Imagine a world where blowing out a million birthday candles is a possibility. A world where the concept of a century-spanning career is both the norm and the challenge.
Recent scientific discoveries hint at life’s remarkable resilience, from ancient bacteria beneath the ocean floor to the potential for extended human lifespans.
What if we could live for a million years?
The implications are as vast as they are intriguing, promising both awe-inspiring opportunities and mind-boggling adjustments in the fabric of our lives.
Past generations often said we couldn’t delay natural death, but our perspective has shifted. Advancements in bioscience and technology spark visions of a post-COVID-19 future where diseases are curable, potentially granting us significantly longer lives.
If this becomes reality, our goals will transform, shaping our lives in profound ways. We’d have the luxury to plan long-term and tackle grand ambitions.
Priorities might shift towards caring for our planet and fostering cooperation, understanding the long-term risks of pollution and conflicts. Extended lifespans might make us wiser and more cautious, recognizing the stakes involved. Engaging in wars, especially sending the youth to fight, would seem senseless.
However, even with careful planning, survival isn’t guaranteed. The correlation between brain size and body weight didn’t save the dinosaurs from the asteroid impact.
Accidents are inevitable, and medical facilities would be continuously busy with nonfatal injury treatments.
Extending fertility along with our longer lives could risk overpopulating Earth. If we maintain current birth rates, the number of million-year-old individuals could skyrocket to an unsustainable hundred trillion. To manage this, public policies might be needed to limit births.
Alternatively, space travel could offer an outlet, balancing birth rates and maintaining a suitable terrestrial population given our available resources for food and energy.
The exciting prospect is that within a million-year lifespan, our current chemical rockets could transport us to the nearest stars. A journey to the habitable planet around Proxima Centauri, traveling at NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft’s speed, would take a mere 100,000 years.
For someone living a million years, this trip would seem like the decade-long New Horizons journey to Pluto within our current life expectancy.
Naturally, the spacecraft must sustain a lasting ecosystem and offer comfortable living conditions for this extended voyage. Travelers must maintain a stable mindset, akin to a patient fisherman, understanding the true essence of their quest beyond immediate results.
In a million years, Proxima Centauri may not remain the nearest star, prompting us to set our sights on other targets. Over this vast timespan, the night sky will transform with new stars emerging and fading in the sun’s proximity.
The Milky Way will dazzle with tens of thousands of bright supernovae and transients, illuminating the cosmic canvas like a grand celestial spectacle. Some nearby events could potentially endanger Earth’s biosphere.
Considering our current exponential technological advancements, our future Earth habitat will drastically evolve a million years from now. What does a mature technological civilization resemble after such an extensive duration? Can it endure the destructive potential of its own technologies?
A method to explore this is by seeking technosignatures of alien civilizations, be they thriving or long gone. Ultimately, all life forms vanish. The universe gradually cools during its expansion, with all stars fading away in 10 trillion years. In the distant future, everything will freeze, leaving no energy to sustain life.
The not-so-distant future doesn’t have to be gloomy. Prolonging life offers the immediate joy of having loved ones with us for longer. While the ultimate end is inevitable, as the Greek philosopher Epicurus mentioned, we need not fear death. Trouble-makers, too, will live longer, perhaps facing extended prison sentences for their misdeeds.
For them, death might be seen as a release from societal constraints. Sadly, this liberation often comes too late to be of use, akin to the perpetual quietude embodied by the old British car Iris: ‘It Runs in Silence.’ Like academic tenure, life sentences should thus have a limit, much shorter than a million years.
The choice of a million-year timescale is arbitrary, roughly matching the period since our Homo erectus ancestors emerged in Africa.
It conveniently falls within the timelines of the universe, the sun, and the Earth. In theory, we could envision a life lasting a billion years, during which stars flicker on and off in the sky, resembling light bulbs. From that long-term viewpoint, our current world concerns would appear as simple as the first thoughts of a newborn baby.
A Million Years Back
A million years ago, our ancestors lived in caves, surviving on what they could gather for food. They had limited intelligence, learning to use stone axes and create fire from dry twigs. It’s hard to imagine explaining a computer to them!
