Sunday, January 31, 2016

Are There Aliens In Globular Clusters?

Globular clusters are unusual places, compared to our own galactic neighborhood. They involve up to millions of stars, but compressed into a tight package. If you think of the globular cluster analogously to a gas, there is more potential energy in the center, and stars there are packed closely together. Out on the fringes of the globular cluster they are spread apart more reasonably. This is just like the atmosphere, where gas molecules are much more tightly packed together near the surface of the Earth than in its upper mesosphere. But the numbers are different, and allow stars to move through the globular cluster from one side to another. Whereas all the stars in the galactic disk have about the same velocity, orbiting around the central bulge, the stars in a globular cluster are going every which way.

This means that even stars at the fringe might pass near the core of the cluster. Some might be orbiting merrily around the thing, as a satellite orbits around the Earth, with an orbit of any shape and size, and orientation as well. Others dive deep and come out the other side.
Except for the upper orbiters, all of them experience stellar encounters. In the core of the larger globular clusters, stars are only a tenth of light year apart, on the average, with some closer, and most of them moving fast. Thus, stellar encounters happen all the time to stars in a globular cluster, except for the upper orbiters. There might be a close encounter every hundred million years on an average star.

This is an interesting interval. Stars and planets can form in this interval. So, during the initial days when there was just a big cloud of gas, thinking about becoming a smaller cloud of gas, stars were beginning to form. Now, these clouds were around early in the evolution of the universe, so they didn’t have much by way of heavy elements, like the iron used to make the core of Earth. But there was some, and the first generation of supernova, meaning the end result of large O class stars, was soon blasting some of it into the cloud’s gas. So, planets could form, perhaps more likely gas giants with smaller cores, but some of the usual kinds. Planets are the inevitable result of the battle between angular momentum and gravity. Gravity always wins, but angular momentum gets the consolation prize of planets.

This interesting interval is probably not long enough for life to form in any decent fashion. Maybe some chemotrophic bacteria get going. It might be possible to have a fast origination of intelligent life, but nobody knows how fast. Even with our current level of ignorance, a hundred million years is not likely enough time to produce talking, tool-using land animals. So, there is no one around to notice what is going to happen. The planetary systems are going to be stripped off of the stars that have them when they go through a stellar encounter. It is possible for a stellar encounter to end other ways, with a planet being driven smack-dab into one of the stars, but they have such small cross-sections compared to an orbital radius, that this is extremely unlikely. They could trade stars, and leave with the incoming one instead of staying with the one they were born with. But this is also unlikely. What is likely? Rogue planets.

If there is a globular cluster with five million stars, and each star has ten planets, and over the course of the first billion years, there are ten stellar encounters each, those ten planets are going to be traveling the cluster on their own, orphans in a hectic world. That’s fifty million rogue planets. So, the population of rogue planets might be large enough in some globular clusters to present a hazard comparable to stellar encounters. But stellar encounters are more than enough of a peril to wreck the chances for life.

Except for the outer orbiting stars and their planets. They don’t have that rate of stellar encounter and might accumulate enough undisturbed time to generate some interesting life forms. When they get to the point of having a civilization, and start looking up at the sky, what they would see would be vastly different from what we see. On the outer fringe of a globular cluster, all the stars would be on one side and mostly blackness, or maybe the mother galaxy, on the other. Over the course of a year, their night-time vista would change dramatically. Being near a globular cluster would mean lots of very bright stars in the night sky. Our stars on Earth are about ten or a hundred light years away. There, they might be one to ten. This means a hundred times brighter. That would be noticeable. Having all these very bright stars just on one side of the surrounding space would probably lead to some interesting astrology.

Let’s jump back to thinking about the globular cluster as a gas. As we all know, lighter elements in a gas mixture have the same average kinetic energy, but because they have lower masses, they move faster. Some type of equipartition of energy also holds for the globular cluster. But what does it mean? It means that rogue planets, of which there are going to be lots and lots, are going to be flying around really fast. They are going to be going out a lot farther from the galactic core. In other words, being on a planet on an outer orbiter in a galactic cluster is like being a target in a shooting gallery. The rogue planets are going to be charging out of the cluster, possibly driving right through the solar system where the alien civilization is trying to eke out a living. If they don’t cause a problem shooting out, they are going to reach the peak of their orbit and come diving back in. So, for aliens living on a globular cluster outer orbiter planet, rogue planets are likely to be their main galactic peril, or perhaps we should say, globular cluster peril.

What’s that saying? If someone gives you lemons, make lemonade. Could the alien civilization in this unique environment take advantage of the rogue planets that come barreling through their solar system? Would they be able to do something fast enough? With luck, the rogue planet is passing by some hundreds of AU away, and with some advanced planning, they might get out there and mine it for ten or twenty years. Why bother to do interplanetary mining on exo-planets when the planets are coming to you? It might be necessary to build a swarm of very fast mining probe ships to do this, but who knows, they might get a longer lease on their home planet from some visitor popping up from the core of the cluster.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

George Orwell and the Reversing Currents of Alien Civilizations

George Orwell was the pseudonym of the British author who wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. That book, published in 1948, was one of many published during the twentieth century that implicitly accepted technological determinism and used it by predicting some advances in technology and a society, usually dystopian, that exploited them and produced an interesting story line. Orwell's book had a tremendous impact, and the word, Orwellian, has come to denote a society like the one predicted in the novel.

There are many aspects of the world Orwell depicted, but one which is singled out in this post relates to the control of information by an elite clique which desires to control the world, and actually does, via a totalitarian regime. The book has been reviewed to death, and so there is no point of synopsizing it here, but in Nineteen Eighty-Four, information such as news and history were not freely available, but only through the government’s ministries. It was an extreme level of control.

In trying to understand how the necessary sequence of developments of technology, one predicated on another, would force an alien civilization into certain patterns of organization and would dictate many features of the civilization, a previous post pointed out that between the industrial grand transition and the genetic grand transition, there was a reversal of the current of the time. Between the two, the natural feedback loop heightens continually the unequal distribution of resources, and after the second, the approximate equality of all aliens plus the increased universal intelligence would erode and eliminate that inequality, to the consternation of the holders of the dominant positions.

It was wondered aloud there if there were any means that such individual aliens could use to abort the genetic grand transition, and maintain their own status. The conclusion was that they could not, as inheritance would be moot, and the demand for more intelligence could not be choked off.

This post asks if information control could do that trick. If the alien civilization had moved into a state with that one aspect of Orwell’s in place, where the dominant elite could control all the information flow in the society, would that freeze the society in that one position, between the two grand transitions? There are two aspects: could information be so controlled, and could the control of information be successfully used to stop technology dead in its tracks. If technology was allowed to move forward, the scheme would fail, for the two reasons posited in the other post.

In order for information to be controlled, it has to pass through some portals, small in number, where it can be observed and manipulated. Alternatively, the portals could be at the origination point, and if no information could be originated outside of the governmental control ministries, or whatever form they might take on an alien planet, the same level of control could be accomplished. The second phase of the industrial revolution, electronics, provides the portals and conduits connected to them; the third phase of the industrial revolution, artificial intelligence, provides the computational ability to perform the control. As for origination control, if there is a large cost connected with generating information, then those with large accumulated resources could be the ones having control over the origination.

If the alien civilization built their information distribution infrastructure so that all information flowed through some concentration points, control at those points might be feasible with enough computational power. The control could be near instantaneous, with messages triggering some alarm being halted and not transmitted, or with delay, so that any source that created such offending messages could be later shut down in one way or another. Likewise, if the alien civilization did not build any orifices into their system where information could be widely distributed without having been produced under government control, the second method could be effected. It all depends on the details of how they built their information distribution network.

If the network is a hub-and-spoke system, control is possible. If it is a web, it is not. There is no obvious reason why it would have to be one or the other.

As for origination restrictions, that could be done in some onerous way, befitting George Orwell’s ideas of how a society might evolve. Aliens were taught not to originate, under pain of breaking some laws and reaping the consequences. A samizdat approach might occur, depending on how the transmission network was set up. Again, it depends on the style of network used.

Origination restrictions could be imposed in a backwards way, in that the information consuming public could become accustomed to standard production methods, which required large up-front costs. Then the samizdat publishers would run into the wall of no public acceptance. Is it realistic that in any alien civilization there would be such a wall? Yes, if the nature of the aliens was less individualistic and more accustomed to acceptance. This likely would depend on the details of how the aliens initially evolved. If they evolved like carnivores, operating individually, this trait might linger for millennia after civilization starts. If they evolved like naked mole-rats, which are eusocial like ants and some bees, they would have a plethora of acceptance behavior. Thus, some alien civilizations might tend to a variety of Orwellian society more than others.

