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Distinguished Science Lecture Series Archives

Dr. Ian Morris — On the Future of War and Human Values

Looking over the past 10,000 years historian and archaeologist Ian Morris reveals patterns in the past related to energy consumption and resources, and how our age of fossil fuels will likely be a temporary one as we transition to renewables, and how this transition may lead to new human values, including the value of peace in a long human history filled with war.

Ian Morris is Professor of History at Stanford University and a Fellow of the Stanford Archaeology Center. His book Why the West Rules — For Now traces the patterns of history and what they reveal about the future. His latest book is Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, a compelling new argument about the evolution of human values, one that has far-reaching implications for how we understand the past — and for what might happen next. Fundamental long-term changes in values, Morris argues, are driven by the most basic force of all: energy. Humans have found three main ways to get the energy they need — from foraging, farming, and fossil fuels. Each energy source sets strict limits on what kinds of societies can succeed, and each kind of society rewards specific values. But if our fossil-fuel world favors democratic, open societies, the ongoing revolution in energy capture means that our most cherished values are very likely to turn out not to be useful any more.

This lecture was recorded on May 30, 2015 at a conference called “In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity” (May 29–31, 2015) as part of the Distinguished Science Lecture Series hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society in California (1992–2015).

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