Doomsday theorem: how and when will humanity disappear from the face of the Earth?

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(ORDO NEWS) — Representatives of the species Homo Sapiens have dominated the Earth for the past 200,000 years. During this time, we managed to build cities, create complex language systems and even send robots to other planets. Agree, it’s not so easy to imagine that someday all this will come to an end. And yet 99% of all species of living things that have ever inhabited our planet have become extinct, including our hominid ancestors. In 1983, British cosmologist Brandon Carter formulated the Doomsday argument (literally, the Doomsday Argument), a probabilistic reasoning about what the end of human civilization might be. According to the argument, the chances of being one of those who will witness the Day of Judgment are highest when there is the largest number of witnesses around. so now is not such a bad time for the end of the world. Judge for yourself – violent human activity is negatively affecting the state of ecosystems, and scientists suggest that the sixth mass extinction of wildlife has already begun.

Doomsday theorem

The reality is that human activities are causing irreparable damage to the planet and wildlife. Thus, at least one million species of animals and plants are under threat of extinction. Moreover, according to recent studies, our civilization can sink into oblivion due to the extinction of insects, which is becoming more widespread. And given the instability of the modern world, the impending climate crisis and the threat of a nuclear war become quite uncomfortable.

While some scholars believe the doomsday theorem is unreliable, a 2020 study published in the A Journal for Philosophy of Culture offers a fresh look at this highly controversial argument. Note that already at the beginning of the 21st century, the study of “existential risks” that threaten our civilization became “a growing area of ​​rigorous scientific research.” In general, the likelihood of anthropogenic extinction of mankind in the next hundred years is the subject of active discussions in the scientific community.

Someday all that remains of us will also sink into oblivion
Someday all that remains of us will also sink into oblivion

Bayes’ theorem is one of the leading theorems of probability theory, which allows you to determine the probability of an event, provided that another statistically interdependent event has occurred.

Astrophysicist and cosmologist Brandon Carter, using Bayes’ Theorem, proposed a mathematical formulation that predicts the likelihood of human extinction. Considering that today there are almost eight billion people on the planet, and you and I are among all people who have ever lived on Earth, he suggested that there is an approximately 5% chance that we will disappear from the face of the Earth within a couple of hundred years and 95% chance that a completely human civilization will die in about seven to nine thousand years, which, you see, is not so bad. In other words, if all people living today are in a random place on the timeline of human history, then we are closer to extinction than not.

Existential risks

Almost three decades ago, Canadian philosopher John Andrew Leslie identified the current global problems of humanity. Interestingly, Leslie starts her list with already well-known risks, and then presents risks that are often not recognized in society, focusing on (A) natural phenomena, (B) man-made disasters, and ( C ) philosophical and psychological dangers.

Recognized risks

  • Nuclear war
  • Biological weapons
  • Chemical weapon
  • Depletion of the ozone layer
  • Greenhouse effect
  • Pollution, environmental degradation and demographic crisis
  • A pandemic of naturally occurring diseases in the world
The COVID 19 pandemic and wildfires pose a serious threat to our civilization
The COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires pose a serious threat to our civilization

Underestimated risks: natural disasters

Volcanic eruptions
Falling asteroids and comets
Extreme Ice Age due to passing through an interstellar cloud
Supernovae and solar flares
Other massive space accidents
Something we don’t know yet

The melting of glaciers is one of the main drivers of global warming
The melting of glaciers is one of the main drivers of global warming

Underestimated risks: man-made disasters

  • Reluctance to raise children (for example, declining populations in rich countries)
  • Disasters due to the use of genetic engineering
  • Disasters due to the use of nanotechnology
  • Computerization and its consequences for humans
  • Disasters in other branches of technology
  • Physical experiments that provoke a global catastrophe (for example, creating a new Big Bang in the laboratory)
  • Alien invasion and subsequent destruction of humanity
  • Something We Don’t Know Yet That Came From Human Intervention
Environmental pollution poses one of the most serious threats not only to wildlife but also to us
Environmental pollution poses one of the most serious threats not only to wildlife, but also to us

Underestimated risks: psychological and social factors

  • Threats related to religions and ideologies
  • Nihilistic pessimism
  • Ethical doctrines and norms that can be misleading, denying human values
  • Refusal to cooperate between individuals and entire nations (for example, the prisoner’s dilemma)
  • Blind revenge for justice, when no tangible benefit comes from it (for example, nuclear

While some of these risks seem incredible, if not far-fetched, overall they are quite disturbing. While Leslie identified the risks decades ago, his predictions continue to hold true today as he foresaw many of the potential planetary threats we face today. So if we are serious about existential threats, especially climate change, then we simply must take steps to mitigate them and prevent a future disaster by changing the balance of probabilities.


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