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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Janko Kokosar: on 6/4/14 at 18:04pm UTC, wrote Dear Stephen Ashworth You gave interesting proofs for evolution and a hope...

Donald Barker: on 6/1/14 at 3:03am UTC, wrote Hello Stephen, I am in your camp and agree with your essay, but, I believe...

Marc Séguin: on 5/27/14 at 19:46pm UTC, wrote Stephen, Yours was one of the first essays I read, but I didn't take the...

James Hoover: on 5/21/14 at 16:49pm UTC, wrote Stephen, Time grows short, so I am revisiting and rating. Have you had a...

Gbenga Ogungbuyi: on 5/11/14 at 20:37pm UTC, wrote Dear Ashworth, I found it absorbing. As the energy from such a star flows...

Aaron Feeney: on 5/10/14 at 3:05am UTC, wrote P.S., I will use the following rating scale to rate the essays of authors...

Tejinder Singh: on 5/1/14 at 13:35pm UTC, wrote Dear Stephen, I have enjoyed your reading your very well-written essay. I...

Robin Hanson: on 4/27/14 at 0:42am UTC, wrote Don't mistake a clear view for a short distance. I count myself among the...


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FQXi FORUM
August 22, 2019

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: Humanity Does Not Steer, but Should Enjoy the Ride by Stephen Ashworth [refresh]
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Author Stephen Ashworth wrote on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 15:35 GMT
Essay Abstract

In order to discuss steering the future direction of human civilisation, it is first necessary to define a goal, and in order to do that, it is first necessary to examine the position of the human species in the wider biological and cosmological universe. It is shown that a simple graphical model of the evolution of life can reconcile the controversial concept of evolutionary progress with the scientific demand for a rigorous account of evolutionary change. The position of human society then becomes clear. The forces acting on society at present are propelling it in the direction of continued growth. While no one group within society can steer the whole in a constructive direction, the difficulties and dangers of continued growth can be eased through understanding that major opportunites for further human progress are to be found in space. The focus of material growth should therefore now begin to move out into our Solar System and beyond.

Author Bio

Stephen Ashworth has for many years worked in scholarly publishing within the University of Oxford. He is a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society and a Researcher with the Institute for Interstellar Studies. He has contributed technical articles on spaceflight within and beyond our Solar System to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, and popular articles to Spaceflight magazine. He is author of a science-fiction novel set on the Moon, and plays jazz saxophone.

Download Essay PDF File

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Vladimir F. Tamari wrote on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 14:04 GMT
Dear Mr. Ashworth

I really enjoyed reading your essay. You write so well and convincingly you made it appear inevitable that our humanity will one day expand into the Solar system and beyond - just as in all those SciFi novels and movies. Arthur C. Clark was also a member of the the British Interplanetary Society. Well his invention of the geostationary satellite came to be realised and that is making amazing things happen..who knows your vision may yet come to be one day.

Meanwhile, back on Earth...given present realities things can easily go wrong...or right.

Best wishes,

Vladimir

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Kimmo Rouvari wrote on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 05:07 GMT
I really enjoyed your essay and I really hope that we, as mankind, are able to pull this through before it's too late. Leaving Earth *is* mandatory and we are about to reach that capability.

Unfortunately, reaching such capability means also that our overall scientific knowledge is reaching levels which are extremely dangerous to our very existence. We are about to experience a new paradigm in physics and this paradigm is capable of wiping us out of existence. The depressive fact is that wiping us out can happen within couple of year, but leaving Earth permanently is going to take a very much longer time.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Feb. 14, 2014 @ 15:03 GMT
Mr. Ashworth,

I thought that your essay was beautifully written, and I found it quite absorbing to read.

May I just point out a physical problem related to space travel. The earth used to have an atmospheric membrane that surrounded it completely and protected it fully from all toxic radiation. The NASA rocket ships repeatedly punctured that membrane causing it to commence collapsing, and now some of the earth's atmosphere is leaking out into space, and worse, all kinds of undetectable material is seeping in.

If the optimum place for human beings to be in is the earth, why are we supposed to only engage in a plan whereby only a few of us will be allowed to board the spaceship that can attain the speed of light and speed us away to some other place we can ruin?

