Thursday, March 31, 2016

Early Origination of Life – Organic Oceans – Part 10

The organic ocean idea is based on the existence of large amounts of organic compounds on the early Earth, including many which are immiscible in water and would form their own ponds, lakes, pools, or more importantly, layers upon a water body. It goes on to assume that some ambiphilic moleculess would be formed at the meniscus between the two liquids, and some of these would have sufficient mutual intermolecular forces to cause them to link together, forming some continuous areas. Then the idea includes the idea of a intermediate organic molecule which can insert itself between the two halves of the ambiphilic molecules in the membrane and which can also catalyze other copies of the same molecule to insert themselves into other copies of the same ambiphilic molecule. This meets the definition of a self-replicating molecule, and chemical evolution would take over from here.

One principal alternative was that these organic compounds were created during the impact of a planetoid onto the proto-Earth, which led to the formation of the moon. The impact itself would create many of them and the resulting very long period of volcanism, when the new core settled down, would add more. Complex organic molecules can be thought of as simply another form of higher energy state, the population of which would be vastly increased by the heat generated in the impact and the volcanism.

To create a theory of life origination, it would be nice to foresee that there are possible next steps that would lead, eventually, to something having the attributes of organic life, which might include the existence of an entity, rather than simply patches of membrane made of one or more interesting molecules. Some potential next steps would be having different intermediary molecules, assuming more than one can catalyze its own insertion into the ambiphilic ones, which are assumed to form independently. Perhaps the membrane has a natural curvature, with the lipophilic side being smaller in cross-section, so that there would be a tendency to curve and eventually close. There would have to be permeability to various molecules coming in or going out, as the membrane at this point is simply a means of concentrating populations to increase the reaction rate.

Life, and chemical evolution, need energy to function. The initial impact would produce many molecules from which energy could be extracted, as could the volcanoes. The initial intermediary molecule, the self-catalyzing one, would evolve to other ones, and later migrate some component to the end of the hydrophilic end. Then some molecular component might be added on which would serve as an energy transport, taking energy from one or more kinds of molecules floating in the oceans and storing it until it became time to use it in the replication process. If the membrane closed upon itself, one next step would be for some components to float freely in the interior of the membrane, while others stayed attached.

If there was some inherent curvature present in the membrane, then as it increased with more ambiphilic molecules being inserted into it, it would buckle and perhaps separate into two. If one new membrane-enclosed volume was lacking copies of some key molecules that were the product of chemical evolution, this budding would be a failure. If the density of the key molecules was high enough so that all of them had copies inside both pieces, we have an instance of reproduction. Perhaps it could be called a cell at this time.

It is all well and good to originate life in a temporary situation, but there has to be enough time for chemical evolution to allow for the occurrence of two things we know happened on early Earth. One is that the organic pools disappeared, leaving only water bodies. If by this time closed membranes had evolved, and they were able to function wholly in the water, without contact with the meniscus, then whatever simplistic form of life this is could continue. The second thing that happens is that volcanism stops, or almost stops. Perhaps there are still some vents in deep ocean areas, and some volcanoes under the sea busy erupting from time to time, but nothing like the maelstrom that existing for millions of years after Theia, the impacting planetoid, hit the proto-Earth.

Without volcanoes, what is going to produce molecular energy for the simple cells? There are only two energy sources possible, photons from the sun, and chemical energy from the deep Earth or from some exposed rocks. There may be some primitive cells that absorb and consume other cells, but there has to be some energy entering the domain of life; it is impossible to have an area with only carnivores – something has to get energy from another source. Either some early form of photosynthesis, or rather simply photon absorption into some stored energy form, had to have evolved before the volcanoes died down, or the chemotrophs would have to retreat into some small areas where there were still sea vents or other sources of chemical energy. This would represent a drastic chokepoint for life on Earth, but certainly not a definitive reason for extinction.

If volcanism did not go on in one area long enough for photon absorption to evolve, it would be necessary for these primitive cells to migrate to another area. There is no process that would end the existence of such a cell. If it did not encounter any substances it needed to continue to grow and even bud, it would not shrivel up and die, it would just keep floating around in the ocean until some event happened to destroy it, or it floated into an area where there were the right kind of organic molecules that would permeate through the membrane and allow it to resume functioning. There were no predators, no acid areas as far as is known, no high temperature regions, and in short, not much to destroy the little cell. A lightning bolt at the right time and place could certainly do it, but the probability of that is low, and ocean depths might serve to limit the possibility of such damage.

What this implies is that life origination happens and early chemical evolution happens and even the first steps of the most primitive cellular evolution happens relatively quickly, when there are massive amounts of organic chemicals around, including many possessing extractable energy. After that, evolution slows way down, until at some later date photon absorption becomes possible. Then it speeds up again.

Some key questions related to this hypothesis about the origination of life are: is it possible to develop organic oceans in large volumes except via the impact of a planetoid; how long would extensive volcanism last after such a major rearrangement of the mass of the planets involved; what would be an estimate of the rate of formation of the first cellular structures following the meniscus membrane concept. Another one would be: is there any possible signature still present on Earth that could show if there was a period when there were organic pools present on Earth.

If the answers to these questions come back to favor the organic ocean/Theia impact hypothesis, we may be the only life in the galaxy. Perhaps orbital simulation of possible early solar systems could tell us if it is extremely rare to have such an impact, or if we are going to be surprised to find that impacts like this are almost as common as exo-planets.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Design for Recycling

When some organization wants to build a nuclear reactor plant, they have to figure the lifetime costs in order to apply. Nuclear reactors are unique in that a decommissioning phase must be included in the cost and the schedule for the plant. Because of the lingering radioactivity, it wouldn't be good to treat it like a steel plant that had reached the end of its life, when the company simply shuts down, locks the door, and lets rust take over. There are too many toxics in the reactor area, so the organization must have a plan to eliminate the potential hazard. Some of the radioactive toxics will last for centuries, so any plan which had only a shuttering of the doors and a posting of some guards would be hazardous to say the least.

The materials in a nuclear plant are not recycled, but a large-scale recycling plan, one which encompasses mostly everything, and goes on continuously, has one similar feature. Everything is designed to be recycled. The organization that builds a nuclear power plant is forced to deposit the monies needed to decommission the plant, so that there is some guarantee that bankruptcy or other financial woes will not prevent the decommissioning. If an alien civilization decided to move, gradually, to near 100% recycling, they might adopt the same tactic. Put a charge on disposal of anything manufactured, so that any materials not recycled would be saddled with a large bill. Soon any organization doing manufacturing of anything at all would be figuring out how to not have any items for disposal at the end-of-life of the manufactured object. Once recycling of every component and material became a cost item, the design of the manufactured objects would be done to minimize the total cost, including the disposal costs. The tax on disposal would be traded off against the cost to recycle, and if the disposal tax was high enough, design work would be done on integrating the plan for recycling into the plan for manufacturing.

This means that an alien citizen would have objects in his possession and in his environment that were fashioned quite differently that those we see here on Earth. One of the big costs in recycling of mixed waste is the separation of different materials. Shredding an object, like a car, that has in it dozens of different types of materials generates severe sorting problems. Many stages might be necessary. So, aliens would likely not have shredding processors in their arcologies, but would adopt a different strategy: disassembly.

Shredding and sorting is based on the recognition that most components in a manufactured object are there as pure materials, and the shredding produces fragments of different materials, mixed together, that can be sorted. If a manufactured object is composed of multiple pure materials, disassembling it into those pure materials does the same thing as shredding and sorting, except more efficiently. The efficiency of disassembly is related to how the assembly process was orchestrated. If assembly is done in a way to facilitate later disassembly, even more efficiency can be achieved.

The fastening processes or mechanisms which hold together different materials in a manufactured product can be either easy to undo or difficult to undo. Obviously, design of a manufactured object in a mandatory recycling regime would involve fastening processes and mechanisms that were as easy to undo as possible. This cuts waste as well, so that recycling can be pushed closer and closer to 100%.

Once the design for disassembly hurdle is passed, another change looms on the horizon. That is that maintenance can be done by disassembly and reassembly, perhaps with one component swapped out. Recall that this era is long past the point where there would be upgrades to do. They are already at the end-point of capability and all conceivable upgrades have been done and incorporated, centuries ago. But maintenance is something that does not go away, only diminishes with better design. Assuming that design is at optimality, there is still some small residual maintenance that must be done.

Thus, alien citizens would be used to simply giving whatever they owned over to the local robots or intellos and getting back one that was refurbished. It is almost as if manufactured objects have a life of their own. You have something, maybe a communicator, and its screen was replaced two years ago, and the case four years ago, and the circuitry eight years ago, and the other parts at different times. When you die, it will be a perfectly useful, completely up-to-date communicator, in fine shape for someone else to use. If one is accidentally destroyed, a equivalent replacement, identical in form, function and appearance, would be available. Two citizens who accidentally swap their identical objects would not notice any difference, and not particularly care that there was a swap.

This has a psychological effect. Objects more or less lose their value. If everything is like air, one breath being the same as another, why be concerned about it at all? The twin effects of the end of novelty and the efficiency demands of recycling and disassembly would have put a close on the acquisitiveness that aliens may have evolved with.

