As an addendum, there is a similar sculpture which geologists think might last almost as long: the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial in Georgia. Also carved into solid, nigh-impenetrable granite, the statue is kind of the anti-Mount Rushmore, depicting Confederate figures Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and the appropriately named Stonewall Jackson. Just saying, it's remotely possible that the final surviving testament to human civilization will be a celebration of slavery.
Future Alien Explorers Will Probably Assume We Were A Burrowing Species
Let's look forward to around a hundred million years after we disappear. Even Mount Rushmore is gone. Earth looks like a brand-new planet never before touched by intelligent life. Would some alien visitor ever know that we were here? They probably would, but they would likely assume that we were some kind of giant Dune Sandworm-like creatures, due to our final legacy: a whole bunch of tunnels.
Why tunnels? Because natural environmental erosion tends to erase everything on the surface fairly quickly if people aren't around to maintain it -- like shaking an Etch-a-Sketch, but really slowly and measured in geological epochs. Under the ground, however, such erosion doesn't occur. In fact, an important factor in the science of geology is studying the tunnels dug by burrowing creatures such as worms, rabbits, moles, and woodchucks, since these burrows remain there long after the animals that made them have been relegated to evolution's dustbin.
Well, for all intents and purposes, human beings are a burrowing species too, though on a much greater scale. Animals might build tunnels and burrows, but we build subways, boreholes, and mines. The (sexy) term for this is "anthroturbation," and it will be the last evidence that we existed. Things like the Salt Lake City mines and the London Underground will probably remain until the end of the Earth itself. This brings up an interesting point for those searching for alien life: Instead of looking for alien cities and giant Mars faces, we should probably be looking for evidence of ancient extraterrestrial subway systems.
In A Bizarre Twist, Scientists Are Going Back To Recording Our Knowledge On Stone Tablets
No matter how long human civilization continues to trundle along, future archaeologists who try to get a glimpse of our world will probably assume that we were all wiped out sometime in the late 20th century. After all, that's when we stopped writing things down. Digging up fossilized computers won't do our future descendants any good, because no data on those machines will be recoverable. In fact, as we've covered before, we'll be lucky if we can interpret today's computer software 50 years from now, let alone in a million years. The digitization of information and the large-scale purging of hard copies has made all of human knowledge compact and convenient, but it also put an expiration date on all of that stuff. If we vanish tomorrow, then the totality of our combined human knowledge will last only as long as the batteries in our Kindles.
With this in mind, some scientists have decided to go full circle, preserving the legacy of human knowledge using the best method we've ever figured out: etching it on stone tablets and burying it in the desert.
Memory Of Mankind
They're even scattering these coins with their location around the world so future generations can know what an unhelpful map looks like.
The Memory of Mankind Project intends to utilize the one technology that mankind has gotten progressively worse at over time -- data storage -- and etch as much of our knowledge, history, popular fiction, and culture into the surface of a number of ceramic plates, which they will then bury deep in an abandoned Austrian salt mine. Millions of years hence, the hope is that our future descendants will stumble across a treasure trove of ancient plaques which will teach them everything from modern calculus to the relativity formula to the recipe for a really great chili to ... Pepe the Frog.
Yeah, the MoMP people aren't the only ones seeking to create an eternal ceramic legacy to mankind's "achievements." In 2017, the website 9Gag also bankrolled a project to bury a carved stone tablet deep beneath the Earth for the benefit of future generations. But far from the collected enlightenment of a foregone past, its purpose is to record internet memes. You know, like Dickbutt, Philosoraptor, and Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen. On second thought, we deserve oblivion.
S. Peter Davis is the creator of the Three Minute Philosophy YouTube series, and is the author of the book Occam's Nightmare.
Get your cat ready for business because let's face it, cats are going to take over the Earth.
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