These are some of the questions that haunt us as we try and live our daily lives.
All around us at all times, there are theories and thoughts that we could choose to dwell on, or otherwise choose to ignore. After all, ignorance is bliss.
Think you can handle the paranoia? The following list of scientific theories and philosophical questions will have you rethinking life and the way you live it.
Sixth Mass Extinction
Throughout the Earth’s history, there have been a series of “mass extinctions” brought about like catastrophic events such as the supposed asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs and 75% of all other species.
The last extinction event is believed to have occurred about 443 million years ago, and it destroyed 60-70% of all species.
Many scientists now believe we are in the early or middle stages of the sixth mass extinction (though some theories say that have been at least 20 such events and not just five), with humans bringing out our own demise as we pollute the planet, reap more than we sow, destroy other animal’s natural habitats and populations, and make the Earth less hospitable.
The Great Filter
Similarly to the sixth mass extinction, the Great Filter is a key theory in evolutionary studies. This theory questions our abilities, achievements, and potential as humans, forcing us to wonder if we are on a path towards survival and advancement of our species, or if we’re on our way out.
In short, the Great Filter proposes that all species advance until they reach a key determining point in their evolution and succeed or die off. As far as we know, no species on Earth has ever made it past the Filter, so that leaves us with three possibilities:
-We are unique and have already passed the Great Filter, and we will continue to advance, peaking as our species learns to harness the energy of the stars.
-We are the first species to come close to passing the Filter because now is the first time that cosmic and biological situations have allowed a species to come this far.
-The Great Filter still lies ahead of us, meaning that passing it will be harder than we ever could have imagined given how far we’ve advanced without reaching it. This scenario most likely implies our eventual extinction.
The Fermi Paradox
Many of the theories on this list are related to the Fermi Paradox, in one way or another. At its core, the Fermi Paradox questions whether or not intelligent a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ life exists, and if it does, why we haven’t heard from it yet (or at least why we haven’t realized we’ve heard from it already).
Based on scale and probability, the Paradox merely asks “Where is everybody?”
Though there are many worthwhile explanations, one of the most famous scenarios brought up as a retort typically involves explorer Francisco Pizarro or a new highway.
Put simply, if we are building a 10-lane highway and the construction happens to pass an anthill, what do we do? Do we destroy the anthill? Does it affect our construction plans at all?
Or do we completely ignore the anthill, build our highway, and allow both the ants and drivers to continue living in peace? Since the ants could in no way comprehend what a 10-lane highway is, does it really matter?
Now imagine we’re the ants. Perhaps advanced intelligent a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s̳ have already been around us, or are near us at this very moment. If they’re truly so advanced, we might not even be able to understand it, so they just don’t bother us to begin with. Thoughts?
Similarly to the Fermi Paradox, this theory implies that a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳s might be all around us, only we don’t have the senses to pick up on their presence. We live in three dimensions, but if there were a species capable of existing within a fourth dimension, they could be totally invisible to us.
Likewise, as someone without eyes could not see, and someone without ears could not hear, perhaps our species lacks a physical trait that prevents us from experiencing stimuli that exists outside of our capabilities.
Brain in a Vat
Is anything real?
This theory understands the following:
-The brain is the source of all consciousness
-The brain can function on just electrical impulses
-External stimuli affects the brain
-External stimuli could stop the brain from distinguishing what is “real” and what is just being projected
That being said, “you” might be fake, a merely projection that some machine with external electrical stimuli is projecting into your brain, which is actually just floating in a vat somewhere, being tricked into “living” or imagining everything you experience.
Another response to the Fermi Hypothesis, and quite similar to the “brain in a vat” theory: what if the entire Earth is just “in a vat,” as it were?
Perhaps higher a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ intelligence has found us, and the only reason they haven’t interfered with our civilization is that they prefer to use the Earth as an example of what would happen given the natural proceedings of evolution.
That being said, the entire planet is like one planetarium or zoo that a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ races are using as a field study, the greatest experiment (or not) of all time.
Another proposed solution to the Fermi Paradox, this theory suggests that intelligent a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s̳ haven’t contacted us because they’re reached a point of extra-universal travel, with the technological capabilities to create black holes and disappear into them to travel beyond our universe and continue their learning and advancements.
Naturally, little old Earth wouldn’t quite interest them at that point.
Some of the scariest things on the planet are born on the internet, and live there entirely, until some deranged lost souls decided to turn them into reality (think Slender Man).
Well Roko’s Basilisk is a thought experiment so awful, that just knowing about it already makes you guilty, and likely to endure an eternity of torture.
Born as a forum on LessWrong, one reader proposed the concept of some malevolent artificial intelligence from the future that will one day punish all those who did not help bring about its existence, and will return retroactively to hunt down and torture anyone who knew about its idea but did not help in its creation.
Now that you know about it, will you help, or pay the price?
The Copenhagen Interpretation
This is where things get really trippy. Basically, in quantum physics, people today still argue about whether more than one reality can exist.
One of the most famous examples is Schroedinger’s Cat, a situation in which a cat is locked in a steal box with an atom that could become unstable and decay, emitting radiation that would kill the cat.
However, since the cat is locked inside the box, and since the atom has equal chances of decaying or remaining stable, we do not know the cat’s fate, and it may very well be dead or alive. Some theorize that at this point, the cat is both dead AND alive.
The Copenhagen Interpretation states that, in this case, the cat is both dead and alive until it is observed, at which point only one reality takes hold, and the cat is found either alive or dead.
Similarly to the last theory, quantum superposition is the belief that multiple realities can exist at once.
The concept believes that, with every decision we make, an alternate reality where we did not make that decision also exists, and so on and so forth. Famous physicists like Stephen Hawking support this “many world theory.”
Quantum Suicide/ Quantum Immortality
Not to beat a dead (alive) cat, but here’s another spin on the previous theories. Say a man has a gun pointed at his forehead, and when he pulls the trigger, a quantum particle will spin: if it spins clockwise, the gun will fire, and the man will die; if it spins counterclockwise, the gun will not fire, only click.
He pulls the trigger. Click. Click. Click. This goes on for an eternity and the gun never fires, thus making the man eternal.
Taking a step back to when the man pulls the gun for the first time, say the particle spins clockwise, the gun fires, and the man is dead. Only the previous reality of him pulling the trigger infinite times and becoming immortal already exists, thus the man is both alive and dead.
Long story short, every time he pulled the trigger, two realities were created, and continue to be created for all time.