My book Here Be Dragons: Science, Technology and the Future of Humanity is about to be officially released by Oxford University Press next week. The book treats a broad variety of topics, but here I want to highlight a key passage on p 212, where I discuss something I decided to call the Bullerby scenario. The context is the so-called Great Filter formalism - a kind of cosmological perspective for trying to understand the long-term prospects of the survival of humanity - introduced in a seminal 1998 paper by Robin Hanson. A key quantity in this formalism is the probability q that a typical civilization on the level of present-day humanity goes on to a level where its presence becomes visible throughout the observable universe. After briefly mentioning some highly speculative possibilities for how we might have a glorious future without such a visible impact (we might, e.g., emigrate into black holes or hidden dimensions), I arrive at the Bullerby scenario:
- Another, less dramatic and in a sense diametrically opposite, scenario in which humanity might prosper despite a small value of q is what we may call the Bullerby Scenario (after Astrid Lindgren's children's stories about the idyllic life in rural Sweden in the late 1940s). Here, humanity settles down into a peaceful and quiet steady state based on green energy, sustainable agriculture, and so on, and refrains from colonization of space and other radical technologies that might lead in that direction. I mention this possibility because it seems to be an implicit and unreflected assumption underlying much of current sustainability discourse, not because I consider it particularly plausible. In fact, given the Darwinian-style arguments discussed above, plus the paradigm of neverending growth that has come to reign both in the economy and in knowledge production (the scientific community), it seems very hard to imagine how such a steady state might come about, except possibly through the strict rule of a totalitarian global government (which I tend to consider incompatible with human flourishing).