Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Space news that's farther out!

Let's just dive in... to the Sky!

The WFIRST project – now renamed the Nancy Roman Telescope – is a fantastic story. First, it’s built from a spare – obsolete – US spy satellite that uncannily resembles NASA’s venerable Hubble, donated by one of the intel agencies. (There are parts for one more, though that would be a slog. But I know what to do with it!)  

The Roman will give us fantastic views of the universe in infrared. But this article shows how it may also vastly improve our knowledge of  brown dwarfs and dark “planet-sized” objects in the nearby interstellar medium, detecting them by brief intervals – hours or days- making background stars flicker with gravitational lensing. (A bit like I described in EXISTENCE.)  How wonderful that we are a people who can do such things! And did YOU feel an organic thrill when Persverance landed on Mars?

And how awful that so many of our neighbors turn their backs on science and the godlike trait of curiosity.

== Peering further into space ==

Astronomers examined the light from 43 quasars—the very distant, brilliant cores of active galaxies powered by black holes—located far beyond Andromeda. The quasars are scattered behind that neighbor galaxy, allowing scientists to probe multiple regions. Looking through Andromeda at the quasars’ light, the team observed  differing effects caused by cold gas in immense halos surrounding our neighboring galaxy, revealing enrichment in heavy elements, presumably from earlier supernovas.   It also gives you some idea how many quasars we’ve discovered, since those old debates between Halton Arp and Maarten Schmidt, at Caltech over what quasars were. I witnessed some!


Andromeda’s halo extends out 1.3 million light-years from the galaxy, almost halfway to our galaxy, and brushing (pushing?) against our galaxy’s halo. 


In related news: A string of 13 dwarf galaxies in orbit around the massive galaxy Andromeda –remnants of the population of primordial structures that coalesced to form giant galaxies like the Milky Way–are spread across a flat plane more than one million light years wide and only 30,000 light years thick–a distance so vast that they have yet to complete a single orbit. Our galaxy seems to lack such a ring of companions.


Brian McConnell published his paper on the Interstellar Communication Relay this week, which can be found here.


And cool? This animation depicts a star experiencing spaghettification as it’s sucked in by a supermassive black hole during a ‘tidal disruption event’. Recently observed! 



== Might an ever-expanding universe "renew"? ==


Have physicists discovered the remnants of previous universes hidden within the leftover radiation from the Big Bang?  I’ve discussed with the brilliant Roger Penrose (Britain's most recent Nobelist and far more interesting than tabloid nobility) his cosmological theory called conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC) in which universes, much like human beings, come into existence, expand, and then “renew” themselves in a weird and wonderful way. (I contributed some very small insights!) 


The notion is quirky and weird… and revives the symmetrical notion of a ‘cycling’ universe that restores itself to youthful vigor, without needing the Big Crunch that Frank Tipler relied upon in his baroque tome THE PHYSICS OF IMMORTALITY… a crunch that’s been disproved by astronomers discovering accelerated expansion.  


In the Penrose conformal cosmology, the ultimate universal dissipation reaches a point where “distance” and “temperature” become meaningless and 'vastness' might -- just maybe -- map into a new Bang.  It cannot happen till fermions dissipate... or at least lose their ability to 'know' where and when they are. That is a LONG way into the Great Dissipation! But in a universe rules by bosons (e.g. photons) it seems (so far) as if a cold-vast cosmos might map itself right back into another Big Bang!


If that isn't mind-blowing enough... there may be isolated spots where the old metric clings obstinately… perhaps where a final, ancient black hole is finishing its final, Hawking radiation dissipation, or else where a few residual fermions “insist” on their old individuality. (My contribution.) In which case the NEW Bang might contain patches where information survives from one universe to the next!


 And so… are these shapes in the CMB telltales from such an earlier epoch? Or just eager shape recognition? And sure, I have a couple of short stories about just this. In my coming-soon Best-of collection!



== Life out there? ==


I’ve been in the “who's out there calculations” game since 1983. We sure know a lot more now. These astronomers now figure that G-type stars like our sun, which make up about 7% of the Milky Way’s approx.. 200 billion stars, likely on average have one Earthlike planet orbiting in a “goldilocks” (liquid water on the surface) zone about half of the time.  "We estimate with 95% confidence that, on average, the nearest HZ planet around G and K dwarfs is 6 pc [parsecs] away, and there are  4 HZ rocky planets around G and K dwarfs within 10 pc of the sun."


The new research did not consider red dwarfs, also known as M dwarfs, which make up about three-quarters of the Milky Way's stellar population. A 2013 study based on Kepler data estimated that about 6% of red-dwarf systems boast a roughly Earth-like planet in the habitable zone, and one such world is the closest alien world to our solar system, at a distance of merely 4.2 light-years — Proxima b, which orbits the red dwarf Proxima Centauri.”


What all of this leaves out is the most stunning discovery of the last 20 years to my mind… that our solar system doesn’t just have one “ice-roofed” ocean world – Europa – but as many as twelve! (By various definitions of ‘ocean’.) Which means just about every star out there might have some of those. Not just in 'habitable zones' or near stable stars but almost ALL of them!


Exoplanet K2-141b is about half again as big as Earth, so close to its M class star, that it completes several orbits each Earth-day with the same surface permanently facing the star. ‘Now, scientists predict those factors mean that two-thirds of the surface of K2-141b is permanently sunlit — so much so that not only is part of the world covered in a lava ocean, but some of that rock may even evaporate away into the atmosphere.’  One has to wonder if such churn might create some mineral states that, like bio cell walls in our early seas, allow accumulation of complexity.


This series of Fermi Paradox papers:  (especially #XII) explores the “Water Worlds hypothesis.” And yes, my 1983 paper pioneered much of this.



== A SETI/METI compromise? ==


Been reading the July 2020 special issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society’s issue on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and especially the arguments (I’ve been deeply involved) over whether humanity should risk transmissions that shout ‘yoohoo!” into the cosmos, a rash and pseudo-religious program oft-called “METI." Of special interest is ‘Reworking the SETI paradox: METI’s Place on the Continuum of Astrobiological Signaling’ by

Thomas Cortellesi .


As for the summary of Meti pro/cons made by Cortellesi, while incomplete and a bit chaotic, it is pretty good, but it leaves out one of the most devastating challenges to METI. METI zealots assert that relatively nearby aliens -


(1) can easily detect Earth’s comms leakage or other tech-signs, and further they


(2) would contact us, but only if they receive a deliberately assertive first move on our parts.


