Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Solutions" to the Fermi Paradox - our contest winners! (Part Two)

Last time in Part 1, we went over the top prize winners of our experiment/contest, drawing "crowd-sourced" answers to the Fermi Paradox or The Great Silence -- the quandary of why humanity has (apparently) never encountered extraterrestrial civilization.

Now let's finish going through the finalists:

#7 We're an evolutionary simulation coded into some incredibly complex computer, and while there's enough computing power to model the behavioral and biological processes and interactions of all the life on planet Earth, there isn't enough to model intelligent (or otherwise) life for the rest of the universe, so they have to rely on simpler astrophysics algorithms. Maybe if that next grant gets approved, they'll be able to add in another few clusters and work on a "First Contact" situation... —Carter Boe

A big concept, but also a bit of a Giant Waffle.  I have put some creative thought into it. (See my stories "Reality Check" and "Stones of Significance"!)

#8 Our universe is part of a very advanced simulation in another universes cutting edge computer system. The system is designed to test out various theories of creation i.e. a big bang based on whatever the prevailing theories are - they then watch it all unfold and see how closely the results are to what these beings perceive in their "real" universe. this simulation has been tweaked and rerun many times because the results didn't quite match - the last time has been amazingly successful so they let it keep going and add memory and processing power as time goes by and as the simulated cosmos coalesced into our universe. They kept it running but tweaked it here and there and eventually decide to help form a world that can contain life similar to their own. Most of the computers' processing power in concentrated on resolving the detail and simulated life on that single simulated world. Every individual being, their thoughts and dreams, every bird that falls from the sky... They simply don't have enough memory and drive space yet to create "aliens" for us. (spoiler alert) in the "real" universe they never generated any speculative fiction so they haven't wondered in any important way at the coincidence... why are there no radio signals coming from intelligent life in their space? Until they read some sci fi created by the folks in their simulation...—Jim Simbrel

Hommmm you folks certainly glom onto a fashionable idea!  It was pretty fresh a decade a go! See those stories...

#9 We are, in fact, alone in the Universe. We are the first, We are the Progenitors of the great galactic civilizations yet to come. It's lonely at the top. –Tom Owoc

Now for this, let me recommend a different story... it won a Hugo Award!  "The Crystal Spheres."

#10 Most societies evolved real-time communications using a fundamental principle or particle of physics we never discovered and thus never had to leverage the electromagnetic spectrum in this way. Radio is our solution to a problem no one else has and thus unique in the universe.  –Adam Maxwell

Hm... well, maybe.  And yet when we found radio, did we completely abandon drums?  Completely?  Or even at all? New Guinea natives might not notice the radio waves all around them, but they'd recognize the thumping on a passing ocean liner as having human origins!

#11 There are one or more paranoid, raptorial spacefaring species who attack, pillage, and destroy any civilizations whose electromagnetic radiation they detect. The only civilizations to escape destruction are those who have shielded their EM radiation sources from detection, by virtue of natural, innate caution, or from having learned of the dangerous aliens prior to developing electronic technology. For all other civilizations, they are detectable only in a narrow time window, until they are discovered and annihilated by the aggressors. This produces a relatively silent galaxy that may in fact harbor hundreds of sentient species. –Ed Uthman

ALONECOSMOSVery much a theme in Existence.  But also, again, have a look at this missive against METI: Shouting at the Cosmos…or How SETI has taken a worrisome turn into dangerous territory. We aren't saying this is likely.  We are saying that sensible people should discuss it before arrogant fools scream into the cosmos "Yoohoo!" on our behalf.

#12 Given the scale of just our own galaxy, much less the vastness of the universe, the likelihood of anyone being in our celestial "neck of the woods" is slim at best. I'd propose that there's no paradox...if they're out there, they're just too far away. –Jared Freeman

True, we might simply not overlap with the others! But this assumes that the number of advanced races is very small in order for the statistical non-overlap idea to work.  But if there are numerous long-lived species, then we get the Fermi Paradox. And if they travel?  A lot?  Colonization changes all the numbers!

#13 The civilizations that are advanced enough to communicate with us are too advanced to want to communicate with us.—Derek Whittom

Hrm. So we're like ants to them?  Well there are still plenty of human scientists who are interested in ants.  You neglect how inherently interesting we are!  The number of new tech races appearing in the galaxy at any time is not comparable to ant colonies on Earth.  At absolute maximum it might be one or two a year. And advanced race would deputize specialists, or robots, or lesser selves to look into and see what such newbies might have that's interesting or entertaining to offer.