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Jayakar Johnson Joseph wrote on Feb. 17, 2014 @ 02:35 GMT
Dear Stephen,

Certainly, Humanity Steer the Future to a significant extent, in that environmental imbalance causal by Humanity effects harmful genomic disorders and harmful phenotypic influence on genotypic variations. Thus, the effect of prevalence on many specific health disorders that topples healthcare is causal by the self-destructive environmental policy, Humanity practices. Thus, Humanity Steer the Future is the environmental regulations on the intrinsic radioactive-source to human, in that restructuring the atomic analogy is much imperative.

With best wishes, Jayakar

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Wesley Wayne Hansen wrote on Feb. 18, 2014 @ 19:14 GMT
Stephen,

A very nice essay; humanity, being subject to evolutionary forces, are, at best, highly constrained controllers. Essentially I am of a very similar mindset as you. In my own essay I use Timothy Leary's acronym circa late eighties: Space Migration Intelligence enhancement Life Extension or SMILE. I thought it was fitting!

But I diverge from you regarding the random nature of...

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Feb. 19, 2014 @ 02:45 GMT
Intriguing premise Stephen,

Reading the title, I was inclined to disagree, but after reading the abstract I find more to agree with than argue against. So I will likely have more to say after reading the body of your essay.

Regards,

Jonathan

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sridattadev kancharla wrote on Feb. 28, 2014 @ 19:58 GMT
Dear Stephen,

I totally concur with your title that humanity should enjoy the existence. The question then is , how to enjoy?



Love to Live to Learn to Give to Enjoy Everything


Love,

I.

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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 1, 2014 @ 19:15 GMT
Dear Stephen!

I rated your essay high, due to its relevance and its written quality.

Your essay is well-reasoned, scholarly written. The abstract draws forth similar important considerations to which my essay also points out. However our point of view for a possible resolution quite different. I think, humanity is able to steer his own fate, and need to find his place on his own...

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Gyenge Valeria wrote on Mar. 1, 2014 @ 19:37 GMT
Dear Stephen!

Only Planet of Choice doesn't work in the above post. (I'm trying to type again)

Anonymous comment wasn't also advised, meanwhile some I was logged out.

Kind regards,

Valeria

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Gyenge Valeria replied on Mar. 1, 2014 @ 19:41 GMT
Okay Stephen!

try https://archive.org/details/TheOnlyPlanetOfChoice typing into your browser.

:)

Valeria

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Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Mar. 9, 2014 @ 15:43 GMT
Dear Stephen,

Your essay involves ideas that I thought of some time in the past. My opinions along these lines are considerably modified. I see that you are interested in the prospect of interstellar space exploration. You might be interested in my book “Can Star Systems Be Explored? The physics of starprobes.” This little book is intended as a way of introducing a range of physics...

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 18:41 GMT
I agree with Jonathan:

"The difficulties and dangers of continued growth can be eased through understanding that major opportunities for further human progress are to be found in space."

I see this a much too wide perspective of blind science fiction at the brink to a cynical parody instead of providing honest answers to pressing questions.

Eckard Blumschein

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William Amos Carine wrote on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 20:56 GMT
Hey Ashworth,

This is well written, and there is no doubt about the language skills and the ability to capture an audiences attention. Bravo there! I would ask for a more in depth explanation for the point made that human life, or the brain/societal structure of a human being is the most evolved life form on this planet. Sure, we think, but animals can reason as well. I also heard an argument that made sense to me. It went that if intelligence is defined by the ability of a species to survive, unless humans figure something out, plants may have to be given the title. But to put the thought in my own words, evolution doesn't necessarily go along with intelligence or how we separate from the whole living kingdom by human-like distinctions. About the only thing we have significantly more manifest than the rest is an ability to reflect, to think this is happening and pick a new direction based on this awareness or self directed thought. Well, we are pretty good at wasting time and making mistakes too! I am not asking you for a defense, I just want to see where you are coming from on that point. It gives humans a too central role, in my opinion. I am not saying that I agreed with everything you said other than just this, but that is the only part that my ability to read seems to have left in darkness.

Best,

Amos.

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Turil Sweden Cronburg wrote on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 13:55 GMT
I’d never heard of Dawkin’s Information Bomb idea of a different sort of exploding cosmological body. Thanks!

And, regarding your “Exponential growth is hardwired

into the system” comment, you might find my own paper interesting... I offer a highly organized (if very general) map for how we can, indeed, “cut present-day problems down to a manageable size”.

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Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Apr. 2, 2014 @ 15:39 GMT
I gladly append my name to the long list of people who enjoyed your essay!

One remark.

