During most of the past 5,000 years, the greatest threats to humanity have been sickness, famine, and wars. We have had plagues that decimated millions of people. The Bubonic plague, the Black Death, the Antonine plague in 165 AD, cholera, malaria, etc. reduced entire populations to as much as 1/10 of their former size in a matter of months.
Mass starvation has been the cause of millions of deaths throughout human history. The Great Irish Potato Famine, the droughts in Russia, as well as many other parts of the world, are all recorded in history. And yes, millions starved to death.
And wars, with all their pillaging, have caused the demise of whole communities, countries, and peoples since the beginning of time.
But something has happened in the past 100 years. Mankind has had great success in eradicating sickness, wars, and famine in truly impressive ways. The acceleration of evolutionary progress is such that we are solving these problems faster (although, admittedly, also creating new ones).
During the last century, there have not been epidemics that have caused deaths by the tens of thousands. The few epidemics and viruses — like SARS, Ebola, HIV — were quashed relatively quickly preventing more widespread deaths. While we cannot say that deadly plagues killing thousands will not happen again, in all probability, it won’t, thanks to advances in medicines, vaccines, and sciences for saving many lives all over the world.
Food supply in practically all corners of the world has greatly increased in abundance thanks to scientific agriculture and modern food production. We are winning the war against hunger. While there are still many starving people in fourth world or war-torn parts of the world, it is a fact that more people suffer more from obesity now than hunger.
The last major war was 80 years ago when millions died during World War II. We still have conflicts happening in some parts of the world. But the whole idea of settling disputes by ravaging and conquering a whole country or continent and its people by military force is largely becoming an obsolete idea. People are actually solving more conflicts today through diplomacy and negotiations.
I have been reading all this in a book entitled Homo Deus: The Future of Mankind by Yurval Noah Harari, and I am finding his examination of history very fascinating.
According to the author, the future of mankind, with sickness, mass starvation and the tendency to wars now under control, is his inevitable movement towards his own immortality. Harari says we already have the science to allow humans to live up to 150 years. It is still a bit costly now, but eventually, it will be affordable. This will happen with genetics and changing replaceable parts every few decades. He predicts that by the last quarter of this century, living 150 to 300 years will be probable and widespread. And if a man can live 300 years, why can’t he live 500 years or more?
I am completely absorbed and fascinated by this book. A bunch of questions keeps flashing through my mind. What would living that long feel like? How old would one have to be before he/she becomes a senior citizen? What would the age of consent be? At what age will one go through certain “rites of passage”? What new rites of passages will there be for people who live that long? What is the future of marriage? Does this mean people will still stay married for, say, 200 years to the same partner? Will people stay married “till death do us part,” or will marriage have an expiry date? Will it be renewable? How often will you be renewing such things as passports and drivers’ licenses? How many years will schooling and education be? Surely, an educational degree a century ago would be obsolete today. How many times will you need to get educated or formally update your education? What about prison sentences? How will they determine how long one must be detained for crimes no that longevity has greatly expanded? How many residences will you live in throughout your life? How many citizenships will one go through in this much longer lifetime? And ultimately: Would you really want to live that long?
Author Harari claims the science of “immortality” is already here. Theoretically, science today can create a generation of babies with designer genes that will give them every advantage to live even longer with the help of gadgets, machines, replaceable body parts and new discoveries.
Many people are upset at the idea that we seem to be going against the laws of nature. They claim man is playing God. It is notable to point out that at every juncture of a scientific breakthrough, issues like these always pop up.
Humans today are not the same types of humans that roamed the earth just 50 years ago. Humans today are, by definition, cyborgs (a combination of humans and machines). We are now routinely equipped with hearing aids, eyeglasses, dentures, knee and hip replacements, pacemakers, manufactured eye lenses, titanium for our bones, and implants of all sorts for a few decades now. This has made our lives easier — and longer.
Can liver, kidney, heart, lungs, bones, brains, tissue and muscle replacements be far behind? More amazing breakthroughs will happen to enhance the human body and prolong life.
Many people today have been granted a reprieve from an earlier death through the intercession of science. And death’s so-called inevitability continues to be pushed further back. You can trust science to solve many illnesses and diseases or immunize humans against them. As an example, one important game-changer is the new class of antibiotics that can fight new evolving forms of resistant diseases.
Even so, the future will certainly create new causes of death. Many of them will be due to the dire environmental crises mankind is facing now. And it will only get worse. Not all will be given the chance at immortality.
Harari also asks questions about what religion would be like in this brave new future. Will religion as we know it today still be around? Or will a new scientific or “techno” religion exist? (Sorry, I have not finished reading the book yet to supply you with his answer.)
Perhaps along with longevity, there will likely evolve a new consciousness and a modern spirituality. It will still grapple with the immortal questions that will probably remain unanswered forever such as, “Why are we here?” Or “What is the purpose or meaning of life?” Will we ever find the answers?
The fulfillment of man’s immortal yearning for Oneness, transcendence, his longing to meet God (however they conceive God to be) will be a whole new experience. No one, as of now, is ready to speculate on what that will be like.