A wide mental horizon

in #worldview5 years ago (edited)

Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 12.53.03 PM - Edited (1).png


In the novel A Flight of Curlews by the Dutch writer Maarten T'Hart, the main character's parents are growing tomatoes gardeners. Their son is talented, he makes a brilliant career as a biologist at the University of Leiden. One day he ponders about living at his aunt's house. However, he has doubts:

I was still afraid of returning to the environment from which I came. I was not ashamed of this environment, I felt rather afraid that I would take over the same paralyzing mentality, a stifling mentality, in which there is no place for my own initiative in which one is happy with what has been achieved and no change is being made, and a person's mental horizon is bent on vegetable markets prices and mortgage installments for greenhouses.

I read T'Hart's novel as a child and learned from it that there is such a thing as the mental horizon. I come from a working class myself and understand the fears of T’Hart’s character very well. On the other hand, do wider mental horizons make us automatically better people?

And how much exactly you supposed to expand your horizons? Is it necessary to care not only about your bills but also about your family, neighbors and friends, your city, your nation or all of humanity?

The deep future

A few years ago I discovered the article Omens by Ross Anderson. He writes about Professor Nick Bostrom, researching the deep future of humanity. Bostrom is not interested in what will happen to us in the next 10 years or even the next century. He asks: what should we do to increase the chances that humanity will continue to exist in a million and in a few billion years? Bostrom wonders about the prevention of huge meteorites strikes, supervolcano eruptions, nuclear war, artificial epidemics, uncontrollable artificial intelligence. He plans to draw energy from black dwarfs, and then black holes when in billions of years our sun and all other stars will slowly extinguish ...

At the Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, Bostrom’s colleagues predict that the colonization of the Milky Way will take about a million years. The colonization of other galaxies will be a bigger problem because you will have to take a correction for the expansion of the universe and plan your travels accordingly. Anders Sandberg calculates that we will be able to colonize about ⅓ of the cosmos we know today. The rest will escape out of our reach. However, at the end of the Great Colonization, we should have access to about 100 billion galaxies ...

It’s not only about us

Astrophysicist Claudius Gros thinks in slightly different categories. In his opinion, it is time to care not for humanity, but for the distant future of all life. Gros proposes the use of interstellar, light-powered ships currently under construction at the Breakthrough Starshot project. He wants to equip them with automatic laboratories that can synthesize and disseminate simple microorganisms upon reaching the appropriate planets. His idea is accelerated evolution: life would start on many planets at the development stage, which took 2-3 billion years to reach on Earth.

Project Genesis does not assume any direct benefits for humanity and will probably be very difficult to finance. It will also be difficult to check whether a given planet has its own life, which would change colonization into an invasion. In one of the interviews, someone asked Gros: Is it worth doing if the development of life on an alien planet will take millions of years and we will never even know if the mission was successful? Gros replied that life itself is beautiful and it is worth giving it every chance of surviving and thriving. Genesis would also allow humanity to leave a cosmic legacy…

A widest horizon

Finally, I would like to tell you about a YouTube movie called A Journey to the End of Time. This modern cosmological Apocalypse created by the popular science account melodysheep is about the times when the stars have long since died, when even monstrous zombie galaxies, made up of only black holes, have already disappeared. In billions of billions of years, the last black hole will disappear, and the expansion of the Universe will cool the photons to absolute zero. Time will not matter anymore, because entropy will be total and nothing will ever happen again. The history of the universe will end.

The film has beautiful, hypnotizing background music and is intriguingly narrated, mainly by the voice of prof. Brian Cox. The viewer after a while sympathizes not only with people he will never know because they will live millions of years after us; not only with all kinds of strange future life, which will desperately seek for the sources of energy in the crumbling Cosmos. After this movie, I felt strongly that any structure - even dead black dwarfs and black holes - is fragile.

Anything complex and changing is a miracle, for which we should be grateful as long as we can before this last death arrives: the heat death of the Universe …


Ross Andersen, Omens, here

Jessica Boddy, Should we seed life on alien worlds? here

melodysheep, Timelapse of the future: a journey to the end of time, here

Picture source


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