While this pair of linked assertions is not impossible, #2 is based upon a strange (even illogical) assumption: that the younger and more technologically backward civilization - facing the widest range of potentially dangerous uncertainties - should bear the onus and risk of initiating contactThat contorted logic, alone, would discredit the notion. But there is a deeper, more devastating question.  If advanced aliens can easily detect Earth’s comms leakage, but are waiting for us to move first then why do the Metists insist on transmitting in ways that multiply the at-target brightness of Earth’s tech-signatures by many millions-fold? 


Since the ETs already know of us, would not a signal with just twice the at-target brightness and clarity be more than sufficient to trigger their supposed contact scenario? Are not efforts to multiply detectability many millions-fold a refutation of belief in assumption #1?  


(And in fact, #1 is just flat-out wrong! ET is not watching "Mr. Ed.")


While this question devastates a core METI argument, it also opens a door for something missing, so far… a negotiated solution. A potential compromise.


*Let Meti guys send their ‘messages,’ but monitored and supervised never to exceed in power, detectability or decipherability twice the magnitude that Earth’s current leakage would create, at the same site.*


In this way, the claim that benevolent aliens already know of us and are awaiting our first move can be tested, but in a way that stands little likelihood of alerting those who are unaware of us, giving humanity time to better understand the galactic 'lay of the land' - especially whether darker scenarios might reign out there.


65 comments:

Treebeard said...

This stuff about aliens is basically theology; there is zero evidence for any of it, so it’s just speculation, faith and personal bias.

Personally I find the cosmos more disturbing the more I learn about it. I guess this is the Lovecraftian explanation for the Fermi paradox: people lose their curiosity about the universe when what they learn becomes too horrific. The assumption of the Enlightenment is that casting light on everything won’t reveal horrors that are toxic to human minds (and bodies). Sounds like you are hedging your bets with this METI stuff. I’m reminded of this classic quote:

“The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

Tony Fisk said...

I recently came across a series of time lapsed solar eclipse images that combined to show mountain silhouettes on the Lunar limb. Quite impressive. I'll post the link,if I can rediscover it.

It would seem tb has grown to fear the dark spaces in between.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Really? You're going to open the argument about not reaching for the stars by quoting Lovecraft? Yes, there may be dangerous things out there, but only by examining the cosmos can we know about them, and perhaps come to grips with whatever's out there. I prefer to see humanity concentrating on the 'Goody!' rather than the 'Yipe!' response.

Maybe someone with more time can dig out the quote I'm thinking of: "Humanity's proper position is not kneeling with head bowed, but reaching outwards towards the stars."

Imua!

David Brin said...

Were Treebeard a relative or dear friend, I'd be gathering others for an intervention. Try to get him to look into his chemical imbalances. That's not to say that there's no place for dour, dyspeptic cynicism in art... Poe and Kierkegard and Lovecraft and Munch, for example.

But absent their artistry, what's the point in trying to get others to share pessimism over the futility of it all? If you were wrong, you just demorablized them, deterred their world-saving efforts and made your doom scenario more likely... and wouldn't you RATHER be proved wrong?

Or, if not, then aren't you WISHING for pain, misery and death to spread and doesn't that make you a real jerk?

And yet, of course, you remain welcome here.

===

Tony, as a kid I did 'grazing occultations"... a group of amateur astronomers would peer through primitive telescopes while listening to WWV... the US Geodetic Survey's radio time beacon, at the exact time when a star was expected to 'graze the northern or southern polar regions as the moon orbited by. Shouting out when the star vanished and re-appeared, observers at different Earth latitudes would thusly map the heights and shapes of lunar mountains that the star passed behind. Have you ever heard of something so primitive? I also eye-estimated the brighteness of variable stars for the American Association of Variable Star Observers, an amateur science outfit that still exists, I believe!

scidata said...

Wee cowrin' beasties on a placid island of ignorance. We tried that already - and damned nearly went extinct. I do agree with evidence trumping faith. How about this: a few tens of thousands back then, 7 billion today, and a fair chance at becoming multi-planetary, thus escaping GRB and asteroid ELEs.

Daniel Duffy said...

Brown Dwarfs (super Jovian worlds that weren't quite big enough to ignite into stars) give off a lot of heat but no light. What if BDs turn out to be scattered by the dozens or hundreds in the space between the stars? And what if most of them have mini-solar systems (like Jupiter and Saturn) capable of supporting life because there is enough heat is generated by the BD to allow liquid water and photosynthesis based on infrared frequencies? It's easy to imagine life based on infrared photosynthesis on moons orbiting brown dwarfs which give off heat but not light. Not just imagine it, we already know of such life here on Earth, green sulfur bacteria. And if BDs floating between the stars greatly outnumber suns, then visible light spectrum based life may be the exception instead of the rule.

In addition to infrared based life, Cornell researchers have modeled methane based life forms that don't use water and could live in the liquid methane seas of Titan. Methane based life forms by themselves are a fascinating concept. But ironically the potential "Goldilocks" zone for such life is far greater (extending across the range of Jovian worlds out to the Kuiper belt) than our narrow zone for water based life forms.

So "life as we know it" based on water and the visible light spectrum photosynthesis may be the rare exception in a universe dominated by methane based life and life that utilizes infrared photosynthesis.

David Martin said...

Hmmm..."something" might survive from one Big Bang to the next? Darned if that doesn't sound like Galactus, who lived from one Universe to the next--ie, ours. Talk about a "darker scenario"... As for the larger question of SETI...OK. I am well aware that Mr Brin knows as much about, and has thought more deeply on, this matter as anyone on earth. So I am very reluctant to say anything about it, having only my 55 years as an SF reader, and some lay reading of the arguments. But. I think there is something about all this we simply aren't grokking. Something basic, so fundamental that even considering it wouldn't occur to serious thinkers of the topic. If/when we learn the truth of ET, it's going to be a devastating surprise. Nothing in our scenarios is going to prepare us. To take a very bad example--say, that the 11-year old who created our Universe in his Simulation Machine just didn't want humans to live in a cosmos with "aliens", because he wanted an Asimovian humans-only galaxy. Something like that, only weirder. Weirder than we *can* imagine...

