Life: Pro and Con

Why should we spend money on space travel? A common argument, made for example by Elon Musk, is that the exploration and eventual colonization of space is necessary to ensure the continuation of our species. As long as humans are earth-bound, the argument goes, all human life could be wiped-out by an a single event, an asteroid or supernova or something.  Today I want to ask: would that necessarily be a bad thing?

I know this sounds terribly nihilistic. Allow me to explain though. First, following evolutionary theory to its fullest logic, I view human life (and human consciousness) as totally contingent, a fluke. Driven by the requirements of physical existence, humans became conscious. We developed a sense of self and time and ultimately, an awareness of our own finite nature. This self-awareness is traumatic. The inevitability of death makes consciousness itself traumatic. Following Freud, my basic claim here is that life = pain. The reduction of this pain should be the goal of all intentional action.

It seems to me that by seeking to extend the lifespan of the species, we are only seeking to extend our pain. Therefore, instead of dreaming of colonizing distance stars, we should dream of a day when our species fades away. We should (over the very, very long term, of course) de-develop, de-evolve and ultimately, de-populate. The goal is to turn back the clock. To lose our traumatic self-awareness. Maybe this isn’t possible. But maybe colonization of the stars isn’t possible either. My point is simply that on a purely logical level, the disappearance of our species, rather than its continuation, should be the utopian vision which informs our actions. To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “His was a great sin who first invented consciousness. Let us [endeavor to] lose it….”

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