Thursday, July 16, 2015

Milky Way Galaxy – No Vacancy

When you look at the age of the galaxy, and the age of the older stars in it, stars of types like ours or a bit hotter or a bit cooler, and you fold in the time needed for planetary formation, a few hundred million years, plus the time for life to evolve, maybe four billion, you are left over with a lot of time. If it is possible for a civilization to endure that long, and we have no science that says civilizations are like organisms and have an inherent lifetime, and at least one category three civilization got started, the galaxy is going to be full of inhabited planets.

The word full is used here to mean full, like a bottle is full of water when you hold it under a spigot until it runs over. An alien civilization might start with its sweet spot planets, then move out to do the penumbra planets, then move to those where life has to be encapsulated, and then to robots-only planets. If a planet has a bad atmosphere that cannot be altered, or the surface of the planet is drenched with lethal radiation, or there is no surface, just water (assuming the civilization lives on land – switch for water creatures), or something else, it would certainly be possible for the members of the civilization to live there, but only in hermetically sealed cities. Fortunately for the spread of life in the galaxy, a civilization enduring millions of years would have to recycle everything, and do it so carefully that they wasted or dispersed almost nothing. This means closed cities. They would therefore have enough experience to be able to translate the closed city concept to one which was closed in two directions. No bad air or radiation or water getting in, and no useful resources getting out. Thus, planets that required encapsulation could be given it, and the dispersal of life could go on even further.

Some planets might be just beyond the pale. Temperatures too hot to thermally insulate the city walls, even using the best insulation that asymptotic technology had devised. Too much radiation for shielding. Too much water depth to put an enclosed bubble of living environment on the bottom, and too much turbulence to find a floating depth that would be maintained. Whatever the problem, robotics might be needed to extend the list of inhabited worlds a bit further. Robotics has limits as well, so there would be many planets beyond the reach of the alien civilization, even after a billion years.

Just think what this means. Life has spread throughout the galaxy. We are not alone. We are surrounded by others. Our philosophy will take a bit to incorporate our new position in the galaxy, or rather the new realization of our old position in the galaxy. We will get over it, and it will make us more realistic about our future, what can be done with technology, that other civilizations have overcome all the problems that seem so vexing to us, that star travel is not a science fiction dream, but something that has been done for a billion years, and so on. The revolution in thought is going to be tremendous. It may take a century to really absorb what it means to be in a crowded galaxy. It has implications for virtually every aspect of society, although the implications will take time to reveal themselves. Earthlings might soon embark on a transformational experience.

There is one other realization that might soon come on us. We are doomed as a civilization. We know that the lifetime of our star is measured in billions of years, and that it isn’t the lifetime but the change in output that will render our planet less habitable. If we find one of the galactic perils facing us, we might become extinct even faster. Why? Because there is nowhere to go. There is no empty planet left for us to emigrate to. There hasn’t been for hundreds of millions of years. When new one forms, it is surrounded by more advanced civilizations waiting for the dust to congeal so they can get on with seeding it.

We are not going to be able to rely on John Wayne riding in from out of town to rescue us from the gunslingers who have taken over. The alien civilizations are more advanced for us, and they have already figured out all the options for habitation in the galaxy. There will be no deus ex machine at the end of this play. There will be only us, figuring out how to go out quietly.

We will certainly not have to give up easily. We will have mastered hermetic living, or else expired from resource exhaustion. No one is going to send us perpetual shipments of resources we waste, so we will have been forced to a closed environment. The closed environment will give us some relief from changes in the sun. It won’t give us any protection from a rogue planet drifting slowly into our solar system and adjusting our planet’s orbit. Maybe this is something that we, with asymptotic technology, will be able to mitigate. Some others, like a nearby supernova, would likely not be resolvable, but perhaps even that can be dealt with in the future era where we are omniscient.

It is not possible to predict exactly which peril or local geological event would cause the end of the civilization we have built up, and which ones can be tolerated or dealt with. But something will get us sooner or later, and in the time scale of a billion years. And by that time we will have realized that all the other inhabited worlds of the galaxy are in the same boat. They have nowhere to go either. We may have watched a million of them cease to exist already before it is our time. We will have, aeons before, incorporated philosophy into asymptotic technology. Asymptotic philosophy may have the answers to how to contemplate extinction.

One point is that nothing is lost. All the civilizations in the galaxy get to asymptotic technology so none of that knowledge will be missing from the galaxy as each civilization that reaches it eventually expires. And art and literature, which we hold so valuable now, will have been absorbed into it. The billion years of history will be forgotten, but it has no lessons for anybody else in the galaxy. Any knowledge accumulated during that time will have been absorbed. So, out we go, just like the millions of worlds before us.

On the other hand, we may find that due to some extremely fortunate Great Filter that somehow we passed and nobody else did, we are alone in the galaxy. Then our philosophy would be greatly different. The questions we would ask and the tasks we would set ourselves might be greatly different as well. These will be good things to discuss.

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