All objects would fall under this umbrella. Perhaps it might be thought there would be art objects that had special value. But manufacturing would be able to duplicate anything, and since there is no utilitarian reason to have an original anything, why would any alien want one? Old museum pieces would be duplicated for anyone who wanted one. New art would likely be in a mass-production media, so as many copies would be available as were wanted. Simply put, there is no object that is particularly worth having, except for what it does, and there are mass-produced copies of anything that does have a use.

For an Earth person of our era, this seems like a civilization with a vacuum where value used to be. Yet it appears to be the unavoidable result of technological progress. This is simply one more example of how different an advanced alien civilization would be compared to our own, and therefore how difficult it is to make snap judgments about what aliens would do or like or how they would behave.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Dilemma of Altruistic Leadership in an Alien Civilization

It's a popular cliché for a Earth parent to say that they just want their child to be happy. Unfortunately, from an alien perspective, originating in an alien civilization that had passed asymptotic technology, it is backwards.

Asymptotic neurology will provide a complete understanding of how an alien would have likes or dislikes, and the engineering side of that would consist of ways of training a young alien so they would like whatever the trainers had chosen for them to like. We on Earth try to do that in many ways, from advertising to peer pressure, and a hundred variations. We don't do it perfectly, but like all aspects of knowledge, the ability to do such things will get better and better until the practice is perfected. This is, of course, the essence of “asymptotic”. There is only so much to learn about a subject, such as likes and dislikes in a brain built on an associative neural network, and when it is learned, that's the end.

So, in an alien civilization advanced to this level, there would be a wise collection of the things that young aliens learn to like; the collection is well thought out, so that they would encounter many of the things they liked in the civilization. Manifesting externally such happiness as is engendered by having a 'like' satisfied could take place in many ways, depending on how the aliens body is, how they communicate through various means, including posture, expression, assuming they have faces, and gestures. Manifestations could be almost unnoticeable, or they could be unmistakable; the point is not that this type of happiness is observed or recorded somehow, but that it occurs. Perhaps there will be another measure, such as the number of nanograms of reinforcement neuro-chemicals that are excreted by the various minuscule glands within the brain. Measuring is probably not important. Occurrence is.

What would the group of experts or authorities who were initially deciding what the next generation of aliens would like think about? Maybe a first Earth guess would be that they would exploit this position to provide some sort of benefits for themselves. It would be wrong. By this time in the development of alien civilizations, such exploitation would not happen. To put it simply, if you know just what likes and dislikes are, where they come from, and importantly, that they are supremely arbitrary, depending on some happenings in the young alien's life, why would any expert or authority want to do something to improve their own happiness. Happiness would be recognized for what it is, a side effect of learning and experiencing new things. Why would an alien in an advanced civilization make a big deal of it?

Instead of exploitation for personal happiness or goals, what about altruism? The alien team that is deciding on likes and dislikes might choose to be altruistic. That might be the second Earth guess.

Altruism is unfortunately a little bit too vague and too undefined to be a good choice. One example might be health. The team deciding on the likes and dislikes of the next generation of aliens might choose to have them like behaviors which promote health. But aliens in this era are intelligent, as much as genetic tinkering will allow, and so following healthy behaviors is a rational choice, and more intelligent aliens would naturally do it. The whole society would do them, so there is almost no need to have the like-dislike programming refer to it.

Perhaps young aliens might be taught to like having resources at their disposal. This will make them more competitive and potentially more able to gather resources during their lives. Unfortunately for this, resources on the planet, or in their solar system if they utilize other planets' resources as well, are a finite sum. The more that one alien has, the less another has. This holds in time as well. An alien that consumes more leaves less for later generations. If one is trying to be altruistic, is moving resources from one alien to another altruistic?

Maybe their altruism would extend to education, so alien young would like learning. Is it possible that any highly intelligent organism would not like learning? It seems this is a done deal, and needs no like programming.

There isn't any need to make them like research, as that is already done. There isn't any need to make them like work, as the robots and intellos will be doing that, and similarly for any professions. There aren't any professions left to like, as whatever has to be done can be done automatically. They could like art, but how this would be a useful thing for the panel of experts and authorities to have young aliens like would be perplexing. Art would have been subsumed under science before asymptotic technology ran its course, and creating art to have any effect on an alien experiencing it would be well known and could be done automatically.

There is frankly nothing left for the panel to seize upon. They are left allowing the residual parts of happiness to be arbitrary and random, as befits its importance, once totally understood from a neurological perspective. Once the like-dislike programming is done sufficiently so that aliens would be very happy to live in their civilization, all the rest of what any particular alien might like can be left to be random. Some might like going out of the arcology to experience the sun; others might like experiencing free-fall simulations. Some might like one color, others another. Some might prefer smooth sounds, others jarring ones. It doesn't matter.

This example, thinking out how likes and dislikes in an alien civilization might be established, should also give some insight as to how different it would be to be an alien in this level of civilization, as compared to an alien at the industrial era level, or for that matter, humans on Earth at the industrial level, where we are now. The presuppositions and assumptions made at a lower level simply have almost no relevance to how advanced level aliens would reason and make decisions. All the more justification to try and carefully think out aspects of alien civilization and to interpret how they would affect the main point of this blog: star travel.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Genes Supporting Memes

One of the basic ways in which the discussion of alien civilizations moved forward in this blog was the categorization of alien civilizations according to their desire for star travel. Each category could be discussed independently, and a picture of the whole spectrum of possible alien civilizations was obtained. One point in common was that there was a common credo for many aspects of the civilization, including behaviors, interpersonal actions, goals, and many other aspects of life, as well as about what the aspirations of the civilization were. The credo was referred to as a collection of memes, which are concise directions that each generation teaches the next one. The memes embody, among other things, the view that the civilization has toward star travel.

It was also noted that the genetic grand transition was the time when these memes were solidified and unified, and the early portions of the duration of the transition were the times when they were chosen and turned into transmissible guidance. This period is when the knowledge of biology and genetics was raised up to the level of physics and chemistry, meaning, that anything that could happen, could be done under direction. This transition represents perhaps the most dramatic in the history of an alien civilization, and we here on Earth do not yet have much of an idea about the extent of it nor what the civilization would look like after it was over. So we explore it.

During this interval, genetics is being totally unveiled. This works in both ways. Any genetic code existing in any living being will be understood, so that each gene's function is clear. The other way is that, in the design of any living being, the way to code some requirement into a genetic code is determined. No doubt there are many ways to create genetic code for any function or any ontology, and during this period, all of these possibilities will become known.

Think for a moment about the latitude in behavior that the neural network we humans and likely advanced aliens have. There is a very little determined by genes; everything beyond basic instincts is determined by experience. Lower creatures do not have this luxury. The behavior of insects, for example, is much more genetically controlled than in mammals. Evolution figured out how to provide behavior to a mobile creature long before it figured out how to not provide it, but to let the creature develop its own patterns.

Here's the gem. Since genetic coding can be used to program behavior, perhaps specifically or perhaps just preferences, into a mobile organism, scientists during the genetic grand transitions would be able to backtrack a bit and program some behaviors or some preferences into the genes of their own species. So when the inventors of the memes of an alien civilization were deciding on the future course of their species, besides concocting memes to carry this direction forward, they could even promote some support for it in the genes.

If this can be done, and if it is done, the alien civilization where it is done would find itself much more strictly bound by the memes. Something coded into the brain of the aliens in later generations would recognize these memes as the right ones to have.

If the memes or credo of the civilization were worked out in an organized and efficient manner, so that larger goals of the civilization could be supported, then having additional support for them is not a bad thing. There is of course a benefit to independence, and as the genetic grand transition works its way to the end, and high intelligence becomes available to all citizens, independent thinking must accompany it. It is possible to have too much independent thinking and choices, however, and so an antidote placed into the genes might be what the civilization needs to continue to function efficiently.

As an example, consider the most obvious requirement in an alien civilization: recycling. In order to extend the time that their civilization can last, a high level of recycling is needed, and this in turn, in order to be able to efficiently accomplish it, requires life in dense cities, among other things. A preference for contact or a distaste for large personal spaces might be coded into the genes to help this meme set along. It is hard to imagine exactly how a genetic coding for particular behaviors could be done that was so specific it supported, directly, recycling activities, but given the advanced state of genetic knowledge an alien civilization is expected to obtain, perhaps it is possible.

Here is another reason why the genetic grand transition is a Pandora's box of surprises. If it is possible that geneticists can learn from the coding of behavior in more primitive creatures and translate that knowledge into something that affects the brain structure of aliens themselves, then this is a huge power that can be utilized to move the alien civilization in the direction chosen by whoever or whatever has control over these settings.

This concept implies that that group of individuals, living at the time of the genetic grand transition, who somehow gain influence over what memes will guide their civilization forward for centuries and even millennia, can cement their control over their civilization's future choices by extending their influence to the genetic coding given to the new generation of aliens. They would already have had to extend their influence over the teaching protocols that newly hatched/born/grown aliens would be taught by, and going even further into the genetic coding choices seems not too far-fetched.