It occurred to me that, if one takes a fully abstract version of the nested shell model (dropping any biosphere-oriented interpretation, and any labelling of the levels), and populates it with randomly moving identical balls, initially all packed at level zero, one still obtains an apparent...

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John C Hodge wrote on Apr. 4, 2014 @ 21:06 GMT
Dear SA

Notwithstanding all the points with which I disagree, your essay did expand my horizon. Thanks.

Many of your statements of “…must...” or “…has to be…” are false in the sense there are other possibilities.

That humanity could not steer is not clear. Humanity as a whole does not consciously or “scientifically” direct humanity. Nature chooses. Certainly,...

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Apr. 8, 2014 @ 23:07 GMT
Hello Stephen,

I enjoyed your essay; but I take issue with the notion that we do not steer - because I think this view is a luxury we dare not allow ourselves, on the premise that there will always be individuals who subvert the will of the people for personal gain. I think perhaps it would be better to state "Humanity Must Steer, or it Will Not Enjoy the Ride." I am in complete agreement that we must steer our way to the stars and that going into space is the intelligent thing to do, but I lack your conviction that this is something humans will do regardless of which of the three factions prevails at any moment.

Your assessment that the view of the three categories can allow us to segment the view on growth are naive, at best, because this ignores the modus of learning to do things more intelligently - rather than equating growth and progress with increasing levels of scale. While on the one hand I acknowledge that extremely large-scale fabrication facilities are needed to efficiently construct space vehicles, I wonder if enormity of scale is otherwise a justifiable measure of growth and progress. And finally, I offer this.

Perhaps humans are not ideally suited for space travel anyway. Maybe intelligent marsupials would be better adapted to the rigors of space and long periods in an enclosed space, than placental mammals. Maybe the economical thing to do is for human scientists to advance the evolution of kangaroos, to create a human-roo hybrid - that would harvest the asteroids for us. Or maybe we both read too much science fiction.

All the Best,

Jonathan

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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on Apr. 8, 2014 @ 23:13 GMT
Sorry,

That should be 'is naive' above.

Regards,

Jonathan

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Member Dean Rickles wrote on Apr. 9, 2014 @ 11:04 GMT
Dear Stephen,

As many others in this competition have mentioned, you claim that "the future evolution of a system as complex as human civilisation is unpredictable".

That is true of course, but it should not be overdone. Let's think of a smaller case involving, say, my wishing to take my family on holiday this year. This decision is part of a complex socio-economic system. Yet it is not hard to make it happen. Sure, there might be unforeseen issues (monetary or otherwise), but one can adapt and replan. What your claim points to, I think, is that idea that we are at the mercy of forces beyond our control. Yet humans are rather special in that they can act teleologically, with an end goal in mind, and modify, switch, and adapt to achieve it. I think this kind of future-avoidant thinking is in part responsible for some of the major problems with humanity. That is: we don't always need to predict because we can actively make (many) things happen by acting so as to bring them about.

Best,

Dean

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Ioana Petre wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 19:32 GMT
You wrote this essay beautifully. What is not clear to me, though, is what part, if any, do individual human beings play in the future of humanity... To what extent are they relevant for your account?

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 03:11 GMT
Stephen,

Well-organized thoughts on a prescribed direction of space exploration and exploitation. However, as a type 0 civilization, we seem to have meager capabilities for space with a technology limiting human survival, speed of spacecraft and the high cost of launching vehicles. As you suggest, our endeavor is not exactly conscious, and perhaps with a conscious effort, we might advance quickly. It is true that a plasma propulsion system can reduce a Mars trip to some 3 months rather than 2+ years, but still harmful radiation is a survival factor. I assume you are speaking of solar-system travel to asteroids and other close sources of resources. What time frame do you pose for a survival that steering for the future must consider.

I like your approach but like my essay, it is difficult to foretell a viable approach once you describe our current steering problems.

Jim

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James Lee Hoover replied on May. 21, 2014 @ 16:49 GMT
Stephen,

Time grows short, so I am revisiting and rating. Have you had a chance to check mine out?

Jim

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 05:37 GMT
Hi Stephen,

I like how you have considered the potential confrontation of different groups who have different views of how we should prepare for and build the future.It would, as you explain, be difficult to unite mankind with a single purpose without imposing views upon people, compulsion. Compulsion to support for example a technological trans-human pathway would be as bad, as I see it, as compulsion to follow an extreme religious fundamentalist pathway. Though both have supporters who see that pathway as correct and desirable. The path we really do not want is unlimited growth in economies (using up resources more quickly) or populations (requiring more resources).