Good stuff!  As I said, you'll find versions of some of these -- and some that will surprise you(!) in the novel.  A few of them revealed with surprise gotchas!

What impresses me most is your mental agility and verve. Keep at it! Stay interested and lively.  Never let us stop being a vigorously future-facing and scientific civilization.

ExistenceHCI discuss many of these ideas in my novel, Existence.

Return to Part One, or see a collection of articles exploring the Fermi Paradox and  SETI: the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence


Carl M. said...

How about this: there is dark matter in betweeen the stars in the form of grit. Get up near the speed of light, hit a piece of sand and BLAM!

Take the Newtonian kinetic energy of a starship the size of a Buick. Compare with the world's current nuclear arsenal. Maybe starships are banned for safety reasons.

Acacia H. said...

And again, I have a very logical reason behind the Fermi Paradox: the number of worlds that are suitable for technological life that orbit suitable stars in the "Goldilocks" zone that are not too large for life to escape from or too small to retain an atmosphere for enough time to develop life are quite few.

If you have an ice world with inner oceans, life can possibly evolve and flourish... but would not be able to develop metal-working or even know of the outside universe due to their icy ceiling. Bacterial hive-minds lack the ability to manipulate tools and even detect radio signals from other worlds. Cold hydrogen worlds (be they methane-based like Titan or truly hydrogen-based) likely would not be supportive of technologies to work metals (due to the fact heat would likely be damaging to these entities). Open water worlds (those not frozen like Europa) could very well lack land from which animals could develop and thus develop technological tool use.

In short, the worlds best suited for life are Earth- and Mars-like planets that have a goodly amount of water... but not too much, and not too little. Even then, you need something to focus their interest in the sky above rather than the world below, be it comets, asteroids, other planets, or moons.

This also requires metallic stars like our own. If you have a metal-poor star, even if there is enough carbon and silicon and other elements from which life can develop on, if they lack the metals needed to create a technological civilization, then they're not going to do anything in terms of traveling the stars.

In short, the Fermi Paradox is not a paradox. It's instead a simple matter of statistics. And if we're lacking some fundamental aspect to those equations then our math is wrong... and we miscalculate the number of worlds out there with technological life. Check the math.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Ian Gould said...

But Robert, we live on a burning hellhole exposed to cosmic radiation, solar flares and asteroid strikes and covered in a toxic Oxygen atmosphere.

Plus at these temperatures, shmood (which is the basis of all technology) would simply vaporize.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, that's an interesting thing to consider: has any scientist examined the rules of physics to determine what conditions alternative technologies could be developed? I suppose mercury could be considered a viable metal for use if a world was on average dozens of degrees colder than Earth. If the only think you needed to do was heat non-contaminated ice (ie, potable water) until it melted in order to melt a metal (mercury), then a lower temperature is viable. But at what point is it too cold for technology to be viable?

I will admit my perspective of technology is human-centric. But we don't have a basis of comparison for low-temperature metallurgy where we don't start by using high temperatures to remove metal from ore, do we?

My math could thus also be flawed, but only if we assume that alternative technologies are viable without needing smelting and other higher-temperature technologies. If we DO need to smelt using high temperatures... then my theory remains valid and most other forms of life remain unable to uplift themselves... and thus not able to speak into the universe itself.

Rob H.

Ian Gould said...

To go in the other direction: the only place we find silanes on Earth is in labs and they're too unreactive to support biological processes.

Heat them to a few hundred degrees Celsius and immerse them in an intensely acidic atmosphere (like, say, Venus')and it might be a completely different story.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Hi Dr. Brin,

Good luck with your tour -- I'll be picking up my copy of Existence this week. (Support your local sci-fi specialty bookstore!)

On the Fermi Paradox, I am sorry I missed your contest announcement, (A small matter of graduation intervened.) Nonetheless I have some proposals on Fermi Paradoxes.

1) There is an inbuilt assumption that all, or most, intelligent or technological species are gregarious -- that they will want to speak with us as urgently as we want to speak to them. Is this a reasonable assumption? Look at the million plus species known on Earth. Aside from us, how many would attempt such communication? How many would even care? Even if we restrict ourselves to the highly intelligent species.... Well, gorillas and chimps take to it very well, but they are our relatives, so it is not a fair test. Dolphins, as you well know, do so very well. But parrots? Or octopi? Or the large cats?