To summarize, the information control aspect of the dsytopia painted in Nineteen Eighty-Four might be found on an alien planet, in which the faction representing the high accumulators in the civilization froze technology progress to preserve their own relatively high position, even though the civilization would advance its living standards as a whole by pursuing more technology. This could be done if the information distribution network was configured in a certain way, which is a practical and possible way, and the freeze happened after the development of artificial intelligence, which is near the end of the industrial revolution mandatorily. Or, if the aliens evolved to accept what was provided to them, as only a few species have on Earth, they might be conditioned to live with the freeze and make no demands whatsoever for the obvious advantages that passing through the genetic grand transition would provide.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Halo Stars

Halo stars are stars that reside in the halo. This has a few implications for aliens who might have originated there. First of all, a little background on the halo. It is inhabited by stars and globular clusters, which are clusters of stars shaped like globules. These stars and clusters orbit the Milky Way, and mostly the globular clusters have orbits which encircle the galaxy, but because the Milky Way is shaped like a plate, the orbits have a fairly funny shape. The stars also can orbit the whole galaxy, in the same kinds of orbits, but they can also penetrate the disk, maybe even the bulge at the thinner places, and come out on the other side. They are going to keep oscillating above and below the galaxy, until stellar encounters knock off some of their perpendicular velocity, and they go less far away. Eventually, they will just settle down into the galaxy, leaving the ones which orbit around the outside a bit more lonely.

Note that clouds of gas were not listed. There could be clouds of gas in orbit, but this is a very peaceful place, and a cloud of gas would condense and form stars and solar systems or even rogue planets. The orbit time is of the order of 200 million years, and a few orbits would be enough for condensation. This means that the stars out there in the halo are old. Of course there are exceptions. Every time some dwarf galaxy comes sailing through the disk or even right near it, it rips off some gas and maybe tosses it into extragalactic space, or the halo. By and large, the gas is not making new stars there, but there might be a few exceptions. Millions not billions.

Just exactly what does it mean to be an alien on an old halo star? It means you don’t have anything to eat or wear or drive around in or look at stars with or anything. You have used up the resources in your solar system one or two or three billion years ago, and nobody has come by with replenishments. You have tried every trick known to alienkind, like recycling to the ultimate possible, dropping your population down as low as sustainable, taking advantage of every form of energy on the planet and off it, and reducing your own needs with genetic engineering. It worked for a while, but a billion years is such a long, long time.

Every alien civilization on a halo star that did not start up star voyaging early in their history is forced to the same situation. Their living standards cannot be maintained, and so the only solution is to drop back to a very primitive level of existence, hunting, farming, or something else that does not require any resources, no fertilizer from mines, no oil or tar or gas, no gold, no copper, no rare earths. It means no interplanetary travel can be continued, so it is back to the home planet. No power stations. No power. No water supplies. No cities.

A planet is nice because it does 100% recycling, at its own pace, and so living in the bosom of the planet is a way for an intelligent species, or a non-intelligent one for that matter, to survive for a while. With luck, survival might last billions of years. No one would know, as history could not be preserved that long. Technology would consist of using the available organic growth. There might be some scrabbling around after some volcanic eruptions die off, a few millennia later for example, to see if any useful minerals were brought to the surface, if anyone remembered what they were and how they could be used. So, in that case, for a few tens of millennia there might be primitive use of metals. But for the most part, the planet does all the recycling, and it runs its life support on photosynthesis of the star’s photons.

This type of behavior could happen on planets around M stars, red dwarfs, if life is possible to originate there, or maybe K stars, as these evolve very slowly as well and the habitable zone does not sweep out and in in radius while the aliens are trying to make due on the planet. Hotter stars could present a problem, as a billion years is a long time to an A or an F class star, and even a G, like the Earth, could undergo changes. Of course, low mass stars may correlate with low total planetary mass, meaning there might not be so much to pick through among other planets sharing the same solar system. So, out in the halo, you would find widely separated small stars with alien civilizations hardly able to maintain a civilization after so much time.

An alien civilization out in the halo could go through the same grand transitions as one in the disk, and they would be able to understand early on that civilizations cannot last long times on one planet or one solar system. They would have to decide what they wanted to do, either take the very long voyages and seed their civilization on another distant sun, or be reduced to living almost like animals, but ones with language and stone implements. Without any advanced technology, they would be unable to stop evolution or genetic drift, and their species would likely not continue to exist as it was during the time of technology. They could have greatly improved their genetic code, but mutations would continue coming and accumulating, and eventually all those improvements would succumb to the random nature of genetic change, caused by indigenous sources such as chemicals or radiation. Their improved immune systems would gradually relax back to what could be stable under mutation. Genetic drift might take a hundred thousand years or a million, but not a billion. They would have a good ride for the first hundred thousand years or so, but after that, a hard life such as their pre-civilization ancestors experienced. Short life spans and little to distinguish them from a civilization that had not had a golden age.

Those that took the option of star traveling could, over some millennia, wrap up their civilization on the home solar system and start over somewhere else, perhaps on a lifeless planet somewhere, but one with resources that could be used to create life. Growing an ecology seems like it would take a million years, but if a high level of technology could be maintained during that period, the alien civilization might just decide that was the road they wanted to follow. And as the galactic clock continued to tick, at one revolution per 200 million years, they would gradually wend their way perhaps down to the very crowded area, in their point of view, of the galactic disk. That’s where we are waiting for them.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reverse Currents in Alien Civilizations

As noted before, the genetic grand transition is the most revolutionary of the grand transitions. This is saying a lot because each of them transforms society. One of the premises of this blog is technological determinism, which says that the technology a civilization masters changes it, often drastically. These changes we have christened grand transitions, because they make the civilization switch from one way of organizing itself, one set of values, one way of dispensing resources, one way of working, and so on over to other ones.

The agricultural one thrust newly intelligent alien creatures into a civilization, where fixed sites were maintained as living spaces, and crops were grown and animals husbanded. This additional productivity freed up some time, and science began, first primitively, but then, after what we have termed the Baconian transition, to more formal ways of doing science and engineering, which could be expected to be blended at that time.

Then came the industrial one. It is hard to see that any alien civilization could have an industrial grand transition before the agricultural one, as nomadic hunter-gatherers, the expected state of newly emergent intelligent creatures, have neither the time nor the traditions of exploring their environment and formulating rules-of-thumb for understanding it. Since mechanical things are closer to the actual environment they live in, the ordering of changes that Earth fell into seems to be the necessary order. After mechanical comes electrical/electronic, and then informational. These three could be defined as grand transitions in their own right, or as the three phases of the industrial one. Each of the phases requires a re-organization of everything in society.

The industrial grand transition creates chaos in society. It doesn’t come with a handbook telling people how to organize, how to build infrastructure, how to do research, how to establish governance, how to cope with factionalism, how to deal with dissension, and countless other things the civilization has to figure out for itself. There is no set of guidelines for figuring out these things, either. It’s just the aliens milling around trying to get by and make decisions and have better lives and avoid suffering and catastrophes. Decisions cannot be made, by and large, by anybody but individuals. Somebody has to bite the bullet and say, build that gizmo and see if it flies. But just saying it doesn’t get the gizmo built and tested. There has to be some way for the individual aliens involved with whatever is getting done to be compensated for taking time away from hoeing crops or whatever else they might have done instead. That means capital and a capitalist making decisions. It might be organized in different ways, but at this interval of time, some individuals have to capture the authority and the resources to made decisions to improve things. Let’s say it a different way. A civilization undergoing immense changes has to have a way to make decisions, and that seems to mean individuals, in some role or another, making the decisions, somewhat arbitrarily.

There is an obvious positive feedback loop to the accumulation of individual power and wealth, authority and decisiveness. Once some alien has some, he/she/it uses a bit of it to gather more, as he/she/it doesn’t need all of it for living expenses. So, as the civilization lifts itself upwards in living standards during a time of decisional chaos, individuals accumulate the ability to make decisions. More than likely, this gets to be a lauded thing. In other words, in the time between the industrial and the genetic grand transitions, the chaos and uncertainty in how to live, organize, plan, make decisions, and so on force the civilization to depend on the arbitrariness of individuals making decisions. There is a huge current at that time in the direction of unequal distributions of power, wealth, income, and so on. The progress of the civilization demands it.

Note well: these individuals are selected in some way by the civilization. We are not talking about a vote, but about some process, any process, which lets some individuals rise in accumulation of things while the rest sink, in a relative sense. In an absolute sense, the average alien would be getting better off as well, but not relative to the top level decision-makers, who have to accumulate more authority and more control, as the era progresses, as the engineering and construction requirements of better and better infrastructure take more and more concentrated assets. Plenty can go awry with this, but to continue making the transition, there has to be this concentration of power and wealth increasing.

Now comes the genetic grand transition. This also makes countless changes in the way society does things, and coming on the tail of the industrial grand transition, society is already in a chaotic state. The key change that affects the concentration of power and wealth is the dispersal of intelligence genes and training. Whatever the selection process was during the industrial era, it won’t work after the genetic grand transition. Everybody can make these decisions, and guidelines will be written down for making them, if it is not obvious already to the brilliant aliens populating their cities.

So we have a new system, based on universal high intelligence, which contradicts the previous assumptions, and this means that governance and policies on accumulation, and everything else related has to change once again. To state it bluntly: before the genetic grand transition, strong feedback loops for the accumulation of power and wealth, control and dominance had to exist; after the genetic grand transition, strong erosive forces leveling any differentiation in power and wealth between alien individuals, fairly equal in capability across the board would replace them. Genetics will affect intelligence, but also health, longevity, athleticism, attractiveness, and all other desirable attributes. All these equal aliens will not need to have any individuals dominating the civilization, and would wonder why any particular one would be so selected.

