Are We Still Reaching for the Stars?

By Chris Leavenworth


For the past 200 years, nearly every generation has been presented with distinguished new horizons in terms of culture, technology and knowledge. Humans are always living right on the frontier of it all. And the further along we go, the faster things change. The big question that weighs on every modern mind is how much further can we go?


Only a century before today, in New Zealand, Ernest Rutherford began conducting research that led later to the discovery of the splitting of an atom, or nuclear fission. The knowledge of nuclear fission and the advent of nuclear physics resulted in everything from radiation detectors and radioactive tracers for diagnosing heart disease to the Manhattan Project in 1942 that worked secretly to develop the first atomic bomb.


Humanity was suddenly making sense of an idea, at the time so abstract, capable of causing mass destruction of unseen measure, but that had the potential for medical and energy breakthroughs most had yet to even imagine.


One hundred and fifty years ago, doctors had just learned that washing hands and medical utensils with soap and hot water drastically decreased the number of patients catching infections and disease in their clinics. And 100 years before that, in the mid-1700s, the idea of transportation that didn’t involve the work of an animal would have, at the very least, raised a concerned eyebrow by family members and peers in any part of the world. Electricity would have been regarded as sorcery until people inevitably rationalized the benefits of power—as they always do with innovation.


Until recently, men of great wealth were not prepared to invest their riches in pipedreams. Religion satisfied the imagination of the majority, and many of the most basic luxuries enjoyed today would have likely been viewed then as sinful, or not of God, if not simply impossible.


After all, prior to using soap and hot water for sanitizing, doctors believed an illness was an imbalance of bad air and evil spirits. Agriculture was at the whim of God, so naturally famine was accepted as an unpreventable plight and only a fool would try and improve or undermine a divine plan, outside of simply praying for the best.


The idea that people could invent the answers to their own prayers by applying the scientific method would have been regarded as highly blasphemous. And if someone were to insist on it in the 18th century, they’d likely receive a prison sentence or worse.


Despite the stubbornness of wealthy, religious men not being receptive to change, in a very short time (and with limited funds), engineers, scientists, programmers and artists have diligently worked to envision and reshape the world to serve the values of humans.


Science doesn’t have an agenda to make us live longer lives, nor does it have an agenda to create nuclear explosions that wipe out thousands of lives. Humans have these motives and use natural resources and science to carry out their goals. This is why values will play a huge role in the infrastructure of the future.


As quickly as the world is moving, the survival and advancement of civilization depends on values that promote individual liberty and global prosperity, and alleviate global suffering. Nationalistic values are not viable for a global world with global problems. There isn’t a nationalistic solution to global warming, nor is there one for the workplace being replaced by computers.


Building border walls, ignoring climate science and clean energy alternatives to oil, valuing myths over individual freedoms and human life—these are just a few examples of ways we are currently not reaching for the stars.

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