At a Long Enough Time Horizon

Yesterday I had an itch to set my thoughts careening by reading some good science-fiction. I went down to the library and picked up Vernor Vinge’s “Marooned in Real Time“. It did not disappoint. It was interesting enough that I ended up finishing it in one day. It has the perfect mix of intrigue and ideas that set your imagination afire. The basic plot is a murder mystery with the twist that it takes place as the cast of characters travels through time using bobble technology. Bobbles are basically stasis spheres, so you don’t really travel through time as much as everything remains in suspended animation while the world goes on without you. The characters in the book end up bobbling through millions of years of real time and are able to observe changes to earth geography and evolution in progress.

Far future earth evolution is exactly the kind of thing that’s fun to speculate about. How will life change? What new animals will arise from current forms? Will any creatures achieve sapience? Likewise, if we could travel through time for millions of years, how far could we go? What would happen to the universe? What would we see if we could stick around until the end of the universe?

The pleasant side effect of reading about the flow of millions of years is that it makes all of your problems shrink to insignificance. At a long enough time horizon, nothing really matters. When the going gets tough, this idea can provide relief and perspective. One of the humbling facts about existence is the knowledge that everything you do, everything you have, everything you know, is temporary… even humanity, even this world. If everything is temporary what is the proper attitude of life? How should this inform our conduct?

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