Perhaps the right word to use is convulsion. Society has to dismember all its arrangements for organizing itself during the few generations of the alien civilization during which the genetic grand transition is happening. There will be lots of educated, intelligent aliens to do it, but the old hierarchy may not be tremendously happy about these changes. Is it possibly that they will strongly attempt to derail the genetic revolution, and keep the masses unintelligent? Is it possible that they could succeed, and over the long term, maintain something of an idiocracy? If so, this could explain why no alien civilizations have launched themselves into space and visited us. They couldn’t come because they never got to asymptotic technology. They were run into a dead end so those enjoying the previous way of organizing society could keep organizing it the same way. Can this happen? It bears further thought.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

King Canute in Alien Civilizations

King Canute was a Viking King of England, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, the so-called North Sea Empire, around 990 AD. He is used as a symbol for trying to stop the tides, or any impossible to stop thing. That’s not exactly what he did, but his memory has been so misused that now ‘King Canute’ is a nickname for someone trying to stop the inevitable.

Is technological progress as inexorable as the tides? Would every alien civilization which does not run out of resources or get pounded by an asteroid or have their planet’s orbit perturbed by a supernova gradually move upward in technology to the final end state, which we call asymptotic technology in this blog? In an earlier blog, it was suggested that it could be stopped, and by alien activity, rather than a peril which engulfed the planet. Planets with stopped civilizations were referred to as plateau planets, for lack of a better name.

Alien civilizations might be said to have reverse currents, meaning a push to develop more technology and a barrier to stop it, it was noted that the momentum of technology development is very high during the industrial grand transition, and that momentum spills over to the genetic grand transition. However, it was noted elsewhere that there are powerful factions generated by the industrial grand transition, perhaps powerful enough to actually destroy the civilization’s march to a better life by developing more technology.

The industrial grand transition depends on some alien making the decision to develop a new technology, many times over. This alien could be part of some governance group, or part of some group of individuals, or some proponent of technology, or some alien trying to take advantage of the benefits of new technology and steer them disproportionately in his/her/its direction. But the point made there was the society is not stabilized, where everybody knows what to do because they have all done it for twenty generations and everyone remembers. Just the opposite, chaos reigns, compared to what a stable alien civilization would be like long, long after technology is all figured out. Nobody knows what to do, or rather any alien can do what they want to, in keeping within whatever credos exist on their planet. This situation must give rise to individuals who make decisions, and who accumulate power to accomplish those decisions. Any number of ways of doing this could exist, but the vacuum that exists in knowledge of how to conduct a society says that only individuals or groups can organize the flow of resources to made technology advance. Technology does not advance through the industrial revolution because people have ideas or because they do research successfully. It advances when the infrastructure to implement the technology is built. That takes an allocation of resources, and those who control that allocation process dictate the progress of technology.

Here’s the rub. If those who control the allocation of resources to technology are very, very happy with the way technology is, or in other terms, with how technology has shaped society to date, they don’t necessarily want things to change in meaningful ways. What I just said is they want to block the genetic grand transition or somehow prevent the key change, the one that threatens the societal structure than gives them the advantages they have, which is the widespread dispersion of the genes, along with appropriate training, for intelligence.

This is the counterflow. Would it be possible for any alien civilization to have a faction, those who are on the top of the heap in resource control, who could stop research in a particular area? How could they do it?

Do they block the research into intelligence genes? Or do they block the dispersion of intelligence genes to the public and absorb all the changes themselves? The former requires them to be able to control research, and why couldn’t important individuals arrange for research to be forbidden in certain areas. Well, because other individuals, perhaps those potential beneficiaries not on the top of the heap, might become discomfited with this action. So, the process that the top individuals would have to follow would be to convince the general alien population that having much more intelligence available to all young aliens would be bad. Doesn’t make sense. Can’t be done.

Is it possible the argument of side effects would be made. No, because that would call for more research into side effects, which would add to the genetics-intelligence research effort. The only method that seems available to the top echelon, to prevent the genetics grand transformation from taking effect is to impose costs on intelligence genes. If there is no intrinsic high cost to it, artificial costs could be added. But this would have the same effect, and be obvious to the population. Instead of a cost, there could be bureaucratic barriers set up, but the same effect.

It looks like King Canute is showing up on alien planets, trying to command the genetic grand transition to not take place, or specifically the dispersal of high intelligence genes to not be done. The best that might be done is to add some delays in both the research and the delivery of it to the population.

In addition, part of the genetics revolution is the development of artificial gestation, in other words, young aliens created and born in a facility rather than by individual aliens. This means that, at a certain point in the transition, those in the top echelons will have no direct descendants. Who do they hope will carry on the tradition they have created of being the top dogs? The bin is empty. So, not only will the demand for increased intelligence from the general population continue unabated, the motivation for the top echelon to hold on to their positions only can last for their lifetime. With the genetic grand transition stretching out lifetimes, this might be a while, but it too comes to an end. The only thing that can happen is delay.

Compared to the next fifty millennia after the genetic grand transition and others conclude, during which the alien civilization will be at the peak of their capability, individual after individual, having a delay of a century or so will not amount to much in their history. It seems that it is still safe to conclude that alien civilizations will be just as asymptotic technology forces them to be.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Psychopathologies in Alien Civilizations

Trying to think about how aliens in their advanced civilization would think about choosing to travel to other star systems is difficult at best, so it needs to be done in as careful a way as possible. In this blog, many aspects of these alien civilizations have been considered, in an attempt to form a picture of what life might be life with that much technology available, and after the civilization had settled down to a long-term, stable society. Each aspect that is better understood helps to form the frame in which our imagination and speculation can take place. The better the frame, the better the speculation. The more details that are thought through, the better the frame. So, from time to time, it’s necessary to consider details.

Some of the details that have been considered are the stability of the society, the unification of the governance of the home planet, the economy, employment, the mood of the population including happiness and sadness, philosophy, artistic areas such as music, activities, the interior and exterior of their cities, their reverence for life, their daily habits such as recycling activities and more. This post covers psychopathology.

What would aliens in their advanced civilization see as psycho? Note that after the neurological grand transition, the alien brain will be well understood, and they will have solved problems in this area as well. They will have learned how to raise young aliens, and none will develop psychopathologies. Any tendencies in this direction while they are in the rearing and raising phase, and steps will be taken to counterbalance it. But there has to be a complete understanding within the civilization of what constitutes psychopathology. In order to design the training to not generate any, the developers of the training will have to have a list of possibilities and a description of each.

Because alien minds, under the assumption we make in this blog, are associative neural nets as ours are, training is all a matter of laying down good associations in the mind of each juvenile alien. So the developers of what we called the curriculum of training need to have a list of the positive associations as well as the ones to avoid, or to connect with negative feelings. Let’s not assume that anything that we would put on our list of negative and positive traits would be on the same list that the aliens use, unless we have thought them out. We start by figuring out that technological determinism holds, and the advanced technology that the alien civilization has developed strongly affects their whole society, and then add to it that asymptotic technology is exactly what each alien civilization winds up with when they finish learning all about science and engineering. So we have a running start towards figuring out the details of the alien training curriculum and any other details we want to investigate.

It seems clear that aliens are all brilliant, and about equal in their capabilities. This would imply that they each are allocated about the same disposable income, meaning whatever it is that they have discretion to use. All the utilities, and here we include housing, power, water, waste disposal, food, air, environmental control, and probably others, are all simply provided, as it would make little sense to have everybody transferring some allocated currency to each utility every year or other unit of time. With roughly equal allocations, housing size should be roughly the same, so efficiency indicates these charges would be. Perhaps there are different choices for locations to live, and some discretionary income goes to that, or perhaps not. But by and large, this have stabilized at roughly equivalent disposable allocations.

This means that greed is on the list of psychopathologies on every alien planet, and is perhaps the easiest one to find and figure out, although what they define it as may be somewhat different from how we define it. For us, greed is the desire to accumulate more and more wealth, which is the ability to demand and obtain goods and services, in great excess of what other humans have. It comes from training, where a parent or other influential person will teach a youngster that this is laudable and praiseworthy, thereby connecting greed with more basic sources of happiness, such as the attention of the particular parent who is involved.

Greed on Earth has a two-sided relationship with our society. In most credos, meaning the various collection of memes that give us general direction for making decisions in our lives, greed is abhorred because of the ill effects it has on other people. Charity and benevolence are the opposite sides of it, and they are the praised attributes. But in most situations on Earth for the last few thousand years, there has been extreme inequality in the allocation of resources, and those on the high end receive praise for whatever they do by those who wish to receive fallout benefits from their accumulation of resources. So real societies on Earth have this dichotomy; sycophants loudly and obviously praise greed and greedy people, and this tenor permeates all of the society, especially those with pervasive media. Adherents of various credos talk, with much less volume, about the ill effects of greed, but even some of these adherents fall under the spell of the fallout-seekers. So, on Earth, we like greed but we don’t like greed; very often people like getting benefits from the greed of others so individual and generic praise of the greedy is manifest everywhere.

