Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Bet

“OK, let’s go over the rules of our bet.  We each pick the species we think will last the longest.  We look in on the planet 100 million years from now.  If one of the species we picked is still around and the other isn’t, whoever picked the one that’s around wins.  If both species are gone, we figure out which one lasted longer, and whoever picked that one wins.  If both species are still around, we take a look in another 100 million years.”

“You’re on.  So, this time we’re using the third planet from that star in the Milky Way’s Orion arm, right?”

“Yeah.  That planet’s particularly interesting, since the species are so varied there.  There’s even a space-faring species, homo sapiens (Latin for “wise man”; a bit arrogant, don’t you think?)  They’ve done some exploration outside their planet, built habitats in planetary orbit, sent out probes, even landed on their moon a few times.  But they’ve only been around for about 200,000 years, and seem ill equipped for long term survival.  Mind you, there are animal species on that same planet that have been around for 580 million years!”

“I know.  I considered homo sapiens at first.  But after analyzing them a bit I agree with you.  They have no shot.  Even though their brain is relatively large, and in many cases species survival is correlated to brain size, in their specific case the size of their brain and their incrementally higher intelligence don’t compensate for their tendencies toward short-term thinking, aggressiveness and self-destruction.  Actually, it’s pretty amazing that they’ve lasted as long as they have.  They’ve come close to obliterating themselves on several occasions, but even if they don’t destroy themselves all at once, they are doing it gradually by making the planet inhospitable, at least to themselves.  It’s shocking how they continuously (and knowingly) take actions that reduce the ability of their own environment to support them, always thinking in the short term.  Homo sapiens is also a physically fragile species, not equipped to survive any external catastrophic event, should one of those occur.  There've been 5 of them in the last 450 million years.”  
“I know what you mean.  It’s difficult to understand their priorities.  The general well being of their species and its long-term survival are certainly not among them.  They kill each other for the most absurd reasons and are indifferent to the fact that so many of them live in deplorable conditions.  They seem to have evolved into a dead end.  They are intelligent enough to achieve limited space exploration, yet irrational enough to consistently allow short-term greed to trump long-term survival, both on an individual basis and in the collective.”

“Indeed.   Who knows, maybe in a few million years another species will evolve from homo sapiens that will use its intelligence in ways that will foster it’s long term survival.”

“If they make it that far!”

“Exactly.  So, let’s pick our species.  Which one would you like to bet on?”

“OK, I’m going with the Tardigrade.  It’s been around for 530 million years already, but, more importantly, it seems well equipped to survive almost any kind of planetary event, whether brought on by homo sapiens or external.”

“Good choice.  I’ll go with the Lingula, for similar reasons.  It’s also been around for a while, and survived various mass extinctions (like your Tardigrade).”

“OK, bet’s on.  By the way, it seems like the humans agree with us.  One of their websites lists the Tardigrade and Lingula as species number 1 and 2, respectively, as most likely to “survive the apocalypse”.  Of course, they foolishly list themselves as number 3, so that brings their credibility into serious question.”