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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Heaven on Earth

As a unique aspiration of mankind, nature must not only be preserved, but coddled. It is believed to be both practical and sentimental to have a reserve, preserve, or at the very least cage for the beasts who we have so wantonly burdened over millennia. So we place swimming, walking, and crawling creatures in replications or mock ups of their environments, give them care, attention, and fulfill their every need. And then we watch them suffer and die. What we don't recognize is that animals thrive in imperfect, unpredictable environments. As a foraging instinct, roaming about in an uncertain world is in their genes. Make the world predictable, and like love unrequited, an animal sulks in depression and boredom, and withers away.

We are, as naked apes, no different in our love of the novel or unpredictable ways of the world. Of course, in a perfect world we would rather all our surprises be good ones, and thus we probe our world for mysteries and challenges that have happy endings, and if we fail, we are caught and coddled by safety nets both physical and social. That's the blessing of this modern age, as success is still a surprise, and failure is a cushioned and rarely fatal blow.

Our present world is as rich in surprise as an ocean is rich in oxygen, and so we as a species thrive. But this cannot last. Year by year, we are making it safer, more predictable, as life becomes progressively more coddled by virtual worlds and robotic helpers. But when a comfortable life becomes predictable, it is not just boring as hell, it is hell. So what does the far infinite future hold? To physicists and mathematicians like Frank Tipler and David Deutsch, the computers will have taken over and will replicate human beings in infinite memory. Both envision a paradise where each human is coddled with every want fulfilled. But our intelligent descendents will know better, and we should not be too surprised to find our afterlives populated with the uncertain pleasures of domestic life, a forager to the ends of eternity.

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