Daniel Duffy said...

The explanation of the Fermi Paradox in accordance with Occam's Razor: We are all alone in the galaxy, if not the universe. We see no signs of intelligent alien species because there are no intelligent species.

Though the signs of our civilization may exist in the future, for now there is still no sign of an other civilization in the universe.

It is looking more and more likely that we are all alone.

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/06/but-seriously-where-is-everybody/563498/

https://qz.com/1314111/we-may-have-answered-the-fermi-paradox-we-are-alone-in-the-universe/

"Many solutions have been proposed to solve this riddle, known as the Fermi Paradox. The aliens are hiding. They’ve entered suspended animation until more propitious conditions arise. A Great Filter makes the leap from “life “to “intelligent life” improbable, if not impossible. They’ve blown themselves up.Researchers of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute have another answer. It’s likely intelligent life doesn’t exist at all, outside of Earth."

No Klingons. No Wookies. No ET phoning home. Just us.

Maybe because Earth is a VERY rare place. Even more rare is a large companion moon.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucedorminey/2013/04/21/rare-earth-revisited-anomalously-large-moon-remains-key-to-our-existence/#4dd8438035ed

Daniel Duffy said...

(cont.)

If we could see an intelligent alien star faring civilization, what would it look like?

It would look like waste heat, glowing hot in the infrared.

Humanity is currently about a Type 0.7 on the Kardashev scale and probably won’t obtain Type 1 status (commanding the energy of an entire planet) for another 100 to 200 years. A Type 2 (controlling the energy of entire solar system) would be capable of regular starflight. Such a civilization (Earth in 1,000 years?) would be able to build and launch fleets of massive starships.

And they would have to be massive. A Project Orion design would be the most practical approach to interstellar travel. Just find a good sized nickel-iron asteroid. Hollow it out and shape it to look like a pencil. The sharp end is pure mass shielding at an acute deflective angle (like sloped armor on a tank). The rear is a reactive plate where the nuclear charges go off accelerating the craft. The entire ship is spun on its longitudinal axis to provide artificial gravity on the inside walls of the hollowed out interior.

Such a craft would give off immense amounts of heat during acceleration, from impact with atoms and dust between the stars, and when decelerating upon arrival. Such heat would be visible across thousands of light years and be especially noticeable because it is moving at relativistic speeds. Any star-faring civilization would have hundreds of these rapidly moving heat generators cruising between the stars and it would be impossible to hide their heat signature.

The other mega-structure built by a Type II star cruising civilization would be a Dyson swarm/sphere. These would also generate huge amounts of energy as waste heat in the infra-red range. There was actually a recent attempt to detect alien Dyson spheres using the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS).

https://www.centauri-dreams.org/2008/11/19/searching-for-dyson-spheres/

But again, nothing.

In the grand scheme of things it would take relatively little time for an alien civilization to spread across the galaxy. Have each ship replicate itself once it reaches another star, sending out two more probes (or 10, or 100) Take one probe and double it only 19 times and you have over a million probes spreading throughout the galaxy.

So what can we conclude:

A. It only takes one space-faring intelligent species to spread across the galaxy.
B. Using self replicating craft it can spread across the galaxy very quickly.
C. Such a civilization and its ships would generate massive amounts of waste heat and radio waves that can be seen from anywhere in the galaxy
D. There are no such heat or radio signs anywhere of such a species.

Conclusion: There are no other intelligent species in the galaxy (every other argument is special pleading).

See Dvorsky's column "Is it Time to Accept that We Are All Alone in the Unverse?

http://io9.com/is-it-time-to-accept-that-were-alone-in-the-universe-1654960619

Tony Fisk said...

So primitive? Astronomer at Melb Uni once gave a lecture about Stonehenge's qualifications as an observatory. The monoliths? Not so much. The original post holes? He proposed it would have been simple for a suitably inclined shepherd, and their sidekick, to mark out where the Sun set and rose. Not when the Sun was half above the horizon, but where last gleam appeared or disappeared could be determined with pretty good accuracy.

Found that eclipse image of lunar mountains.

Life under alien ice crusts? Imagine... Stapledon was writing about this over eighty years ago ("Starmaker")

Laurence said...

The explanation of the Fermi Paradox in accordance with Occam's Razor: We are all alone in the galaxy, if not the universe. We see no signs of intelligent alien species because there are no intelligent species.

This argument rests on a number of assumptions. The biggest of these is that intelligence automatically begets civilisation, that civilisation automatically begets industrialism and that industrialism autmoatically begets space travel. There are a few reasons to doubt this. For most of human history we have been hunter gatherers. For around half the time we have had agriculture we have not had any form of civilisation. The industrial era covers only around five percent of the history of civilisation. Each of these changes only occured in just a few corners of the Earth, and in the case of the industrial revolution, just one. In all instances they emerged in response to specific preassures and as a result of specific opportunities. It is very easy to imagine an entire planet where these preasures and opportunities did not exist. Consider for instance Jared Diamond's thesis in Guns Germs and Steel and then imagine a "planet Australia" or a "planet America".

The other assumption you're making is that species "advance" along a strict linear path: from hunter gatherers, through agrarian civilisations, to industrial societies like our own before finally turning into the sort of spacefaring cultures we grew up watching on TV. Progress isn't necissariliy like this, it's easy to concieve of an alien culture more technologically advanced than us in some respects, but less developed in others.

Tony Fisk said...

The Kardashev levels and doubling rates that Daniel is talking about is based on an outlook of continual growth and manifest destiny that is likely to send a civilisation crashing long before it achieves a capacity for interstellar travel. We're perilously close to going that way ourselves. Controlled by various forms of predation, the 'growth habit' appears a natural part of life we as we know it. Stepping beyond it and providing our own constraints may well prove to be one of those filters (another one being the rise of multicellular life, which took over a billion years)

Jon S. said...

Daniel, von Neumann machines don't make sense even to a lot of humans. Why would you assume they might be the default for every sapient species out there?

For that matter, what if said species doesn't even spread off their planet? I mean, we've got people on this one who want to stop "wasting all that money out in space when we've got problems right here". It doesn't take much imagination at all to think of a civilization that chooses to remain turned inward.

Or perhaps they're organized more along the line of terrestrial bees or ants, and don't actually desire to leave their home.

