Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Happy Life Great Filter

A number of people have written about the Great Filter, which is supposed to be the stumbling block between non-life and exploring the stars.  [If you want to know who, google it; references are a bit passé]  It is a term coined to answer something called the Fermi paradox, which wonders why there aren’t any aliens around now.  If you’ve got a Great Filter, all those myriad planets never manage to send out spaceships to explore Earth and other places in the galaxy. 

The writers like to organize their thoughts into some common possibilities, ranging from it being hard for any self-replicating stuff to form at the very beginning, through some evolutionary stages, some of which are deemed harder than others, up to the launch of the ships, which might be a very difficult thing.  We sure don’t know how to do it, but we keep learning things, so maybe it will be possible some year in the future.  Maybe it’s too costly, or space is a bad place to even travel through or something else might happen when we start to travel to other stars.  This is the final phase of the proposed natural sequence of life, and if, for example, space is pretty hostile to spaceships for reasons we don’t know yet, that could be the Great Filter that has prevented any alien people from coming here to greet us.

Some of the writers about the Great Filter say that if it lies behind us, and we have somehow been the lucky planet to get through, and that this is a relief, because we don’t have the Great Filter in front of us, which could be a catastrophic event, like the first ship always blowing up and contaminating the atmosphere of the launching planet, eradicating life.  Actually, this is not a real listed possibility, but it captures the idea. 

I think of the Great Filter being in front of us, and it being a Happy Life.  As we get more and more control of things on the planet, we can expect that people will have happy lives, meaning, adequate food, water, beverages, clothing, homes and hotels, shows to watch, places to exercise, friends to have dinner with, good medical care, music, and so on.  Make your own list.  The point is that, once we get a bit farther down in history, it will be a pretty nice planet to live on.  Right now there are problems that a lot of people suffer from, arising from us not knowing how to match population to resource availability, a bit of ignorance about sustainability, lack of interest in recycling, and so on.  But these will get solved as we go forward into what will become history.  When we have a good life, why are we going to go build a ship to go to some other solar system?  Wouldn’t it be easier to forget about that stuff and watch the latest media release?

If everybody has a great life, and we have some preparations in hand for tsunamis and hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, volcanoes and sinkholes, asteroids and plagues, and anything else that might disturb us, what is the point of blasting off for unknown parts?  We might even forget to reproduce and so the population would decline, and maybe even disappear.  Those of us who lived in the Happy Life time, which might go on for ever, meaning millennia after millennia, would have little reason to worry about anything except what is on the menu tomorrow or which cocktail you wanted to have after dinner. 

So a plausible Great Filter is just success at figuring out how to solve life’s problems, which is what we are doing with a lot of gusto.  Once we get a bit further into solving the local problems, we may lose interest in distant ones that might be happening in outer space.  If someone was interested in outer space, they could play a video game with good virtual reality or watch a multisensory media presentation showing some simulated people doing some simulated things on some simulated distant planet, with or without aliens present.  It might even be that we could have a very advanced version of Netflix, where the system creates a media presentation in response to an individual’s requests and tailors it to his interests.  Satisfaction of all needs eliminates all needs, and eliminates specifically the need to bother oneself about other planets.

Perhaps every culture that gets to be intelligent finds that intelligence, after a few millennia, manages to put together an environment that cares for all the individuals present on the planet, nurtures them, and entertains them so well that they would never even think of wanting to go exploring somewhere in the real world, like a planet that would take years to get to.  Nor would they care about building some robotic thing to go out and do it.  Why not simulate an exo-planet rather than go visit it?

So there is no need to fear a Great Filter in our future, as it may just be a Happy Life coming for all present.  Is there any reason to wish that the Happy Life does not come, or that it is not so fulfilling that other goals are forgotten and ignored?  This is a philosophical question, and perhaps intelligent alien civilizations have all dealt with it, and answered it in such a way that they are content if the entire population is living the Happy Life and not playing space explorer.  Simulation is so much cheaper than actually going out there and returning some data.  Perhaps we should discuss the philosophy part again, in connection with the memes that might be the only antidote to the Happy Life.  Another blog post on the horizon…

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