Carters doomsday argument

After what has just been said, it should come as no surprise that some centrally important principles of risk analysis have only lately been noticed and are sometimes violently resisted. Brandon Carter's doomsday argument is a prime example. As will be examined at greater length in Chapter 5, the argument exploits the fact that we ought to prefer (other things being equal) those theories whose truth would have made us more likely to find whatever we have in fact found. While this might seem fairly evidently forceful, many risk analysts have failed to reject Carter's argument only because they have never come across it. They haven't thought of asking themselves—and would positively refuse to ask themselves—where a human could expect to be in human history.

As explained in the Introduction, Carter is an applied mathematician who does ask it. He points out that if the human race came to an end within, say, the next two centuries, then quite a large proportion of all humans would have found themselves where you and I do: in a period of extremely rapid population growth which immediately preceded extinction (and probably helped produce it). If, on the other hand, the human race were to survive for another thousand centuries, then the late twentieth century would have been a period of human history occupied by (proportionately) hardly any humans at all: perhaps far fewer than 0.001 per cent of all the humans who would ever have been born. This ought to decrease our confidence that humankind will have a long future. Carter's reasoning may be controversial, but it is correct, as Chapters 5 and 6 will try to demonstrate.

Continue reading here: Not just what might kill many people but what might kill all of us quickly

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