Basically what I'm saying here is that there are a multitude of assumptions buried in that argument, many of which have to do with a very Western-human-centric point of view. Why assume we're the default for sapience?

jim said...

The Fermi Paradox is a bit of a misnomer, it should really be called the Fermi Proof. The fact that we don’t see any evidence of a (theoretical,) expansive, interstellar civilization is evidence that they can not exist or at best they are extremely unlikely.

Of course this is a big problem for the people who want their favorite techno- science- fantasies involving going to other star systems to be true, so they insist that It is a Paradox that we don’t see the evidence for extraterrestrial interstellar civilization. Hilarious

David Brin said...

DD, sorry but it is not “special pleading to poke George Dvorsky’s argument:

A. It only takes one space-faring intelligent species to spread across the galaxy.
B. Using self replicating craft it can spread across the galaxy very quickly.
C. Such a civilization and its ships would generate massive amounts of waste heat and radio waves that can be seen from anywhere in the galaxy
D. There are no such heat or radio signs anywhere of such a species.
Conclusion: There are no other intelligent species in the galaxy (every other argument is special pleading).

Bah. Working backward,
D. We have only begun appraising the waste heat detectability problem - I attended a zoom conference (UCLA) about exactly that, just two days ago!) And while preliminary results are telling — apparently no KardashevIII civs using whole galaxies and likely no Kardashev 2.5 or greater. —and that IS in incredible accomplishment and milestone…

…we have only just begun looking into the far less massively detectable version like habitat communities nestled next to White Dwarfs… that I depict holding most of the galaxy’s population, in INFINITY’S SHORE. Nothing definitive yet.

Certainly there is ZERO reason to believe that simply sending out self-replicating probes to explore - or for many other purposes I explored and listed in EXISTENCE - does NOT have to entail orgies of probe reproduction dismantle planets, as Dvorsky assumes. In fact all the OTHER senders of such probes would likely program them to kill on sight any would be orgiastics. As I depict in EXISTENCE.

A. is also absurd in that it implies ALL would do so if they could. Though the core point is correct. If 1% choose to spread and 1% of those develop a real knack for it, then sure, all you need is 10,000 originators and that’s not so many.

In fact, I don’t disagree with the conclusion… that super-speader civs are very rare. Just Dvorsky’s methodology, which is deeply flawed. a VASTLY more telling observation is that our present situation goes back at least a billion years because EARTH was clearly never even visited in all that time or else our bio records would show a blip of alien presence, even a huge transformation just from a leaked latrine or tossed coke bottle.

=====
Laurence it’s more than just: “This argument rests on a number of assumptions. The biggest of these is that intelligence automatically begets civilisation, that civilisation automatically begets industrialism and that industrialism autmoatically begets space travel.”

There are SCORES of species on earth who seem to cluster just below dolphin levels of sapience. so the next step appears very hard. At the other end, industry does not guarantee a civ capable of wisdom and survival. 99% of human civs fell into macho-feudal traps that would have killed us all or ground us down eventually into utter poverty.

I believe enlightenment civ on Earth is a rare example of a species finding a (possible) path out of that trap.

===
And again, if I had the personality and philosophy expressed by jim and treebeard, I'd get out of the way ASAP... maybe some alternate karmic reality will suit them better. But you guys are welcome here.

Treebeard said...

Daniel Duffy, you don’t have to conclude that there’s no intelligent life in the galaxy; colonizing the galaxy could just be a practical impossibility or not something intelligent species want to do. There could be planets full of advanced philosophers and scientists who realized a long time ago that interstellar colonization was a pipe dream or a stupid idea (unlike our primitive planet). Or maybe they discovered something terrifying out there, declared space exploration taboo and ran back home. Or maybe they’re all a bunch of narcissists, 1.0 on the Kardashian scale. You are projecting some specific and probably ridiculous space-opera ideas about how civilizations develop onto the rest of the cosmos. As jim says, this “paradox” is probably just an artifact of your delusions and ignorance.

jim said...

So David, what should Treebeard and I be getting out of the way of??

Is it the still raging global pandemic?
Is it the collapsing American empire?
Is it the rapidly destabilizing climate?
Is it the consequences of the massive ecological overshoot of industrial civilization?
Or is it the delusional expectations of endless economic growth and that the stars are ours ?

Laurence said...

The other assumption I left out is the idea that evolution is somehow geared towards intelligence. It isn't, it's geared towards survival and the purpetuation of DNA, intelligence is just one survival strategy. Since we are the only surviving members of the genus homo we can conclude that human-level intelligence is actually a pretty poor survival strategy.

There are also all sorts of limits one could imagine another world having that would stop an intelligent species developing technology. I wrote a novella where a future Earth had carboniferous levels of oxygen and land corals in place of trees, both of which prevented its intelligent inhabitants from so much as developing fire. If i may be forgiven a little shameless plugging you can buy it here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hope-Laurence-Winch-Furness-ebook/dp/B076T1Z4BK

Der Oger said...

Heat detectability problem: If "The Dark Forest" scenario is true (i.e. civilizations taking pains to remain hidden), then some sort of stealth drive might have been developed ... and maybe, we should, too.

duncan cairncross said...

There are SCORES of species on earth who seem to cluster just below dolphin levels of sapience.

Large brains are very expensive in terms of calories - so there needs to be a "profit" at each stage for evolution to do its job

IMHO the human (pre-human) "killer app" was "Death at a distance"
Half a dozen pre-men accurately throwing half brick sized rocks could kill smaller animals or birds and drive scavengers off a body

The stone throwing as a group provided more calories - which permitted and encouraged the brain growth

So that is one method of getting over the "hump" that requires a large brain

Are there any "other methods" ??

Alfred Differ said...

I think a couple of snippets from Treebeard are worth considering this time. It's not that I agree with his sentiment or his Lovecraft-ian explanation for it. It's more about how the new information available to us in the last couple of generations has altered (considerably) what we know about what is possible.

Consider the classic Drake equation. When I was a kid, the best we could do for most of the terms was an order of magnitude estimate. It's the classic joke about astronomy as a science all over. "We know that star is that-a-way, but have trouble knowing if it is 10 ly or 10,000 ly away." At least the physicists could make the spherical cow approximation.

Infrared astronomy wasn't a thing yet, so estimates of star formation were kinda broad. Not unknown, but it sure helps nowadays to look through those dark clouds at the proto-stars inside.

