Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Stephen Hawking solution
July 14, 2006

Deep thinker Stephen Hawking has gone looking for answers to how we will save our troubled world, and more than 22,000 people have weighed in so far. Their answers are at times sweet and at other times alarming, as you might expect from a random sampling of on-line opinion.
“In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally,” asked Hawking last week on the Yahoo Answers Web site, “how can the human race sustain another 100 years?” (Yes, notes the site, this is the “real” Stephen Hawking, recruited by Yahoo to post the question after touching on the same topic recently in Hong Kong.)
Hawking is something of a star recruit on a Web site that is striving to be seen as harvesting the collective wisdom of the world through its questions. He’s an astrophysicist and a mathematician with a decidedly philosophical bent, and maintains a global schedule of speech-making despite being almost fully paralyzed. Who wouldn’t be honoured to have a guy like that single you out for posting the best answer?
From my brief foray into the answers, I’d say that the viewpoints divvy up fairly equally between cheery optimism and end-of-the-world pessimism, with quite a number of doomed-but-hopefuls rounding out the mix.
“The only solace is that every generation has thought the same things,” noted one posting in response to Hawking’s question.
Hawking’s own answer, as delivered June 13 in that Hong Kong speech, falls solidly into the pessimistic camp. He believes the survival of the human race depends on its ability to relocate elsewhere in the universe. If humans can manage to avoid killing themselves off entirely over the next century, said Hawking, their big challenge will be to find new homes on space settlements independent of Earth.
His solution resonates among some of the answerers, who agree that the only hope for the future will be to abandon Earth and start over. “We might have to find a way to expand to another solar planet,” offers one.
Others put forward thoughts that at their best are sincere and caring, and at their worst are warm and fuzzy to the point of being completely unhelpful in terms of actually doing anything. “The Human spirit will overcome,” posted one such writer. “It’s within us, dude - we’re fighters and survivors.”
I place myself in the doomed-but-hopeful category - not nearly so gloomy as to think that we’ll be writing off the planet within a century, but still damn worried. With the lives of my children and grandchildren to consider, however, I have to hope for the best.
To me, the key to saving our world is to act. Take the neglected neighbour kid to a movie once in a while. Join one of a couple hundred service clubs that are dying for lack of new members and raise money for something terrific. Learn about the impact from some distant war, and do whatever is within your reach to do.
And keep doing it. “In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult,” noted the late pop philosopher Og Mandino.
As a “solution,” I admit my strategy for saving the world smacks of mom and apple pie. But is that wrong? Sure, we owe a great deal to the big men with big plans who got us to this point in our history, but it’s going to take a more delicate hand at the wheel to guide us through the current turbulence. A lot more mom and apple pie strikes me as exactly what’s needed.
In the Yahoo poll, count me in with the cryptically named URez2Read, a 32-year-old from parts unknown who sums up the good and bad of the human condition.
“Our future is what we make of it,” posts URez. “The question is: Will we make the effort to guarantee the survival of our species, or will we be at the top of the endangered species list?

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