Envy of the Future

I recently watched the following video on the online magazine of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies.

I would summarize the basic ideas of the video as follows. We often have negative views about the future, but perhaps that’s because we resent how good it might be. To better understand this consider going back in time and telling a grieving mother that her lifeless child will be easily saved in the future with antibiotics. She might be resentful of the future, realizing that human misery is an accident of the times we live in.  Moreover a visitor from the future would pity the suffering and death we endure because of the era in which we live.

Perhaps then our apocalyptic views of the future arise because we can’t stand to think how much better the future will be, and how absurd and meaningless our current suffering will seem then. The solutions to so much of our physical and psychological suffering lie just around the corner, but we won’t be there to enjoy them. (How often I have joked in my own college classes that news of the cure for aging will arrive on my 80th birthday, but the anti-aging vaccine will only work for those less than 80 years old!) Thus we should feel pity for how difficult our lives are compared to the lives of our descendants in the future; our lives are probably poor indeed compared to the lives of those who will live in the future.

But let us not be jealous. Instead let us create a more glorious future. We may not live long enough to share in it, but we can take some comfort in the role we play in creating it. For suffering and death are not neither inevitable or noble.

John G. Messerly, Ph.D taught for many years in both the philosophy and computer science departments at the University of Texas at Austin. His most recent book is The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives. He blogs daily on issues of futurism and the meaning of life at reasonandmeaning.com