This means that understanding the predilection for star travel in different alien civilizations requires an understanding of how control might be captured and maintained during the middle phases of the genetic grand transition. Furthermore, what is needed is the likelihood of these controlling groups to prefer star travel as opposed to staying and becoming extinct in place. We might be able to make some good guesses about this as the aliens at this stage will be the final generation to have evolved brains, rather than ones chosen for some sort of optimality.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Science Fiction is not a Future Projection

Science fiction is a lure that attracts many people to the concept of star flight. Granted, there are many, many different themes in science fiction, but the ones which involve star flight have not been neglected. Either it is aliens traveling to Earth, or earthlings or their descendants traveling to other planets, or settings far removed from Earth where there are aliens, some surprisingly like us, traveling from star to star. This then is a broad canvas upon which a science fiction author can paint many intrigues and adventures. The intrigues and adventures make the story exciting, but the backdrop also captures a great amount of attention.

Maybe there are star ships discussed in great detail, or perhaps only mentioned in passing, but there are star ships. As in any good story, there is conflict, either within a central protagonist, or between two individuals competing for some fame or fortune, or between two groups, such as bad guy aliens and almost human good guys. All kinds of trappings can be added, such as robots or monsters, deserts or subterranean passages, characters who act friendly and those who act fierce. There is no limit to the creativity that this theme can provide.

The authors may have either of two motives: they either love story-telling and do it, or they like making money, and they try to do that with their stories. The fortunate ones have both motives, and they live in the happy place populated by people who love their work and can't get enough of it. For some, everything flows like a river almost effortlessly, and others have to slowly build their stories, painstakingly, as someone builds a house.

As a juvenile and a young adult, I was one of those readers who couldn't find enough time to read all the stories that were written. I combed libraries and bookshops, picking up what I could find of my favorite authors. These stories were a large part of the basic underlayers of my interest in alien civilizations. I was very happy reading those stories, and now I am very happy trying to think clearly about how alien civilizations would develop and what features they would have to have.

The big problem with science fiction is that some readers don't understand why a science fiction story was written, and somehow think that the tapestry of exotic worlds or star travel or alien interactions are somehow connected to what might be called 'alienology'. A good science fiction story-teller has to understand what appeals to his audience, or his stories won't be read. So the amusement of the audience is what drives the details of the stories, not the science or the projections of how civilizations would develop.

Interest in a reader is not engendered by something that is 100% novel. Instead, a reader must find a context to interpret the actions in the story. The context must be familiar, so that the reader can anticipate behaviors. This allows surprise to be introduced. Surprise is a key element in the attractiveness of a story, and how it is orchestrated is a measure of the skill of the author. But surprise cannot happen without a great deal of context, as the reader must be able to anticipate, incorrectly. Without a strong amount of very familiar context, the author's skill would not be recognized.

This means that a science fiction story has to carry along in the frame it develops a myriad of assumptions that things are very similar in the science fiction venue as they are here on Earth. In fact, that should be strong enough so that the novelties of the venue come as a slight surprise to the reader. Things are done differently on the alien planet, but the same things are done. Aliens have some idiosycracies, but their motives are measurable by the motives of human beings. And most important, society on the alien world is like society here on Earth.

Because of the necessity of composing a science fiction story with mostly familiar elements, it is not possible for a science fiction author to project something into the future which is wildly different from Earth, so different that it is unrecognizable to the reader. The reader must be able to interpret the words he reads in terms of the experiences he has had, and that means the story must be set in a frame which does not depart too much from the readers' frame. Cleverness in an author might make the familiarity invisible, but it must be there. Otherwise how could a reader follow the story and be surprised at the ending?

Novelty must be rationed out in a science fiction story. But in an evolving alien civilization, everything changes. Even if one assumes they go through a phase which is analogous to where Earth is now, everything changes as they go forward century by century. To try an understand how this progression must happen, or how it might happen, a different mode of thinking than story-telling is needed. Different tools are needed. A strong background in science and engineering is desirable, and design work would help as well.

If the vast majority of people here on Earth develop their ideas about alien civilizations from reading or watching science fiction, they will have many incomplete and inadequate assumptions brought along as baggage. To take a science fiction story, no matter how well written, and how interesting the plot, and how extensive the details, and assume the future of star travel is going to be like this is to make an unsupportable assumption. The necessary use of current Earth contexts is going to distort any future projection, as civilization evolves and develops on all fronts at once, not necessarily at an identical speed, but in many ways at once, maintaining some consistency across the changes, as the civilization has to continue to function. This calls for consistency in projection.

If there is anything to be gained from reading or watching science fiction, it might be to use the story as a device to pluck out the multitude of assumptions of similarity to Earth than are embedded in it, and then ask how this particular feature might have developed during the same interval of time it takes to develop the novelties that the story introduces. This exercise would be good preparation for trying to reason about the future and about alien civilizations who are already experiencing that future.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Left-Behind Populations in Alien Civilizations

Technology marches on, and society follows along. On Earth, we have seen how civilization is transformed by the agricultural grand transition, when a group becomes a civilization by starting a city. At some point in human history, everyone was part of a hunter-gatherer clan, and there were no cities. Then knowledge about growing plants and husbanding animals accumulated, and one group, somewhere, was able to fix their location and make permanent dwellings.

Knowledge traveled slowly in that era, and change to a social order much more slowly than that. At some time after the first group settled down, a second one did, and then a third, and the idea of living in a city became well understood and gradually became widespread. Does that mean that at some point in human history, everyone everywhere was living in a city? Of course not, there were holdouts and there still are. The numbers of those on planet Earth still living in hunter-gatherer mode is almost vanishingly small, but it is non-zero. A thousand years ago, the fraction was probably substantial, and two thousand years ago, maybe a majority was still in the older mode.

The numbers are somewhat deceiving, as the birth of civilization and the use of agriculture allows population to grow larger than a hunter-gatherer population living in the same territory. To give an example, if there were a million humans living on the planet at some time T, and then some groups of them formed cities so that only 900,000 humans were living as hunter-gatherers, and if the 100,000 that switched to urban living expanded over a few generations to 900,000 humans, up a factor of nine, it would be possible to say half the humans were living in cities and half were not. But only ten percent made the switchover, not half.

When the industrial revolution happened, the same phenomena ensued. Some group of humans adopted some industrial technology, and the rest slowly learned about it and a fraction of them were interested in copying it and were able to. This fraction slowly increased. As the different stages of industrial technology were passed, the fraction increased more rapidly, but there were still a large number of those who were left behind, living at the agricultural subsistence level. The same kind of numbers illusion happened as well.

Alien societies must go through these grand transitions in the same order, as one is a prerequisite for the next one. Ones who have advanced further have gone through the genetic grand transition, and again there would be those populations which did not jump on the bandwagon at the first possible time, but ignored it at least temporarily. What would happen to them?

On Earth, those populations which formed cities initially did not go out evangelically trying to convince all other populations to form cities immediately. Rather, it was the opposite. As long as the cities were run in good order, they could take advantage of the non-agricultural populations through trade and other means. It was the same here for the industrial grand transition. Alien populations might be surmised to have done the same on their planets.

The genetic grand transition is more overwhelming and quite different in character. True, it results from a increase in knowledge in a specific area, and then engineering begins to utilize this knowledge to affect the living standards of the population affected. One of the principal effects is the provision of genes promoting intelligence. More or less attached to this are other associated changes, such as industrial or artificial gestation, neurological relief from misbegotten goals and priorities, training and education that can match the increase in intelligence, and a general transforming of society into something for the better, just as the former two grand transitions did.

What about the left-behinds, the populations which are not in on the genetic research and do not have immediately accessible the technology level that would allow the exploitation of these breakthroughs. What happens to them?

One possibility is the one touted in this blog, that the transition gradually affects more and more of the population, and everyone pretty much gets on board. But a possibility that has not been discussed in any detail is the one where those who participate in the genetic grand transition, and live in a portion of the planet where its fruits are realized and taken advantage of widely, stop caring about the rest of the population. The genetic technology could certainly continue to disperse among the population, but is the upper limit of its spread equal to the entire population? The alternative is that there will be a left-behind population, and the most interesting thing about this phenomena is the great gulf that will quickly appear between the accepting population and the left-behind population. There was certainly a great gulf between those populations that invented and lived in cities and the left-behind hunter-gatherers, and between those populations that grabbed onto industrial technology and those who decided to be left behind in this transition, but the gulf will be even greater for the genetic grand transition.

Genetics will affect almost every aspect of alien life, and not just affect, but transform it. Reproduction will no longer be done the way evolution provided. Nutrition will become industrial. New species of animals and plants will be simply an engineering essay. The nature of the population themselves will change as they doctor their own genes. All the questioning of how to live life that arises because of ignorance or rather lack of intelligence will disappear. How do you compare a civilization of healthy, athletic geniuses with a random population of whatever mixture of genes evolution provided?