We knew of no exoplanets. Not a one. Now (or very soon) we can spot stars wobbling around their barycenters with radial velocities of about 10 cm/s. We can see some of them eclipsing their stars too.

Our host points out new information for the next couple terms, but when I was a kid, a dart board would have sufficed to form initial guesses.

As for intelligence… well… we now know we aren't exactly alone on Earth. In fact, we might have helped kill off closely related species that were like us too. When I was a kid, that scene in 2001 was believable.

Even the last term describing the longevity of civilization was a lot of guesswork. We were barely honest with ourselves about the longevity of our own civilizations because history as an honest field of study was only just beginning to emerge as one involving discoverable evidence compared to stories-by-victorious-agents.

LOTS more evidence is available now even if no one as messaged us from out there.
——

Still… the cosmos IS kinda disturbing. My young-person's vision of humans zipping about the galaxy seems less and less likely. The interstellar medium is a frickin' mess! Dusty, lumpy, and with the occasional rogue rock ranging in size from comet to planet. Who needs crystal spheres wrapped around life-world stars to keep us out when the ISM alone will ablate your colony-ship ramjet to a nub! Annoying! What a mess!

I well-intentioned progenitor civilization needs to clean up the trash God left behind. No doubt that is our next task after naming bazillions of things. 8)

scidata said...

It took a long time, and vast technical advancement, to work out the actual reason why the night sky is dark. Why are some so quickly, almost eagerly, certain of the "We're all alone" assertion/conclusion? It seems much more delusional and theological than dreams of star trekking do.

Zepp Jamieson said...

First, let me make clear that I do not embrace Treebeard's Lovecraftian view of the universe. No, not even from a Lovercraft. But Doctor, your own concerns about SETI and other efforts to reach out to potential galactic civilisations are well known, and certainly some of the aliens in your Uplift series could rival Lovecraft's best-left-to-the-imagination minds behind "The Colour out of Space." So at what point to you and Treebeard diverge?

Tim H. said...

Alfred, Jerry Pournelle only used three "Handwavium" items in his Co-Dominion stories (Fusion power, drive and shield) and likely could've made it work with two. A bright young person with just the right sort of grasp of reality could change our prospects quickly, after all one such person gave us electronic TV and tabletop, if inefficient, fusion.

David Brin said...

Didn't the Co-Dominion series proceed into THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE? And didn't that include a kind of warp drive?

Zepp I am willing to speculate across the entire range from horrible prefated hell to Star Trekkian-optimism-was-modest! It's all INTERESTING and I further believe that exploring it all can help us weight the scales toward the latter. Treebeard not only won't ponder anything but the far left of that scale, but he draws comfort from it and seems offended by any other possibility... that might call him to lift a finger to help.

Or am I wrong in that parafrasing ent-fellow? Willing to listen and adapt.

Likewise scidata. No fellah. I do not conclude THAT we are alone. I speculate vast ranges of possible 'outs" for ETs! From the truly puzzling fact that Earth and all out asteroids appear to have been untouched by alien hands for at least 3 billion years, likely 4.5. You aren't puzzled by that? Well, we can have our own opinions of each others imaginations.

Alfred I consider the fact that 2 dozen or so species seem to cluster just below chimps and dolphins to be VERY strong evidence that the next ceiling breakthrough is very, very hard.

Duncan is backed up by William Calvin's book THE THROWING MADONNA.

duncan cairncross said...

Thank you Dr Brin for telling me about that book - its now on my Kindle waiting for the "round tuit"

scidata said...

Of course I'm puzzled, perhaps even troubled by the silence. I'm not arguing for any particular alternative explanation, but rather for some forbearance. Before Hubble, very brilliant minds failed to even imagine that visible light was being red-shifted out of the visible spectrum by the expansion of the universe. It's hard to weigh answers when we don't even know the best questions yet.

Tony Fisk said...

Not totally sold on the killer app(e?) theory. Several species of apes/baboons apes can throw, but so can archer fish.
...and cobras.

Hailey said...

At the risk of sounding obvious fire is likely a huge factor, as cooking increases the available calories of most foods and opens up the possibility of new sources of food, can be used to preserve excess food (smoking), and of course is a great source of warmth.

Hailey said...

At the risk of sounding obvious fire is likely a huge factor, as cooking increases the available calories of most foods and opens up the possibility of new sources of food, can be used to preserve excess food (smoking), and of course is a great source of warmth.

Tim H. said...

Yes the Co-Dominion did precede The Mote In God's Eye, Larry Niven got to play with Jerry Pournelle's toys, and it was double the fun.And it was a limited warp drive "The Alderson drive" which required finding a specific point at the edge of a stellar system where if the drive is activated, the ship instantaneously appears at a corresponding spot in another stellar system. Transit to the Alderson point is by rocket, in the novels something very like the drives in Arthur C. Clarke's 2010, though a NERVA drive should work well enough for the story's purpose. Unlikely, but not yet proven impossible. The same goes for the "Langston shield" used by ships and cities in those stories.

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

It's easy to imagine life based on infrared photosynthesis on moons orbiting brown dwarfs which give off heat but not light. Not just imagine it, we already know of such life here on Earth, green sulfur bacteria.


I used to believe that the emergence of life was so improbably as to easily accept that it happened nowhere other than here on Earth. My mind was changed by--of all things--an exhibit at Disney World which showed examples of life forms which developed at the ocean's bottom, far from light but near pockets of geothermal heat. It made me realize that "life"--or at least self-sustaining, self-replicating systems--develop pretty much anywhere with a usable source of energy.

So I've done a 180 to the belief that life probably exists throughout the universe. Whether that translates to "self-aware, conscious life", I still can't say.


So "life as we know it" based on water and the visible light spectrum photosynthesis may be the rare exception in a universe dominated by methane based life and life that utilizes infrared photosynthesis.


On this, my belief has been pretty consistent through my adult life: That if intelligent life does exist elsewhere, it is likely to be in a form so alien to our preconceptions that we'd have a hard time recognizing it as intelligent life.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I think a couple of snippets from Treebeard are worth considering this time. It's not that I agree with his sentiment or his Lovecraft-ian explanation for it.