In an alien civilization, where there are no significant differences between individual aliens, that would sound like a joke. It would make no sense to any of them, if some Earthling were transported by magic to their society and allowed to address some group of aliens. The whole situation that they live in is quite different, and what is praised by us would be simply pathology to them. This also means that there are no individuals there who have the resources to orchestrate space travel, and that any star faring would have to be a collective decision. Of course, collective decisions by aliens, who are all as smart as any other, are not done by consensus, because they can all figure out the same thing as their neighbors. If it is a good thing, by their standards, to go into space and travel to another star system, one of them can figure this out and everyone would agree.

What would not happen would be some individual would have collected resources vastly larger than average and would decide to garner more glory for him/her/itself by being the principal sponsor of a star venture. It may be possibly true today that there are some benefits to society from inequality of resource ownership, but it would not be true in an advanced civilization. So, one reason that we would find aliens on our doorstep is not going to happen.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

How Old is the Milky Way?

This is a good question, because it doesn’t have a good answer. When you ask how old something is, you are asking about when was it formed. Things like trees and pigs and houses and cars and iPhones all were made over a short time, short in comparison with their age, after they accumulated some. A tree might be said to be started when the seed that formed it sprouted, or maybe the first root was put down, or the first leaf formed. These three events could be the time zero for the tree. They were inevitably the source of the whole tree. The same thing can be said of discrete plants and animals.

If you look at a blob of moss growing on the side of a tree, and ask how old it is, you might want to know when the first cell of moss landed on the tree, or when it had adhered to the bark. If you ask about how old a house is, you might want to know when the permit for construction was first pulled, or when the final inspection was done, or when someone first moved in, or when utilities were first connected. They are often about the same time, so knowing one gives you a good idea of the other.

If you see a rock on the ground, and ask how old it is, you have a slightly different problem. There are more than one thing that happened to put the rock there. That’s why people don’t often ask how old individual rocks are. It’s obvious the question has no good answer. One answer might be when did some magma cool down to solid temperatures. Another might be when did the magma block thrust itself above the surface. Another might be when the particular rock you see before you was exposed through weathering. Another might be when did a piece of rock containing the one you see fracture completely from the original block. Another might be when did the rock fragment down to the size you see, and that is fuzzy as it might have lost small pieces in the course of its rock life.

So, ages are appropriate for things which have some events which are all about the same time, with the spread of times being much less than the possible duration of the object. The rock you see doesn’t have an age, nor does the breath of air in your lungs, nor do the elements which make up your body. These things have either continuous processes forming them, or multiple events leading to their current state. What about the Milky Way?

Nowadays, when an astronomer talks about the age of the Milky Way, they are answering a slightly different question: “What is the age of the oldest stars in the galaxy?” Suppose you happen to be on an imaginary planet orbiting the oldest star in the galaxy, right after it first lights up with some fusion, and you just happen to have an equivalent of the Keck telescope in front of you. What do you see? Nothing much. Nothing else formed around you yet. So, this is the birth of the galaxy, and your star starts to pull in more gas and make the rest of the galaxy.

Or maybe you wait a while, like a few hundred million years, watching all that time even though it is as boring as can be, and you see another star light up, maybe some fifty thousand light years away. Well, neighbors have moved in! So you keep watching that star, and you notice it is doing a better job than your star in attracting gas, as it is in a denser clump of gas. More stars light up around it, and more and more and more and more. After a while, your star begins to respond to the call of gravity, and starts to move toward the group of stars already formed. You will join them in a billion years, should you care to wait for it.

Oops… Do you remember noting in your dairy that the galaxy was born on the day fusion started in your star. That may not have been correct. You were in the boondocks, and all the action was going to take place fifty thousand light years away. Your star didn’t start anything. It did the planet you were on, but not much else. So, how old is the Milky Way really?

Should the Milky Way’s age be determined by when some other event happened? Perhaps the formation of a black hole in Sagittarius, or the first spiral wave, or the bulge, or the millionth star, or something else that more knowledgeable people would list should be the trigger event for denominating the age of the Milky Way?

Even if your star was right in the middle of what is now the Milky Way, and by the way that is hard to figure as its always moving and shifting around, is the start of fusion in that first star the right thing to use for the age of the galaxy? Age in some exact sense depends on what you want to do with the number. If you are trying to qualify for buying some liquor, it doesn’t make much difference when you were conceived, or whether that was seven months before your birthdate or nine months. You might actually be one or two months organically older or younger than someone else with the same birthdate on their passport, but it doesn’t help you get the booze. So, what good is the age of the Milky Way?

One thing it is good for is bragging rights. Since we have a star in our galaxy which has an age, as we measure it, almost as old as the age of the Universe Itself, as we measure that, we can say that we are in one of the oldest galaxies in that universe. Other civilizations in other galaxies, who also can search and search and find a really old star can say the same thing.

Is there a better rule to use for defining the age of a galaxy? For uses in this blog, it is only of incidental concern what the oldest star is that either was created in the area of the galaxy or fell into it. If we want to calculate how many alien civilizations there are, who might be visiting us, we want to know how old the stars are as a whole. When did serious numbers of stars come into existence and light up? Maybe we should consider the millionth star starting to fuze as the time zero of a galaxy. Then we can get some more accuracy with our wild guesses as to alien populations.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rogue Planets – Numbers

Do we have any clues whatsoever about how many rogue planets there are in the galaxy? Unless the numbers are much larger than that for stars, there is no significant peril from their existence. The distance they would have to come to, relative to a star, in order to disturb the planets there is the ratio of the square root of the mass ratio, which is something like a thousand to a million. That is 30 to a thousand. So, there would have to be rogue planets at many times the density of stars.

Since they are invisible, is there any way to get an upper bound on the density of rogue planets? Recall, an upper bound says there cannot be more than this quantity. If the upper bound is 10 times the number of stars, then it’s no prize for rogue planets. They would be relegated to being a minor contributor to galactic perils.

One way to look is to address the total mass of the galaxy. Everybody knows the galaxy is missing mass. It is possible to measure the rotation rate of the stars in the disk, and compare that to the centripetal force caused by the stars, plus clouds and anything else we can see. Much of the mass is missing, and astronomers have come up with many ideas about what it consists of. Rogue planets is one of those ideas. If rogue planets make up the same amount of mass as the stars do, the numbers are of the order of some thousands of times more rogue planets than stars. This is plenty to qualify as a galactic peril.

We haven’t directly seen any rogue planets in the neighborhood of our solar system. If one drifted through, even out at the orbit of Neptune, the gravitational effects would be noticeable. But our solar system is so small compared to the galaxy, and we have only had astronomers for such a short time compared to anything else in the galaxy, that we can’t come up with a better upper bound than the missing mass one.

How about Kepler? That planet hunting satellite is looking for planets orbiting stars which have transits, meaning they exactly have an orbital plane aligned with the direction to Earth, and we see the obscuration caused when they pass in front of Kepler’s eyes. To think about it, if a rogue planet passed through the cone stretching from Kepler to a star, there would be obscuration there also. So, Kepler could detect a rogue planet crossing, if only the data was checked for that. Kepler’s data looks for periodic reductions in the light hitting Kepler’s scopes, as only an orbiting planet would produce a periodic signal. All the other things which lead to changes in the light output, such as sunspots or flares, are not periodic. Kepler’s data hounds like to find three or four or ten orbits to confirm that there is some potential planet candidate.

A rogue planet happening to go by between Kepler and a star it was observing would lead to a light reduction, but so would a sunspot. Only if the rogue planet were much closer to Kepler would the blocking of light be significant. If it were close enough, then the data hounds might just notice it. It would have a characteristic shape, mainly, flat for a long period. Out at 50 light years, with a star at 500 light years, G-sized star, Neptune-sized rogue planet, the time is of the order of a couple of hours. That might just be detectable.

But alas, nothing like that has been noticed. There was a big news flair recently when some reduction in light was noticed on a particular star, but the light curve reduction wasn’t flat, and SETI enthusiasts thought it might be some giant structure around the star made by aliens, but astronomers put their mind to it and said it was just comets. Since nothing has been noticed at all, if we assume somebody, somewhere, would have seen it if it did happen, we can use this result to put an alternate upper bound on rogue planets. Later data led to them not thinking it was comets, but no conclusions yet and nobody thinks it is relevant to the rogue planet count.

Unfortunately, using reasonable assumptions on star size, rogue planet size, closeness of rogue planet to Earth, velocity comparable to the average non-rotational speed of stars in the galaxy, 100,000 stars observed for five year by Kepler, the upper bound is still well above the one found by the missing mass argument. This is too bad, but it does mean that Kepler’s tremendous achievements do not extend to excluding large numbers of unobserved rogue planets in the galaxy.

This means that alien civilizations, lasting many millennia, might have to do something about a rogue planet drifting in toward their solar system. Regrettably, we don’t know much about what happens if one were to show up, even for our own solar system. If the rogue planet came into the inner solar system, and it was large, it would change the orbit parameters. How much remains to be calculated. One thing that helps is that there are balancing effects in some ways. If the rogue planet slowly came by, on an orbit like a comet but hyperbolic, the inner planets might make multiple orbits while it was present. It cannot be too slow, as the star’s gravitation will speed it up temporarily, but even a few orbits means that the gravitational pull to expand the orbit on the closer side of the orbit would be balanced by the gravitational pull of the rogue planet when it was on the other side, the farther side, or the orbit. Balanced, but certainly not exactly, as the closer side gets more gravity outward than the opposite side gets gravity inward. This is red meat for those who like to calculate planetary orbits.

