Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Interstellar Earth: The Future We See In Our Stars

This Fall, interstellar aspirations seem to be in the air.

Christopher Nolan’s film “Interstellar,” coming Nov. 7 in the U.S., is heavily anticipated for the otherworldly adventure it promises. In the realm of gaming, players are every bit as expectant for the Oct. 24 release of Sid Meier’s “Civilization: Beyond Earth,” by Firaxis Games.

Looking at the trailers for these two epic works side by side brings interesting questions about the themes showing up on society’s radar.

Both hint at near-term challenges that will test us to the limit. Both suggest that human effort, knowledge, and resolve will see us through to the other side. And both see interstellar achievement as key to how we get there. Just visible in both trailers, like a gem in a flash flood, lies this possibility: Before us lies a chasm, but we are capable of making its leap.

Although it is early to make too many guesses on the details of these two works, another idea can also be glimpsed: though challenges may lie directly ahead, and new beginnings may lie beyond those challenges, the path through the challenges themselves is not so clear.

Humanity is versatile, spirited, adaptable, intelligent, and creative. We inherit from our ancestors a spirit of adventure, an unstoppable sense of discovery, and the drive to shape our future into a place where life can prosper.

What we can imagine, we can achieve.

Because of this, why not aim high? What if we could, through advances in energy, engineering, resource allocation, education, and comprehensive archival, give rise to the means needed to adapt to global change on a global scale -- all while engineering the means for a facet of Earth-originating life to travel to the stars?

A famous cartoon by Sidney Harris shows two scientists at work at a chalkboard. A black box, between the start of the formula and the brilliant solution, reads: “Then a miracle occurs.” His mentor suggests there’s still a bit more work to go.

Between the challenges of our present, and the future we know we can achieve, lies a range of crucial advances and adaptations. One of the boons of creative works like "Interstellar" and "Civilization: Beyond Earth" is that they can give us glimpses of possible futures, and give our minds chances to play at bringing them about. When minds are freed and given the means to imagine new possibilities, the odds increase that at least a few of them will actually achieve them.