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Humanity's Collective Technological Suicide

by Niklas Haas on July 9, 2020

Tagged as: life, society, philosophy.

The fermi paradox is a statement lampshading the apparent contradiction between the predicted prevalence of extraterrestrial life, and the lack of observations of it. There are many ways to attempt answering it, such as the rare earth hypothesis, but I think my favorite approach is the one that posits that intelligent life did exist elsewhere - it just ended itself before it could spread.

This post is not some faux-noble parable about how “boo technology is bad and scientists are gonna poke where they shouldn’t be poking!” or “war is bad and those damned greedy capitalists are gonna nuke us all!” or something. It’s an observation of the inevitability of death in the pursuit of immortality, 1 and perhaps even why there’s no point in fighting it. Rather, we’ve already gone too far past the edge to stop now. But let me explain.

At the end of the day, ‘life’ is a concept best defined by thermodynamics. The battle against the arrow of time via the local reduction in entropy. At any point in time, the body is about a few seconds away from death. If the chemical ATP machinery in your cells stopped even briefly, the entire structure would collapse on itself. What it means to be alive at all is to be in a constant state of fighting the universe’s fundamental desire to see us all dead (the lowest energy state). We continuously exist barely straddling the interface between heat death and chaos. It’s as though the forces of nature conspire to kill us in any way imaginable. But evolution is clever. Evolution finds a way. As if by some miracle, if there exists a process by which surrounding energy can be harnessed to reduce local entropy, life will find it. We’ve become increasingly better at it. To the point of developing this miraculous thing called a ‘brain’, self-awareness, abstract thinking, hypothetical reasoning, the evolution of language transcending consciousness from experience to information, and so forth. We’ve become amazingly good at surviving. Yet there is a problem here. Fundamentally, by definition, the more hardship we remove from our lives, the less we are still alive - a realization we can see reflected in our modern first world philosophy of apathy bred by the removal of all real hardship. The curse of the 21st century is that our lives have gotten so comfortable that we forget the value of even being alive at all. Conflict stemming not from hardship, but from complacency. A desire to stir things up to avoid the most horrifying emotion we’re capable of perceiving - boredom.

If life is defined by the struggle against death, then absolving us from the struggle is equivalent to collective suicide. The less dynamic our lives become, the less we can even be said to be alive - up to the extreme of existing in permanent stagnation and immortality. There is a fundamental limit to how intelligent a process can become - the better it is at solving setbacks, the more automatically problems are turned into solutions; the less it can still be defined by a struggle against death. And when there’s no more struggle against death, there’s no more pressure to evolve. Being in perfect homeostasis with the environment is another form of lowest-energy state, no different from inanimate matter. The final pursuit of life is, itself, death - like the somber conclusion to the universe’s tune, perhaps even before the whole process repeats itself as the decay of the last fermion reboots the universe into the next aeon.

In a very real sense, I think, therefore, it’s the inevitable conclusion of any intelligent civilization that may have existed elsewhere to evolve itself to a point of permanent stagnation and death - whether by achieving ‘world peace’ via the perfect diffusion of all societal differences and the dissolution of all barriers and thereby ceasing to evolve/live; or by nuking itself to death in the pursuit of surviving in the face of adversity; or perhaps alternatively by simply becoming lucid enough to realize this inevitability and consciously deciding to opt out of evolution, instead accepting its death and just enjoying life as best it can before it’s over.

Our technology, itself an inevitable outcropping of what it means to be human, is also the means by which we will commit suicide in some form or another. Perhaps the only brief respite from this future is to realize that it is our pain that defines our joy. The more we suffer, the more we can appreciate the end of suffering. Humans have to learn to cry - screaming their way out of the womb - before they can learn to smile. Instead of trying to solve problems everywhere we see, we could embrace the problems we have. Realize that they are what make us alive at all. Living the worst moments as intensely as we can, crying and screaming with all our heart, so we can re-experience what it means to be happy. Tumbling screaming into the void. If we are destined to all die, we might as well die kicking, fighting, scrambling and biting - while being thankful for the pain we receive along the way, instead of complaining about it. And perhaps, at the highest level of enlightenment, setting forth to create our own misery - taking what love and just destroying it.

Not that I’d be capable of that, anyway. I’m a prisoner stuck in the trap of a desire for comfort like the rest of us. The prison that will kill us all with its gentle embrace of ever-increasing convenience, comfort and laziness.

  1. You may be tempted to think “Oh, I don’t desire immortality, so this doesn’t apply to me!”, but I believe that is a common misconception. Fundamentally, we all desire immortality. It’s built into our very sense of what it means to enjoy something. Our core emotions, indeed our very way of processing reality, is built upon the fear of death and the reward of anything that forestalls it. Every comfort you feel compelled to seek out is, transitively, an attempt to extend your lifespan - and the ubiquitousness of comfort-providing technology in our society is a clear testament to that fact. If you truly didn’t desire immortality, you would already have killed yourself by not having a will to wake up and eat.