The effect on outer planets, or indeed inner planets, would be huge if the trajectory of the rogue planet came anywhere near to it. This is exceedingly unlikely, as there is such vast spaces in a solar system, and the cross-section of large gravitational disturbance is small in comparison. Having it come to within 1% of the orbital radius of a planet would certainly qualify for large gravitational perturbation, but that is only a one in ten thousand chance for a random trajectory of the rogue planet. It might be more likely to pass either to the solar system north or south of the planetary plane, meaning that planets might gain some axial tilt from its passage. It is the integrated effect of the gravitation that controls the magnitude of the effect, so such a passage by would have an amplified effect if the speed of the rogue planet was close to the orbital speed of a planet.

All in all, rogue planets are still on the list of possible galactic perils, meaning that they could be a reason some alien civilization has to leave its home planet, since it was pushed out of the habitable zone or some other miserable orbital change happened, and they would be on the lookout for nearby replacements. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen in the nice galactic neighborhood we live in.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rogue Planet Condensation

The previous post on rogue planets mentioned that condensation was the likely means by which a large number of rogue planets could be produced. Stripping planets out of a solar system, for example by a nearby supernova, could certainly produce large numbers of them, but they would be limited to some multiple of the number of supernovas. The size of the multiplier should certainly be looked at, but the number of supernovas is not going to be so high.

Consider how condensation works. In a cool gas, just sitting still, with no rotation, a fluctuation in gas density could lead to some gravitational contraction, which would be a feedback effect to the size of the fluctuation. Contraction would continue. Why would contraction not just continue until an O class star was formed, and then keep going? Because of the stellar wind. Once a star is formed, the stellar wind starts blowing outward, carrying some of the fusion energy away from the star where it is being created. At some point, the stellar wind slows and stops the condensation. If the density of the original gas is very low, it doesn’t take much stellar wind to stop it. You get a red dwarf. If the density of the original gas is high, it takes a stronger stellar wind to stop it from being pulled inwards by the stellar mass. Thus, where density is the highest in the outer parts of a spiral galaxy, in the spiral waves, you get the formation of the brightest, largest stars, the O’s, B’s and A’s.

This example says that brown dwarfs and rogue planets would just keep attracting more mass until they accumulated enough to ignite and start their own solar wind. So, if there are no other mechanisms which would limit the amount of gas which contracts, there would be few brown dwarfs and rogue planets.

Angular momentum is one suspect. As a blob of gas contracts around some point of maximum density, it possesses some angular momentum relative to that point. The momentum can couple between different sections of the gas, but it cannot disappear. So, something has to still contain it. If there is not much, it can be accumulated into the rotation of the blob itself, and whatever the blob turns into, such as a star, a brown dwarf or a rogue planet. More angular momentum and some disc forms to hold it, such as a galactic disk, on the huge scale, or as a planetary disk, on the stellar scale. A disc could form around a rogue planet that was condensing as well. This usual amounts of angular momentum can be accommodated without putting a large amount of the mass into the disk.

A lack of gas could limit the amount of gas which condenses to form something. This could happen if the gas were already occupied falling into another nearby blob. So, the initial conditions of the blob make a difference. If there are large fluctuations in gas density, each of them will start pulling in nearby gas to build up their own mass, but with a high density of them, none of the blobs will get enough to become a star, and they will all have to be content with becoming rogue planets. What would lead to fluctuations in gas density? If the gas was all alone in the universe, it would achieve a fairly constant universal density, but if there is any gravitational pull from previously formed objects, there could be fluctuations. There is a question of scale here. If the scale of the blob contains enough mass to become a red dwarf, then that is what it would become. If the scale of the blobs is smaller than that, in other words, more fluctuations per cubic light year, then they can only become rogue planets.

In galaxies, there are large irregularities visible. Look at any disk galaxy, spiral or barred or whatever, and there are large-scale fluctuations in the light output. This corresponds to the largest stars, but these fluctuations can extend downward in scale. Our galaxy is surrounded by dwarf galaxies, as well as a few large ones, and they are all in motion. The gravitational, or tidal, pull of each of these affects the gas in a galactic disk. Possibly the spiral waves come from excitation by other large objects, which might explain why they are so irregular in many galaxies.

These excitations do not directly cause small scale fluctuations in gas density. Instead, they cause large scale motions, of the size of the orbit of the object causing the fluctuations, or perhaps down to the size of the object itself if it comes close to the disk. There are many galactic clusters interacting with the disk as well, and the same size of directly caused fluctuations would result. But, it is well known that turbulence extends to lower scale motions. In other words, the original size of the disturbance leads to flows in the gas, which gradually become smaller and smaller in size. How long this takes is questionable, but the decrease in scale is inexorable until the fluctuations driving it die away. However, the orbiting objects, dwarf galaxies and galactic clusters, are not going away. They just keep inducing fluctuations. So, over time, perhaps shorter than the rotation time of the galaxy, small scale fluctuations keep happening, and this means small objects might form.

There is likely a large difference in the response of the central bulge of a disk galaxy and the response of the disk itself. The central bulge is a ball of stars, and when an orbiting dwarf galaxy pulls on it, the nearer stars will respond, like to a tidal forcing, but the inner stars less so. If there is larger internal motion in the central bulge, this will tend to damp out the effects. So, for the formation of rogue planets, it would seem that the disk is a more likely place for their formation.

One other point about rogue planets is that they are like red dwarfs in that their lifetime is longer than the age of the universe. If they were made, in any way, they would just keep accumulating their numbers, unlike hotter stars which burn up and blow up and then disappear from the counts. There does not seem to be any mechanisms for rogue planets to be destroyed or to destroy themselves. Perhaps if one was near a supernova when it detonated, it would be vaporized. This cannot amount to a large reduction. This also means that if, during the early days of the galaxy, when it was just forming, if there were lots of rogue planets made, they would still be around. So, to estimate how many rogue planets there might be, it is even necessary to consider early formation.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rogue Planets

'Rogue planet' is the nickname for planets that do not orbit a star. They are not large enough to have any internal fusion to keep them warm, so after enough time for them to lose the heat of formation, they would be cold, as cold as the environment where they were located. This could be as low as a few degrees K.

They are very hard to see. During the cooling down period, there would be a very small infrared signature, but detecting a planet is very hard, even for ones which are lit up by a nearby star. With no lighting, they simply do not put out any photons. So, assessing how many there are is difficult, unless there are clues which can be determined from other means.

Rogue planets might be detected by a transit, if there was a star that was being watched, as in an exo-planetary hunt or to pull out spectroscopic data, and the starlight amount dropped. If the planet was near the star being monitored, the reduction would be small, 0.1% or of this order, maybe smaller if the planet was a small one. It would be larger if the planet was very near Earth, as then the inverse shadow it casts would be significantly larger on the star’s disk. If the rogue planet was halfway between Earth and the observed star, a factor of four pops in, so it would be, in this example, 0.4% different, which is also somewhat hard to notice unless specialized equipment was being used. Simple telescopes recording images would not necessarily notice this. If the relative motion was typical of stellar differential motion, 20 km/sec, it would take about a day to cross.

If the planet was only a tenth of the way from Earth to the observed star, it would be a reduction of 10% for an hour, which is possibly noticeable through direct observation. However, these numbers give the impression that, in the rare instance that there was a transit, and even if the star being transited was being watched by someone, it could easily happen without being detected. So, by and large, rogue planets are invisible.

Why would anyone care about rogue planets? When another star comes too close to a solar system, the gravitational effect of the star, or more specifically, the gradient of the gravitational effect of the star can alter the orbits of the planets in that solar system. If it is close enough, and passes by slow enough, it could change the ellipticity of the orbit, the orbital tilt, or even the orbital radius. This would affect any inhabitants of such an affected planet. Stellar encounters are one of the galactic perils.

A planet might be only 1/40,000 times has heavy as a star, and in this example, a planet would have to pass about 1/200 as close to the solar system it was disrupting as a star would, in order to have the same effect. This means that, if the density of rogue planets were the same as stars, there would be about 1/40,000 times the chance that a rogue planet would disrupt a solar system, as compared to the chance that a star would do it. So, it is hard to see that rogue planets present a galactic peril in this situation.

On the other hand, if rogue planets were much more populous, for example, if the total mass of material in rogue planets were 10% of that of the material in stars, then the probability of solar system disruption is the same percentage. That might constitute a galactic peril. Thus, the question is, how many of them are there? They are nigh on invisible and even a 10% mass contribution might be overlooked.

Perhaps considering how they form can give some clues as to whether there could be large numbers of them floating in interstellar space. There are several possibilities.

