Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 16, No 1 (2020)

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Can Intelligence Escape its Terrestrial Past?: Anticipations of Existential Catastrophe & Existential Hope from Haldane to Ćirković

Thomas Moynihan


This article explores the history of resonant idea that intelligence is locked in a struggle to outpace its deepest past so as to vouchsafe its furthest future. That is, can Homo sapiens escape its passively inherited evolutionary heritage in order to actively build something more properly universal? The article traces this dramatic notion across various thinkers of the 1800s and 1900s, locating its genesis in the notion that the human is the creature who increasingly rejects the merely natural so as to rely on its own artefacts and artifice. Because it answers to purposeful values that outstrip purposeless and unintelligent nature, intelligence incrementally replaces the accidental with the deliberate and designed so as to increasingly come to reside in a world entirely of its own making. This, however, comes with its own risks. The history of thinking upon the risks internal to our progressively artificial world is recounted, before an retracing of some of the most dramatic visions yet provided of what humanity's longest-term future could be if we prove able to outmanoeuvre our contingent terrestrial heritage so as to deliberately fabricate for ourselves a resplendent future in the stars.

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