Migration to space will not solve the population problem, all the while there is growth, but the idea will give hope. There may be resources that could be mined but rather than doing that, which requires a lot of energy, it might be better to learn restraint and to reuse the resources we already have and invest the money for space programmes into developing resilient, self sufficient, sustainable Earth societies.

I can see the goal of space migrations being something that all mankind could get behind with appropriate political-social engineering. Though at present the cost and current technology are limiting factors.It would be necessary to sell the idea to the people making the cost and dangers seem acceptable and the migration a natural progression in mankind's development that gives hope for the future survival of the species.

I think your essay is well written, relevant and thought provoking. Good luck,Georgina

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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 12:12 GMT
What an excellent essay, Stephen.

Though I disagree with the premise that humanity cannot steer its future -- I can see how the assumption of hierarchies forces that conclusion. I argue the opposite in my own essay, which hopefully should shortly appear -- that laterally distributed, not hierarchical, information in a complex system makes self determination possible. I hope we can get into a lovely discussion of these contrasting models. Thanks for a great read!

Tom

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 12:19 GMT
I meant to say "lively," yet perhaps "lovely" fits!

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Michael Allan wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 01:09 GMT
It's interesting that a denial of the question should rate so highly (currently top) among those trying to answer it. When you're able to catch up, Stephen, I'd like to critique your essay a little. Would you be willing to reciprocate?

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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 04:17 GMT
Dear Author Stephen Ashworth

Rarely seen a thoughtful analysis and focused as you.

I also noticed: Humans should not (and can not) directing future.

Let come Future by measures of Future will use to choose us?

Best wishes with the highest point - Hải.CaoHoàng

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Anselm Smidt wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 16:09 GMT
Respektlosigkeit zu Regierung und Wirtschaft ist nicht sinnvoll.

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Ross Cevenst wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 14:09 GMT
Hi Stephen,

You write superbly! That was a pleasure to read. Like many others though I object to the somewhat fatalistic elements presented. Rather than simple observers, are we not participants in the process you propose? If so, then our choices, part of the system or not, will profoundly alter the outcome, and though we should be extremely wary of power-hungry people highjacking the reigns of power, should we not still attempt to steer in a direction informed by morality (and not simply an 'inevitable' future)?

None the less, I found the concepts you present still very interesting! Thanks once again for a superb read,

Ross

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 19:36 GMT
A wonderfully written essay, Stephen, even if we do come from opposite sides of the fence on this issue. You critical comments and vote on my own post would be greatly appreciated.

http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2063

What I will say here is that I recently read Lee Billings' Five Billion Years of Solitude which has shaped my view on these issues. Billings quote a scholar Tom Murphy who calculated that if the world would grow at a meager 2.5 % per year our energy requirements would demand the entire Milky Way galaxy covered in energy capturing Dyson Spheres. He quote Murphy: "We know in some detail what human beings were doing 2,500 years ago. I think I can safely say what they WON'T be doing 2,500 years hence".

Our current path is unsustainable over the medium term, and the explosion of growth since the industrial revolution may prove shorter than many expect.

Thanks for a thought provoking essay.

Best of luck!

Rick Searle

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Mark Avrum Gubrud wrote on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 21:18 GMT
As the title implies, this essay rejects attempting to answer the question; instead, it adopts the familiar stance of awarding almost moral force status to "evolution" which is considered as beyond human control, notwithstanding the claim that we will now take control of our literal evolution as biological or technological creatures.

Basically, the idea is that humans must choose human extinction so that some "more evolved" critter can take our place and carry on the great project of evolution. This is taking the familiar fear that Darwin's theory would banish God and carrying it one step further: Evolution as God, as the source of moral order.

E.g.:

"Several lines of technological progress, particularly nanotechnology, information technology, robotics, genetics and medicine, are together converging on a new definition of what it is to be human, or perhaps on a range of new definitions, and this increased flexibility will be valuable as humans adapt to living in novel engineered environments away from the planet on which they originally evolved."

OK, first, the goal to which these technologies are converging is "a new definition of what it is to be human"?

And why are we interested in redefining such an important word? We know what it means. We are this species, Homo sapiens.

But I guess you would have to redefine "human" in order to make sense of the proposition that some creatures which are not Homo sapiens will make use of "this increasing flexibility... as humans adapt...."

