Saturday, December 26, 2015

Early Achievement of Star Flight

This particular post looks at distorted alien civilizations. Specifically, it looks at an example of one where the civilization is so totally enamored with star travel that they concentrate their best efforts on it, their funding, their top scientists and engineers, and whatever else is needed to achieve it. The counter is that they neglect anything that doesn’t contribute to the goal of star travel, such as neurology, sociology, philosophy, art, political science, and so on, all of which might have made great changes in their society. Instead of uniformly approaching asymptotic technology, where all fields of knowledge are brought to their maximum possible, they just work on getting out to the stars.

Perhaps they had some leader or a few leaders who just insisted on doing star travel, and these leaders were both revered as founders of something or another, or lauded for their achievements in other areas, or served as examples of dedication to a goal, or some such thing. Bottom line: somebody got them all charged up on star travel and to the devil with the rest. They are going to be entering space like primitive creatures in many respects, but they have a star ship. They are sort of like what we create movies about. Twentieth century people with twenty-fourth century travel capability.

Is this even possible? Can science be turned off or turned way down in most fields for the purpose of pushing one way beyond everything else? Let’s assume the answer is yes, and some alien civilization somewhere does it. Even if other fields are slowed down greatly by a lack of funds, they will catch up when the fervor of star travel dies away. Maybe this is after the first ships take off. Recall that a reasonable travel speed is 0.01 times the speed of light, and that distances between great planets might be hundreds of light years. So, rush, rush, rush, send out a ship or two or three, and now let’s wait ten thousand years to get their messages back. In that ten thousand years, or better, in the first thousand years of waiting, they are going to get to asymptotic technology.

Perhaps after this first millennium, they will ask themselves, why did we ever do that? One of the possibilities of practical omniscience is the answering of questions about choosing the goals of society. If there is some reason why all alien civilizations in the galaxy do not explore it, but simply stay within their own star system, but the reason only becomes obvious upon reaching asymptotic technology, this example of early achievers might be the only ships ever to travel the stars. The alien civilization which happens to get a distortion done in their advance of knowledge sends out a few star ships, and then realizes, like all other alien civilizations, that it is not worth doing.

The first ships sent out are likely to be probes, with some technology able to communicate back from the destination solar system what is there, relative to the exo-planet that was chosen to be its target. In the ten thousand years of waiting, the alien civilization might just decide to forget about listening any more, as it wouldn’t interest them at all, or they might just keep the listening devices on to satisfy their curiosity as to whether their early technological breakthroughs are actually going to work after all that time. Star travel, at the first, must be highly experimental, as the alien civilization would not wait ten thousand years as an experiment to see if things last that long before sending out ships. If they are so crazy about star travel, they would likely not have the patience to wait ten thousand years of reliability testing, but just take their best shot at it. If they did wait ten thousand years, they would have achieved asymptotic technology, and not bothered to launch the star probes, at least in our constructed example where all alien civilizations that achieve asymptotic technology figure out different goals for themselves.

So, heaping extreme on extreme, their ships get to other solar systems, they make years of investigations and all the hardware works, they erect some large antennas and beam back what they found to the home planet, who, despite all expectations, is still listening for it. Now they have data about Planet X and Planet Y and Planet Z, and they can store that detailed information in their databanks. They have figured out that star travel is not worth doing, for some reason only known to civilizations with asymptotic knowledge of everything, and they don’t do anything with it.

This is a fine example to think about, but what about changing a hypothesis. Suppose all alien civilizations reaching asymptotic technology do not decide not to travel into space, but they divide themselves into the categories talked about in this blog. Some decide to go, some decide not to. If the early achiever civilization falls into the first category, after learning all they can, they have a bit of an advanced start toward accomplishing it.

What did they save by concentrating their efforts on star travel? Almost nothing. The problem lies in the time scales. Asymptotic technology takes a millennium or two to accomplish. Star travel, for a probe going to a fairly nearby solar system, takes ten millennia or so. Ten is bigger than one, and so the saving of time is almost meaningless. By the time they have their probe information back, they are in the same boat, technology-wise, as every other alien civilization that waits until they achieve the technology limits before sending out their ships. They have the ability to build the same ships as everyone else for the second round of probes or the first round of colonization. Nothing gained here, except some percentage of time. Compared to the other timescales in the galaxy, evolution, being a billion, evolution to tool-using, being a hundred thousand here on Earth and likely elsewhere, planetary formation, being ten million, solar death, being ten billion, and so on, saving a millennia is negligible. A millennium is in the noise in the time it took this alien civilization to evolve from primordial chemicals to smart creatures. Because the travel times are so long, there is little effect on anything anywhere in their sending out probes early. They don’t propagate their primitive culture by being early achievers. They don’t show up in the backyard of other alien civilizations looking for conquest and pillage, as by the time the next round of ships goes out, they are past that phase.

So, being an early achiever, in star travel as in Earth education, amounts to nothing. It is what happens after asymptotic technology is achieved that shapes their future.

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