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Dyson is convinced, then, that technology will not stand in the way of colonizing space. But will there be sufficient human motivation? Here he points to another of the major agenda items for the 21st century: the issue of population.Skip to next paragraph
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``The human species on Earth has got to be submitting itself to all kinds of disciplines in order to survive,'' he says. One of the foremost is the discipline of controlling population.
So far, Dyson suggests, the Earth is not hopelessly overcrowded.
``You can live a civilized life with a much higher population density than we have [in the United States],'' he says, singling out the densely populated Netherlands as ``a very civilized country'' in which ``the countryside looks beautiful.''
But he adds that the world ``can't go on growing at the present rate for very long . . . somewhere you're going to really hit the stops.'' Those stops have already been reached, he says, in China, where government regulations are aimed at permitting only one child per couple.
``That's tough,'' Dyson says. ``I have six kids, and I would hate to be limited to one.'' But he feels strongly that ``that's the kind of discipline we're going to have to live under in order to preserve this planet.'' Space for rebels SUCH imposed limits, he says, may well provide one of the motivations for colonizing space -- just as they sometimes provide, on Earth, an impetus for immigration.
``The point about immigration,'' he explains, ``is not that it really reduces the population substantially. But at least it makes the severe discipline more acceptable, if the people who really rebel can go off somewhere else.'' As on Earth, he suggests, so in space -- where colonization, especially at the outset, may provide a means whereby ``people who really can't take it can leave.''
Dyson foresees that the strongest push for space colonization, in fact, will be made by the very people who do want to ``go off somewhere else'' -- and who will thrust into space in fairly small, private-enterprise ventures.
``The governments, of course, are going to continue exploring,'' he says, noting the success of such operations as the Voyager 2 probe that passed Uranus last January. ``Governments can do that kind of thing very well. What I don't think the governments are good at is organizing human settlements. That, I would hope, will be done by the people themselves, so they can do it the way they want to.''
What about the expense? ``I think there is a great deal of illusion in that,'' he says.
``The really good space exploring wasn't that expensive. Things that cost the most money are usually the least productive scientifically. You don't need vast sums of money. You just need to be clever.
``I'm not saying the government shouldn't support science,'' he hastens to add. ``Obviously it should.'' But he notes that ``I never expected much from the government, anyway.''
It's a point that leads Dyson, as he contemplates the future, to shy away from programs that depend heavily on government involvement. ``I regard governments as a necessary evil,'' he says, observing that ``I don't expect any sort of perfection from a government.
``They muddle along, and that's all you can say. I wouldn't want to have the government intruding more than it does. I'm sort of a Reaganite at heart, I suppose: I believe that the less government the better.'' No to world government THEN would Dyson, like some other forward-looking thinkers, want to see some form of world federal government?
``No, on the contrary,'' he responds with some alarm. ``That would be terrible.'' Fortunately, he says, the power of governments tends to diminish over long distances -- providing a kind of self-limiting factor on the geographical extent of any governing body.
``That's a happy state of affairs,'' he says. ``I think it's a good thing the world has more countries now than it had when I grew up . . . . Small countries on the whole are socially better run than big ones.'' The United States, he notes, is ``evidently too big, and I think that's probably the cause of most of our problems.''