what would you like to know would be one of humanity’s legacies (à la NASA’s Voyager)?


The probe Voyager 1 left our solar system this week, NASA announced… or maybe not, says Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait, depending on how you define “solar system.” But Plait isn’t denying how cool this is:

[T]his is an astonishing achievement for humanity. It was inevitable; we knew this would happen even before Voyager (and its twin Voyager 2) was even launched, in 1977. But still, after all these years, and so much terribly empty space traveled, this point has now been reached. Humanity is now an interstellar species.

(Even cooler is the fact that Voyager is still doing science and sending its results back to us, and is expected to be able to continue doing so until 2025 or 2030, when its nuclear battery will run out of juice.)

Barring an extremely unlikely collision with interstellar junk or future retrieval by humanity, Voyager will continue on its lonely, unimpeded way for hundreds of thousands of years, and longer. It could outendure us as a species and be one of humanity’s few lasting legacies, such as it is.

What else would you like to know would be one of humanity’s legacies? What are the greatest things we have already achieved or could conceivably achieve that future superevolved cockroaches or alien tourists would look at and go, “Huh. Those humans weren’t half bad”?

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)

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Adam Stevenson
Adam Stevenson
Sat, Sep 14, 2013 8:26pm

Strange that I was already thinking about this today while going on a little walk. I was imagining what one item I would put in a museum to humanity.

I concluded that moveable type and the printing press would be my choice for this museum. The impact of cheaper, mass-produced books on the growth of literacy and the sharing of knowledge is almost inestimable.

Without being able to share ideas across space and through time independent of scribes and copyists I think that half the advances of the modern world would have been impossible and that’s without counting the hours of pleasure and pondering that fiction has given us.

Sun, Sep 15, 2013 12:48pm

A digital recording of a human mind.

Mon, Sep 16, 2013 7:55pm

I think I need to stop reading the newspaper. Whenever I read about someone trying to make the world a better place, the story always ends with a prolonged war, or with two countries locked in a stalemate, or with government employees spying on civilians around the world.

Once in a while, there’s a story that’s genuinely uplifting. Someone has talked down a gunman, or a political activist has created a lasting change. But in the past few months, the world figure I’ve admired the most has been Davide Martello. He’s a pianist who performed in Taksim Square, just as conflict was going to break out between the protesters and the Turkish police. He played “Let It Be,” and the police sat down on top of their shields, right next to the protesters, and listened to the music:


So if I were going to choose a legacy for humanity, it probably wouldn’t be a political document or a new piece of technology. I would choose a work of art. It might be The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit by John Singer Sargent. It might be Joni Mitchell’s Blue album or Glenn Gould’s recordings of The Well-Tempered Clavier. But I think that today, when I’m feeling frustrated with the world, I might choose a short, slightly sentimental poem by e.e. cummings:

since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool

while Spring is in the world


my blood approves,

and kisses are a better fate

than wisdom

lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry

—the best gesture of my brain is less than

your eyelids’ flutter which says


we are for each other: then

laugh, leaning back in my arms

for life’s not a paragraph


And death i think is no parenthesis