What effect on the aspirations and intentions of the top level of the alien population would the existence of substantial numbers of left-behind aliens have? Note that there is no population explosion resulting from the genetic grand transition as there would be from the agricultural and the industrial grand transitions, so the number ratio would not be distorted by the change in ability of the sector of civilization to support population increases. The left-behinds may outnumber the top level innovators. The ratio may even be large. Would this have an effect on their ability to conduct star travel?

If there is a disconnect between these two factions of the population, they might start seeing themselves as different species, which they almost are, and if the top level innovators decide to change their species, they would be different. But without a large numbers ratio, the top level innovators may not have the wherewithal to organize a star travel venture. So here we have yet another possible obstacle to alien star travel and yet another explanation why aliens have not visited us here: asymptotic technology was not universally accepted.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why is Jupiter so Big?

WJupiter has about three-quarters of the total planetary mass. Why is so much concentrated in one planet? If Jupiter were divided into Earth-sized planets, there would be over three hundred of them. If Jupiter weren't so big, there might have been enough mass for many Earth-sized planets in our home solar system. That situation would be wonderful for interplanetary adventuring. Lots of places to go with the right amount of gravity. Maybe two in the liquid water zone, even bearing life. But Jupiter had to go and hog most of the mass, so our solar system, even though it has eight or nine planets, doesn't have much for friendly planets to visit. Granted, Venus has about the same mass, but if there were ten or twenty of the same size, things would be so much more interesting, and humanity would undoubtedly be much more interested in interplanetary adventuring.

Are solar systems in general going to be just as disappointing as our solar system? One giant planet with most of the mass, and some small numbers of littler ones. Why did Jupiter wind up with so much mass, and are the physical principles that caused it here going to cause it everywhere?

Recall that our solar system came about because there was a cloud of gas in the galaxy that was left alone for a while, and it cooled down. The creation of the galaxy resulted in a lot of heat, and that got dispersed among the gas that made it up, as there wasn't much else in the beginning. But there wasn't anything nearby heating up this particular gas cloud, and it radiated heat and started condensing. The gas pressure that kept it large against its self-gravitation gradually decreased, and gas flowed inward. Our old friend, angular momentum, had to be preserved, and that means that the collapsing spheroid of gas had to gradually shift over toward being a central spheroid surrounded by a rotating disk. Without too much angular momentum, the vast majority of the gas can collapse toward the central spheroid, which is gradually condensing and becoming a nuclear furnace. But the angular momentum keeps some small percentage of the mass spinning around in roughly circular orbits.

What is the distribution of mass plotted against the distance from the center of the newly forming star? Each circular ring of gas is under two forces, one is the force from the central mass of the sun, and that keeps it rotating at the same radial distance. The other is the force of the other rings. If two rings are close enough, the force between them is large, and they exchange angular momentum and approach each other. This is an unstable situation, and if the rings stayed rings, they would eventually all approach one another and become one single ring with all the planetary mass. The radius would be just right so that all the mass rotating at that radial distance would have the large majority of the angular momentum of the solar system, with just a bit in the star's rotation.

But all things do not stay the same. A ring in and of itself is unstable as well. The ring will do nothing as long as it is perfectly uniform, but a small perturbation in it will start attracting ring mass, and the ring will start getting heavier where the perturbation was and lighter on the opposite side of the orbit. This angular condensation works better when there is more mass in the ring, so it seems fairly clear that the disk will proceed with radial condensation and when it passes a certain point, angular condensation will start up. So, lots of mass radially condenses, as to Jupiter's orbit, and then the planet itself starts to form by angular condensation. This keeps going until there is a substantial angular concentration of mass. Then resonance effects start happening, and the large mass at Jupter's orbit, soon to be a planet, starts affecting the gas at other radii. The radial distribution of mass, during the radial condensation phase, would be unimodal, and the rest of the planets would have to form in the two tails of this distribution, where resonances allowed them to exist.

This is easy to translate to other solar systems. Ones which start in a cloud with no angular momentum will have no planets, and everything will condense into the stellar mass. Ones which have only a slight amount of angular momentum will have a hot Jupiter, and perhaps some planets between Jupiter and the star, unless tidal forces cause them to fall into the star and be annihilated. There would be some other planets at larger radii.

This simple explanation is incomplete on one major factor. How much mass in total is there in the planetary system? It is not solely angular momentum which creates planets. A giant planet with Jupiter's mass and Jupter's radius has just the same angular momentum as a giant planet with half Jupiter's mass and a radius equal to the square root of two times Jupiter's radius. What is the other variable that controls the size of planets?

One candidate is the rate of cooling of the original gas cloud. Before all this planetary disk business gets started, the pressure in the gas supports it against gravitational collapse. If the cooling only happens slowly, a lot of mass is maintained in the outer expanses of the gas cloud, and if it happens very quickly, compared to the time needed for collapse to take place kinematically, less is maintained at further radii.

Would it have been possible for a gas cloud to cool so quickly that all the mass condensed into the star, except for one blob of mass, equal to Earth's mass, orbiting at a large distance from the sun, and holding onto most of the angular momentum of the solar system? An Earth at about 80 AU would carry Jupiter's angular momentum, if that was what was required. This is not so far out that random stars in the neighborhood would influence its orbit, so this is a feasible situation. The alternate Earth is so far beyond the liquid water zone (LWZ) that it would be of little interest to us. A solar system with little total planetary mass and little total angular momentum would be another story. This could result in an Earth-sized planet alone in the solar system, but in the LWZ. We don't need a solar system with a Jupiter for life origination.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How Can Aliens Be So Successful if We Are So Messed Up?

This blog has had many posts in which an alien civilization is portrayed as a very successful society, with virtually no social problems, except for resource exhaustion, which is a function of the planet, not of the civilization. How is it possible that there could be such an alien civilization without problems when we are ever so familiar with how a normal society, assuming we are normal, have so many? Just to make a list of the problems that Earth civilization faces is depressing: we have maldistribution of resources, nutrients, power, and almost everything; violence abounds; the civilization is divided into factions on every level; there is corruption in governments, patronage, favoritism, and a lack of consideration of merit; education is not excellent everywhere and atrocious in some places; we battle over differences in memes, despite their consistency in behavioral recommendations; and on and on. How could anyone expect that some other civilization would get over all these, and not have their own as well?

The answer lies in technology. Technological knowledge accumulates, and the domain over which it works continues to expand. It gets wider and deeper. Maldistribution problems have a Malthusian component, meaning that if there is a Malthusian population, shortages are a unavoidable response. Malthusian populations would disappear with advancing technology, as reproduction becomes under control, and then later, becomes separated from life as reproduction becomes industrialized. Factionalism is often based on lack of awareness, and technology eventually gets to education and as a bonus, gets to providing later generations with genes chosen for intelligence. With intelligence, and an understanding of neurology, psychology, economics, and other fields that are for us still in ferment, factionalism, corruption, and other denigrating behaviors become clear for what they are. Memes become subject to reformulation and parts of existing memes which lead to unfortunate behaviors would be erased in their intergenerational passage.

The key to understanding this, and to the optimism that underlies the assumption of success for advanced alien civilizations, is technological determinism. Technology continues to progress, and those who are involved with it use the methods of science and engineering in more and more areas, eventually covering all of the domains of life and civilization. What is required is simply a mechanism for recording knowledge and disbursing it, which is a fairly simple technology, and Bacon’s scientific method. Technology just keeps grinding onward, getting more and more powerful. To put it in different words, evolution provides creatures with the desire and capability for solving problems, and technology organizes this and allows it to be accumulated and transferred to others. So, once a problem is recognized, eventually it is solved.

It is somewhat facile to just assume that technology will continue to accumulate in all cases. We on Earth have not seen any stopping or even slowdown of technology progress, or any diminution of the lateral spread of science. But in an alien society, when technology might be seen tending to diminish some preferences that individuals or groups might possess, perhaps it would be different. A post or two as devoted to these ‘minefields on the pathway to asymptotic technology’, and it was questioned as to how technology might be stopped. The answer was that only a very high level of technology would be able to effect such a radical step, and by the time it was reached, it would be unstoppable. Factionalism, before it disappears, would be a vaccine against the halt of technology, for if one group or region of citizens wanted to stop it, other groups or regions could continue its development to obtain a competitive advantage.

The transition from pre-genetic technology, principally mechanics and electronics, to genetics is referred to in this blog as the genetics grand transition, and it is one of the most revolutionary changes that an alien civilization would pass through. The agricultural grand transition was a tremendous change, where hunter-gatherers settle down into the first villages and change their food source. Not only is the food source changed, the whole organization of society has to change as well. The schedule of citizens’ lives changes. The subject of education changes. Free time becomes available and the profession of craftsmen arises. The rules of living have to be altered. As immense as this change, the industrial grand transition is larger. When power sources become available, the activities the average citizen can do, and where they can travel exceed that of the most fortunate of the previous era. Knowledge expands exponentially. And yet the genetics grand transition would be greater. The ability to design living organisms to accomplish any task, to create intelligent creatures able to perform most of the functions of the civilization autonomously, the development of biological factories, the choices for speciation applied to the citizens themselves, and many more breakthroughs all are part of this grand transition. Intelligence of the least surpassing the intelligence of the smartest of the previous era can be expected.

