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One day, if human civilisation ever wipes itself out,
aliens or one of our successors will cast an eye on our ruined planet,
and ask themselves what ever happened to homo sapiens.
Their answer might look a little like this.
The root cause won’t be the specific catastrophe,
conflict or devastation that eradicates us;
the problem will begin with the architecture of the human brain.
This tool will be remembered for being, in part, deeply impressive,
containing a 100 billion neurons
capable of extraordinary computations and combinations.
As aliens will note,
a particular part of the mind where our most dazzling thoughts unfolded
was known to neuroscientists as the neocortex;
a part that in humans was many times larger than that found in any other species.
This is what helped the hugely clever ape to produce
The Magic Flute, Anna Karenina, Concorde and civilisation.
However, our alien friends will also note
that the human mind contained another component,
very influential but far less impressive,
known as the reptilian brain
(an aggressive lustful impulsive section of machinery),
with a great deal more in common
with what might be found in a hyena or a small rodent.
Because of this reptilian brain
ended up with three grave problems:
Firstly, tribalism.
Humans were always on the verge of developing violent hatreds of foreigners
and manifested strong ongoing tendencies to slaughter strangers in vast numbers.
They could never reliably see the humanity
in all members of their own kind.
Secondly, homo sapiens was fatefully prone to short-term thinking.
Even when confronted by data,
it could only imagine the near-term future, a few years at best,
viewing the long-term as a chimerical and unreal state.
Its immediate impulses were left uncontained
and worked to destroy its individual and collective future.
Lastly, homo sapiens had an especially keen fondness for wishful thinking.
Though capable of immense intellectual achievement,
its mind hated to reflect on itself,
it couldn’t bear to submit its ideas to rational scrutiny,
it preferred to act rather than think and daydream rather than plan.
Having invented the scientific method,
it preferred, in most cases, to not to use it.
It had a narcotic desire for distraction and fantasy.
It didn’t want to know itself.
For many generations, these three flaws were more or less endured.
Certain institutions were invented to attenuate them:
the law, sound government, education, philosophy, science.
It worked, sort of.
Humans did keep wiping out swathes of their fellows,
but they didn’t scupper the species as a whole.
What caused the ultimate destruction
was the increasing yet untrammelled power of the neocortex.
This mighty tool eventually managed to capture fire, contain the elements,
and give homo sapiens a godlike power over the planet,
while the animal overall
still operated with reflexes as serene and gentle as those of a hyena.
The cost of its mistakes grew ever larger,
its powers became uncontained while its wisdom remained intermittent and fragile.
Eventually, its might outpaced its capacity for self-control;
it became a nuclear armed rodent.
There was one thing that might have saved humanity: love.
And three varieties of love in particular:
Firstly, the love of the stranger;
the capacity to see the other as like oneself
and worthy of the same mercy and charity.
Secondly, the love of the unborn:
the concern for those who do not yet exist
and whom one will never know
but whose lives one is shaping in the selfish present.
Thirdly, the love of the truth:
the strength to resist illusion and lies
and square up to uncomfortable facts of all kinds.
We don’t need to be aliens of the future to understand all this.
We can see the disaster scenario only too well right now.
The fate of civilisation lies ultimately not in the law courts,
at the ballot box or in the corridors of governments.
It lies in our ability to master
the most short-term, selfish and violent of our impulses
active in the dense folds of organic matter between our ears;
it lies in learning how relentlessly to try to compensate
for the flawed architecture of the human mind.
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為什麼人類有自我毀滅的傾向? (Why Humanity Destroyed Itself)

13028 分類 收藏
Jenny 發佈於 2017 年 4 月 5 日   Jenny 翻譯   Sabrina Hsu 審核

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