Challenges for Life in the Local Universe
February 25, 2021
We address some of the major astrophysical challenges facing present day life, including humans, in the local universe. A truly successful species must break free of the cycle of evolutionary development punctuated by mass extinctions. This must be accomplished before the end of the relatively short habitability lifetime of its planet and within a window between major mass extinctions. It is not inevitable that life will produce an apex species capable of understanding its vulnerability to extinction. Individuals must build a civilization - requiring hyper-social skills, and develop technology - requiring extraordinary mechanical skills. They must have the desire to understand the natural world and the universe well enough to anticipate, and even prevent, a variety of catastrophes. Ultimately, a space faring species is required; a quality not selected for naturally. Getting that far requires a great deal of luck. Getting beyond that, for humans and extraterrestrials alike, will require a sophisticated understanding of the physical universe and the accomplishment of tremendous feats of engineering.
In particular, a successful species must learn to leave its home planet to avoid the demise of its host star. Eventually in fact, the Galaxy itself will become inhospitable to complex life during the Milky Way collision with the Andromeda galaxy. Long before that they must find away to the understanding that their home planet requires protection from external threats, like asteroids, super-volcanoes, and supernova explosions; as well as from internal threats like plague and pestilence, for example the Covid-19 (corona virus) pandemic, as well as destruction by rogue elements and `evil empires'. Most importantly, we argue for the need to avoid foreseeable catastrophe aided by science and reason. Natural selection has produced people capable of all manner of altruism or atrocity. Mass delusion is a cultural phenomenon. History shows that mass delusion, as a rule, existed throughout the pre-scientific world and persists today. This is despite the extraordinary effectiveness of science in improving people's lives. Finally, humans will face ethical challenges, if and when we encounter extraterrestrial life. Consider that much of the technological advancement of society today has been the result of the quest for competitive military advantage. We should expect the same from any technological exospecies. A major challenge for humans today is to learn to self-govern within the frame-work of evidenced based research. Research that is aimed at understanding and protecting the environment within which we have all evolved to survive.
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