Hard Problems

## We Can Solve Problems

I’m convinced that there’s no poison worse for the soul than pessimism. Everyone knows that pessimistic person. The person who says no one should have kids, because the world is going to shit. We’re all gonna die, because climate change is destroying our planet. And big, evil corporations are doing nothing to stop it. Better to give up now.

I’m sure there’s a small part in everyone that asks, “what if they’re right?”

Turn on the news and the state of the world always seem dire. Talk of climate change, war, disease, and famine make the future sound pretty grim.

And your pessimistic friend? They sound pretty smart. They have stats, articles, and clever retorts that makes it sound like they know what they’re talking about. I don’t blame you for buying the sales pitch. But they’re dead wrong.

Pessimism seems like an intellectually serious position because the solution to hard problems is never obvious. If it were, the problem would be solved. So a smart person in good faith can say, “How are we going to solve this problem? I haven’t met a single person who has the solution! Here’s 10 reasons this hard problem is hard.”

Well, duh… Hard problems are hard. But history teaches us humans are good at doing hard things.

The problems of yesterday seemed crazy. Humans don’t fly. Humans don’t go to space. Here’s the New York Times telling us we’ll never fly in 1903–the same year the Wright brothers had their first flight!

Hence, if it requires, say, a thousand years to fit for easy flight a bird which started with rudimentary wings, or ten thousand for one with started with no wings at all and had to sprout them ab initio, it might be assumed that the flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years — provided, of course, we can meanwhile eliminate such little drawbacks and embarrassments as the existing relation between weight and strength in inorganic materials.

If the pessimists were wrong before, they’ll be wrong again.

What are today’s impossible problems that will be solved in the future? Energy is an obvious candidate. Today, we think of energy as scare and struggle to imagine how we’ll power the world without destroying the earth. But basic physics tells us it doesn’t have to be this way.

The amount of energy that hits the earth from the sun is roughly 10,000x the world’s energy consumption. And this is nothing compared to the energy stored in an atom. One liter of water contains as much energy as is produced by burning a million tons of gasoline. Crack the problem of fusion energy and you can potentially unleash a huge portion of this energy. Our future will have single fusion reactors that produce more energy in a day than the world uses in a year today.

Life extension is another. People accept that a human’s lifespan is between 80-100 years. Maybe we won’t be able to live forever, but sometime soon we’ll see the first 200 year old. Someday, the average life expectancy of a human will hit quadruple digits.

Given that everyone on earth is affected by death, disease, and resource constraints, there’s a huge ethical dilemma by not solving these problems. 10 million people die each year from cancer alone. That’s about one holocaust every year. That’s not acceptable!

We don’t have to accept things as they are. Humans can solve hard problems. Actually, we must solve hard problems. It’s our moral imperative. But that demands we recognize pessimism for what it is: a misguided, lazy, and deadly position. Drop the pessimism and start building. There are problems waiting to be solved.