It is eminently reasonable to posit a situation where there are tons of people to talk to... We just haven't come across the ones yet that will INITIATE a conversation. Life doesn't have to be rare, or intelligence either. We just haven't hit another bunch of extroverts!

The beauty of this argument is that it covers a wide range of functional REASONS why someone doesn't work hard on talking. It could be because they blow themselves up, as Sagan fretted; or because they dive into simulated bliss; or they are biologicaly inhibited; or they're paranoid and hiding from the Great Galactic Ghoul; or they'll get around to it in ten thousand years... Like you said, there does not have to be a single reason for the Fermi Paradox, and I will be very interested to see how this idea matches up against EXISTENCE.

2) On the other end of the spectrum... How do you know the silence isn't because They *have* decided to communicate? "Okay folks, just 27 cycles left to contribute to the Galactic Introduction package for candidate species ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, self-identification 'Homo sapiens'... Remember, anyone who jumps the queue will suffer a 100 cycle-exabyte download penalty."

3) Finally... Could it be, as Sagan's positive take on First Contact went, that they prefer to meet in person? That experience shows that the effort of actually coming by spaceship is worth the richness of interaction only possible when transmission lag is less than years?

Or, alternately, that setting up beacons and radio relays is actually detrimental to the purpose. Consider the novel Spin, where (spoiler alert!) Von Neumann proves sent to search for ET life start evolving into a form of it themselves. Here's yet another issue with using radio for first contact. How do THEY know what THEY are getting is a real new civilization, and not the Denobulans over in the next sector playing a prank? Or trying to distract their defense drones? It might take 10,000 years of back-and-forth to get our bona fides, and heck, in that time frame even a two-bit interstellar civilization can send a simple probe!

And only such a young civilization would have expected otherwise....

Unknown said...

Heh great stuff... smartest blog community around. And you are gonna LOVE how many of these ideas are at least mentioned in Existence...

Acacia H. said...

As a side note, remember two rather fascinating science fiction novels concerning life on a Neutron star? It included humanity visiting the star and their very act of investigating the neutron star brought about uplift. In essence, Humanity was the Moon for the inhabitants of the neutron star (that and the laser we used to map the star's surface). Sometimes... you need something to pull your eyes skyward.

I mean, ultimately, is that not the problem with current space exploration? We've nothing out there that truly excites us. So we cut our budget for NASA and abandon the Apollo project and the primary advances are borne of military applications. Hell, we've two mothballed spy satellites that were given to NASA... and NASA has insufficient funds to use them. (Now THAT would be a nice thing to see some billionaires contribute toward - funding the completion and launch of those two space telescopes in return for having their name on the telescopes, and even including blurbs on each photograph from the telescopes stating "thanks to funding from [such and such]." Which actually is a concept Dr. Brin mentions in his superb novel "Existence" which I've not even gotten a quarter of the way through.)

Rob H.

TheMadLibrarian said...

I remember that, from another Robert (Forward, one of my favorite hard-science writers) The book was Dragon's Egg, and the intelligent species was the Cheela. They ate EM radiation, and the Human scans of the star gave them enough surplus energy to start evolving a civilization.

Another idea I ran across was that intelligence might have evolved more along the lines of a computer chip. Imagine a world where volcanic processes have laid down the substrate of a huge motherboard, layer after layer of silica, doped by bacteria analogues searching out trace elements. At what point might the 'chip' become self-aware? You wouldn't necessarily need an atmosphere, in fact no atmosphere and near absolute zero might create a natural superconductor. Shamelessly stolen from Diane Duane.

homsys 6: the sixth colony world of the Diaspora

Jonathan S. said...

OTOH, maybe we're just not> that interesting - that was the reason the Traveler gave in the ST:TNG episode "Where No One Has Gone Before" for not openly contacting humanity until meeting Mary Sue- er, I mean Wesley Crusher...

Hans said...

My mom doesn't let me on Reddit anymore.


Acacia H. said...

