As I begin this final post, I start with the future. We have been discussing the future in many of the posts over the past months, and frequently using the present and past to inform our knowledge about what the future may bring. This post will be no different, but I want to imagine what science may look like in the future: a future where space exploration and colonization may be common for many people.
We have discussed how plants will play a role in space exploration, and how they will need to be established if any colony is going to survive. We looked at how the structure of the plant, vegetative and reproductive, is important to assure plant health and therefore ecosystem health. We even looked at how life may exist on Titan, feeding on deep thermal vents of methane, and how terra-forming could capitalize on these features of this moon.
The future of science, as it has been for any time since Francis Bacon, has been one of understanding increasing amounts of information and the complexity that this brings. In fact, the Scientific Method attempted to take the complex world, and reduce and constrain variables to understand how the world works. This method has worked amazing well at helping us understand the universe.
Humans created new technologies that provide new information on spatial and temporal changes in the natural world. Microscopes allowed us to see the minute world; telescopes allowed us to see the vast areas of space. Technologies have even allowed us to extract more information from the past and present than ever before, such DNA sequencing and fossil analysis. We are collecting huge amounts of information, such that our human brains are having difficulties seeing patterns and deciphering mechanisms. In fact, we even invented computer algorithms to help overcome these hurdles.
It would seem that a scientist in the early 21st Century would have an extremely difficult time trying to predict what life for humans will be like in the late 21st Century or beyond. I say this mainly because as new information continues to flood in, from all areas of science, we have a limited ability to decipher information. The world in 2113 may seem even more foreign to us, than a someone in 1913 looking at present day.
As scientists, we will continue to find ways to answer questions about the universe. We will invent ways of taking complex information, and make it "digestible" to our brains. We will use new technologies to make connections, and find patterns, that we are unable to do because of our biology. To find solutions, future researchers will look at the problems more holistically, and extract information from the microscopic to the macroscopic, from the past to the present, from the linear to chaotic, and the “connect the dots”.
I don’t want to entertain the idea that we will control the natural world more than we do now, but we might understand the complexity of the universe much better. There will always be those that use information for dominion over the world, but there will also be those who use this information to solve some of humankind’s greatest woes.
Therefore, as we contemplate the future, we shouldn’t forget how plants play a major role in our past, present, and future lives. The features and biological mechanisms possessed by plants will always play a role in a human’s life; it just might look much different. New and complex information about nature may help humans find ways to manage sustainable ecosystems, balanced with the demands of agriculture. New technologies may help humans find ways to maximize energy capture from living plants, as well as distant stars. We may even find way of creating environments that equitable and healthy to every humans. I’m sure that the science of the 21st Century won’t cure all of our ills, but, just as science has helped improve lives of today, the science dealing with complexity will help us solve many of the future. At least I hope...
Many thanks to Tyler Yohe for the opportunity over the last 12 months to post my ideas about plants and science of the past, present, and future. It was grand!