This assumes that there is power continuously available to the civilization. If that is not true, they will not continue to progress, but will decline or even collapse as a civilization. This is one form of scarcity, which is the principal problem that an advanced civilization faces, and one that cannot be avoided. It is the driver of interstellar colonization.

To return to the topic presented by the title, the answer is that our problems can be traced back to a lack of knowledge, in many, many areas, and we have embarked on a seemingly unstoppable pathway to eliminating that lack of knowledge. It is an answer that seems simplistic, but there is no obstacle to it which can be shown to be effective. We do not seem to recognize well where we are going, and probably alien civilizations would not either, but that bit of lack of knowledge will be rectified just as are all others. It is not necessary that we have a plan to become an advanced civilization, just as it is not necessary for evolution to have a plan to produce intelligence. The mechanisms that are in place work without any intelligent governance. They just work.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Early Origination of Life – Organic Oceans – Part 9

Just exactly how would Earth Science go about figuring out if a theory of life origination was correct? By Earth Science I am trying to convey the efforts of whatever specialty of science was needed, as different theories might have different needs.

Is this an unknowable, because science doesn't have the tools available to do whatever is necessary to validate a theory, or to pick among its options to find one that works? Will it stay an unknowable for 10 or 20 or 50 years because there is no momentum visible now that will fill in the gaps quicker than that and come up with the knowledge needed to make a good assessment?

Consider the organic oceans hypothesis. The essence is that an ambiphilic molecule, part hydrophilic and part lipophilic molecule, located on the boundary between two immiscible liquids, one water-based and one with an organic solvent, could insert a molecular component into a shorter molecule. The shorter molecule was just the two ends, the hydrophilic and the lipophilic ends, joined without the intervening molecular component. This is the absolute minimum action necessary to constitute replication, and then feedback from number amplification and chemical evolution take it from there.

Notice that the entire burden of this concept has been shifted away from the design of the replicator molecule, leaving it only a template with a bit of catalytic capability, very specific in fact, to the conditions that enable the replication. They carry the load, and it is a diverse load. First, the meniscus has to exist, meaning there has to be enough organic molecules around to make up pools of liquid. Some process has to make these molecules. If that isn't hard enough, some process has to make predecessor molecules similar to the replicator molecule but lacking a central component. The central component has to be available in sufficient numbers. Perhaps there are conditions on one or both of the liquids in order to enable to matching of the replicator's template.

Now comes some organic chemist who wants to test the theory. He can try to test the replicator portion of the theory, which is the simplest part, by coming up with as many combinations of hydrophilic and lipophilic molecular components as he can, and then as many central molecular components, and try to figure out if there were any conditions that would enable the replication. At this point, the combinatorics are going to ensure that his entire career might be spend trying out different combinations, without even getting through the list. Here is the essence of the dilemma. Once biological life began, all these chemical evolution early stages disappear, and there is no way to project backward from the very complicated organic cells to what was the initial replicator, a simple molecule. Maybe there were ten or a hundred chemical evolution steps before anything like a cell appeared. No fossil residue exists; nothing at all is around to provide a hint as to what happened in detail.

There are some constraints that would help to reduce the combinatorics. Each end of the predecessor molecule is supposed to have good intermolecular attraction to a copy of itself, at least if oriented properly. For the hydrophilic end, that probably means some polar attraction in a particular geometry. Similarly aligned polar molecules would have to have the polar separation along an axis perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the molecule, so that with proper rotation, we could have positive near negative and negative near positive. On the lipophilic end, there is likely nothing but London forces, meaning that the molecular component and a copy of it would have to fit closely together. Long carbon backbones would do this, but so would many other arrangements of chains and rings. So our chemist is still facing a lot of long nights examining different combinations.

Another requirement might be that the coupling between the hydrophilic end and the lipophilic end might be rather weak, so that the splicing in of some intermediary molecule can be accomplished without too much energy. Having the coupling be through a single carbon atom, rather than through a ring or other structure would mean that the two ends could rotate relative to one another rather freely. This would mean the polar end could align itself with the proper charge distribution, and the non-polar end could align itself with the proper geometric arrangement, each without affecting the other end. This might not be necessary, if the only possible arrangement between two strongly structurally coupled ends was the one that matched other molecules well. It is just a matter of more options.

If the chemist is an experimentalist, he can come up with a few hundred ideas as to molecular combinations, and then check to see if they have strong intermolecular forces. It is not readily possible to measure the force that one molecular component has on another, but there might be some surrogate. In a bath with a meniscus, such as the one described in the organic oceans theory, such ambiphilic molecules should line up on the meniscus, properly oriented, and form a film. With some luck, the film would be detectable, and perhaps some estimate of its tenacity could be made. This might be related back to the individual intermolecular forces.

Wouldn't it be ever so much simpler to have a computer figure out the intermolecular forces? Unfortunately, this is not quite possible yet for the wide range of molecular components that need to be examined. If they could be calculated, solubility could be calculated with something better than empirical fits. Melting and boiling points could be calculated, instead of measured. Making these forces into routine calculations, so that our organic chemist could just input some of his favored molecular components and out would come the forces, is just what is needed for this first and simplest step of validating the first and simplest part of a life origination theory. The previously thrown out numbers, ten, twenty or fifty years might be possible estimates of how long it will be before Earth Science can do this. Then all the hard stuff of a life origination theory can be tackled.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Early Origination of Life – Organic Oceans – Part 8

The organic oceans concept for the origination of life on Earth, and by analogy, anywhere else it is, was that there were large quantities of organic compounds on the surface of Earth in the early days after its formation, and these served to facilitate the first self-replicating molecule. A phenomenon buttressing this is the formation of the moon, which is thought to have occurred after the impact of a large planetary body into the proto-Earth. This would create even more organic compounds, as would the ensuing volcanism.

The structure of a possible life origination theory has some essential components. One is the figuring out of a reasonably simple molecule which has the ability to replicate itself. Another is the figuring out of the conditions under which such replication can occur. Any theory which gets this far is a successful life origination theory, but there are a couple more things which are needed. One, call it the third component, is the portrayal of the physical mechanisms by which these conditions are provided. The fourth one is a superfluous one, and is the depiction of the continuation of life. A life origination theory which has those first three things is fabulous and a major step forward in science and many other areas, but if the life that is hypothesized necessarily dies out after some period, never evolving into human beings, then the theory is simply a demonstration that life can originate and how, not how the sequence of evolution that led to us got started. Having this fourth piece intact and robust makes the theory more complete and much more interesting.

The first three parts of life origination just have something reproducing itself, making copies one way or another. If some of the conditions in part two change, i.e., the physical mechanisms for producing them as part three of the theory stop working, the life that was originated ceases to maintain itself. As mind-wracking as part 1 is, part 4 may be just as hard, and just as hard many times over.

Molecules are like Lego blocks, as it is possible to assemble the various components in many ways. Coming up with a combination that replicates itself involves some critical components. Recall that one of the criteria for success was the ability to originate life in something less than the age of the universe or the age of the oceans. Two chunks of molecules that help in this timing problem are the hydrophilic and hydrophobic pieces, that bring a molecule to the meniscus between the organic pool and the water pool. This concentrates them, and reduces one of the big, likely the biggest, times in the process: the time to get the components next to one another.

Let's add a further requirement to the hydrophilic and hydrophobic pieces, in that they have positive intermolecular forces between themselves and a near identical molecule component. The hydrophilic piece would have an attraction to an identical hydrophilic one, and similarly for the hydrophobic one. This means that a slew of compound molecules, with one of each kind, would form a membrane at the meniscus. Solubility would line them all up and keep them at the boundary, and intermolecular forces would hold them together.

Consider what happens now. The two-piece molecule is lined up perpendicular to the mensicus. A hydrophobic piece, unattached to anything in particular, comes floating by and the intermolecular forces cause it to attach alongside the hydrophobic component of the two-piece molecule. Then the same thing happens with a hydrophilic component. If these two energetically are able to combine, we have … replication.

This meets part 1 of the requirements, except for being specific about which two molecules would do this. With all the hydrophilic and hydrophobic molecules that exist, let's hope there is at least one pair that would fill this role. Note that the replication is so elementary, it is necessary to think twice to see that the requirements are met. They are, but the conditions needed are strong. There has to be a reasonably high concentration of the special type of hydrophilic molecules floating in the water pool, and a reasonably high concentration of the other special type, a hydrophobic molecule, floating in the organic pool.

A variation of this simple-minded concept may be faster to execute. Suppose the replicator, the template molecule, is not a two piece molecule, but a three-piece molecule, with some connector between the hydrophobic and hydrophilic ends. It also has the requirement that it has strong intermolecular forces between itself and a copy of itself. Now, if we had one of the three component template molecules at the mensicus, and it encountered a copy of its middle section, it would hold onto it. If then it encountered a two component molecule, both ends would have intermolecular forces to the two ends of the three component template, and if the two component molecule could divide and reassemble around the extra copy of the middle component, we would again have … replication.

