Saturday, June 24, 2017

Is it Worthwhile Going out to Meet Aliens?

Suppose we here on Earth just keep muddling along, learning more and more technology, getting smarter and smarter about the universe, solving our problems one by one, and still waiting for aliens to come and visit us. Scientists and many non-scientists have written about why they don’t come, and even seminars and conventions are held, journals are started, and no one has a definitive answer, although there are several excellent ideas. Then, some one just gets fed up and says, “If they’re not coming to us, we’re going to them!”

After a lot of political skirmishing, budget revising, technology compiling, and generally jumping around, we decide to go visit aliens. Is this a worthwhile expense of our planet’s resources?

It certainly appears so, on first thinking about it, but that may be an illusion. Let’s dig deeper.

If we’re going to do this, we need to have technology well in hand, meaning, it’s probably several centuries later than now that we can finally think we might be able to do it. So, all kinds of things have been learned, all types of inventions have been perfected, all kinds of branches of science, even the now-murky ones like sociology, are understood down to little details. If science doesn’t do this, as if we get stopped at some year, like 2040, for some reason, there is no hope of going to other solar systems. So we have to assume that science has continued to march forward, crushing every kind of question we could think up.

Adding some hypothetical details to this supposition, it’s 400 years in the future, and we have gigantic telescopes in solar orbit, maybe out beyond Neptune, and we’ve detected a planet with advanced alien life on it. They’ve been broadcasting electromagnetic signals for centuries now, and we’ve been detecting them. They are too faint to decode, but they are there. So we decide to go see them, and figure out that, for a alien solar system 100 light years out, with a stupendous effort, we can get up to 5% light speed, meaning that in something greater than 2000 years our ship would arrive, as we need to add a few centuries for acceleration and deceleration. So, in under 3000 years we would have our ambassador on their soil. Possibly we could manage, once there, to set up a large communications antenna, and start beaming messages back to Earth, which would arrive here after a hundred years delay. Earth people alive after this 3000 year delay would be able to know we had contact with an alien species, finally. We could answer them, and after only a more hundred years of waiting, they would hear our Hello!

Back to the pseudopresent of 2517, and the decision to build and send this ship is being debated, as not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. Someone asks, what if the people of 5517 don’t really care that much about ambassadors of Earth sending back communications? Can the people of 2517 actually figure out what the people of 5517 would like or not like? Would there be any people in 5517? What a joke it would be if Earth went to all this effort, but humanity died out before the ambassadors got to Planet X.

So, before sending out any starships, we would want to make sure that we really understood how to survive for thousands of years, and were really stable in our values. This means that if the people of 2517 would like something, they could be sure that the people of 5517 would like it too, and they would have survived until that time, and would survive much longer as well. It obviously wouldn’t be so good if at 5517 there was a last generation of humans, or whatever we evolve or modify ourselves into, and after that generation, there would be nobody home at Earth to get later messages from Planet X.

This sounds like it means that there wouldn’t be any Earth-originated star travel until we had really stabilized out culture and civilization here in our own solar system. That means we shouldn’t send out a starship as soon as we are able to, but instead wait until our own problems at home have been worked out and we know we are going to survive, in some unchanging fashion, for millennia. At this point in our experience, we are still very primitive and can’t see when such a plateau might be reached. If humanity is lucky, perhaps it would be 2517, or perhaps it would be 3017 or even 3517. Technology is racing forward now and it is hard to project that there will be problems left after 2517, but we can stop and realize that the problems we face now, we didn’t know existed until recently, meaning a century or so. So, problems in 2517 might be ones we uncover in 2417, and we aren’t about to guess them now.

We are not unique compared to other potential alien civilizations, and if it doesn’t make sense for us to go traveling between stars until after we have figured out all our local, solar-system-only, problems, it doesn’t make sense for any other alien civilization to do it either. So maybe this is another clue as to why there aren’t any alien visitors.

Now, back to 2517 in this supposed example. Let’s just say we have figured out every last problem that a non-star-traveling civilization would encounter. We have found them all, and solved them all, and can mostly sit back and congratulate ourselves at being so ingenious and industrious, and having avoided all the pitfalls that civilizations might run into. So during the starship debate, someone asks: what’s the point? Why bother doing it? We have all our problems solved here and there is nothing any alien civilization can surprise us with. We can’t learn from them. If it is just curiosity, can’t we just figure out what possibilities their civilization might have, and content ourselves with knowing the possibilities? If there are ten possibilities, and of course Earth science can figure out if it is five or ten or fifteen, Planet X might have one of them, but who cares which one? If Planet X isn’t Type 1, then maybe Planet Y, a bit further away, is. Or Planet Z. Who really cares which one is which type?

So, with nothing to gain, and a huge cost, it seems the decision might be made to not ever go to Planet X. The illusion that we are going to discover things if we go there is clearly false, and all the science fiction about interesting cultures on far-distant planet is just a projection of our current primitive state onto the future, but of course, our current primitive state is just that, and is not the state of the civilization on Earth when star travel becomes possible. Other science fiction dissolves away the times and costs involved by invoking some magic, like warp drives or whatever, and that also changes the situation somewhat. Magic is not going to get us to Planet X, as it is just a reflection of the sorry state of science education on planet Earth. So, once again, we return to the same conclusion. It is hard to justify an advanced alien civilization going to visit another one.

No comments:

Post a Comment