In detecting stars, it is easiest to see O stars, the brightest ones. Going down the sequence to the end, red dwarfs, M stars, brings down the brightness to being almost undetectable, as stellar radiation is moving into the infrared. But it is just possible to detect the next smaller class, brown dwarfs, where fusion is barely happening, and the amount of radiation emitted is almost undetectable, save for brown dwarfs very close by. However, red dwarfs are about three quarters of all stars from O through M. They are the lightest stars by mass, but still constitute about 40% of the total mass of all stars, O to M.

No good estimates exist for brown dwarfs but they might have a total mass of the same magnitude as red dwarfs, or perhaps even more. It takes no imagination at all to extend this curve to rogue planets, which are the conceptual equivalent of a red dwarf or brown dwarf, as far as initial formation from gas clouds, and say there could be a large amount of them. For convenience, let’s call this formation process condensation. Thus, extrapolating the condensation process which makes stars to lower masses would indicate there could be very many rogue planets inhabiting our galaxy.

There are other possible sources, and one has already by mentioned in passing. Stellar encounters of the close kind could even eject planets from a solar system. This method of stripping planets from a solar system depends on the density of the stars, so it would be much more common in the galactic core than out here in the spiral arms, but it is certainly not impossible here. A stellar encounter might strip one planet from a solar system, or it might strip all of them. Our solar system has quite a few, and it is simply not known what the average number of planets is in other solar systems. At least we know that most stars have planets, which is more than we knew a decade or two ago.

As for solar system formation, we experience the tail end of the process, where all planets have very stable, long-lived orbits. It is not necessarily true that the other end of the process is a gentle and forbearing as we now observe. Perhaps it is common for a planet or two to be ejected when the stellar disk first forms into planetary masses. Two planets with radii that are close might lead to an ejection. This is something that has not been explored in detail in planetary formation simulations, but if it is true that planets are often lost, the number of rogue planets from this source could be of the order of stars. This is small compared to the numbers needed for a galactic peril, however.

There are certainly other, more violent methods of stripping planets from a solar system. Consider a nearby supernova. It might either directly eject a planet, or cause orbital changes so that the orbits are no longer stable, and lead indirectly, after a long interval, to the ejection of a planet. If a supernova star is part of a binary star system, or a multiple one, planets in the partner star’s solar system might be the victims of ejection. Perhaps even other stars could be affected, if they were close enough.

These violent means of forming rogue planets appear to be able to produce them in the numbers comparable to stellar populations. Only condensation seems a possibility for forming them in numbers far in excess of the number of stars, but still not taking up as much mass as the stars. Thus, rogue planets as a galactic peril are still in the running. With some luck, they could be one of the principal reasons an alien civilization would have to leave its home planet.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fast Origination of Life

When we go looking for life, it would be nice to know where to preferentially look. If we had the resources, we could use the big eyes, with all the spectrographic marvels attached, for every star within some radius, just to be sure that we didn’t miss anything. But if resources are short, it would be good to figure out where the likely solo planets are hiding.

Suppose we use age as a clue. If life takes a billion years to originate, or two, there is no point in looking at solar systems which are younger than that. Stars which don’t have that long a lifetime can be eliminated immediately, as can those who evolve so quickly that a habitable zone, whatever that turns out to be, moves before life has a chance to take advantage of it. So, because we know that life takes a long time to originate, we can filter out solar systems. But, how do we know that?

We have one example here, Earth, and life took a long time to originate and to evolve to some detectable level. So, how do we conclude that it takes that long everywhere? Maybe we have some problem here that delayed our progress by a factor of two, or ten, or a hundred. Since we know so little definitively about the origin of life and all the stages it might have needed, it could be somewhat premature to say that life takes a long time. Earth’s life may have taken a long time, but on Planet X, who knows.

Let’s take the working hypothesis for the mechanism for the origination of life that this blog uses and see if it can be sped up. To recap, the first step is for some self-replicating molecule to form by chance and then just continue to increase its density, in the oceans of the planet. What controls the rates of this first step? If the molecule is, as hypothesized here, a couple or a few amino acids hooked together into a primitive DNA, then the formation of amino acids is a rate controller. What are the various ways that amino acids can be made?

This question has been the subject of numerous experiments. To encapsulate the results, they are that amino acids of a wide variety, along with other organic compounds, can be formed both in an ocean and in an atmosphere with some energy source, such as a lightning discharge, UV radiation, or volcanic heating. One condition seems to be that free oxygen not be present, as it oxidizes them. Oxygen was not present in the early Earth atmosphere, but was produced later as a byproduct of photosynthesis. The precursors involved included ammonia, methane, water vapor and carbon dioxide, and sometimes others. Nitrogen was a killer, as nitrites were formed which decomposed the amino acids. If iron and some carbonates were present, the nitrites were deactivated and the amino acids could form. Many other alternatives have not been tried, but the basic idea is that the right combination of gases and surface minerals, or ocean solutions, can produce amino acids.

The rate at which a self-replicating molecule forms would be proportional to the density of the precursors which form this molecule, to some power dependent on the number of precursors. The power is higher than one. A simple synthesis of two components varies as the product of the density of each, meaning that scaling the densities up together increase the rate as the square, for low densities. So, for fast origination of life, something which could dump more and more amino acids into the primitive world’s oceans and atmosphere would do the trick.

If UV can do it, then having a hotter star would be the lucky ticket. This is just the opposite of what was posted in the blog about hot stars. Since their lifetimes are short, there isn’t enough time for life to originate. But if the UV is extremely effective at producing amino acids or whatever other organic compounds are needed to generate the very first self-replicating molecule out of non-self-replicating molecules, then the short lifetime of the hotter stars might be mitigated.

Another known source of this production of amino acids is lightning. Under what conditions would there be more or less lightning in a young planet’s atmosphere? Fulminology is a well-developed, although incomplete, science, so the principal cause can be provided. Ice crystals forming in the atmosphere have a tendency to attract free electrons, becoming negatively charged, while drops do the opposite. If there is some convection, so that charged ice crystals separate from the oppositely charged water drops, then an electrostatic charge can develop and then when it reaches breakdown potential, a discharge can occur. So, the more clouds and rain that a planet has, with the right temperature of the air so ice can form at some band of altitude, the more lightning it would have.

Here is yet another problem with the determination of ‘habitable’ planets. Liquid water may certainly be present on a planet, but if the mean temperature is too high, in the upper end of the range for liquid water, there may be no ice formation and then no lightning, and then no amino acids raining down into the ocean, no self-replicating chemicals forming, and no life. So, habitability in the astronomers’ lingo may mean no origination of life. There is not much else that word does mean, except the presence of liquid water.

Volcanoes can induce lightning in some situations, and an underwater volcano can produce thermal currents which might also make amino acids. So, if the crust is such that vulcanism is present, that is yet another factor in finding where fast life origination might happen. What could cause a high degree of volcanism? Having a thin crust to the planet, along with much mantle convection. It might also be that the composition of minerals changes the degree to which the subterranean magna penetrates to the surface. The formation of large cracks in the crust would seem to promote it as well. Continental drift results in thinner areas, as well as a change of thickness with location, ocean crust being thinner. Does rotation rate cause more convection, or does the presence of a large moon have an effect? Is it both of these together, with the large moon causing more of a tidal influence on the crust than on the mantle, so that there is a bit of differential rotation which would lead to cracking and drift and convection? Perhaps we have come around again to thinking that a large moon is a good thing for life origination. Does that mean that a binary planet, two planets in orbit around one another with the mass ratio closer to one than here on Earth, would have more volcanism, therefore more organics in the ocean and hence earlier formation of life?

So, exposed iron and carbonate rock for the nitrite problem, lighting or a hot star or a large moon for the energy source, and we might have some candidates for early formation of life. Recall that the rate at which compounds form is some power of the density of the constituents, so doubling the constituents in the ocean may cut the time down by four or eight times. Tripling it – well, do the arithmetic yourself. The changes in life origination times could be dramatic. If it was possible to get ten times as much organics in the primordial ocean, and it was a three-way race to the self-replicating chemical, that’s a factor of a thousand. In case you are math-impaired, that reduces a billion years to a million. Unbelieveable!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Galactic Neighborhoods

The universe, on the galactic and sub-galactic scale, is a pretty diverse place. Some neighborhoods are nicer than other for the origination of life. Let’s consider some of the conditions necessary for that.

The hypothesis discussed here in another post was that there is a simple form of DNA which self-replicates, in other words, which self-catalyzes, and when that forms and starts to multiply, more complex things can be added to it, a few of which can participate in the self-replication. Then more and more add on. No one knows which combination does this, or if one does.

Under that assumption, the next step is for an attachment to build up on something solid in the ocean, which increases the flow rate by the chemical, increasing the replication rate. The rest of the process can be read about in that other post and its predecessors. The key fact to be extracted is that there has to be phosphorus for self-replication to begin.

Where does the phosphorus come from? If the universe started off with mostly hydrogen and a bit of helium, it had to be created in stars. Small stars, red dwarfs, just burn hydrogen into helium. The next size band can take on making carbon and would have a distribution of other low-Z elements in it. Larger stars, mostly B’s can fuse some higher level elements, so phosphorus can come from this source. O’s, the largest stars, go into the supernova process, which also produces a wide distribution of elements.

