Our survival as a species depends on individuals being keenly attuned to danger. We see sinister things in shadows and catastrophe lurking behind every corner.
Reading stories on the Internet can be a serious downer. I know the author means well, but here’s a sample of stories I myself have written recently predicting the imminent end of days:
- America will be done in by its runaway debt;
- If we somehow survive the debt crisis, we’re going to lose everything to weaponized AI in the hands of government actors;
- If we’re a little patient, we’ll be drowned by rising sea levels shortly before the ocean boils away and we’re all cooked to death;
- And if we somehow survive all that, we’re still doomed because no one wants to work anymore.
Do We Have Reason to Think the Future Will Be Great?
I know from my Stoic studies that our thoughts not only shape but in fact create our reality. This article makes the upside case for humanity.
I aim to convince enough of you to change your fatalistic thoughts so that we secure humanity’s future.
The reason we can expect a great future is what I humbly call:
Bellerjeau’s Law of Human Potential
Lives x Lifespan x Health x Free Time x Freedom x Education = Human Potential
For most of human history, this equation yielded meager results. But it looks so much better today. Let’s explore each factor and see what the Law of Human Potential portends.
Calculating the Upside Case
Humans are immensely clever animals. Well, some of us anyway. An alarming number of people couldn’t work their way out of an open paper bag. But they’re not the ones that matter.
No, humanity has advanced because of the efforts of a handful of geniuses. Mathematicians, philosophers, physicists, engineers, and leaders of all types. Across the centuries, a handful of names stand out as having made outsized contributions.
I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. — JFK remarks at a 1962 dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners.
Lives (up by 10x)
These few historical geniuses stood out from a relatively small pool of humans. It took us the first 200,000 years to get to a few million people. 2,000 years ago, we numbered just 190 million. The explosion started in 1700 when we numbered about 600 million.
We crossed 1 billion in the 1800s. We’ve doubled the population three times since, to our current level of 8 billion.
All the developments over all of human history up to the last 100 years happened with a fraction of today’s population. And that population was nowhere near as fertile intellectually as ours is today, due to the following factors.
Lifespan (up by 3x)
In 1800, the global average life expectancy was just 29 years. Even in 1950, it was just 45 years. Today we are looking at a global average of almost 73 years.
Health (up by 5x)
Until the 20th century, if you did exceed the average life expectancy, you could look forward to learning how to chew with wooden teeth while avoiding doctors who killed their patients with shocking frequency. Now we manipulate DNA itself to tailor therapies for individual patients.
This factor is correlated with lifespan because lots of illnesses contributed to shorter lives. But those who did not perish often suffered from ill health that prevented them from reaching their full potential.
Free Time (up by 10x)
We are in that tiny sliver of human history in which most people do not spend most of their time in search of food, either hunting, cultivating, or preparing it. On both an individual and a collective level, we have more free time than humanity has ever had at its disposal.
Freedom (up by 5x)
A large number of people live in countries that allow them to be either mostly or partly free. Their freedom is unimaginable compared to the lives of serfs throughout history. But big parts of the world still live in countries that don’t allow citizens freedom.
Education (up by 10x)
In 1800, only 12 percent of the world was literate. Today, that’s about the percentage that is illiterate. More people are getting more education than ever before. And the collected learnings of humanity across all time are available to every student today.
The Increase in Human Potential is Staggering
Taking each of these factors and running the formula, we see that humanity’s potential is 75,000 times greater than it has been throughout almost all of history.
Lives (10x) x Lifespan (3x) x Health (5x) x Free Time (10x) x Freedom (5x) x Education (10x) = 75,000 increase in Human Potential.
Genius still strikes randomly, but we can expect it to strike much more frequently as a result of these improvements in the human condition.
If that doesn’t make you optimistic about our chances, I don’t know what will.
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