Has Stephen Hawking lost his marbles?

“I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth,” says Stephen Hawking.

Perhaps. It depends on who leaves and where they go — or get sent.

Sending a man to Mars might be a good idea — so long as it’s the right man.

BBC News reports: Prof Stephen Hawking has called for leading nations to send astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

They should also aim to build a lunar base in 30 years’ time and send people to Mars by 2025.

Prof Hawking said that the goal would re-ignite the space programme, forge new alliances and give humanity a sense of purpose. [Continue reading…]

One of the unfortunate effects of fame when attached to those individuals deemed to have the Great Minds of their generation is that whatever they say tends to be taken seriously — as though equal weight should be attached to all their opinions and as though each and every one of their ideas must be laden with merit.

Whatever Stephen Hawking believes, who could have the audacity to question such a luminary?

I think the best way of sidestepping this tendency to be timid about questioning the great ideas from the great minds is simply to ignore the person, engage their ideas, and imagine how much attention they would garner if they came from someone of much less renown.

Let’s set aside the question of whether world leaders or the world’s leading scientists should take it upon themselves to give humanity a sense of purpose and let’s just consider the proposition of colonizing Mars.

And let’s assume that the technical obstacles to inhabiting Mars and transporting people there in large numbers could be surmounted in the next few decades, highly implausible as that notion might seem.

Here’s the core flaw in this proposition: if humans figured out how to live on Mars and during this period of preparing for our exodus either continued causing catastrophic damage to Earth’s biosphere, or found ways to mitigate or reverse the harm we’ve already done here, wouldn’t this planet in either scenario still be a better place to live than anywhere else conceivably within reach?

Simply put, isn’t Earth however badly we damage it always going to be much more hospitable than Mars or the Moon?

Given that likelihood, if we talk about colonizing these alternative worlds, aren’t these “colonies” more likely to be prison camps constructed to house that portion of humanity deemed excess to Earth’s carrying capacity?

More realistically, isn’t learning how to make Mars inhabitable most likely to morph into a blueprint for a dystopian future on Earth — one in which a small segment of the population is provided with secure havens that insulate them from the effects of climate change and environmental destruction?

In other words, won’t a mission to inhabit other worlds almost certainly turn out to be a false promise that does less to give humanity a sense of purpose than it does to promote baseless hope followed by rapid despair?

It’s sad, but perhaps not surprising, that a man who has spent most of his life tied to machines, sees no limits to human inventiveness. Hawking doesn’t seem to recognize that the only real hope for humanity has to be grounded in a deep recognition that human life is inseparable from life on Earth.

Our destructive behavior springs in large part from our multifaceted convictions in immortality — the notion that somehow we might survive even as every other creature expires.

Instead of indulging in science fiction fantasies about colonizing other planets, we need to come to grips with the fragility of life and our own inescapable mortality.

If we ruin our future here, we have no business trying to construct a future anywhere else.

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