To play devil's advocate, Jared, the argument against that is that intelligent life could very well have evolved some 200 million years ago if the dinosaurs had not been wiped out by a big rock that smacked into the planet. Admittedly, dinosaurs were less reliant on tool use... but there were mammals around at that time as well, and some of those could have started down the whole tool use path if they were less capable physically of competing against dinosaurs. (Or intelligent tool-using dinos could have evolved. Who knows?)

That means then that we could very well have intelligent species starting to broadcast a hundred million years ago... widely expanding the range of solar systems that could provide signals to listen to. Of course... that also means that a civilization closer than that could have started broadcasting... and then stopped prior to our looking for signals.

Ultimately, it may be that no one is talking because everyone is afraid that something is keeping others from talking - everyone's afraid of the Big Bad Berzerker despite it not existing. ;)

Rob H.

ERic said...

I may have to stop reading this blog until I finish reading "Existence";)

Ian Gould said...

Robert, to go further, it took around three billion years for multicellular life to really get established on Earth.

There doesn't seem to be any compellng reason why it couldn't have taken "only" two billion on some other planet.

Tom Craver said...

Maybe communicating or travelling to other solar systems just isn't worth doing at the timescales allowed by physics.

rewinn said...

Today's Supreme Corrupt decision American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock suggests another Silencing mechanism: civilizations that craft corporate personalities tend to extinguish themselves because, in the long run, corporate persons don't care about the biological entities that created them ... and they don't have the long-run self-preservation mechanism that biological evolution built into biological life.

This may seem a bit of a jump from the overturning of century-old Montana law banning corporate money in elections (following up Citizens United, but consider: elections are how a polity makes strategic decisions, and as we mere human surrender control of them, we really don't have any basis for assuming our long-run interests.

Mel Baker said...

Fermi Paradox variation:

Most civilizations only use EM radiation for communication during a brief window, moving quickly to closed, low emission systems ranging from simple cable systems, to laser point to point systems and perhaps things as exotic as neutrinos or entanglement physics.

David Brin said...

Just because a civ moves on to new comm methods, that doesn't compel them to abandon old ones. A New Guinea tribe may not know radio, but it recognizes the drums of the band on a passing ocean liner.

Paul451 said...

Jared Freeman,
"Considering how much time it takes for even light to reach us, they would have had to have started broadcasting millions of years ago."

Errr, the Milky Way galaxy is about 100,000 lightyears across (and most of that is blocked by dust), so we're really only talking about a sphere of a few thousand lightyears around us, which means we'd be picking up signals from a few thousand years ago. So it's unlikely that any alien civilisation that we detect is already dead.

Paul451 said...

Catfish N. Cod,
Notice how many of your Fermi solutions require "Them" to act as a single political union? We've got randoms trying to broadcast signals independently, here on Earth. Do you think every alien civilisation is going to obey a single line of reasoning? That's part of the reason the Paradox is a paradox. It only takes one exception; one "shouter" close to us for us to hear, one coloniser anywhere for us to never exist, a small group of "shouters" across the galaxy to set up a network (and recruit enough shy-types for us to have someone close.)

Solutions to the Paradox need two parts: what the solution is, and why the solution is must be universal.

Acacia H. said...

The question is: how difficult is it to pick out signals unless they were tight-beamed? While the 1970s version of Battlestar Galactica may have had in their final episode the detection of the Apollo 11 landing, the truth is that outside of the solar system that signal will get lost in the noise the Sun emits. As for signals from Earth... they travel through the Van Allen radiation belts and then get mixed into solar emissions and then leave the solar system and get mixed in with cosmic radiation. Unless you're talking deliberate tight-beam transmissions to another world or the use of a very powerful transmitter pumping out a boatload of power... we're not going to be noticed. Nor will we likely notice a world even a mere 1,000 light years away unless we get lucky.

Nor do you send one signal to one world constantly. You mix and match. You go from one star to the next (and point to where they will be, not where they are). Thus a signal might only be aimed at Earth for several days... or even hours... and then not sent our way again for years or decades. There's a lot of stars in the sky after all.

On a tangential note (as I am wont to do), anyone looking forward to the remake of the television documentary series "Cosmos" that Fox and the National Geographic Channel is putting out, with Neil deGrasse Tyson that will air in 2014? I must admit it would be really cool if Dr. Brin was interviewed for part of that series... especially if his perspectives on the Fermi Paradox and SETI's interest in saying "Hi!" to the universe is mentioned.