I, personally want no part of any revolution whose completion requires the redefinition of "human."d

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Robin Hanson wrote on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 00:42 GMT
Don't mistake a clear view for a short distance. I count myself among the critics who say that today "extraterrestrial resources are too widely diffused over too large a volume of space for economic retrieval." Of course this won't always remain true. But it seems far from clear why humanity's future becomes better if we "spread enlightened understanding of our place in the universe and our potential for future growth using the material and energy resources of our own and other solar systems." People have limited time and attention, and the time people spend understanding this is time taken away from other things. If we are a long way away from actually using space resources, I don't see the point in forcing people today who are focused on other issues to understand that eventually we hope to expand into space.

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Member Tejinder Pal Singh wrote on May. 1, 2014 @ 13:35 GMT
Dear Stephen,

I have enjoyed your reading your very well-written essay. I am an enthusiast for migration to other habitable planets. However, one big hurdle, in my opinion, is the time of travel, which is enormous, compared to human life-span. It sets great challenges for technology, for it would seem generations would live and die on the way before the destination can be reached! Physics would be of great help if one day we could understand whether the speed of light is a fundamental theoretical barrier, or only a representation of our current theoretical understanding. Maybe one day when we understand quantum theory better, and we have a quantum theory of gravity, we might also understand space-time structure more deeply, perhaps enabling an easier `way out’ for migration to outer space. But I think this is very futuristic and I wonder if humanity should first work to set other terrestrial problems right, so that when we understand science well enough to migrate conveniently, we are still left with enough resources to do so.

Kind regards,

Tejinder

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Gbenga Michael Ogungbuyi wrote on May. 11, 2014 @ 20:37 GMT
Dear Ashworth,

I found it absorbing.

As the energy from such a star flows through the surface environment of an orbiting planet it can power an “information bomb”. In my article STRIKING A BALANCE BETWEEN TECHNOLOGY AND ECOSYSTEM you will see how the energy from the sun ultimately represent the input source of life for all scientific explorations on earth and which must be consciously used to steer a better world. You will also see how humanity can” enjoy the ride” as you quote. I sincerely employ you to read it. It is not an over statement to say that many authors got inspirations and motivations from earlier essays like you- I have advocated against such in the general forum section anyway! I have rated your essay.

Find my direct article here http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2020

I expect your comments and rating as well:

Wishing you the best in the competition.

Regards

Gbenga

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Member Marc Séguin wrote on May. 27, 2014 @ 19:46 GMT
Stephen,

Yours was one of the first essays I read, but I didn't take the time back then to comment on it.

I really enjoyed your take on the question. I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion that "humanity should steer the future [...] through spreading enlightened understanding of our place in the universe and our potential for future growth using the material and energy resources of our own and other solar systems, [and] using that long-range perspective to cut present-day problems down to a manageable size." What you propose fits quite well with the "futurocentric education initiative" that I described in my essay.

I hope your essay makes it to the finals, and I have rated it accordingly. Good luck!

Marc

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Donald C Barker wrote on Jun. 1, 2014 @ 03:03 GMT
Hello Stephen,

I am in your camp and agree with your essay, but, I believe we need to be more focused on a single short term attainable goal which will inspire and motivate people in the manner in which you have written. My essay addresses the single most pragmatic and highly motivating endeavor that humanity can currently undertake; with the side benefit of doubling our odds of long term survival.

Good luck,

Don Barker

PS. what ever font or text editor you used makes it very difficult for people to copy and paste your text. I would have highlighted examples had it been easier.

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Janko Kokosar wrote on Jun. 4, 2014 @ 18:04 GMT
Dear Stephen Ashworth

You gave interesting proofs for evolution and a hope that humanity will evolve into the universe. For instance, we see relics of our evolution, these are bacteria, galaxies, etc. Dawkins say that "the first threshold is the appearance of replicators, a population of self-copying molecules with the property of heredity." What those molecules are: DNA, or their primitive form? Does their beginning forms exist today? Why not? Is it possible to simulate them? It is an interesting question for me to find the most primitive forms of life. I heard for a virus of the palm tree, which is the smallest possible virus. Do you know something more simple? Virus is the most primitive life, according to me, although biologists think they are not life form.

Here I also see the growth of Artificial Intelligence, which is almost necessary to help us to conquer the universe, because this conquest is very demanding.

But all this mechanistic principles of Dawkins do not explain consciousness. I wrote about it the old FQXi essay ... Explanation of life need explanation of consciousness.

My essay

Best regards

Janko Kokosar

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