A thought experiment on liberty and the survival of our species

I came up with a thought experiment a few months ago and have been testing it on the smartest people I know.

This thought experiment relies on you agreeing with three premises:

1. Our knowledge of the natural universe will continue to increase.

2. Our ability to share information among each other will continue to increase.

3. Imagine everyone on the planet has a button in front of them that will destroy planet Earth and everyone on it. You can assume that we haven’t colonized space yet. You agree that a few thousand people will rush to press that button.

I agree with these three premises. If you don’t, please post why in the comments.

If you agree with these three points, it would seem we’re heading towards a world where it’s likely that our knowledge of the natural world will increase to a point where we know how to develop something that can kill all humans on planet Earth. It will also become feasible for individuals to implement that knowledge.

If you agree that information sharing will become very efficient and information will be accessible to all, the knowledge of how to create the destructor-thing that kills all people on Earth will be shared among all very quickly and efficiently.

We then have a situation where everyone on Earth has a button in front of them that can kill everything. And you’ve agreed a few thousand will rush to press the button – or implement the destructor-thing in this case.

So it seems our self destruction is inevitable.

As the conclusion to this thought experiment, I pose a question: How do we solve this problem. Specifically the problem of our inevitable self destruction through our increased knowledge of the natural universe, our ability to share information and the minority’s desire to implement self destruction. 

Thinking about this yields some interesting opinions from friends and acquaintances. These are various conclusions from different people, so don’t misunderstand and combine them:

  • Secrets are necessary.
  • A Police State is inevitable.
  • Governments will use the fear of destruction among the populace to sieze vast amounts of power.
  • Individuals will sense the inadequacy of the government to protect us from this threat and will police themselves.
  • This knowledge already exists and is kept secret which is why we haven’t seen breakthroughs of the magnitude of E=mc²

If you run across this article I’d love to hear your thoughts.


6 thoughts on “A thought experiment on liberty and the survival of our species

  1. James, while I understand and agree with you about the existing methods of destruction, advances in the depth and understanding of physics, and advances in the technologies to further our ability to research and manipulate physics, present new forms of destruction. Let’s just suppose a black hole could be “manufactured” which would consume the Earth. That is the destruction that does not require arrogance to envision mankind’s annihilation.

    Our ability to gather, investigate, and disseminate information is barely just reaching adolescence. Soon, microscopes and telescopes will have something like an IP address, and data will be made available for thousands to process. Actually, that’s already here, too. And as each plateau is reached exponentially, “we” do become more knowledgeable.

    Think of how easy it is for today’s teenager to create a simple pipe bomb. Compare that to how difficult that would have been for the older generations. Certainly, any other method of destruction, at any newly discovered level of “our” ability to manipulate the physical world will eventually become widely available.

    I don’t think it is even a question of will there be someone irrational enough to push that ultimate button, when it inevitably becomes available. Ask the citizens of Columbine or Newtown if they feel comfortable with the rationality or morality of the destructive potential of today’s delinquents. Ask Boston or New York how they feel about the compassion or compulsion for self-preservation of the frustrated and ungoverned factions of people with a much different paradigm than the one which we could very easily be stuck in ourselves.

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