Treebeard seems to be channeling "Q" from Star Trek: TNG, continually appearing to challenge the haughty assumptions Picard professes. In Q's own way, he considers himself to be being helpful, albeit with tough love. He made much of the same point TB is making in the episode where they first encounter the Borg. "You have no idea what is out here."

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Likewise scidata. No fellah. I do not conclude THAT we are alone. I speculate vast ranges of possible 'outs" for ETs! From the truly puzzling fact that Earth and all out asteroids appear to have been untouched by alien hands for at least 3 billion years, likely 4.5. You aren't puzzled by that?


As a practical matter, I feel about ET intervention the same way I feel about supernatural intervention, which is "Whether or not it is possible, we might as well live our lives as if it ain't gonna happen, because I've seen nothing to suggest that it is gonna happen."

As a purely speculative matter, well, I just posted about how it might be a big leap from "life" to "intelligent, self-aware life". I suspect it's an even bigger leap (by orders of magnitude) from "intelligent, self-aware life" to "spacefaring life". I have a hard time imagining any mechanism by which evolution provides advantage to the qualities of survival in space or means of locomotion in space. Which means that intelligent life has to do an awful lot of work to create means of life support and propulsion out there. That is, if it's even possible for their form to reach the heavens (for example, how would a race of intelligent dolphins or octopi even begin to go there?).

Perhaps the best chance of a life form that travels among the stars is something that actually evolves in the celestial medium.? But then again, such life might not find planets interesting at all.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Doctor, that's a reasonable response. I realize that you aren't a xenophobe, but rather a zeno-careful. Would I be correct in thinking you're still not happy with the SETI project, though, since you fear hostile attention? That's where I'm perplexed, since Treebeard was essentially arguing the same thing. I understand you have a much broader spectrum of thought on the matter of aliens (Uplift series demonstrates that quite well) but where you attacking the notion of a Lovecraftian universe, or just the fact that Treebeard proposed it?
I suspect that it's all moot speculation until we actually find life. And that doesn't mean intelligent or even organized life: I saw a documentary a couple of years ago, either Brian Cox or Jim Al-Khalili, which argued that the development of multicellular life forms was an even greater leap than the rise of the first unicellular life form (indeed, the latter was considered a fairly likely occurrence) and sexual reproduction, which turbocharged evolution, to be even less likely. Combined with the Great Silence, I think it's going to be a while before we hear from the Gubru.

Jon S. said...

"Didn't the Co-Dominion series proceed into THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE? And didn't that include a kind of warp drive?"

The CoDominium was founded on the development of the Alderson Drive; without it, humanity would have remained confined to one system, and probably not been much better off than Mote Prime. (The Imperial Naval Academy was located on Earth precisely so that every officer of the Second Empire of Man could appreciate how close humanity came to going extinct in the Formation and Secession Wars.) It wasn't that effective as a warp drive, though, save in its goal of making interstellar travel possible; you had to fly through Einsteinian space to the correct Alderson point, usually around the local Oort Cloud, then expend enough energy to open the tramline. That would pop you over to the corresponding Alderson point, which might or might not be the next-nearest star. (One of the characters in The Mote In God's Eye said that sometimes it was faster to go to an Alderson point, jump, go to another Alderson point in that system, jump, and so forth until you wind up back in the first system but in another spot, than to just fly across the system.)

The difference between Alderson and classical warp drives is that the Alderson Drive at no point transits normal space; there could be a giant brick wall in the way, and except for the way its gravity might distort the tramline, said wall would have absolutely no effect on the ship.

If Alderson Drive is real, though, it might also explain Fermi's Paradox. In the CD/Second Empire stories, nobody's masering messages from one system to another, not when a messenger ship can make the trip so very much faster. And unless there's a tramline to Sol, and someone out there has reason to discover it, this might just be a disregarded star in an unremarkable backwater of the Western Spiral Arm of the galaxy. Since there's no massive energy being expended in the interstellar medium, there's no detectable trace of such a civilization to watch for.

David Brin said...


I don’t oppose SETI. I know most of the SETI guys and participate. I oppose METI… the arrogant belief by a few jerks that they have a right to shout for all of us based on unproved and generally DISproved assumptions, without ever subjecting those assumptions or activities to critical accountability before the public and institutions.

Zepp, my comments to Treebeard weren’t about METI. I would bet odds that he is wrong about the universe, but I would not bet my house or my life.The range of the plausible includes his narrow range of dyspeptic gloom! It also includes other, better vistas, and my principle message to him was - snap out of the tunnel-view obsession! It is narrowly premature and we might as well fight for good outcomes till they are proved impossible!

Yeah, Alderson Drive is a version of the ‘honeypot’ range of explanations… 'Elsewhere is a lot better than here' and we hence never see em. Downloading into cyberspace is another. In Inifinity’s Shore I posit the “embrace of tides” draws old civs to live close to white dwarfs.

===
We will learn TONS about the cosmos by exploring Europa. If it (+ Enceledus, Ganymede, Ceres) swarms with evo-separate life, then ice-roofed biomes fill the universe.

David Brin said...

Apes and archer fish throw? Pathetic wannabes, sorry. Watch a chimp throw. No one more than 15 feet away is afraid or even looks up. A 90mph fastball pitch, or an outfielder’s throw to home are very, very different things.

But even earlier than throwing perfectly for hunting, barrages of hurled stones let us chase lions away from their prey, right after their bellies were full and they had less will to fight, leaving us able to be the 2nd users instead of jackals and vultures. And vultures told us where to do it!

Yes, cooking made a difference! So did a tall, loping gait. And ability to stay cool while forcing prey to run to exhaustion in the noonday sun (see Uplift War). And free hands to carry stuff.

ALL of this probably came together, and more. Helping to explain why it took a lot to break that ceiling. Oh, and then tools and then dogs.

=

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

In Inifinity’s Shore I posit the “embrace of tides” draws old civs to live close to white dwarfs.


Thematically, I understood that, but I was never clear what the attraction to dense stars was supposed to actually be. I mean, I sort of gathered that tidal effects across the body felt good, but why would that only apply to older races? I mean, why wouldn't everybody be drawn to white dwarfs?

In the story, I got the sense that we weren't talking about individuals, but that there was some reason why older races desired the embrace. Again, I never quite got it.

