Who do we remember?
The comment section of MR can go to hell, it just erased what I wrote there because I hit the wrong keyboard button when I was about to post it. So I decided to post some of my thoughts here instead.
Tyler asked, or rather a reader of his asked him: “Who will still be famous in 10,000 years?”
Tyler mentions “major religious leaders (Jesus, Buddha, etc.), Einstein, Turing, Watson and Crick, Hitler, the major classical music composers, Adam Smith, and Neil Armstrong.”
Only one of those I can agree a little with – the religious leaders. The question is of course badly posed because it doesn’t clarify what is meant by famous. I think basically nobody alive/known today has much of a chance of being famous in 10.000 years. Fame implies more than name-recognition in my mind, and I’m pretty sure that’s the most you can hope for. To take an example, Aristotle isn’t famous today; some people think they know who he was (a philosopher), a few people know a little more and that’s it. Most people have no clue who he was. How many of the 1 billion people living in Africa know more than the name, if they know that much? The Chinese? People from Brazil? And a) that’s a vastly shorter timeframe, b) when he was alive, there were only maybe 170 million people who could potentially become famous, now there are 7 billion (40 times as many) and the number keeps growing.
Let’s say 10.000 years is 300 generations. Of course it could be more, it could be less, depending on how things develop, but let’s just try out with that. Let’s say that you know all there is to know about famous guy X today and you tell your child. Your child tells everything he knows to his child, ect. for 300 generations. Now assume there’s an information loss of 1 percent per generation, i.e. that your child only gets 99 % of what you had told him about the famous guy, his/her child only gets 99% of that right and so on. After 300 generations, a little less than 5 percent of the information about the famous guy will be left even though there was very little information loss at each information exchange point. If it’s 2 percent of the information that survived that gets lost instead each generation, it’s 0,2 percent of the information that survives to the end. If it’s 5 percent, it’s 2*10^(-7) of the information that’s left [that’s about equal to 2 divided by ten million] at the end.
This assumes no Great Disasters, no increasing costs of information storage over time (something I think people tend to forget when looking at very long time frames; this is basically the same as saying that individuals don’t learn new things in the year 8000 that might be more useful to know at that point in time than what color tie Einstein wore in 1934, so there’s no new information crowding out old information. Now ask yourself i) how much you know about the dietary habits of Cleopatra, ii) why you’d want to know something like that and iii) what the growth rate of historical knowledge available generally looks like? Yes, you got it right, barring Great Disasters it is increasing over time at a very fast rate.), no overcut links at any point. This is with a society basically in stasis for 10.000 years with almost perfect information sharing over time.
To be remembered in 10.000 years, you need to be a God. But even they will have a very hard time over that kind of time frame; most humans have already forgotten all about more than 99,99 percent of all the gods we ever made up. Who remembers Dis Pater anyway? Right now I’m thinking about an SMBC-comic I’d like to have linked to illustrating this ‘religions are mortal too’-concept. It does it by showing a dad tell his son some very garbled version of a mix of current religions and the Egyptian sun gods or some such in order ‘to give the child a head start, because that’s what things will be like in the future anyway, all mixed up’ or along those lines, but I can’t remember the number, the comic has over 2000 strips and I can’t find the specific strip via google (please leave a link in the comments if you think you know which one I’m thinking about).
The time frame is the killer. Maybe Muhammed or Jesus will manage, but I severely doubt it. 10.000 years is a very long time. Maybe some combination of Superman, Muhammed and Sauron will still be around at that point. Memetic mutations happen all the time and religions will not be immune to such changes in the long run. Another thing is that to think that a religion has been around for 2000 years is a sign that that religion will keep being around for ever is probably not a good idea. Religions stay around as long as the religious people keep having babies and indoctrinating them. If they do that and don’t get killed or forced to drop their Gods by people who have other Gods, they can manage in the medium to long run. The Gods of christianity and islam have done that so far, but they killed a lot of gods in the process. Who’s to say they won’t share the fate of the gods they replaced in the very long run? Would not that be the most likely outcome? Why not?
Incidentally, when you have a child, the child shares half of your DNA, half of the other parent’s DNA. Over 300 generations, what’s left of your unique original ‘DNA-package’ is equal to 4,90909…*10^(-91). The divisor in that expression is (significantly) larger than the number of atoms in the universe. Getting children is a very bad way to try to live forever, to leave a ‘permanent imprint on the world’ or some such. You might just (think that you’ll) live on a little while longer, but that’s basically it.