How Humanity Came To Contemplate Its Extinction

The modern idea of human extinction distinguishes itself from the tradition of apocalypse as it is found across cultures and throughout history.

In the ancient mythologies you will not find the idea of a physical universe continuing, in its independent vastness, after the annihilation of humans. Neither will you find the idea of the end of the world as a totally meaningless event. It is invariably imbued with some moral significance or revelatory lesson. Meaning and value lives on in a spiritual afterlife, in anthropomorphic gods, or an eventual rebirth of creation.

Only very recently in human history did people realize that Homo sapiens, and everything it finds meaningful, might permanently disappear. Only recently did people realize the physical universe could continue — aimlessly — without us. However, this was one of the most important discoveries humans have ever made. It is perhaps one of our crowning achievements. Why? Because we can only become truly responsible for ourselves when we fully realize what is at stake. And, in realizing that the entire fate of human value within the physical universe may rest upon us, we could finally begin to face up to what is at stake in our actions and decisions upon this planet. This is a discovery that humanity is still learning the lessons of — no matter how fallibly and falteringly.

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