Conversely, picture surviving the harsh wilderness as a caveman during those ancient times. In our present evolutionary stage, we likely wouldn’t survive a day. They were robust and tougher than us. Our evolution has made us softer due to discoveries and inventions. Essentially, we are the chosen ones, selected by evolution and nature from among the human types that existed a million years ago.
Back then, Homo Erectus and Homo Heidelbergensis were the main human species, distinct from apes. Homo sapiens did not exist during that time, as shown in the human evolution chart. A thorough study of human skeletons from that age compared to modern humans (10,000 years ago) reveals significant differences.
The human body adapted to lifestyle changes, transitioning from hunting and gathering to agricultural living. We no longer needed a stronger and stronger body. This led to significant changes in certain areas of our physiological system. As a result, humans have become plumper and softer in some aspects but have shown larger brains and more intellectual thinking.
What Will Happen to Us in a Million Years?
If we look back 10,000 years, we notice that humans have grown taller on average by about 10 centimeters—a change that occurred in just the past 150 years. However, some ethnic groups have experienced a reduction in height. Additionally, through scientific advancements, we’ve extended our lifespan by nearly two decades.
Human evolution reflects how science has become a driving force in shaping our development. Uniquely, we employ science as a factor in our evolution, introducing artificial elements into our environment that bring about certain physiological shifts.
Research suggests that our size reduction is an evolutionary response to lower energy consumption. This trend is evident in the morphological changes observed in forest and deep-sea animals, all of which have considerably diminished in size due to limited food resources.
Likewise, Earth’s strain from its burgeoning human population might result in a future where humans are shorter, a means of conserving energy in a densely populated world.
We could also become highly reliant on technology, potentially losing many of our natural physiological functions. For instance, in the early stages of human evolution, when we were gatherers and hunters, we communicated through hand signs. With the development of language, we began using individual names, a feat of memory.
Looking ahead a million years in human evolution, we might evolve into a hybrid of biology and cybernetic prosthetics, resembling what is often depicted in science fiction as cyborgs—a more enduring form.
Modern advancements might empower humans to transform into something different. With implants and prosthetics to address various physiological challenges, we may reach a point where we can replace organs like eyes, ears, and hearts with cybernetic prosthetics.
We might gain the ability to control objects using brain implants and even rewrite our genes during the embryo stage.
Predicting the human evolutionary timeline a million years from now relies on speculation. We cannot extrapolate data and precisely determine what awaits us. However, we can be certain that the influence of scientific innovations will significantly alter our natural evolutionary trajectory.
An interesting tidbit about human evolution is that it blends the impacts of both natural processes and scientific progress. We are the only species that challenges the theory of natural selection by deliberately altering our way of life.
Our traditional method of encoding new gene information, based on age-old practices and knowledge, will be revolutionized using technology.
In 2014, a job that took a human brain 1 second required a staggering 1.4 million GB of RAM and 705,204 processors to complete in 40 minutes. Considering this, envision the journey we will undertake in a million years, defying nature.
Our intelligence will skyrocket to new levels, although our physiological development may not display the same level of advancement. All discussions about human evolution essentially revolve around projections of our intelligence and informed speculations.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q1: What scientific discoveries hint at the possibility of significantly extended human lifespans?
A: Recent scientific discoveries, particularly in bioscience and technology, suggest the potential for significantly extended human lifespans. These advancements may lead to longer, healthier lives and the prevention of diseases, potentially granting us the opportunity to live for a million years.
Q2: What changes and challenges might arise in a world where humans can live for a million years?
A: Extended human lifespans could lead to shifts in priorities, including a focus on caring for the planet and long-term thinking. However, overpopulation, accidents, and the need for space travel could pose challenges.
Q3: How might the ability to live for a million years impact space travel and exploration?
A: With extended lifespans, space travel to distant stars becomes more feasible. The journey to the nearest stars could be achieved within the lifetime of someone living for a million years, leading to the exploration of habitable planets.
The idea of humans living for a million years opens up a world of possibilities and challenges. Scientific advancements have already extended our lifespans, and further progress could revolutionize our existence.
However, it also raises questions about overpopulation, space exploration, and the potential evolution of humans into beings that merge biology with technology. This intriguing concept highlights the profound impact of science and technology on our future evolution.