Rob H.

theyEMr: A SyFy remake of the classic movie "Them" that uses giant mechanical ants that use EMP attacks to disable our technology as the antagonist

LarryHart said...


I may have to stop reading this blog until I finish reading "Existence";)

I know what you mean. I'm trying to read the book with as few spoilers as possible. I wish I didn't even know aliens were involved, but what'cha gonna do?

Acacia H. said...

The trailer actually mentions that bit. But hey, it's not like we revealed that the at the end everyone learns they were actually characters in a novel that Dr. Brin was writing... ;)

Rob H.

Jeff R. said...

I'm going to stick with "Colonization is sufficiently hard as to be impossible" and "Advanced life is spectacularly rare" (Rare enough to require the anthrophic principle to explain in any way, in fact.) (My gut tells me that the DNA/RNA/Protein model in which each replicator is basically a universal nanofactory plus a copy of its own blueprints probably never arose and was outcompeted by specialist selfreplicator molecules every other time.)

LarryHart said...


"I know what you mean. I'm trying to read the book with as few spoilers as possible. I wish I didn't even know aliens were involved, but what'cha gonna do?"

The trailer actually mentions that bit.

I stopped watching the trailer when it looked as if plot points were being addressed. No offense to the producers of the trailer--I was going to buy the book anyway, so it wasn't necessary for me to watch it.

But hey, it's not like we revealed that the at the end everyone learns they were actually characters in a novel that Dr. Brin was writing... ;)

Y'know, that acutally would make a decent novel!

David Brin said...

Paul 451 gets it! "It only takes one exception; one "shouter" close to us for us to hear, one coloniser anywhere for us to never exist..."

I am about to do a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" online grueling grill-session, today at 6pm Eastern.  Feel free to drop by at  any time duing the subsequent 3-4 hours!

Alex Tolley said...

This week's New Scientist has an interesting idea - the bottleneck is the transition from procaryotes to eucaryotes.

Life: is it inevitable or just a fluke?

This hypothesis suggests that the universe could be filled with bacterial life, just not complex cells, let alone multicellular life that we equate with aliens.

Of course it suffers from the same problems as other Fermi paradox answers have - not one other planet evolved multicellular life. However, if it is sufficiently rare, it does remove the debate between the "life must be common, therefore so must intelligence" and "life is extremely rare".

Rob said...

The Reddit interface is bemusing. Where are you?

Jumper said...

Must shout out for Zelazny for "The Game of Blood and Dust."

I like the idea of the corporation as viral cancer too. Sounds about right.

Tom Craver said...

The boring "It's not financially rational" answer covers the "what about random actors" issue - they can't afford it either, at least not for long enough to matter.

In order for the economics answer to be overcome, the aliens would have to have something nonrational to drive them, such as a very strong religious motivation that just happens to drive them to communicate with or colonize the universe.

But if they are easily driven by nonrational motivations, they'll probably destroy themselves in sectarian wars once they get close to the tech level needed to be effective at it, because the high-energy technologies needed can be weaponized.

Matt said...

Perhaps most planets that have intelligent life lack enough easily exploited surface resources to develop technological civilization. Most metals sink to the core before planets cool but perhaps the impact that formed our moon kicked up (or deposited) enough metals to allow exploitable ore deposits to form. Such collisions might be rare, if they are too small or too early in planetary development the effect is lost, if they are too large the planet could break up or be thrown into an eccentric orbit.

Acacia H. said...

Something to amuse you, Dr. Brin: Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary fame had this to say about your little book. ;)

"Finished "Existence" by @DavidBrin1. You need to read this book (unless you already have. Or unless you wrote it.)"


Rob H.

David Brin said...

oooog 8 hours reddit exhausted!

It started out very badly... the moderators blew it and hid me for 3 hours.
But it got better. I put in the time and effort. And the users were VASTLY more polite, and ready to engage deeper concepts than I had been led to expect here. (Did I attract the very best? It seems so!)

Hoping you'll tell friends about

But much more important, fight for a forward-looking, scientific, open-transparent and ever-hopeful civilization. Negotiate with your adversaries. Learn from criticism and dish it out!
Enjoy fresh and challenging ideas. Explore.
Good night.

Ian Gould said...

Folks, berserkers, intense xenophobia/introversion, natural extinctions; suicide by A-bomb; retreat into la-la land etc either individually or collectively don't have to be universal in order to explain the Paradox.