There aren’t that many B’s and O’s in the stellar population, but that is not solely because they don’t form as frequently, but because they burn up quickly. B’s and O’s only last less than a hundred million years. This means that if you want to know the total number of B’s and O’s in a galaxy over its lifetime, you have to multiply the number of B’s and O’s seen now by the ratio of the age of the galaxy to their lifetime. Now the numbers of B’s and O’s goes dramatically up. Here’s where much of the higher elements get made.

More intermediate elements are made by small stars which somehow accrete additional mass after they reach a white dwarf stage. If they swallow another white dwarf or even a large planet, they might tip over into becoming a supernova of type 1. Supernovas of type 2 are what happens to O’s at the end of their lives. They are so hot inside they are very efficient at burning nuclei, and wind up with an iron core, and onion-like layers outside that populated with lower-Z elements. The supernova creates such a neutron flux some elements beyond iron, even up to uranium, are formed.

Thus, a newly formed galaxy, consisting of largely primordial hydrogen and helium, would gradually become more and more metal-rich, as generations of stars form and release heavier elements. Stars which do not explode as supernovas keep much of their heavier elements, but the O’s and B’s spew their materials out into the galactic clouds, enriching them with all elements. These large stars preferentially form in regions of denser clouds, which means in two places in a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way, the central bulge and the spiral arms. The central bulge and the rest of the disk do not seem to be exchanging matter at a high rate, so they can be examined separately.

As the galaxy ages, it just keeps becoming richer and richer in heavier elements. This means that a solar system that forms later than another would likely have more heavier elements in it. Turning this around, it means that old solar systems would have less heavier elements. Adding in the large variation in lifetime, this means that red dwarfs, because they have been around for much, much longer than larger stars, would be older and would have formed at a time when there were less heavier elements. Some red dwarfs will be recent additions, but the large majority should be old. Any interstellar-traveling species might do better in hunting for heavy elements to look elsewhere than red dwarfs.

The central bulge has a higher density of gas and a higher density of stars, which is only natural as the only thing needed to form a star is a density fluctuation in gas allowing a blob of gas to concentrate itself. It is not clear yet to us how gas fluctuations originate, so it is not clear from the mechanism of formation that the central bulge would have a higher ratio of heavier stars. It is certainly known, and obvious from early observations, that there are more stars there than in the disk, by numerical density. This means that there are higher chances of stellar encounters from numerical density alone. If the mean velocity of stars is higher there, then this would also add to the probability of a stellar encounter happening.

When a stellar encounter happens, a planet may be nudged out of a good orbit for life origination and evolution, meaning that for life origination, a lower density of stars may be beneficial in the neighborhood of any candidate solar system. That means the spiral arms, in galaxies which have them, might be better places to seek solo planets.

In the spiral arms, the spiral is simply a wave of increased matter density traveling through and around the disk. The increase in gas density causes more stars to form, in particular, O’s and B’s, which shine brightly and show off the location of the spiral waves. Thus, when a spiral wave whips around a galaxy, with each revolution the fraction of heavier elements increases, as it creates another batch of O’s and B’s, which soon burn out and blow up, adding to the heavy element content.

Thus, when looking for solo planets, the disk of a galaxy is better for avoiding stellar encounters, and if the disk supports spiral waves, the necessary elements are built up in higher concentrations. The disk is also better in that there is a lower density of high-energy radiation. Some of that is created in the core of the galaxy, and the disks are a long way from that, further than the central bulge, of course.

To summarize, hunting for solar systems where aliens originated, having what we have termed solo planets, would be good in a disk of a spiral galaxy, not necessarily in the spiral arms, but anywhere in the disk for three reasons. One, there are heavier elements there, including phosphorus and the other several metals which are used for various functions in life as we know it. Two, stellar encounters are not as high there, meaning that a planet in a good orbit might be allowed to keep it until the star evolves to a more unpleasant output level. Three, cosmic radiation is lower, meaning that although mutation rates might be less, damage to already coded DNA might also. In an elliptical galaxy, the outer fringes might be the nearest analog.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Depression in Alien Civilizations

Would depression be allowed to exist in an advanced alien civilization? Would it be avoidable and inevitable?

Depression is a feeling, an emotion, and is an exaggeration of unhappiness. Depression is long-lasting, as deep unhappiness that quickly fades is not associated with the word. Would deep long-term unhappiness be allowed in alien civilizations?

Depression is also associated with being debilitated. Unhappy people might still work. Depression interferes with it, as the negative feelings pervade all aspects of life. Slightly depressed people can still work, but without enthusiasm. A brain cannot have both lots of positive neuro-chemicals operating in it and lots of negative neurochemicals operating in it. They somehow don’t coexist.

Deep emotions, as discussed in the post on joy, come from multiple associations with a single trigger, but in depression the associations are negative ones, associated with suffering, such as due to age, illness, death, or deprivation. Those are the four categories of bad feelings that Buddha chose. Others could choose a different categorization, but the basic idea is that something triggers lots of these.

It is likely possible that depression could be triggered by some genetic problem, or some nutritional deficiency or a toxic substance being ingested, or even other things. Let’s simply not be concerned with those varieties or causes at this point, but deal with the emotional ones, generated solely by events or perhaps memories or thoughts or even conclusions.

Recall that a brain can have an association with things in the past, or in the near-present, or in the future, sort of. Some alien can sit around and think of some nice times they experienced, and be happy. Just pulling the memory out of storage and re-visualizing it or using whatever symbology their individual brain prefers, can potentially trigger the same neural pathways leading to the cells that produce the neuro-chemicals. Maybe by far the most common source of happiness, or unhappiness, is observing what is going on presently, either in the vicinity of the alien or via communication channels. Something bad happens and negative associations are triggered. Bad feelings pervade the alien’s brain.

For the future, an alien who thinks about the future, in the sense of making plans, may come to find his/her/its happiness is the imagined future. Much like how a remembered experience can be coupled into the neuro-chemical source cell bodies, so can imagined experiences, and they can be future ones. So, when we say an alien can find happiness in the future, or unhappiness, it means that imagined futures, perhaps by plans they themselves made or by future projections others have made and convinced the alien of their likelihood or even inevitability, can lead to unhappiness.

There doesn’t seem to be any reason than an individual alien could not find happiness or unhappiness in all three time frames. Some alien could recall a pleasant experience and be happy, or notice some dreaded event is happening, such as a close friend dying, or envision a future event which is fortunate. Aliens can be expected to be intelligent, each and every one, after the genetics grand transition, where intelligence genes and all the associated things genetics includes have been discovered and engineering geniuses have figured out how to manipulate cell DNA so that all members can benefit from this discovery. If they are intelligent, they should be able to plan and imagine well different futures, and potentially be happy about them, or sad, as the case may be.

So, in an advanced alien civilization, meaning one beyond the achievement of asymptotic technology, would have their members responding to all three time frames. All three could provide both happy, positive experiences and associations, and unhappy, negative ones.

One example of happiness was used in a previous post involving a close friend. The entity that is the focus of the event that causes the triggering of emotion can be an individual, but it can also be an object, any object, or even an abstract thing.

Perhaps aliens will have pets, and then happiness or unhappiness can be triggered by what happens to the pet. The three time phases would be, in this example, thinking about something that happened to a pet, as it died, or seeing it enjoy itself with something, or learning it had a fatal disease and would die in the future from it. The object might be a robot, or a facility, or a giant plant, or an organization, or anything. Neural networks are flexible enough to make associations, including emotional ones, with anything that the network can recognize. It could be an abstract thing, like some branch of knowledge or some social condition, such as the condition of intellos in the civilization, or some set of regulations. An alien could be happy if a new festival is approved.

One entity that might be associated with emotions is the civilization itself, by which we mean not the current members, but the whole thing, from first cities to the destruction of the last city. It could also mean the alien species, if their civilization was one that chose to put its values smack down on the species they were, as they evolved, or at least close to how they evolved, with some basic gene selections throw in. These two items, the civilization and the species, are foundational items for the different categories of star travel choices that a civilization can make. It is therefore likely that positive or negative associations can be attached to either of them.

For the past time frame, an individual alien might draw happiness from knowing the history of the first city and its successes in growing and then cloning itself. He/She/It might draw happiness from the fine standard of living the civilization was providing to its members. Or the happiness might come from the knowledge that there were no problems directly in front of the civilization, it having solved all of them, at least in the near future.

So where is depression in all of this?

One source is cosmology, as noted in another blog. If the civilization you know and love is doomed, would not depression ensue? If your species is going to become extinct, how is depression to be avoided? Cosmology is not the only peril that faces an alien civilization, and there are others which could take its place. Can any advanced alien civilization, which would recognize its fate was disappearance, inevitably, not be depressed? Would the depression be avoidable? Could the master computer muster up enough festivals and other entertaining occasions to distract all the brilliant citizens from thinking about the fate of their world and any world they migrate to? Would this be enough to discourage them from space travel?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Joy in Alien Civilizations

One of the grand transitions is the neurological grand transition. It involves the accumulation of knowledge relating to the alien mind, and the details are therefore specific to each alien civilization. But if the hypothesis made in the blog is correct, that associative neural networks are the way all (or most) planets evolve intelligent creatures, then there would be a lot in common between different alien civilizations. Maybe one type of aliens would not have a cerebellum, or another would have more lobing, or a third might have less brain volume devoted to visual processing, or a fourth might have another sensor with brain areas devoted to it, like magnetic sensing or atmospheric pressure sensing or whatever. But the basic mechanism by which information is processed within alien brains is an associative neural network.

