Human Extinction, the Doomsday argument, and fantasy value
The first thing we’ll do for this update is get the video out of the way. I usually like VSauce but this was one of those episodes that didn’t work for me on basically any level. Largely because the biggest argument it put forward seemed incredibly flawed.
As he mentions partway into the video, suppose you have 2 jars. 1 Jar has the numbers 1 through 10 and the other jar has the numbers 1 through a million. If you reach into the jar and pull out a 4 then, by the logic of this argument, you are likely reaching into the 1 through 10 jar. This is because 4 is 1 in 10 in the first jar and 1 in a million in the second jar. This is true and I can’t really argue against this point. What I can argue against is the value of this integer. I liken it to when people say “What were the odds of you rolling 42 on that 100 sided die? Honestly. That’s crazy.”
Yes, 42 has some meaning to us because of Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. But in the schema of all integers from 1 to 100 it has literally no additional value. The outcome of finding it is no more representative of the whole than the outcome of finding any other of the 99 numbers remaining. Similarly pulling 4 out of a jar with 1 million numbers in it is no more representative than pulling out 241,359. These two numbers have equal weight and merit in the scheme. The only thing the latter tells you is that you can’t possibly be pulling from the first jar.
But when looking at people there is no reference jar. The only reason the second jars outcome feels less likely is because we are comparing it to the first jar. If there was no first jar there would be no meaning to drawing the 4. The 4 would be just as likely as any other number. This argument fabricates an additional point just to give its underlying premise weight. At least as it is presented by VSauce.
Human kind has no second jar. Similarly, and it was noted in the video, there is no value for “all humans ever” that includes all future humans. This is because there is no real concrete point where we go from being “humans” to “the next thing”. You could argue that it’ll be once we can no longer breed with the previous generation but that knowledge will only come at some incomprehensible point in time in the future. We do not succumb to the same pressures that an animal normally would anymore. A lot of the things that push evolution ahead for animals now is their competition with humans and surviving in the environments that we leave behind.
We, on the other hand, are using tools to offset the selection process. We teach our children how to use those tools and in turn they too do not need to grow more fur, or extra hands, or larger eyes. I could write about this more specifically some time but I don’t think those links that connect physical traits to reproduction are as tenuous as they once were. People of all shapes, sizes, colors, and genetic variants are breeding. Sure, maybe Japan and nations like it might vanish because of that peculiar drop in reproduction rates. But I suspect once it gets too extreme they’ll just start giving incentives for having children and it’ll no longer be a thing.
Human evolution to a scale where we are incomprehensible “others” will come once we begin colonizing other planets. At that point I suspect it’ll come relatively quickly.
Anyways, back on point. The Doomsday argument is another one of those supposed paradox statements. At least it has a lot of the traits that throw up red flags for me that they do. It basically makes a leap in logic and uses traits from mathematics that only work in hindsight once the subject at hand is completed. At best the argument seems to allow us to say that if you create a value large enough the odds that we will reach that value are lower. So if you told me the jar could hold 1 million balls I’d be skeptical, but perhaps you prove that it does but only barely. Then you tell me the jar holds a trillion balls.
Well…you silly goose…it clearly does not. That first jar is the Fantasy Value. Giving meaning to the meaningless. Then extrapolating from that meaninglessness some life changing cosmic level meaning. [Sounds familiar…]
That seems to be the value I get from the doomsday argument. There will probably never be 100 trillion trillion trillion human beings. Further the earlier in our existence you do this math the earlier in our future it will look like doomsday is coming. The very act of NOT dying will always push the value forward and cause it to always have as much meaning as it does now. None, no meaning, its silly.