Yet another weird SF fan


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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Monday, November 09, 2009

Rehabilitating a Science-Fiction Cliche

Science fiction has a common cliche scenario: Shortly after we get into space we encounter many different sentient aliens all of whom have almost the same degree of technological development. Once you start thinking about it, this is preposterous. The difference between Earth and a typical bunch of science-fictional ETs (Kzinti or Merseians or whatever) is only a few thousand years ahead—a million on the outside. In the course of billions of years, the odds of two species developing space flight that close is thousands or millions to one. It would take a very weird theory to make that believable. That weird theory can be found in an article in the late lamented Extropy magazine (found online here).

Here's the scenario: First, we assume that wormholes are both possible and useful. Next, we assume that these wormholes can be accelerated by a Bussard ramjet (or something equivalent) at a fixed acceleration indefinitely. Finally, we assume that the nearest ETs are less than a googol parsecs away. We take a wormhole and accelerate it at 1 g until it reaches the ETs. This will take less than a century by wormhole time. According to the mathematics of these warp drives, it will also take less than a century at the Earth end of the wormhole. When we reach the ETs, we will probably encounter their advance wormholes which means we will meet them only a few centuries after they start spaceflight. In other words, we will probably meet as near equals:

Barring such hostile aliens we can expect to have contacted and be trading with alien civilisations within a few centuries or millennia of starting our wormhole exploration of the universe. This is a symmetrical situation. Not only will be meeting aliens within historically short period, but they will be meeting us shortly after their expansion begins. Consequently all the species of the universe will be linking up at about the same stage in their development. This gives us all shared interests and hence markets in common. We might expect each civilisation to go through two future phase changes. First phase change is when they develop nanotechnology and start redesigning themselves, speeding up etc. Second phase change occurs when they link up with the rest of the universe and get the benefits of the near- infinite economies of scale this brings.

Another cliche which this scenario can include (but which was not mentioned in the article) is the Elder Race. This is a race of ETs who have been around for billions of years and are very wise and very, very patient. The Elder Race of cliche has “progressed” far beyond the young, greedy, individualistic civilizations. If we assume that there is a race of ETs with the ambition to be an Elder Race they can achieve that ambition by accelerating a bit more slowly than average. Establishing a speed limit even a tiny bit less than the speed of light would make them encounter their first aliens only after a million years. Arranging such a slowdown would require a centralized collectivist organization. (Otherwise the fastest members would set the pace.) We might someday encounter very advanced, very powerful ETs who sound like New-Age loons. (Individualists such as myself should brace ourselves.) Do not insult them. They really do have magical powers and will turn you into a toad.

I have no reason to believe they have arranged for a bird to drop a crust of bread on the LHC.

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