I did notice that (***Spoiler alert***) the Progenitors' final disposition was in direct conflict with being drawn to tidal effects. At the time, Dave Sim's Cerebus comic was dealing with an eerily similar theme--that in his view, marriage and reproduction and general entangling one's life with others is a trap which leads to one's immortal soul being gravitationally compressed with others in a huge mass like the sun (i.e, Hell), and that his admittedly-minority advice was to avoid entanglements as much as possible. The juxtaposition of your story and his led me to understand maybe better than most how the revelation that the Progenitors were found where they were could lead to violent religious reactions--as if earthly monotheists were to discover unimpeachable proof that God frowns on marriage, reproduction, and civilization.

(Feel free to delete my post if it spoils too much)

Pappenheimer said...

Pournelle asked a friendly physicist to come up with the Alderson Drive - "named after Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Dan Alderson" as the Wiki says. It's more a jump drive than a warp drive. And yes, Pournelle's Co-Dominium was alienless until the let a leftover, lopsided Niven alien in.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

We will learn TONS about the cosmos by exploring Europa.


We'll be really confused by the lifeforms Dr Manhattan created there, and espeically the manor house he provided for them to live in.

Heh. Seriously, I just binge-watched all 9 episodes of the 2019 Watchmen-related miniseries, and wow, I definitely recommend it, even if one is not a big fan of the original graphic novel whose universe it is based on. It's one of those things where every detail is significant. Without Alan Moore's participation, I wouldn't have believed that they could maintain the level of intricate plotting that they did.

scidata said...

@Dr. Brin

The delusional ideology barb wasn't aimed at you (that would be absurd) or even others in CB. But I've seen too much stubborn nihilism out there in the last few years. It burns.

My frequent use of Leibniz' Calculemus! is not because I personally revel in computation (which I do). Rather, it's that computational thinking is the most democratic, inclusive, optimistic, and productive form of thought there is. It's an anthem to diversity. It's a present-day Cambrian explosion. It's why "Why Johnny Can't Code" touched my heart. It's why I fear (and warn against) a fascistic takedown of this precious gem by the powers that be.

"I do not fear computers, I fear the lack of them."
Isaac Asimov

duncan cairncross said...

Larry Hart

Life appeared very very soon in earths history - almost as soon as the place cooled down

HOWEVER

Complex life - cells with nucleuses - took over 2 Billion years to appear

A whole planet full of "life" evolving away and a huge time interval before complex life

If we had very deep oceans so that there was only 1% of the life would it have taken 200 Billion years for complex life??

10% of the life - 20 Billion years?? - more than the time the universe has existed and longer than Sol will be a main sequence star

Zepp Jamieson said...

Re METI/SETI. Ok, understood.
I have an acquaintance who may just be the most pessimistic human I've ever met. When he isn't declaring humanity irredeemable and doomed, he's actually a fairly pleasant individual. He'd be horrified if he knew I considered him redeemable, But he dismisses all efforts to address human-caused problems, ranging from climate to social inequality. Like you, I'm generally on the more optimistic side of the scales. Now, every Winter Solstice, I write a Solstice-themed piece that I send out on my feeds. Being winter solstice, the theme is always about hope. Longest night is past, all that. They're popular, and I see them pop up in all sorts of odd places. I always include my friend on that particular mailing.
I always get a response, and the only real element of uncertainty is how often he'll use the term "Panglossian" in his response. I don't think he's upset or offended--I think he's just sort of trooping the colours. We've had some pretty good debates over some items stemming from those pieces.
I read your thoughts on Treebeard which is what brought that to mind. Unrelievedly grim may be the human equivalent of your ice-covered biospheres like Enceledus. (And yes, I hope to see exploration of those Moons in my lifetime--I firmly believe life might be there).

David Brin said...

LH, the great fear expressed by one of the 'Old Ones' races in Heaven's Reach - the ones who steal something precious from Emerson - is that the Embrace of Tides migh turn out to be like the Midden waste trenches on oxy-life worlds - a recycling system to get the old out of the way. And yes, the implication of "The Shallow Cluster" is that Creideiki's hunch ran counter to that imperative.

Dave Sims's rationalization is utterly boring solipisism. Detachment in order to amplify the self. Yawn. Westerners tend to extol Buddhism because, while it admits there may be gods, it shrugs them aside for empowered self-perfection through meditation and detachment combined with compassion -- (the last of which Sims utterly rejects). And that trait of Buddhism has its noble aspects.Sure, boddisatvahs come back to help individuals along that Path. And yet... it remains solipsistic! Your overall task remains perfection of your own soul.

Despite my flagrant ego, I simply reject that self-obsession. Obviously and blatantly - and despite the absolutely evidence-free, alluring fantasy of reincarnation - the only thing that improves over long time scales is not me. It is us. It is the human project. My love and loyalty to myself, my children and wife and family are all wholesome and fine... and also predictable and reflexive of evo-programming. Fine, I'll go with all that. And yes, too, my parallel loyalty to much larger projects IS an extrapolation of tribal reflexes, too, sure. But weith one difference. I choose it. The choice is mine.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

LH, the great fear expressed by one of the 'Old Ones' races in Heaven's Reach - the ones who steal something precious from Emerson - is that the Embrace of Tides migh turn out to be like the Midden waste trenches on oxy-life worlds - a recycling system to get the old out of the way.


Which, in its own way is what Dave Sim was warning about. Everybody does it (marriage and children and social entanglements), but maybe that's just a trick. As I say, it was eerie coming across that meme in both of your writings at the same time.

Until my daughter was born and grew up a bit, I was convinced that the way everyone gushes over reproduction was just to trick the rest of us into joining the club as it were--to prevent at all costs someone from discovering that being single or childless was preferable. I'm not saying I was tricked into reproducing--I went into it with my eyes open--but I was not at all convinced that it would be the wonderful experience everybody had always told me it would be. In later life, that was one of the few things I've ever admitted to my extended family that I was wrong about.


And yes, the implication of "The Shallow Cluster" is that Creideiki's hunch ran counter to that imperative.


As a writer, you never know what a reader is going to latch on to. In this case, the name "Shallow Cluster" bothered me because my brain kept wanting it to be "Shadow Cluster", and the verbal dissonance stuck in my head such that the name "Shallow Cluster" remained in my long-term memory, whereas otherwise, I might have just considered it a generic "insert alien location here" and ignored the details. So I understood a little before the big reveal just what was heretical about finding that the original race in the Galaxies had gone there in defiance of the embrace of tides. That the entire Galactic culture was based on an imperative that the Progenitors didn't themselves feel the need to follow. "Do as I say, not as I do."