The generalization of this is obvious. If there is a template molecule with anything in between a hydrophilic and hydrophobic end, and it was located on the meniscus of the organic ocean and liquid ocean interface, and there were loose middle components around that would attach, and the separation of the hydrophilic end from the hydrophobic end was pretty easy to accomplish, as was the incorporation of the middle pieces, again there is replication. There might even be two or more stages of this.

Let's crib a little from biochemistry and ask if a fatty acid molecular component as the hydrophobic end would work. If the fatty acid was mostly or completely a linear backbone of carbon atoms, meaning a saturated one, the intermolecular forces might be proportional to the length of the overlap between the two backbones. With a middle component in one of the two touching molecules, there is less overlap, but if something were inserted, more. In other words, there might be a longitudinal force tending to separate such a fatty acid from a hydrophilic component connected to its carboxyl end. This would mean a two component molecule coming into contact with a three component group, the two ends being identical or close to it, would have a tendency to come apart between the components. This force should be small, as intermolecular London forces are small to begin with, so any separation would likely have to be aided in some other way. Finding the right middle component to facilitate this will be a challenge.

Part 2 of the requirements for a life origination there, determining the conditions under which it can happen, is almost pre-determined. There has to be, for the three-component template concept, free copies of the middle section, as well as two-component molecules in abundance, aligned with the meniscus. If we knew the details of the sundering of the two component molecule and the insertion of the middle component, we might estimate if there were temperature requirements, or even the presence of some other free component to catalyze the sundering, like chlorine atoms or sodium atoms. This will have to wait.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Early Origination of Life – Organic Oceans – Part 7

The Theia alternative for the theory of life having originated in organic oceans in the very early Earth has these oceans created, or at least added to, by the cataclysm that occurred when the moon was formed, specifically by the impact of another large planetary body with the predecessor to Earth. The key idea is that there were organic chemicals in large amounts on the Earth, and the immiscible ones formed their own pools, termed organic oceans, and in many cases, these organic pools laid on top of water pools. Perhaps the scale was that of oceans, or perhaps only of lakes.

Having an ocean of a certain group of organic compounds doesn't obviously lead to life, but what it does lead to is the collection of some key organic compounds on the boundary between the organic pools and the water pools, ones which are long with two dissimilar ends, one being hydrophilic and being drawn to the water side, and the other end being lipophilic and being drawn to the organic side. These ambiphilic molecules are very similar to the membranes that make up cell walls, and also to DNA-like molecules.

In all theories of the origination of life, statistics plays a role. There is no set of chemical reactions that inevitably produce a cell. There is no solution of molecules which deterministically forms a replicator molecule, which is one of the key features of any origination theory. These things all have to occur as a result of a series of steps, many of which are statistical. A slew of different molecules can be in a solution, and they randomly interact, sometimes and almost all times, just coming close and then drifting apart, and very occasionally, some chemical change happens. The molecules can come from directions where they do not interact, or can come into contact with the wrong corner or edge of the molecules touching each other, or very occasionally, the orientation can be close enough to the ideal one and they interact. They can rest close to each other for a short interval of time, before being jostled apart by the kinetic interaction with solute molecules, or, very occasionally, they can stay together long enough for the chemical transformation to occur.

For each of these reactions, there is a time that arises, which is the time necessary for the reaction to occur, given all the conditions which affect it. Linearity usually prevails, so that if the reaction is of two molecules joining, the time necessary for one combined molecule to form, on the average, is proportional to the number density of the first molecule and the number density of the second molecule. In short, if there are twice as many of molecule A, the average time to create molecule AB is half a much.

There are a great many possible theories of the origination of life, and each of them has one or more interaction times that together provide an estimate of how long the whole process would take. Imagine a theory that involves organic molecules in a water solution eventually joining up to make a self-replicating DNA molecule. Just assume such a thing is possible. If the time required is a thousand trillion years for the first molecule to be formed, say in an ocean the size of the Pacific, this is not a theory of the origination of life. The interaction times have to be substantially less that the lifetime of the universe, the planet they are assumed to operation on, and the oceans themselves. One aspect, therefore, of a successful theory, is the devising of phenomena which will expedite the transformations, meaning, cutting down the expected time for them to happen.

One way is to increase the number density of those molecules which have to play roles in the different steps of the process. In those theories which involve sea vents being the venue of life origination, figuring out some way in which organic compounds of many different ilks were concentrated in the sea around these sea vents would cut down the times. But such a concentration doesn't seem to have any physical basis for it.

The organic ocean theory does have such phenomena. Consider a ten meter column of organic compounds, with ten thousand molecules of special importance in it. The average distance between such molecules is about 17 centimeters. Now compare the situation where these ten thousand molecules are precipitated down to the square meter of meniscus at the bottom of the organic ocean. Now the average separation is about 1.4 centimeters. These separations are a measure of how frequently such molecules would interact. A factor of ten is available from having the molecules resident on a meniscus between the organic ocean and the water ocean.

Interaction times for this scenario is actually the sum of two times; one is the time necessary to get the important molecules down to the meniscus, and the other is the time necessary for random kinetic activity to bring them together. The distance measure only relates to the last of these. How does the first one become shortened?

When the Theia planet hits the proto-Earth, a huge amount of rock is vaporized and it hangs in the atmosphere for times of the order of years. As the atmosphere cools down, and the organic oceans form, this dust would drift down into the organic ocean, and enter it from the top. Nanoparticles of rock dust do not sink like large rocks, but they drift downward. If the interesting molecules adhere to these dust particles, they could be transported downward much faster that they would simply do a Brownian motion to get to the mensicus. In essence, there is a supplemental transport mechanism that would exist during the short period following the Theia impact.

If there was dissolved gases that resulted from that impact, and they were in the seabed, as well as in the water, gas molecules would gradually find each other and when enough were collected to make a microbubble, bouyancy would cause it to drift upwards. If such motions could entrain molecules that were in the water ocean but were ambiphilic, they would be swept upwards. The lipophilic, read hydophobic part, of these molecules would be happy to poke into the gas bubble, leaving the hydrophilic ends to remain in the water.

Thus there are mechanisms which might reduce the time needed for life origination in the organic ocean and Theia hypothesis. Quantitative results would be nice, but for now, understanding some mechanisms might exist helps reduce credulity.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Longevity in Alien Civilizations

Once an alien civilization passes the genetic grand transition, it would have the ability to significantly prolong the life of the average citizen. Animals seem to have a programmed death built into their genes, the telomeres as currently thought, and with a genetic palette at their disposal, an advanced alien civilization could alter this to extend life.

Aging is a phenomena which affects everything in use. Cars age, appliances age, plastics age, paint ages, everything is affected by the passage of time. Sometimes it is simply random chemical changes with a slow reaction rate, sometimes it is errors in copying, sometimes it is physical wear, and there are probably many more mechanisms by which time affects things. To prolong life, the alien civilization would have to understand all the mechanisms that would affect the citizens, and make sure that the guaranteed life, as limited by these different effects, was longer than the life they wanted to ensure for their citizens.

There isn't the slightest reason to think that any of these problems are not understandable. That does not mean that the best science can extend the life of an average citizen on some alien planet forever. There are natural limits to everything. What the technologists of the alien civilization can do is to find out what is the limiting factor, what cannot be extended, and then figure out how to make other, more solvable aging problems, go away until the limiting factor finishes the life of the average alien.

This is how they could do it, but that is not necessarily how they would do it. On Earth, we just spend money on cures, and sometimes the cures get cheaper and affordable, and sometimes they don't. We can expect the alien world to think through this aspect of life prolongation as well, and to come to a decision on how to handle it.

Recall that alien civilizations have to adopt principles that govern their behavior. Once they cross the genetic grand transition, and the citizens all are highly intelligent, there is no longer the reason for the chaotic decision-making that characterizes civilizations still living on what evolution gave them. They no longer have to try to figure out what the decision-makers' likes and dislikes would be, as liking and disliking would be adaptable by the society so that citizens were pleased with the society they lived in. They would understand the neurology beneath likes and dislikes, and use technology to produce a content society. And why not? If the fundamental principle of the alien society was the efficient use of resources, so that the society could persevere as long as possible and live as well as possible, why would they not adapt likes and dislikes toward that end. It should be obvious that a society where the citizens were unhappy is not a well-designed society. And an advanced alien civilization, full of geniuses, would be well-designed.

So, with the basic principles that underlay a content, efficient, well-designed society, how would longevity be determined? There are cost aspects to this question. What does the cost curve look like for prolonging life? Are the costs so low as to be easily affordable, and so the physically possible limits would be the ones which controlled longevity? On the other hand, it might be possible to prolong life past some threshold, but at very large costs only.

If the situation proves to be the former case, then the answer to the title is straightforward. Genetics is used to extend life to the maximum possible, and everyone dies of the same cause at about the same age. Maybe it is heart problems, assuming the aliens have a heart pumping essential energy- and resource-carrying fluid throughout their bodies. Alien biologists design the heart so that it will last as long as possible, but eventually it passes the repairability stage, and fails.

This example is probably not the actual one that would result, as one can easily think of heart transplants with artificially grown hearts or mechanical pumps of clever design that adapted to the conditions of the moment. So, if not the heart, what? We can't say, but something eventually overcomes technology and the alien expires. Perhaps it is thousands of years, or perhaps only hundreds. Can't say.