They just need to be frequent enough to prevent intelligent species from overlapping in time.

Unknown said...

A Carl Sagan quote, "There is an idea--strange, haunting, evocative- one of the most exquisite conjectures in science or religion. It is entirely undemonstrated; it may never be proved. But it stirs the blood. There is, we are told, an infinite hierarchy of universes, so that an elementary particle, such as an electron, in our universe would, if penetrated, reveal itself to be an entire closed universe. Within it, organized into the local equivalent of galaxies and smaller structures, are an immense number of other, much tinier elementary particles, which are themselves universe at the next level, and so on forever- an infinite downward regression, universes within universes, endlessly. And upward as well. Our familiar universe of galaxies and stars, planets, and people, would be a single elementary particle in the next universe up, the first step of another infinite regress."

If this was true, do you think humanity would travel in space to explore the universe or find a way to look into electrons to explore countless universes?

Acacia H. said...

The concept is tangentially related to the growing belief concerning the singularities in black holes being in fact new universes. Though I must admit some curiosity: does new matter form in the new universe when matter falls into a singularity from the old one? Does it take the form of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, perhaps?

Is entropy, along with proton decay and related universe-destroying factors, the inward signs of Hawkings Radiation at work? (After all, while Hawkings Radiation theoretically can be detected from the outside universe, how does it manifest to the new universe?)

As for civilizations never overlapping... the problem with that theory is that suns last for billions of years. Any civilization that has become even nominally spacefaring would likely end up colonizing their own solar system... and even potentially outliving their own star (using solar sails on habitats to pull themselves away from a dying sun). Thus would not those civilizations be detected at some point? (Should we perhaps point our radio telescopes at some white dwarf stars to see if we can hear low-level chatter from the system's residents, huddled close around the cooling ember of their star like campers around a dying fire?)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

I'm less than 50 pages into "Existence". A few comments which should not constitute spoilers unless one is more of a purist than I am:

I'm fascinated by the style of very small, seemingly-unrelated chapters. I'm guessing there will be longer chapters later in the book, but so far they're like two pages long if that much. It feels like appetizers ahead of a large, multi-course meal.

I can't wait to see how it all ties together.

Some typical Brin ideas (aristocracy, SETI) can't help but show up, in somewhat surprising manners.

At the risk of spoiling a throwaway line--had to laugh at "Franken Senate Office Building".

rewinn said...

I hope it's not shameful to be a capitalist pig-dog[*] in promoting a good book, but ... if you have a website, may I point out it is very straightforward to add an ad for Existence which nets you a shilling if someone buys it through you. Amazon's "Amazon Associate" program makes this basically a matter of copy-and-pasting code into your page (and many blogging tools support this with gadgets).
I haven't yet made any actual sales through this mechanism, but since (AFAIK) it doesn't reduce the author's share of the price it would seem at least a harmless supplement to a blogpost recommending the work.

[*] I know, technically it's not "capitalist" because there's no accumulation of capital; it's merely some other aspect of free market exchange.


BOINC appears to be a superproject of Seti@Home, serving a great many grid computing projects. It lets you choose to donate your spare cycles to a variety of projects that interest you, e.g. diseases, water, climate modeling, and of course SETI, in sort of a free market of spare computing cycles (you are compensated in entertainment, not money.) Occasionally it sends a message announcing a paper that's been published with the aid of its work, e.g. Paper in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.

This gives rise to the BOINC variation on the Silence issue: the Elder Races use wolfling planets as grid computing resources, studying difficult problems such as "The Meaning of Life" and "The Ultimate Fanfic". The Silence itself is an aspect of the problem set.

LarryHart said...

I've sometimes wondered how one would go about proving that one is not a character in a work of fiction.

I mean, on the one hand, it's like "Well, Duh! I'm real." But fictional characters would think that as well (certain exceptions duly noted).

Neil Gaiman's "1602" comic book had a character actually muse upon the possibility that they lived in a universe governed by the laws of story rather than the laws of physics. When that book's version of The Thing asked if he could ever be cured of his monster-ness, the book's Reed Richards postulated that while a cure might be found, the laws of story would always have him revert to a monster, because ultimately he's more interesting that way.

HarCohen said...

