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Hawking: It's outer space or die for humans

The renowned physicist suggests that, sooner or later, the Earth is doomed. So the only hope for a continuation of the human race is to begin to populate outer space.

Stephen Hawking says he's an optimist. Perhaps theoretical physicists have an idiosyncratic definition of the word.

For in an interview with BigThink, Hawking suggested that unless the human race begins to inhabit outer space, it will disappear.

His tinge of optimism is painted in quite muted colors. "If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe as we spread into space," he told BigThink.

But those two centuries might well be fraught with far more crises than ever before, he said.

Hawking is worried about the way humans are eating up finite resources and commented that our genetic code "carries selfish and aggressive instincts," which have helped humanity survive so often in times gone by.

Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on Planet Earth, but to spread out into space," he said.

Now I know that one man's long term is another man's second marriage of four, but it isn't exactly easy to imagine large-scale human life in outer space. However, Hawking believes that greater space exploration now is vital to humanity's future.

"The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load," he said.

I wonder, though, whether there's some contradictions in Hawking's recent views of the future. Not so long ago, he offered that aliens might hate us and would simply chew us up like something off the McDonalds dollar menu. So might our increasing forays into the great beyond simply presage one huge, celestial battle for the survival of any kind of being out there? And might we not be terribly well-equipped to win that battle?

He then suggested that time travel was a real possibility. In which case, might we avoid human-hating aliens by simply staying out of, as it were, their time zone? But what if they can travel in time too and chase us into our past or our future?

In any case, if the majority, or even all, humans end up out there rather down here, human life will surely be very different.

Take baseball, for example. Would fly balls ever come down? But that's the problem with thinking as far and as widely into the future as does Hawking. It is, in essence, beyond the imaginations of most of us. Especially in times of uncertainty, such as the current one, when we can barely look beyond, say, three months.

Yet someone, somewhere, has to start thinking about the day when we abandon ship and waft to some spa in the sky. I say "we" when I really mean "you." I'll be up there already. Surely you have made your online reservation?