The alternate situation is one in which life prolongation costs are substantial, beyond some point in age, and the society has to decide how to set the average citizen's life. For example, if prolonging the life of the eldest 10% of the population uses up resources on the home world at double the rate of keeping the rest of the civilization going, it is obvious a bad trade. What this would translate to is that the entire civilization will run out of resources in only one-third as much time if they used the extreme life-prolongation measures that were so expensive. Would the decision-making entity on the planet decide to end their civilization, or force colonization, three times faster so elderly alien citizens could continue to live?

They would set some limit, but how? The name of the process is cost-benefit analysis, which is what many sensible human individuals and organizations do when making difficult choices, as to which project to do or which product to buy. It is a difficult process to perform, as it requires the quantatization of some measures which we do not know how to quantify. Assume they do, as they will have had centuries more to figure it out. What benefit should be applied to life prolongation? The costs would be easier to figure out for them.

It would seem that a strong factor in this determination is the interaction rate of citizens with each other, versus with the infrastructure. If each citizen spends most of his/her/its time interacting with some central computer artificial intelligence, and does things surrounded by robots or intellos or other non-citizen entities, they receive little benefit from the longer life of elderly citizens. On the other hand, if inter-citizen interactions dominate society, with all kinds of modes of interactions, all types of events involving interactions, many stages in the life of a citizen where they interact strongly with other individual aliens, as opposed to some remote interactions or other interactions where citizens are fungible, easily exchanged, then longer lives have a higher benefit. To be very succinct, if friendship is a large factor in an alien society, they might tolerate higher life prolongation costs. If friendship hardly exists because individuals rarely see one another on a repeated basis, or even hardly see one another at all, then life prolongation would seem to be not worth spending large amounts of the civilization's resources on.

This might be an unexpected result: the existence of friendship in an advanced alien society is a big factor in determining how they spend their money on what we call medicine. It essentially substitutes one unknown for another. Would an alien civilization promote friendship between individuals, or between an individual and something else, for example, a robot?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Obligations of the Lonely

Mankind has gone through some transitions already related to the presence or absence of aliens in our Milky Way. For a long time, there was no knowledge whatsoever about other planets and therefore about other life on them. Buddhist myth says the heavens are full of other inhabited worlds, but this is an isolated concept, and does not impinge very strongly on Buddhist belief. Other belief sets do not discuss other worlds.

Until Lippersley's invention of the telescope in 1608, little was understood about the universe. Following that, starting with Galileo's observation of Jupiter and its moons in 1610, astronomical discoveries continued without stopping. The details are not important to this post, but for four hundred years knowledge has been accumulating about the solar system and its location in the Milky Way. Huygens in the seventeenth century had computed the distance to another star, assuming it was just like the sun, so by that time the sun was thought to be like other stars, and the question of whether other stars had planetary systems had to be so obvious that is was commonly discussed. The idea of other life, including alien civilizations, on such planets cannot have been far behind.

Thus, aside from a few deep thinkers, during the many millennia of mankind's existence, there was no thought of alien civilizations. The last four hundred years might be thought of as the second phase of mankind's relationship with other civilizations; during this time it became possible to conceive of it, but little knowledge was available to illuminate the concept. During the first period, humanity understood that it was alone in the universe, as there was no universe known for any aliens to inhabit. But during the progression of the second phase, it was gradually realized that mankind might not be alone in the universe, and specifically, after Galileo observed the Milky Way and realized what it was, a collection of stars, alone in the Milky Way.

The knowledge that we might not be alone in the Milky Way does not seem to have affected human society at all. No one writes polemics about how we should change our behavior because of other civilizations on other planets. Millions write polemics about how we should change our behavior for various reasons, so it is not a lack of interest in behavioral change that has blocked this. It is the lack of consideration that it would make any difference in our lives if there were or were not alien civilizations orbiting some other star in the Milky Way. Fiction writers have filled in this gap, and have produced uncounted numbers of short stories and novels involving alien civilizations, but no movement has arisen to exhort us to change something, anything at all, on the basis of some possible alien civilizations. They are supremely unimportant.

The most recent developments in astrophysics and astronomy, where exo-planets are being discovered by the thousands, has gained much popular interest. Now, it is common to hear about new super-Earths or other planets being found, and large, expensive observatories are being built to find more and to find out more about the ones we already know exist. Still there is no cry for us to change something about our world because there are other inhabited worlds in the billions of planets in the Milky Way. No one seems to have come up with a reason why the presence of alien civilizations should mean anything to us, other than a curiosity or a subject for fantasy and science fiction.

That might change if we enter a third phase of our relationship with alien civilizations and we actually detect the existence of some. There are a great many responses possible to the detection of an alien civilization on an exo-planet in the Milky Way, and most likely, all of them would be spoken of by different people and some ways to interact might be explored.

The changes that we might see here on Earth from the detection of an alien civilization might strongly depend on their technological level. If they were still in an agricultural phase, perhaps stuck there, we might not be so interested in contact. If they were in an phase further advanced than ours, we might want to have contact, or to avoid it if there was a fear that they would want our planet for their own. If they were in an agricultural phase, following a collapse of their advanced technology civilization, we again might not want to go there, but instead might take the alien civilization as an exemplar that we might try to avoid.

There would certainly be a large flux of thinking about how to interact, what we could learn, and what precautions we might take on the chance they were not going to treat us nicely. It would be a fascinating era in human history. But there is an option not yet mentioned.

What if we discover, after some thorough investigation, that we are alone in the Milky Way? Science fills in all the missing knowledge needed to conclude this, for example by determining that some preconditions for life happen to be so rare that there is no chance there would be a second civilization in the Milky Way, and maybe that most galaxies would be barren of life. We are it.

This sounds like a nice scientific tidbit that might get mentioned in passing but largely ignored. Science fiction writers might be the ones most devastated by the news, meaning they would have to stick to time travel or some other concept for their fantasies. Or perhaps it would be transformative.

Up to the present day, all through the first and second phases discussed in this post, human decision-making has been governed by factionalism. Factionalism occurs at every level, from the individual level where humans compete with one another, up to the larest groupings, the national scale, where again there is intense competition. Competition is the engine that evolution uses, and so there should be no disparagement of it, as without it, there would be no life, no humans, no cities, no brains, not much of anything. But despite its importance, the entrance into the third phase of our relationship with alien civilizations, where we encounter the vacuum of no life anywhere, there might be some change.

To illustrate, consider this example. A catastrophe happens, and all human life is eliminated, except for one family, living far from all civilization, who are unscathed. Do they change the way they live, or their attitudes toward life? Before the catastrophe, they want to survive and prosper, but after the catastrophe, they realize that if human life is to go on, they will have to make it happen. If they lived in a plentiful area, without much stress on their survival, would they change how they live? Would they modify their choices, perhaps to have more children? Would they be more motivated to prepare for extreme events? How would their psychology change once they realize they are the only pathway forward for human life?

Would human society react to finding a life vacuum in the Milky Way by deciding that their existence was critical, as life was rare in the extreme, and determine to preserve it? When we, as individuals, find something rare, like a beautiful geode or a interesting shell, there is an impulse to save and preserve it. What if we are the rare thing? Would our civilization, after a century of knowing we are alone and the only representatives of life perhaps anywhere in the Local Group of galaxies, transform itself into being less factional and devote a great amount of time to trying to ensure of survival as a species and also ensure life itself continues? It might be more of a change for us to find nobody was there than to find somebody is.

Monday, March 14, 2016

What Would Aliens Like?

There probably is a word in all alien languages for 'like'. This assumes that aliens all evolve brains using neural networks, which is the only kind we know of or have thought of, except for robots with computer chips for brains.

The reason for investigating what aliens would like is because many people here on Earth make statements like 'aliens would do this' or 'aliens would do that', based not upon logic or reasoning, but because they like the 'this' or the 'that' and assume everybody of high standards would. Aliens are of high standards because they have lived a long time or have become very intelligent. This blog is full of statements about what aliens would do, but it is not based on liking, but on what physics or chemistry or neurology or resource shortages force them to do, or on what is the most efficient thing to do, which is coupled to the assumption that they have become both aware of efficiencies and prone to use them.

There is a large chasm between thinking aliens are smart like myself and all my friends, and therefore they would have my opinions on politics or economics or whatever, and thinking aliens are smart and therefore figure out good strategies for living and efficient ways to conserve their resources. Maybe this chasm can be portrayed by thinking about the word 'like'.

Before turning to the dictionary, let me first say that stating 'aliens would do this' because some author or commenter likes 'this', does not mean they do not 'like this'. It simply means that making analogies to the author's likes is not a sufficient basis for concluding it. There has to be some more firm grounds for the contention.

A person 'likes' something when there positive associations with that something in his/her/its brain. A layered neural network, such as all mammals on Earth have, is a wonderful device that evolution has bestowed upon us to save us coding humongous amounts of information in the genome. Lesser animals are largely programmed with fixed neural codes, so their behavior is fixed: a stimulus happens and a response is dictated. Slight amounts of flexible storage is possible, but virtually nothing.

