Gérald Bronner, a sociologist, and Etienne Klein, a physicist and philosopher, discussed whether we are going to become a multi-planet species in order to survive.
One of the reasons to come to an event such as Paris Air Show is to get beyond your day job and take the opportunity to think about the bigger picture and what’s next. We certainly did that in the Paris Air Lab this morning as a pair of experts debated whether the future of humanity is even on Earth.
Gérald Bronner, a sociologist, and Etienne Klein, a physicist and philosopher, discussed whether we are going to become a multi-planet species in order to survive. Or is being on Earth what makes us human? The wide-ranging discussion took in everything from war and wormholes to apocalypse, Hollywood movies and transhumanism.
Pretty big stuff for a sweltering Wednesday morning at Le Bourget. But it’s something many people have started to think more about, given growing concerns about our planet. Elon Musk’s SpaceX initiative, for example, is planning to put up to a million humans on Mars by the 2060s.
Life in space?
The speakers noted that as a society, we have become more pessimistic about the future, with a pervasive sense of fear about what’s to come, from terrorism and illness to climate change and natural disasters. Could the idea of humanity’s future in space offer us hope?
Klein thinks space tourism may be a possibility but he isn’t so sure decamping to space altogether is such a good plan. “I think that we are what we are because we are on Earth,” he said.
He said if we left Earth and colonised a solar system we might survive but we could lose our humanity as it is now.
“Our psyches, our intellect, our values are linked to very specific conditions that are found on Earth,” he argued. “Just because a planet is declared inhabitable doesn’t meant that it is.”
He added that the nearest exoplanet is 40 light years away.
Bronner said that he is a realist but he likes to dream, “dream on firm ground”. He agreed with Klein about many of the physical realities but said that despite this, “Life has an infinite value.”
Some have suggested the idea of an information-only existence in the future, free from physical limits through something such as transhumanism.
“Nobody knows,” he said. “What I can say is we have a moral imperative to take up the challenge. Our destiny is in our hands.”
In the past, people wouldn’t have believed in the possibility of cars or flights. He concluded: “There is an unpredictability of discoveries in future and the perpetuation of humans, even if today, solutions are not imaginable.”
Unsurprisingly we didn’t get to a definitive answer on the small matter of our existence on other planets, but it will certainly give me something unexpected to think about on the plane home!