People’s fascination for religion and superstition will disappear within a few decades as television and the internet make it easier to get information, and scientists get closer to discovering a final theory of everything, leading thinkers argue today.
The web magazine Edge (www.edge.org) asked more than 150 scientists and intellectuals: “What are you optimistic about?” Answers included hope for an extended human life span, a bright future for autistic children, and an end to violent conflicts around the world.
Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it seems to instil today. The spread of information through the internet and mobile phones will “gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance”.
Biologist Richard Dawkins said that physicists would give religion another problem: a theory of everything that would complete Albert Einstein’s dream of unifying the fundamental laws of physics. “This final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions.”
Part of that final theory will be formulated by scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator at Cern in Geneva, which is to be switched on this year. It will smash protons together to help scientists understand what makes up the most fundamental bits of the universe.
Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University, highlighted the decline of violence: “Most people, sickened by the bloody history of the 20th century, find this claim incredible. Yet, as far as I know, every systematic attempt to document the prevalence of violence over centuries and millennia (and, for that matter, the past 50 years), particularly in the west, has shown the overall trend is downward.”
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John Horgan, of the Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey, was optimistic “that one day war – large-scale, organised group violence – will end once and for all”.
This will also be the year that we get to grips with our genomes. George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, believes we will learn “so much more about ourselves and how we interact with our environment and fellow humans”.
Simon Baron-Cohen, a psychologist at Cambridge University, focused on autistic children, saying their outlook had never been better. “There is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age,” he said. “Many develop an intuitive understanding of computers, in the same way other children develop an intuitive understanding of people.”
Leo Chalupa, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Davis, predicted that, by the middle of this century, it would not be uncommon for people to lead active lives well beyond the age of 100. He added: “We will be able to regenerate parts of the brain that have been worn out. So better start thinking what you’ll be doing with all those extra years.”