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The Risk that Humans Will Soon Be Extinct

  • John Leslie (a1)

If it survives for a little longer, the human race will probably start to spread across its galaxy. Germ warfare, though, or environmental collapse or many another factor might shortly drive humans to extinction. Are they likely to avoid it? Well, suppose they spread across the galaxy. Of all humans who would ever have been born, maybe only one in a hundred thousand would have lived as early as you. If, in contrast, humans soon became extinct then because of the population explosion you would have been ‘fairly ordinary’. Roughly ten per cent of all humans would have been your contemporaries. Now (as the cosmologist Brandon Carter saw to his dismay) a scientific principle tells us not to treat observations as highly extraordinary when they could easily be fairly ordinary. How to apply the principle is controversial, yet it seems we can safely conclude that humanity's chances of galactic colonization cannot be high. Still, we should work to make them as high as possible, resisting those philosophers who argue that human extinction would be no tragedy.

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R. Gott , ‘Implications of the Copernican principle for our future prospects’, Nature 363 (May, 1993), 315319

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
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