Perhaps later someone will figure out that is too limiting, but for now, let’s use it as a working hypothesis. That means some analogies from human brains can be made, albeit carefully.

This post talks about joy, which is an English word with many meanings. Joy here is meant to signify an extreme amount of happiness. Joy happens when the brain gets positive associations going all over it. Happiness can be pretty small. Joy is large. This means that some event or combination of events happen to trigger lots of happy memories, at about the same time. An example of joy could be that emotion caused by the reuniting of a lost friend with someone. The lost friend is connected to many memories of times enjoyed together, in other words, with small blocks of happiness, which all get associated when the lost friend reappears. Seeing the lost friend again after a long absence doesn’t pull all those remembered memories into the visual cortex for revisualization, but it does connect with the associations between the friend and many small happiness events in the past, and therefore triggers a flood of reinforcement neuro-chemicals. To be somewhat blunt, the presence of the friend is a learned association with happy events of many kinds, connected to all the positive experiences that these friends shared, and like Pavlov’s dog’s bell, the connections are all triggered by the friend returning and hence the flood of neuro-chemicals. But the difference between the friend and Pavlov’s dog’s bell is that the association with Pavlov’s dog is solely with the dog’s meal being delivered. With a friend, all sorts of associations are made, and therefore many more parts of the brain can deliver the signal for neuro-chemicals to be generated. Joy is achieved by a wide association with positive events in the past.

Repetition doesn’t play the same role with this type of association. Unlike the dog, which had to have many experiences in order to build the association in its brain, single events can cause association in a higher order brain. A single event can be remembered, and in being remembered, the emotional effects are linked in. Perhaps associations with more fundamental things, like eating, have to be done more than associations with complex things that can pull in more connections on lower levels.

So, if you were wondering if an alien civilization would be pretty boring, very calm, not too exciting, very day-to-day, in short, dull, the answer is that it would not be if they wanted it not to be. With the neurological grand transition providing clear explanations as to how to create multiple joyful moments for each alien, it would be far from dull. They could make it pretty exciting.

If an alien civilization wanted to generate joy in its members, on an occasional basis rather than some mass joy event, it could do it. They would understand how joy is produced, as the details of how each alien brain worked would be understood during the neurological grand transition, and with that knowledge, it is only a matter of arranging society so that this type of event happens, maybe even frequently.

This is not to say that they make friends disappear, and then show up after a long time. That could be one event, but it is a rather pedestrian one, and certainly an alien civilization which had figured out everything about the brains of its members, and had control of their environment, could do better. Recall that any long-term alien civilization has to avoid scarcity of resources by doing extensive recycling, and the efficient way to do that is to have living spaces be largely in large cities, where the flows of materials could be done easily. If the aliens are living in large cities, their environment is almost wholly an artificial one. Furthermore, their activities are governed by the arrangements in the city, and therefore these could also be structured so that joy events occurred.

Let’s also recall that, assuming the genetics grand transition occurred before or simultaneously with the neurological grand transition, young aliens are produced in an industrial manner, perhaps biologically industrial, but in a common setting, and training and education are as well. So then, with the brain understood, it would also be understood how to add into training and education all the necessary associations that could be involved with joy events later. For example, learning to make friends has to be done in a young alien in order to allow him/her/it to make friends later in their lives. If the governing body, the master AI or whatever it is, wants to have it be possible for all members to have some glorious times in their lives, they would include making friends as part of the very early training.

To generalize all this, the point is that alien civilizations will have the power, the knowledge and the opportunity to make their members’ lives not just satisfactory, but really, really happy. Would they want to? Why wouldn’t they want to?

How does this relate to space travel, you certainly are asking. Well, if they adopt early on a meme for space travel, perhaps because of some inspirational leaders in the pre-genetic transition period of their history, they would also make it connected with the likes of the members of each generation. What this post says is that they could also make space travel a source of joy for their members, again increasing the chances that they would accomplish it. But this sword cuts both ways. If their meme says no space travel, then they would dislike it, and possibly even strongly, in the opposite emotion to joy.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Robotic Entrepreneurs

In another post, the AI ogre that became terribly smart and developed an antipathy to humans was dismissed as not corresponding to the way in which AI would be developed. It is an ogre created by those who don’t work on day-to-day AI creation, but by someone with an overview perspective, slightly lacking in necessary details.

There might also be regulations developed by some governance body on any alien planet which was developing AI, to assist in avoiding any catastrophes caused by errant programming or programming review. But there are other regulations which would come into play, because they don’t cover robotics.

In a previous post, the replacement of jobs by robotics was discussed, in fact in several of them. But consider one specific job: entrepreneur. Would an alien civilization allow robots to form enterprises? This assumes there are enterprises on the alien world. Perhaps they have developed a different form of enterprise control. Recall some of us here on Earth think the decentralization has some useful qualities. Perhaps aliens have all figured out we are wrong and have gone down a different road. But in the instance where they have not, let’s consider the possibility.

Here on Earth, if some robot walked into a bank and said it wanted to start a business, and needed a loan, what would be the reaction? The loan officer would check the laws, which mention persons. If a robot got the loan, how would the bank take legal action. There is nothing in the legal system about a robot being responsible for anything. Only people get to be responsible.

In an alien world, prior to robotics, regulations would be written for aliens. It is only expectable that they would not use generic ‘sentient creature’ in their writing of regulations before there were any ‘sentient creatures’ other than aliens themselves. It is not possible for the bank’s loan officer to simply cross out the occurrence of the word ‘alien’ on the loan forms and write in ‘robot’, and then grant the loan. The regulations are not so easily altered. There are lots of them. But before they could be, if the alien civilization wanted them to be, there would have to be some definition of ‘sentient creature’ or ‘sentient robot’. It wouldn’t be very good to re-write the loan document before all the rest were changed.

There is a giant pitfall here. Robots are a continuum. How do you decide if Robot A is sentient enough to get a loan, but Robot B is not? Do you devise a test of some sort? You should, as you wouldn’t want to be giving a loan to a self-driving car, even if it pulled into the service bay and asked for one.

So, when you do the test, and countless other aliens review the test and tweak it, and more of them add things to it, and others object to it, and finally somehow, something gets decided on, do you put it into law? Something to the effect of ‘Robots passing the sentience test created by the Sentient Testing Corporation can take out loans and do any other action allowed to an alien being’ which would be an umbrella clause changing all the laws at once, you have two problems.

Robots are now aliens, insofar as their rights go, and nobody can disassemble one. That might be murder. They might qualify for some benefits, and if there is a factory chugging out robots in large numbers, that could be a burden quickly. And how did the robot get free? It was the property of some alien. Is there some law in the alien world about freedom for aliens, that robots could tap into? Lots of robots are going to be walking off their jobs and signing up for the test.

The second problem is that if an alien doesn’t quite pass the test, it can complain about it. Aliens are not subjected to any test for sentience, but robots are? But robots, at least sentient ones, are supposed to be treated like aliens. The basic difficulty is that to be an alien in that era, you just had to come from alien reproduction, budding or cloning or metamorphosizing or whatever they do. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the ability to pass the Sentient Testing Corporation’s test. You are still an alien. But not for robots.

So, the problems an alien civilization would face before it could give a robot a loan are very formidable, and go to the foundation of the society. That means that if a robot wants to become an entrepreneur, it can’t involve loans. Maybe it could get a gift.

If some magnanimous alien gives a robot a gift of a million A-dollars, could it still become an entrepreneur? Maybe if it started a pizza store using only robots, cash only, it might get by with it. It could buy the robots, pay rent all up front to some other pro-robotic landlord, get supplies, and go into business. Insurance would be a problem. Getting a building permit would be a problem, so renting an existing pizza store might be necessary. There would have to be some pretty customer friendly rules generated for the robotic waiters or order takers. If some customer said he was cheated, and threatened to call the cops, who would they arrest? Laws probably don’t allow a robot to be arrested, so it would have to be impounded or whatever is the equivalent on this planet. And of course it would have no trial or rights or anything else, and maybe the original owner would have to come and sort things out.

As for the original owner being responsible, if the first thing the robot did with its million A-dollar gift was to replace all its parts, is the owner still responsible? What if it split itself into two robots using half new and half old parts for each? Is the owner responsible for both pizza stores they both start? Hard to see how the law would cover this, prior to being re-written for sentient creatures.

All the consternation a robot-owned pizza store would cause may give us an opening to find employment in the future alien world after the robotics grand transition. The previous posts were blind to the difference in rights that an alien and a robot would have. So, after the robotics grand transition, perhaps the only jobs available would be ones which invoke the special rights an alien has. If they don’t talk in terms of rights there, substitute the word privileges. So, these previous posts were a bit short-sighted, in that starting a pizza store might be a position which couldn’t be automated, at least until several centuries of wrangling goes on about how to give or not give robots what privileges.

By the way, would a robot-owned pizza store pay taxes?