

Finally, and what is particularly relevant to this blog, is the value of establishing and maintaining a spirit of exploration and adventure. Curiosity and the desire to explore (and build) strange new worlds are qualities that deserve our praise. We have reason to teach our children to view explorers as heroes – at least insofar as they were explorers (without pretending that any other character flaws they might have had were not flaws).

We have reason to honor the explorers and to hold them up as role models for our children. In the end, our very survival depends on their courage, curiosity, and willingness to challenge themselves.

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