I don’t mean the end of the world as in a form of an environmental or man-made Armageddon, either through global warming eliminating the human race, or an asteroid obliterating the planet, or a series of massive volcanic eruptions making Earth unlivable. I mean the final stage of our planet, as in our sun dying, rendering any kind of life on Earth impossible. Or incinerating the planet, I can’t remember which is the case, but the idea is the same.

There are two scenarios that can come to pass if humanity has miraculously managed to last that long: either we have developed scientifically to the point that we are spread out among the stars and mankind survives, or we have not, and we die with our planet. There isn’t really a third option.

The majority of people look at this as the obvious need for scientific progress, as they believe that the continuation of our species is the preferred option. Humans as individuals cannot live forever, but we can, as a species, expand for an eternity if we make science and reason the focal point of our development. Human beings have achieved great things in the past, and it is not unlikely that we could continue to achieve them into the future if we maintain our path of rational enlightenment.

Let’s look at some of the progress we’ve already achieved. Has any of it come about without some atrocity or another? The achievements of the past, like the pyramids, the cathedrals of Europe, the Taj Mahal: these wonders of engineering that tourists of today clamor around in order to take kitschy photographs of themselves next to were all built by slaves. If you throw enough human suffering and death at something, you can create anything. These things we look at as great achievements are often created for the most superficial of reasons. The pyramids are the self-aggrandizing tombs of the rulers of the land who considered themselves gods, and felt they deserved to be treated as such in death. The Taj Mahal is a tomb for the Shah’s favourite wife. The cathedrals are testaments, not to the glory of God, but to the glory of His representatives on Earth. All these achievements, from all that suffering, for vanity.

But what about the scientific progress that leads to the improvement of society? The industrial revolution and the advent of the machine promised to reduce our workload to almost nothing, increasing both the leisure and overall health and happiness of humans across the globe. In reality, however, the industrial revolution lead to inhumane working conditions, class stratification, and the destruction of the environment.

Even today, our computing systems would be impossible without the continuation of the horrific working conditions now hidden from view in third world countries, and the polluting effects of mining the necessary toxic heavy metals, and the waste that comes with the inevitable obseletion of the electronic device, and its subsequent trip to the landfill.

If this trend continues, and we are lucky enough to survive and surpass the destruction of the earth, we would be barbaric conquerors of the universe. Pillaging each planet we came across, either oblivious or apathetic to the carnage that would follow in our wake. And for what? To what purpose do we continue to progress towards infinite expansion across the stars? Do we simply desire immortality? Are we really only Pharaohs, wishing to be gods, uncaring about the suffering it requires to get us there? Do we want to live forever simply out of vanity? What meaning is there to immortality?

Look at the life of an individual. Do we want to be the person who, in their ambition, crushes those on his way to the top, who cares not for the world around him as he blindly revels in his wealth, his achievements? What are the regrets most people have on their death bed? An article from the Huffington Post lists the top five, and the running theme is wishing that there had been more time for a truer connection with oneself and with others. The meaning of life is revealed by those who are about to lose it, and the life lived with meaning, with connection, is the one worth living, not the one dedicated to progress or ambition.

As a species, who do we want to be? Which is the preferred end of the world scenario? Do we want to be the heartless conquerors, who subjugate the universe with the hubris of our imagined divinity, or do we want to be the species that dies with our planet, content that we lived with meaning, and have accepted our fate as mortals? I would rather die with a smile on my face, knowing I had lived and loved to the best of my ability, and I would prefer the same life and death for our species as well.

I am not suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive. It is not impossible for us to achieve peace on Earth without abandoning our dreams of a scientific utopia. However, our culture is still incapable of extricating the avarice, aggression, and dominance that has so far accompanied scientific progress, and trying to fix that problem with only more scientific progress is a self-defeating process. To achieve the best of both worlds, we need to prioritize the world with connection and meaning, because that is the ideal. That is the world, the universe, worth living in.