Nietzsche, it was, who observed, “Almost 2,000 years and no new God!”

Philosopher Karl Jaspers allowed that this is true. The most recent great religions all emerged from an extraordinarily fecund “cultural Petri dish” between 800 B.C. and 200 B.C—Jaspers called it the “axial age”—that saw monotheism swept into the mainstream.

In an article in The Economist not long ago, Paul Saffo, the futurist, wondered if it is finally getting close to time once again for a powerful new religion to appear: a new God. Similar forces are again in ferment, Saffo noted: new technologies, new mobility, new insecurities, new unhappinesses spread far and wide by new means of communication.

At the far fringes of today’s contemporary cultural Petri dish, you can already hear the rumbles. What else would you call science writer Joel Garreau’s call for new rituals to welcome scientific breakthroughs into our personal lives, such as those that might postpone aging? One of his suggestions in his book, Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human (New York: Broadway, 2006): “A liturgy of life everlasting as a person receives her first cellular age-reversal workup.”

Getting out of the cradle

Getting out of the cradle

The question has seldom been more vividly framed than in the writings of Frederick Jackson Turner, who died in 1932. Turner’s book, The Significance of the Frontier in American History, helped put men on the moon. That’s because President John F. Kennedy was exposed to it as a Harvard student—that and Catholic paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin’s progressive theories about the wellsprings of the human spirit. Turner’s oft-debated “frontier thesis” was this: having a new frontier to explore does wonders for the spirit of human cooperation. The eloquent Edward O. Wilson picked up the inquiry with Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, especially his inquiry into altruism, one example of which is human civilization itself.

The late Soviet rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was another “new frontiers”-man, urging humans to think of colonizing the Milky Way galaxy. “Earth is the cradle of mankind—but we can’t stay in the cradle forever,” he said famously.

Dolphinthinkers worry about Earth’s occupants falling into a “zero-sum” game à la Toynbee (A Study of History) and Spengler (The Decline of the West), not to mention Turner, if we run out of genuine new frontiers to explore. For this reason, you should not be surprised to find most dolphinthinkers insistent that humans not retreat from the idea of moving out into space big time. It’s the final frontier and as such, they believe, is vital to keeping our altruism (and perhaps our very biologies) alive.

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