On the future of humanity

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

On the future of humanity

Back in 2016, I read Yuval Noah Harari’s book entitled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He wrote that it is “doubtful whether Homo Sapiens will still be around a thousand years from now, so 2 million years is really out of our league”. I wonder whether in the back of his mind he was thinking of the Fermi Paradox as regard to why we have no proof of intelligent lifeform out there besides us on planet Earth. Many have tried to explain the Fermi Paradox. Common assumptions include that intelligent life is hard to evolve (an ‘early Great Filter’) and that intelligent life tends to destroy itself before becoming spacefaring (a ‘late Great Filter). As of today, we have discovered 49 potentially habitable exoplanets, which does not give away the stage of development that life may have reached: bacteria,  living organisms,  post-humans,etc. And what about unhabitable ones? Could we imagine Artificial Intelligence (AI), supercomputers left to themselves or hybrid beings who survived the total annihilation of their planet’s biosphere and who will continue their own evolution to more complex forms? That leads to another common idea that if we ever detect signals from an extraterrestrial origin, it may very well be from machines. I imagine AI agents lost in space crisscrossing the Universe onboard of starships.

The fact that intelligent life may be hard to evolve is highlighted by what Martin J. Rees says, that “maybe some aspects of reality are intrinsically beyond us in that their comprehension would require some post-human intellect”(The smallest insect is more complex than a star or a galaxy, Grand Challenges For Science In The 21st Century, World Scientific, Sep 18, 2018). So no matter how complex the chemistry of the human brain is, we may always be clueless when it comes to the hard problem like Consciousness and the Universe.  If we are to believe that even at a relatively slow spread using subrelativistic starships, a species could colonize the galactic disk within 50 million to one billion years, a very short time compared to the age of a galaxy,  so why on Earth is it that you and I don’t know about any “first contact”? It may simply be the result of our individual or collective ignorance. The absence of proof is not proof of absence. It may be the unwillingness on the part of an extraterrestrial intelligence to reach out to us as if they were forbidden to interfere. So we could be like fish in a fishbowl with aliens watching us.


The fact that intelligent life tends to destroy itself refers to a threshold of complexity at which a complex and highly organized structure from a cellular level to an entire civilization or galaxy may reach critical instabilities. In 1996, Stuart Kauffman wrote about his working hypothesis that complex adaptative systems evolve to the edge of chaos or even to a position somewhere in the ordered regime near the edge of chaos. “The reason complex systems exist on, or in the ordered regime near the edge of chaos is because evolution takes them there” (Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 90). Edward O. Wilson once said that we have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, so there is a likelihood that a complex evolving system such as we, Homo Sapiens, tends to a state of great instabilities beyond which we aren’t able to see.


In a 2018 paper on Artificial Intelligence for Interstellar Travel,  Andreas Hein and Stephen Baxter discuss the feasibility of interstellar probes and the development of AI capabilities along four lines of missions: Explorers, Philosophers, Founders, Ambassadors. While Rosetta, the BepiColombo mission launched last year for the planet Mercury and ESA’s Hera planetary defence mission hailed as “the pioneer of autonomy in deep space” could be labeled explorers, we seem to be far from the other three agents.


An autonomous agent is a system situated within and a part of an environment that senses that environment and acts on it, over time, in pursuit of its own agenda and so as to effect what it senses in the future.

Stan Franklin and Art Graesser

In regard to the timeline, Andreas Hein and Stephen Baxter suggest mid-21st century for those AI probes to be capable of performing tasks such as communicating with an extraterrestrial intelligence and helping create space or surface colonies in advance to humans’arrival. If AI is indeed the future of mankind, robots and computers will be the ones exploring the Universe while we’ll be confined to Earth, at least for a while, trying to make sense of the information received.


The exploration of the Universe increases our awareness of a system of complex correspondences. If one can make sense of the very complex string theory, would that bring one closer to the nature of reality? On the premise that our global sense of directions is based on four, six or more parameters, I wonder how those directions relate to a Universe made of complex-dimensional structures. It is our knowledge of the Universe that seems to be complexified. In my mind, abstract algebra echoes the sound of the Universe and delivers a message to the ears of human Consciousness. Will our brains have enough conceptual grasp to hear or will that task devolve on a post-human species?

We should be open-minded about the observe(d) possibility that we may eventually hit the buffers because our brains do not have enough conceptual grasp.

Martin J. Rees


Theoretical physics is to a large extent about symmetries, and moonshine which refers to unexpected relations between finite group representations and modular objects is to a large extent about hidden symmetries, which (conjecturally) take place in a physical context. One of the most puzzling enigmas in mathematics is the monstrous moonshine. In my mind, mathematical riddles are complex theoretical structures composed of numerous propositions which themselves can be decomposed into constituent abstract systems that each need fewer propositions to be specified. The term “monstrous moonshine” was coined in a 1979 paper co-written by J. H. Conway and S. P. Norton. The authors in the paper proposed to call a new simple group M of order the MONSTER. It was later found that  1, 196883, 21296876, and 842609326 are dimensions of certain irreducible representations of the Monster group, the largest sporadic simple group whose sporadic nature makes its existence somewhat mysterious and one might wonder what its “natural” representation is.


I understand that certain representations reveal themselves within the Monster group and when I read that continuous fields have infinitely many degrees of freedom, I imagine that there can be an infinite number of dimensions in the Universe and that for every dimension compactified, there is energy waiting to be released. I see time in the same manner. In my mind, the increasingly complex reality of the future is somehow compactified in the simpler reality of the past and that, in the future lies an attractor that pulls the essence of reality within the expanding Universe.  As mathematicians and physicists are identifying informational patterns, the flow of events is carrying my steps. I feel my way on a narrow path along the edge of walls and fences of my own intellectual journey.

1. If the present and the future
Depend on the past,
Then the present and the future
Woułd have existed in the past.
2. lf the present and the future
Did not exist there,
How coułd the present and the future
Be dependent upon it?
3. lf they are not dependent upon the past,
Neither of the two woułd be estabłished.
Therefore neither the present
Nor the future woułd exist.
4. By the same method,
The other two divisions-past and future,
Upper, lower, middle, etc.,
Unity, etc., shoułd be understood.
5. A nonstatic time is not grasped.
Nothing one coułd grasp as
Stationary time exists.
lf time is not grasped, how is it known?

The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Jay L.Garfield, Oxford University Press, 1995, pp.254-257

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