The folks on/in Jupiter were contacted a long time ago and they were supposed to pass along the contacts to anyone else in the solar system (local exchange) ages ago.

Unfortunately, the Jupiter folks are very paranoid, don't do space travel, won't talk with us, and won't admit any other sapients exist in the system.

Nobody else comes around because light-speed travel was never economical and they understand the paranoia.

HarCohen said...

@LarryHart or David

Knowing the novel is set 30-50 years in the future and that you've described the chapters as very short, is this David's take on "Stand on Zanzibar"?

Ian Gould said...

Maybe the universe isn't the simulation, maybe we are part of a simultion of the real Earth being run by aliens on another planet in the same universe.

Visiting a super-detailed simulation moght be mroe satisfyign than getting limited data from a probe about a world which you'll never get to visit in person.

Think about it: replicatng one single planet located in the existing universe you can see out the window has to be easier than generating a completely new model of the universe.

Creating a simulcra would also allow for observation of inhabitants and even gaming of contact scenarios without all the moral problems and dangers of interacting with real aliens.

Maybe we haven't encountered aliens yet in this particular simulation because we're the reference case agaisnt which the results of various contact scenarios are compared.

Our only attempts at computer modelling other soalr systems could be seen as a first step in this direction.

rewinn said...

@HarCohen ... aren't you confusing gas giants?

The people on Jupiter are jovial.

You're thinking of the people on Uranus ... they're a pack, well you know ...

HarCohen said...

We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please stand by.

The galactic network went dark in a DDOS attack 10,000 years ago. Reboots across the galaxy are expected to be complete in another 10,000 years.

Thank you,

The Management

HarCohen said...


Up Uranus way, we just call them Jovians folks.

HarCohen said...


Have you ever noticed yourself being certain that something happened at a particular point in time, only to be told by a significant other that it never happened or happened differently?

One of you went through a localized reboot in your MapReduce programming. See Hadoop. The first step towards the Matrix.

David Brin said...

Whew! That was a grueling 24 hour session on Reddit, 10 hrs of it with me in attendance. I think I answered everybody. Can I request some of you drop by and help bump me up from 988 points to 1000? Pleez?

David Brin said...

Saw Prometheus in 3D.

Very pretty. But overall? My reaction.


Unknown said...

@Ian What if the universe inside an electron could be teased out through something like quantum entanglement? Quantum entangled matter/antimatter could give exact information needed to create a perfect simulation of a subsection of that universe.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Saw Prometheus in 3D.

Very pretty. But overall? My reaction.


That is unfortunately my default reaction to almost all movies these days.

David Brin said...

Inception left me breathless

HarCohen said...

Darn. I always seem to come in on the tail-end of the conversation and David has moved on to a new posting.

Hank Roberts said...

Hm, my wishful answer is, the dial tone (or the party line, if anyone's on) is only detectable outside the star's local bubble shock wave -- a modulation of the background that gets lost in the noise at the point the wind from the sun rides up against the rest of the universe. Kind of a qualification rule, you've got to be able to listen to something outside your own household/solar system -- in which case Voyager ought to be picking a dial tone up any year now.

Unknown said...

This biggest problem is assuming you have access to all information. Very clearly there is information that is kept secret and not available to all scientists, hence Fermi's paradox is flawed. Unless you can show you have access to ALL information, there will always be the possibility that somewhere there is something that will show something.

Unknown said...

Not to mention that most scientists never really look at the best UFO evidence in detail. They simply dismiss it by sighting the most sensational, least substantial cases.

It's dangerous, most scientists are made very aware (indirectly) as they progress through their education that they are being spied on. If you are a PhD postgrad type scientist you will understand.

Dausuul said...

Here's my proposal: Intelligent civilizations eventually achieve a level of technology where they are expanding outward at very close to the speed of light. Wherever such a civilization colonizes, it wipes out any native species.

Assuming that such a civilization's planet of origin is very far away, we can't detect the early stages of its development. And because the aliens are expanding at nearly lightspeed, we will get very little warning of their arrival. We will think ourselves alone in the universe, until one day we see the signs of colonization appear in distant reaches of the Milky Way.

It will then appear to us that the entire galaxy is colonized in a matter of weeks or months (the process has actually taken thousands of years, but because it's racing along right behind the photons that tell us about it, it seems to us to happen in the blink of an eye). Then the aliens will arrive at Earth, and it's lights out.