The Pinnacle of Human Civilisation

If you’ve been wondering, I’m afraid we don’t make it to the stars. Sorry. We never solve the problems of poverty, environment and food supply that keep our species to such a meager proportion of the earths surface and with a population dwarfed by more successful species such as cockroaches.

In fact, you and I (assuming you’re reading this in the near future, before the cataclysm, since I don’t suppose my blog postings will be among the rare pieces of knowledge passed down) are it. We’re there, at the top. The human race has struggled and achieved remarkable things, amazing expansions in technology, and population, but it will all soon fade away.

The statistical evidence is strong (and adapted from an argument I read recently in a New Scientist). If you imagine everyone who has ever lived – a huge mass of people, and select one at random for you to be, what are the chances that you’d end up living now? Fairly good, since we have a massive population now compared to the past.

Unfortunately, that argument also tells us about the shape of likely futures. Imagine a future where the human race colonizes other worlds and out-lives the burning out of the sun in 5 billion years time. Now, assuming the future turns out that way, imagine all the people who ever exist. It’s a lot. In fact, it’s massive, and the population at the height of humanities spread will dwarf our current population into insignificance. Select a person at random to be out of that huge mass of humans for all time. What is the probability that you’re someone alive now? Tiny. In fact, you’re much more likely to be alive when the human population is at its greatest than now.

So, either we are astonishingly unlikely freaks of statistics, or there is no such future.

By far the most likely scenario is that the population stabilizes for a bit and then declines, making now, of all the times available, one of the more likely times to be alive.

The Golden Age is now. Make the most of it while you can.

7 thoughts on “The Pinnacle of Human Civilisation

  1. Well, since I’ve been told to comment …

    Isn’t the probability of me being alive here and now exactly 1, since I’m here typing? You could use the same argument at any point in history and then find that every age was an astonishingly unlikely freak of statistics. Which is probably true, and maybe that’s your point…

  2. Psym: Thanks for commenting :-)

    Yes, the probability of you being alive here and now is exactly 1, we’ll take it as a given. However, what is the probability of a future where the human race expands its population enormously compared to todays number given that you are alive here and now? Much smaller than the probability that the future holds disaster for the human race given that you’re alive now. In fact, it’s your fault.

    It’s quite true that the first humans could have done this exact same calculation and reached the same conclusions, and been wrong. But just imagine how few of them there would have been doing that calculation and getting it wrong compared to the huge number of people who do it and get it right. Which group do you think you’re more likely to be in?

  3. You are just counting numbers of lifes. Certainly lifetimes have expanded in human history so far (well at least for some fraction of the world population).
    The whole arguments breaks down if you assume that people are reborn :-)

  4. “By `uncertain’ knowledge, let me explain, I do not mean merely to distinguish what is known for certain from what is only probable. The game of roulette is not subject, in this sense, to uncertainty…The sense in which I am using the term is that in which the prospect of a European war is uncertain, or the price of copper and the rate of interest twenty years hence…About these matters there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability whatever. We simply do not know.” (J.M. Keynes, 1937)

  5. Good quote, but Mr Keynes had obviously never read his Asimov.

    The prospect of a European war is uncertain because of all the factors we know are important but can’t measure, all the factors we don’t know about but are important, and the relationship of all the factors. That’s exactly the same reason roulette is uncertain.

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