Humans are at the extreme of non-programmed neural networks. Human babies are perhaps the least capable young of the mammals, yet the power of associative programming of the brain leads them to become the smartest of the mammals, provided there is enough education. Associations are laid down to prior associations, until down to the first and lowest layers, where they connect with the few instincts we have, such as suckling or the desire for affection. When something associates with a previous layer that is in the positive bin, it is logged and if repeated or sufficiently impressive, is remembered as something that is 'liked'. This isn't what the dictionaries say, but they do not tend to bring contemporary neurology into their definitions.

This means that if someone grows up in a monarchy, and has a great time under it, everybody being positive about it, they will like monarchy, and possibly think aliens would also. If someone grows up under an oligarchy, and has a great time under it, everybody being positive about it, they will like oligarchy, and possibly think aliens would also. If someone grows up under a caste system, and has a great time under it, everybody being positive about it, they will like a caste system, and possibly think aliens would also. If somebody grows up under a … pick your own preference here and continue the paragraph.

The same argument goes not just for the high-level style of government, but also the various rules by which a society operates under. If you had grown up in ancient Athens, you might like democracy with the franchise limited to adult males who were not slaves, and you might like the institution of slavery as well. If you had grown up in imperial Rome, you might like dictatorship moderated by a small board of elite advisors. If you had grown up in late imperial China, you might think having an emperor with absolute power is ideal, plus a court of thousands of eunuchs. If you had grown up in Scandinavia during the Viking era, you might think raiding is an ideal occupation. If you had grown up during Mayan times in Central America, you might think that independent theocratic city-states were the best way to organize, but if you had grown up eight hundred years later a bit north, in the Aztec empire, you might not think city states were good at all, but a single central authority was best.

What you associate with good things depends on where and when you live, assuming you have a good station within the existing social arrangements. None of these qualify as a 'must-have' for alien civilizations. To figure out what aliens would 'like' instead of our 'likes', we need to conceive of how the alien civilization operates, how it evolved, and what threats it would face.

A few basic principles assist in figuring out these details. One is technological determinism. Technology determines the outline of social organization, and much of the details of it. Another is asymptotic technology, the end state of science and engineering. If we can conceive of it, we can picture an alien civilization's, as it will be identical with every other alien civilization's technology, at the limits. With the technology understood, social organization can be addressed.

Once this is appreciated, the realization comes that technology will continue to change society, leaving all our ideas of social organization in the dust-bin of history. New ways of organizing will become available, and will be the ones that an alien civilization would have. And they will all be rather similar, as their technology will be.

The principal threat that faces an alien civilization that has conquered all fields of science and engineering is straightforward: running out of things. Nothing continues forever, and the inputs that an alien civilization needs are limited. Facing this universal threat, there are a few solutions they can take, and this will provide more details as to how their civilization has to be organized.

As for 'liking' things, their society will understand neurology and the brain, and will inevitably figure out how to make what is in society and what the citizens like converge. In other words, they will like what they need to like, as society can be more efficient with all citizens aware and concurring on the decisions that have to be made. We have a lot of amateur efforts on Earth involved with getting humans to like one thing or another, in fact a tremendous amount of it. It will become a science, and get better and better. It is not much of an assumption to state that aliens will do this better than we do, in a more organized way, and with fewer repercussions and contradictions. Thus the answer to the title question is that they will like their own society's unique social arrangements, not ours, either current or historical ones.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Where is the Rest of our Atmosphere?

Atmospheres are simply an outer coating of gases wrapped around planet's solid cores. Sometimes, with large planets, there might not be any boundary because the pressure is so great the lower part of the atmosphere is past the critical point where there is a difference between gas and liquid.

It's much simpler on a planet like Earth where there is mostly solid, a bit of liquid sloshing around on the surface, and then a very thin layer of gas. When the planets consolidated from the pre-planetary disk, the solids around proto-Earth solidified, maybe some water oozed out to form the liquid contribution, and the light stuff that wasn't cold enough to condense got trapped in the gravity well of the solid core and made an atmosphere. Simple, simple, simple.

If there was more gas, there would be more atmosphere. There is nothing magical about what stays in the atmosphere. The lightest gas, hydrogen, escapes first from lighter planets, then helium, then others in order of molecular weight. Some gases, chemically reactive ones like oxygen and the halides, react and join the solid mass. Nitrogen and carbon dioxide are pretty heavy compared to hydrogen, and stay around longer. If their residence time is longer than the age of the planet, they are still there.

The amount of the atmosphere depends on how much of these atmosphere makers was in the gas cloud which made up the planetary disk. There was clearly some ratio of atmospheric gases to heavy mass, and that ratio, less any chemical reactions with those elements that do that, should be the one that dictates how much atmosphere is on a planet.

Here's the question. Venus is a a neighbor planet and was near Earth in the pre-planetary disk when it formed into planets. So Venus and Earth should have about the same amount of atmosphere. We need to take into account that plants grew on Earth and sucked up the carbon dioxide, and spewed the excess oxygen back into the atmosphere. Fine, maybe that's a factor of two or something. But, Venus has a lot more atmosphere than Earth does. Why is that? Where's the rest of Earth's atmosphere?

Venus' atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide. The claim is that chemical combination made the carbon dioxide on Earth into carbonates, mainly calcium carbonate, and that solid is common near the Earth's surface. Water is pretty low in atomic weight, and the atmosphere of Venus is much hotter than Earth's, so it should have evaporated faster there. Venus' gravity is also less than Earth's, so water would escape a bit easier. The Earth has a mesosphere, a cold, rarefied layer of gases, where water vapor condenses into ice clouds. Water has high intermolecular attraction, and forms ice easily, which serves as a barrier to escape. No similar barrier has been identified on Venus. It has a cold, rarefied mesosphere, but the clouds there are sulfuric acid.

That leaves nitrogen. There is four times as much of it in Venus' atmosphere as in Earth's. Because Venus gravity is less, its temperature is greater, and it has no internally generated magnetosphere to protect the upper atmosphere from the solar wind, there should be less not more. There are also possibly factors related to the very long day there also indicate more nitrogen would be lost per milennia from Venus than from Earth. So, did Venus get hit by a passel of nitrogen meteorites? No. Earth has lost most of its nitrogen, when it should not have.

Earth has a large moon and Venus has none. However, it is simply not close enough or large enough to draw off most of Earth's nitrogen in recent gigayears. However, that may not be true for the impact processes that formed it.

There has been speculation, perhaps since humanity started looking at the sky, about where the moon came from. One idea is that it is a binary planet, formed like binary stars do. But that requires a strange distribution of angular momentum in the preplanetary disk. So other theories have arisen where it was formed when a large planet, nicknamed Theia by some, plowed into it. Theia may have been jostled out of its orbit by one of the giant planets and crossed Mars' orbit to intersect Earth's.

If the hit was a head-on collision, the energy involved might have broken up both of them if the relative speed was of the scale of orbital velocities, or might have resulted in a merged planet if they were very small. If the hit was just a glancing blow, Theia would have proceeded on past Earth and done some other interactions elsewhere. If the hit was between these, and the velocity less than of the scale of orbital velocities, there would have been a temporary merger as the mutual gravity tore the crusts off both of them and merged the mantles and cores. But a non-direct hit has huge angular momentum in the center-of-mass frame and this must be preserved over the short period it takes for the interaction. An elongated blob of molten matter would form and then split in two. The Earth would be one blob, the big one and the moon, the other one. At that time, the moon would be in close orbit over the surface of the new Earth.

The division of mass between the two is such that the Earth's gravity could hold onto the moon and the angular momentum would be divided between the two. However, almost instantly afterwards, the mass that was between the two would fall back to the Earth as it resumed its spherical shape. That mass would have been rotating at the same speed as the dual blob that formed the two bodies, the Earth and the moon. As it falls back, the Earth would have to speed up to maintain the total angular momentum. That means the Earth would have to be rotating faster than the orbital rotation rate of the moon around the new Earth. With the two bodies so close, tidal interactions would be extreme, and the new Earth would begin slowing down its rotation, while the moon would be pushed out further and further with the new angular momentum it was collecting through tidal interactions.

What happens to the atmosphere of the old Earth through this process? There is a huge shock wave rushing through the old Earth, leading the atmosphere to act like a spallation layer and move outward. Some would keep going and be lost, and the rest would fall back. The temperature of the atmosphere would be greatly elevated, leading to escape losses as well. Lastly, the moon in its orbit, starting only a few Earth diameters over the Earth, would be tearing off gas readily. It would be no surprise if only 10 percent remained.

The Theia theory has some other interesting features. One is that the atmosphere, being mostly carbon dioxide, nitrogen, some hydrogen still left, some sulfur chemicals, plus vaporized rock, would be turning itself into a chemical stew. That great heating episode would lead to chemical reactions occurring at a rapid rate and making more varieties of molecules that anyone could list. Among them would be plenty of organics, which could condense into a liquid when the atmosphere cooled down. Maybe even a layer of immiscible ones might cover the re-condensed oceans. Wouldn't that be nice for life?