Here’s a little thought. Which famous figures from human history (including people from the modern era) that are universally known today will still be remembered one million years from now?
Everyone remembers their beginnings. We know of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin because they were at the founding of this country; at its beginning. They have significance to us. But what about a million years from now? The United States will be just another long forgotten land in 5 millenia, let alone a thousand millennia. And if the whole country is forgotten, then certainly the founders of that country won’t be remembered. They would have no significance to the people of the distant future.
And there’s that word again. Significance. People remember those who are significant to them. They remember those people who’ve had an impact on their lives. And the impact of historical figures diminishes with time. To do something that has a lasting impact just ten years later is impressive. A hundred years even more so. What about a thousand? How many people can you name who lived more than a thousand years ago? Have you ever heard of Edgar the Peaceful? You haven’t? Why not?!? After all, he was King of England for 16 years until his death in the year 975. What about people from more recent times? Auguste and Louis Lumière. Louis died in 1948 and Auguste died in 1954. Hardly ancient history. Yet are they household names? Certainly not. But they should be. After all, they were the inventors of cinema. The moving picture. Movies. Even so, by much of the world, they have already been forgotten.
The point I’m trying to make is that even the most important people with the most brilliant discoveries and the most amazing contributions tend to be forgotten over time. It just seems to be the nature of things. If a person is not immediately relevant to your life, then knowing about them holds no value, except perhaps as an academic curiosity.
So let me ask again: Who will still be remembered a million years hence? What about the Bard? The most brilliant and wonderful Shakespeare? Hardly.True, he’s universally known today, nearly 400 years after his death, which is quite impressive. But his fame stems primarily from his plays, which are too closely connected to the written word to have true staying power. As language continues to evolve over time, his plays will eventually become as indecipherable as ancient Greek. Sure, you can translate, but with each subsequent translation, you lose more and more of the brilliance that made Shakespeare Shakespeare. Take that away, and his plays would fade from the mind as quickly as a bad movie. In fact, it’s highly doubtful that any works of literature (or their authors) (with the exception of those religious works that belong to religions that are still being practiced) will survive the test of time. Given enough time, they lose their relevance. It’s inevitable.
The same holds true for figures in the entertainment industry. Frank Sinatra? Amazing. Michael Jackson? Absolutely brilliant. Laurence Olivier? Considered by many to be the best actor of all time. But these people won’t be remembered in even five hundred years, let alone a thousand years or a million.
So who then, of the great figures of history won’t lose their relevance even after a million years?
-The Greeks and the Romans (and Assyrians and Persians etc.)-
I mentioned earlier that people remember their beginnings. The Greeks and Romans et al are the beginnings of western civilization. However far human civilization advances, however many years into the future one travels, if people look for civilization’s origins, it will take them back to the Greeks and Romans.
For religious Christians, the stories and figures of the Christian bible will always have relevance, as will the more famous commentators such as Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine of Hippo. Religious Jews will know the figures from the Torah and the Talmud as well as the more famous commentators such as Rashi and the Rambam. The same goes for the figures of all religions. Of course, this assumes that all these religions remain into that very distant future, but for arguments sake, let’s say that at least to some degree they do.
-Isaac Newton And Albert Einstein-
The modern world (and the future world) runs on technology. All our technology exists due to the discoveries and inventions of scientists. The two greatest scientists were Newton and Einstein. Newton is credited (along with the lesser known Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz) with inventing calculus, that area of mathematics essential to modern mechanics. And without mechanics, we have no modern technology
Likewise, Einstein and his theories of Special and General Relativity (as well as the Photoelectric Effect (for which he won the nobel prize in 1921) and many other discoveries and theories) has firmly established himself in the pantheon of the Science Gods. If you removed the contributions of either of these two brilliant scientists, the modern world would crumble.
And that’s it.
It’s a very short list, but a million years is a very long time. And the above mentioned people will stand the test of time. Their contributions to humanity are eternal. Whether for who they were or for what they did, their names will be remembered forever. Or at least for a significant portion of forever. Because who’s to say if anyone or anything will be remembered given enough time? If the descendants of humanity end up dispersing across the universe then it’s conceivable the Earth itself may one day be forgotten as the birthplace of mankind. But such concerns might be a bit premature at this point, wouldn't you say? We can always think about that later.