sleepy survival instincts

Today, many of us solve a slight pang of “hunger” with a waltz to the fridge or a slight detour to the drive-thru. We spend less of our time meeting basic needs, and more on discretionary activities.

Our next meal is rarely in doubt, and we can easily spend a lifetime without experiencing a true fight-or-flight response for fear of becoming a meal ourselves. So it’s understandable that our survival instincts are dulled. Understandable, but not excusable.

Paleontology (a discretionary endeavor) has taught us that humans are more intelligent than dinosaurs were. But this relative distinction quickly diminishes as focus expands beyond the microcosm of Earth that consumes nearly all of our collective attention. Are we more prepared than dinosaurs were to respond to a serious threat to our basic existence? Yes, but only slightly:

  • After a huge national effort spanning a decade, man set foot on the Moon. However, the Apollo infrastructure is gone. Even if it weren’t, it’d be inadequate for developing permanent off-Earth settlements.
  • Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker, and David Levy discovered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 before it impacted Jupiter during the week of July 16-22, 1994. Sixteen months before, to be exact. And the impact was big. According to Kaz Sekiguchi, Fragment A (1st of 21 observed SL9 impacts) caused an explosion aura with a diameter of ~17,000 km. Earth’s diameter is 12,756 km.

Alan Boyle lists five whys in what he calls the “Next Space Age“:

1. Exploration
2. Entertainment
3. Energy
4. Empire building
5. Extinction avoidance

#1 & 2 are side benefits. #3 will be solved with or without space exploration, just as it always has been throughout history. #4 is just human nature – again, present with or without space exploration. It seems that only #5 can provide sustaining motivation. But first, we must pay attention to a horizon beyond the next Big Mac.

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