Who Wants To Live Forever?
“Even if we are civilised 1,000 years from now, will we still be the dominant form of life on Earth?” – Arthur C. Clarke.
“I who am dead a thousand years
And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers,
The way I shall not pass along.
“I care not if you bridge the seas,
Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
Of metal or of masonry.”
These are the opening lines from a poem by James Elroy Flecker entitled: “To A Poet A Thousand Years Hence.”
At the dawn of this new millennium, that renowned futurologist and technological prophet: Arthur C. Clarke (1916-2008) was commissioned to speculate what the human race might expect on the cusp of the next millennium. As someone adept at eloquently discussing visions of the far future – especially in such works as “The City and the Stars,” and most notably with his critically-acclaimed speculative sequel: “3001: The Final Odyssey” – he cited this work by Flecker throughout his article.
A few months ago, on a day of meagre inspiration, escaping from my stultifying office-space became imperative. At one of my favourite historic olde towns along the south English coast, this writer/explorer/seeker-of-the-truth wandered and pondered through forlorn remains that nearly 1,000 years ago used to be the largest Cluniac priory in England.
Those brethren who once strode across marvellous spacious stone floors – now open grassland – could never have comprehended our fast techno world of digital gadgets, moving images and gargantuan achievements in science. Thus, it is virtually impossible to speculate how – one thousand years from now – our world will look and what our descendants might be doing.
We may not have “bridged the seas,” but that “cruel sky” now sure is congested with too many long-distance flights… and those consummate palaces – reaching ever greater heights – crowd the skyline and multiply like…
“The fossil record implies trial and error, an inability to anticipate the future – features inconsistent with an efficient Great Designer” – Carl Sagan.
“Have you wine and music still,
And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill.
And prayers to them who sit above?”
Obviously, Clarke fully expected rudiments of culture to continue flourishing in such a distant period. Sure, music will carry on – as it always has – although the pitiful depths to which pop music seems to have sunk nowadays would strongly suggest otherwise…
And yet the scientist/writer who created HAL9000 made the alarming observation that if humans can survive, would they remain the dominant species? Look now, some scientists dread the rise of sophisticated AI and its exponential rate of development.
The pinnacle of our technological finality has not been reached; Arthur C. was just one of several thinkers willing to stretch the scope even further. He confidently cited how the “next stage” may involve: “input of sense impressions directly into the brain, bypassing the eyes, ears, and other input/output devices nature has given us.”
We could easily – almost flippantly – rename Flecker’s work as: “To A Blogger A Thousand Years Hence,” but…
As poetry used to be a popular pastime a century ago, and we are (hopefully) a community of contented bloggers now, that status is bound to change yet again (well) before 2115. What medium of communication and creative expression will be embraced a thousand years hence?
As Clarke observed amusingly: “How would anyone before 1970 have realised that, at the beginning of the 21st century, millions would spend a major part of their working day fondling a mouse?”
“What a fitting end to your life’s pursuits. You’re about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something” – Dr. Rene Belloq.
“O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.”
Too young, alas. Flecker succumbed to tuberculosis in 1915, at the age of only 30 – grief, now it’s the centenary…
Spare a thought for those “unborn.” The truly magnificent advances already accomplished in medical science have successfully contained the proliferation of infectious bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis and other deadly threats. This has culminated in the gradual extension of life expectancy. With more people living beyond 100 now, how long can people expect to live in that far future? What will they be doing? Will they have ventured out beyond the stars as Clarke et al had cheerily envisioned…?
“Student… Read out my words…” Would that be possible? Those ruins mentioned earlier reminded me of my sheer bafflement experienced upon reading for the first time barely recognisable Anglo-Saxon passages from a millennium ago. Fast forward another millennium and whatever form our “sweet English tongue” takes, it is guaranteed to be not only a whole lot different but just as barely recognisable. Will it still be “English”? Will it still be sweet?
This Post shall end – just like Clarke’s original article did – with the final verse of Flecker’s poem, teeming with boundless optimism. Despite the inevitable fears of apocalypse that forever beset the pages of science fiction, the prospect of a positive and hopeful human continuity will always remain strong.
Who knows? In a thousand years, even Bradscribe may be worth something…
Since I can never see your face
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.