Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Implications of Finding Aliens – Example 5

The first four examples in this series of posts represented different ways in which the question of where aliens were is answered affirmatively. They seemed to have different responses from humanity, depending on what we learned and how we learned it. This example concludes the series with yet another option in this parameter space.

SETI is kept going for decades and then centuries, searching not just for beacons, but for any sign of intelligent aliens. It is funded to search for alien civilizations on planets, or in transit between planets of different solar systems, or simply on ships inside a solar system. It finds nothing.

The study of how aliens might exist continues as well, and the major gaps present at the early stages of this questioning are gradually filled. One of the largest is the origination of life. When this puzzle was first answered, it opened up some options for SETI to explore, but unfortunately, life by itself, without intelligence, gives few unmistakable signatures. The crawl from the initial forms of life, which can be different varieties, to various stages of better use of energy and better use of resources, was eventually understood as well, and so the characteristics of planets where life might become smarter and smarter were determined. Still nothing was detected. The age-old question of why aliens haven’t visited us was pretty much figured out, as to what obstacles existed.

During this time, technology advanced, and came closer and closer to having a complete picture of how to engineer anything that was doable, and how to know what was not doable. One of the subjects that became known was how to build a space probe, and how to make it able to communicate, and how to power it for very long periods of time. Reliability was not the key to long-lived space probes capable of going to other solar systems, regenerative, developmental systems were. It was realized that the most efficient way to send a probe out was to shoot for a speed approximately 2% of light speed. It was also realized that the nearest exo-planet likely to have intelligent life on it was 310 light years out. This means a more than six thousand year voyage. The ship would have to be simple at first, able to regenerate itself for that period, and then to finally build whatever it needed at the destination solar system. Once the design was done, Earth of the future had to decide if they should send it.

What difference would it make to a generation of Earthlings six thousand years in the future to hear that there was an alien civilization exactly where it was predicted to be? Why would one generation of Earthlings, of whatever shape they had turned into, want to expend those resources? Six thousand years might be sixty generations, or perhaps six if longevity research was very successful, but even six generations out is a large step. Why do it?

Already there was little to be learned. Alien civilization studies could predict there was an 80% chance that there was an alien civilization on that exo-planet, already aeons old, and knowing the answer, yes or no, would not affect Earth six thousand years from the launch date at all, except for one aspect. The solar system would be barren of four types of critical resources needed by a hundred thousand years, unless Earthlings cut their population down to a minimum. Recycling simply cannot be made efficient enough, and the costs of refining diffused wastes would require more of these very same resources as would be recovered. It was a matter of Resources Recovered for Resources Expended, a RR/RE ratio. If the exo-planet were uninhabited, Earth could move its civilization there.

This means that finding aliens on the targeted exo-planet would be of no use and no value whatsoever, but not finding them would. Since all civilizations converge on their uses and almost everything else, aliens being present there would mean the solar system would be barren or partially so. If they had gone extinct, it would be as bad as having them there, as planetary tectonics and other processes would not have made more resources available for millions of years.

So the question of where aliens are becomes, as time progresses and asymptotic technology is reached and passed, unimportant and the important question is where aliens are not, restricting the scope of the inquiry to solar systems which were eminently habitable. When Earthlings become the aliens they once dreamed about, aliens are no longer of any interest; resources are. Traveling long distances through space to say hello is not something future Earthlings were about to do, for they could come up with no good reason for it. But if they have decided to maintain their civilization, finding another location to do it would be the key variable. If aliens cannot be detected by remotely visible signatures, then probes would have to be used to find them or to find out their absence. Nothing else is worth the expense of resources or in particular the long, long wait for the answer.

Only a civilization that had passed into a very stable phase, as made possible by asymptotic technology in the whole spectrum of knowledge, would be able to project that millennia in the future, they would be just as interested in knowing where aliens were not as they would be at the time of launch. Stability for millennia is something that comes with the territory. One a civilization marches into asymptotic technology, the technology stops changing as it is complete. And since technology drives the form of the civilization, the form of the civilization stops changing as well. All the problems that beset an early form of civilization eventually get solved, and once they are solved, there is nothing left to cause changes, with two exceptions. One is perils, of the planetary, stellar or galactic variety, and one is resource exhaustion. If a choice has been made to continue the civilization, then to avoid a peril or to find new resources, some star traveling is necessary.

The answer to the question: “Where are the aliens?” gets eventually answered. We become the aliens, and they are right here.

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