The cover headline for Michael G. Zey's article, "Our Evolutionary Path Into the Universe" (May-June 2001), was tantalizing. Unfortunately, Zey failed to deliver any startling insights.
Is there any radical insight into human evolution contained in Zey's laundry list of gadgets and cyber lingo? Even if all our technological dreams were somehow fulfilled, would it reveal any great ontological principle? Surely we'll still be asking "why" even if, in some distant future, our descendants manage to "vitalize" every corner of the "currently dead" universe.
In the natural sciences, discoveries of recent years have set us scrambling to reconstruct and refine our vision of the universe. Our triumphs in the search for understanding are often short-lived. Nevertheless, with incredible hubris, Zey proposes a future society where every invention is a success, where the impact and drawbacks of civilization need not be acknowledged, where anything can be justified in the name of progress.
Zey's vision is a homogenized universe, where machine-dependent people live forever inside an endless, monolithic fortress against nature. The idea that this is humanity's destined evolutionary path is fundamentally unappealing.
* Omission of Politics and Ethics
While Michael G. Zey's piece raises many valid points concerning current trends into the future, what he fails to mention speaks just as loudly. The most obvious and glaring of his omissions are the realms of politics and ethics, which constitute fundamental issues when talking about human evolution. Even if Zey's four key points of Dominionization, Species Coalescence, Biogenesis, and Cybergenesis go forward relatively unaltered from what the baseline scenarios suggest, it is almost inconceivable for these four facets alone to take us into the universe without just as equally massive changes in the ethical and governance systems on this planet.
* Space Fantasy
The fantasy that "outer space" is the answer, and our "conquering" of the universe is not only our right but obligation, is very dangerous. Why not use human consciousness to stop our current destructiveness and create a sustainable environment here on Earth--the place of our creation and the only resource we realistically have?
Michael G. Zey responds: In my book The Future Factor, I present a vision of the ultimate purpose and destiny of the human species called the Expansionary Theory of Human Development. This theory is a synthesis of ideas emerging from astronomy, cosmology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology.
According to this theory, humankind has a special charge: to counter the forces of entropy that most current cosmologies insist will inevitably swallow our universe and all life in either a "Big Chill" or an equally horrific "heat death." To meet this mandate, humankind must through its ingenuity transform the universe into a living Humaniverse that is invulnerable to such destructive forces. In this context, our technological accomplishments in areas such as biogenesis and dominionization are not an end in themselves, but rather a method of achieving a more transcendent goal.
In response to readers' concerns over the ethics of humankind assuming such a transformative role throughout the cosmos, I would argue that it would be unethical for humankind to choose to do otherwise. The fact that the human species alone possesses the potential to create order and beauty out of chaos creates a moral imperative for our species to become an active player in the future evolution of the universe.
* No Such Language
Sam Lehman-Wilzig's article, "Babbling Our Way to a New Babel: Erasing the Language Barriers" (May-June 2001), provides a very thoughtful insight into the thorny problem of language translation. But Lehman-Wilzig makes a minor error when he refers to the political friction in South Africa among speakers of Afrikaans, English, and Bantu.
While such friction does exist, there is no such language as Bantu. The "Bantu" peoples (generally a term used by the former government) speak a mixture of languages, most of which are now recognized as official languages in the South African constitution. The nearest thing to a common Bantu language is probably Fanagalo, which is a mixture of many languages (analogous to Swahili or Chilapalapa).
William G. Eaton Rohnert Park, California Beaton@pnicorp.com
* Naive Reporting?
Lane Jennings's book review, "America's Century of Progress" (May-June 2001) and the book he reviewed fit's Getting Better All the Time by Stephen Moore and the late Julian L. Simon] reveal a level of naivete that is surprising for people with full exposure to all of the information relevant to the topic. The authors obviously had a bias against the media and found some interesting facts to prove their hypothesis that the media are negative.
With regard to better health, yes, we live longer and some diseases have been greatly reduced. But if Moore and Simon had done a fair assessment they would have reported the alarming increase in chronic diseases in the past 50 years. Rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, and many other illnesses are higher than ever before. Lack of exercise, poor diet, and environmental pollution are the main culprits.
Food is more plentiful, but it is not more nutritious. A cup of spinach has one-tenth the iron it did 40 years ago. The percentage of the GNP needed for health care is 20% today versus 7% 30 years ago; it will be 50% in less than 40 years.
Finally, more millionaires does not translate into better living for the masses. The doubling of family income was due mainly to women joining the workforce out of necessity. The average worker has actually lost spendable income in the last 40 years. The amount of stress in the workplace is epidemic and the hours worked per week have actually gone up in the last 10 years due to the globally driven competitive economy. If this affluence is so great, why do so many people say they are miserable at work? Is it really all the media's fault?
Charles K. Bens Sarasota, Florida Bens@govperformance.com