Science will never know it all: Richard Dawkins, Mar­garet At­wood and oth­ers pre­dict the fu­ture!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Lucy Peters

Richard Dawkins, au­thor of The Self­ish Gene and The God Delu­sion: There’s a se­ri­ous risk of cli­mate catas­tro­phe and it could be soon. An­other alarm­ingly plau­si­ble pos­si­bil­ity dur­ing the present cen­tury is that weapons of mass de­struc­tion, which are de­signed to de­ter, will be ac­quired by de­luded peo­ple for whom de­ter­rence has no mean­ing. As­sum­ing we sur­vive such man­made dis­as­ters, ex­ter­nal peril may be averted by tech­nol­ogy grow­ing out of the bril­liant feat of land­ing on a comet. The di­nosaurs’ world ended when a comet or large me­te­orite un­leashed ti­tanic de­struc­tive forces. That will even­tu­ally hap­pen again, and smaller but still danger­ous strikes are a peren­nial dan­ger in ev­ery cen­tury. Te­le­scopes of the fu­ture will im­prove the range of de­tec­tion, in­crease the warn­ing time, and give engi­neers the no­tice they will need to in­ter­cept the bolide and nudge it into a harm­less or­bit.

In the world of science, DNA se­quenc­ing will be­come ever faster and cheaper and this will rev­o­lu­tionise medicine, tax­on­omy and my own field of evo­lu­tion, not to men­tion foren­sic ev­i­dence in courts of law. Em­bry­ol­ogy and cell bi­ol­ogy will ad­vance might­ily. Novel imag­ing tech­niques may en­able palaeon­tol­o­gists and arche­ol­o­gists to see down into the ground with­out dig­ging it up. The ren­der­ing of vir­tual re­al­ity will im­prove to the point where the dis­tinc­tion from ex­ter­nal re­al­ity may be­come blurred. I ex­pect un­manned space ex­plo­ration to con­tinue, al­beit with eco­nom­i­cally im­posed hia­tuses. Out be­yond 50 years, self-sus­tain­ing colonies may be es­tab­lished on Mars. Hu­man travel to other star sys­tems lies way be­yond 50 years, but ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion from ex­trater­res­trial sci­en­tists is an ever-present pos­si­bil­ity. How­ever, the in­ter­ven­ing light cen­turies will rule out con­ver­sa­tion.

Mar­garet At­wood, au­thor of Hag-Seed:

Will we still have a live­able planet 50 years from now? Kill the oceans and it’s game over for oxy­gen-breath­ing mid-range mam­mals – the oceans make 60 to 80% of our oxy­gen. Su­per­heat­ing them and dump­ing them full of plas­tic may spell our doom. I hope that we’ll be smart enough to avoid this fate. From ideas pro­posed in my fic­tion, many are equally hor­ri­ble, but it seems as if the use of the blood of young peo­ple to re­ju­ve­nate rich, older peo­ple – as posited in The Heart Goes Last – is al­ready in process. I do try to avoid pre­dict­ing “the fu­ture” be­cause there are so many vari­ables; thus, so many pos­si­ble fu­tures. But here’s a safe bet: in 25 years I won’t be on the planet, un­less of course I get my ten­ta­cles on some of that re­ju­ve­nat­ing blood!

Mar­cus du Sau­toy, Si­monyi Pro­fes­sor for the Pub­lic Un­der­stand­ing of Science at Ox­ford Univer­sity and au­thor of What We Can­not Know:

If I could com­mu­ni­cate 100 years into the fu­ture and talk to the in­cum­bent Pro­fes­sor for the Pub­lic Un­der­stand­ing of Science at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford (which I can con­fi­dently pre­dict won’t be me, even if some sci­en­tists think that we are about to cure age­ing), I won­der if he/she/it will know it all. Will we have an­swered all the big open ques­tions of science? I think we’ll have un­der­stood what dark mat­ter is and what is caus­ing the ac­cel­er­ated ex­pan­sion of the uni­verse. But are there ques­tions to which we’ll never know the an­swer, no mat­ter how long we wait? Could we ever know if the uni­verse is in­fi­nite? Can we find out what hap­pened be­fore the big bang? I pre­dict that science will never know it all. It would be ter­ri­ble if we did. Science is a liv­ing, breath­ing sub­ject be­cause of what we don’t know. But might there be things we’ll never know? That’s a bit more fright­en­ing for a sci­en­tist.

As the 2016 Lon­don Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val be­gins, this year ex­plor­ing the theme ‘Liv­ing in Fu­ture Times’, science and sci-fi writ­ers, in­clud­ing (left to right) Mar­cus du Sau­toy, Mar­garet At­wood and Richard Dawkins, share their vi­sions of hu­man­ity’s fu­ture.

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