Dave Sims's rationalization is utterly boring solipisism. Detachment in order to amplify the self. Yawn.


While I find much of Dave's worldview repugnant, I have to admire the level of complex thought he puts into it. As I said earlier, he actually gave me some good advice on how to not be an a-hole, even as he was kinda being an a-hole in the process. It's complicated.:)

I often resort to quotes of Dave himself in order to describe things he's written about. Such is what I have to say about his theory on marriage and children being a trap: It's not that I believe his theory, but the part of my mind which doesn't believe it hasn't entirely convinced the part that does that it is wrong.

Daniel Duffy said...

Speaking of Ancient Old Ones, Lovecraftian or otherwise, there aren't any.

Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) throughout most of the universe's early history snuffed out life repeatedly. Pervasive GRBs would have snuffed out any advanced life forms before they evolved intelligence.

Sorry Cthulhu fans, there are no Ancient Old Ones. If there are any other intelligent species out their they would have evolved fairly recently and at about the same time as we did.

And here is a wild idea: WE are the "Ancient Old Ones", we are the Engineers from "Prometheus", we are the monolith aliens from 2001.

Perhaps our purpose as a species is to spread intelligent life throughout the galaxy, uplifting alien species as we seed the universe with our kind. Maybe Dr. Brin's next "Uplift" novel will involve uplifting of alien species living on planets around other stars.

But that raises an ethical question. Even if we can uplift other species (simian, cetacean or alien), should we do so?

Even if everything works out fine and we create thousands of benign uplifted intelligent species instead of a race of intelligent tiger-oids that turn on its creators and wipes out our species - would we have the right to do so?

Daniel Duffy said...

Speaking of intelligent tigers - we wouldn't stand a chance.

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129551459&fbclid=IwAR2QlZit_eqWXZHf6a2j0LP1aiLe7VGBKabsy1WZ295PV2s0BWpnCsNh71U

The True Story Of A Man-Eating Tiger's 'Vengeance'

(An awesome and terrifying story, read the whole thing).

The tigers that populate this region are commonly referred to as Siberian tigers, but they are more accurately known as the Amur tiger. "Imagine a creature that has the agility and appetite of the cat and the mass of an industrial refrigerator," Vaillant tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "The Amur tiger can weigh over 500 pounds and can be more than 10 feet long nose to tail."

These majestic tigers can jump as far as 25 feet -- vertically, they can jump over a basketball hoop. Vaillant cites a famous tiger biologist who, when asked how high a tiger can jump, responded: "As high as it needs to."

At the center of the story is Vladimir Markov, a poacher who met a grisly end in the winter of 1997 after he shot and wounded a tiger, and then stole part of the tiger's kill.

The injured tiger hunted Markov down in a way that appears to be chillingly premeditated. The tiger staked out Markov's cabin, systematically destroyed anything that had Markov's scent on it, and then waited by the front door for Markov to come home.

"This wasn't an impulsive response," Vaillant says. "The tiger was able to hold this idea over a period of time." The animal waited for 12 to 48 hours before attacking.

When Markov finally appeared, the tiger killed him, dragged him into the bush and ate him. "The eating may have been secondary," Vaillant explains. "I think he killed him because he had a bone to pick."

(So when it comes to uplifting, let's stick to dolphins)

Alfred Differ said...

David,

I consider the fact that 2 dozen or so species seem to cluster just below chimps and dolphins to be VERY strong evidence that the next ceiling breakthrough is very, very hard.

I'm moved, but mostly to make (f sub i) near 1.0 and (f sub c) a middling fraction of 1.0 with the caveat that most that develop result in a minor extinction event where the life-world loses about 30-50% of its diversity as the civilization implodes.

I think the extinction event fraction isn't properly represented by any term as it represents the recovery time between intelligent species that manage to produce civilizations. If that term were there, it would cover your concerns about the feudal attractor at least partially.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Rainbow just topped himself. American way, not British.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQTuFudB028

David Brin said...

Zepp BOTH you and your dour pessimist pal might enjoy the following passage from halfway into my recent novel THE ANCIENT ONES.

---
Again and again, during my years of service, I have reflected upon the high likelihood that I must be insane.

Perhaps it is a job requirement - or the result of repeated head injuries. For, among the inhabitants of Earth and all her colonies, only completely out-there optimists are qualified to be assigned as Human Advisors, dispatched to live in full-time contact with our beloved allies, rubbing elbows and other close-packed parts amid the mostly-demmie crew of some mighty Alliance starship.

They take this trait very seriously at the Academy, testing for it rigorously, by hooking candidates up to a Voltaire meter. In order to be accepted for advisor-training, you must view reality through rose-colored, panglossy VR specs. Taste life’s candide-coating. Perceive this as the best of all possible universes.

Still, on this occasion, it was hard even for me to look at the bright side. What cause had I for optimism? Zooming just above alien rooftops that positively glittered with pikes, broken glass and countless other implements of paranoia, suspended in mid-air by a mere slender cable that thrummed and jerked and vibrated unnervingly as I slid along - while singing at the top of my lungs - plunging through the night toward a great, dark pyramid, where awaited (almost certainly) many, varied monsters who shared one common trait...

...a ravenous taste for blood.

Alfred Differ said...

Tim H,

Every author is allowed a small number of handwavium items to make a story work, but the older I get the more I consider 'shields' as mostly magical. Okay for the story, but I don't put much thought into them afterward when pondering which things from science fiction might make their way into our non-fictional world.

For jump or warp drives, I honestly have no idea what to think of them. As for shields… nah. Our Lady of the Cosmos is a serial killer. I sincerely doubt we easily get to wave a hand and prevent 'this' from going 'there' unless we can warp or just get out of the way. No need for a shield then, hmm?

To be honest, though, I didn't read much of Pournelle's solo works. Nothing really stuck with me either except the notion of transiting to the edge of a system normally and then jumping. Something about needing a flatter metric maybe?

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zepp Jamieson said...

Ha! I -did- forward that particular passage to another friend who for years posted under the name "Voltaire"--and yes, he read Voltaire, sometimes in the original French. I knew the "candide coating" remark would amuse him.
As for my dour friend, I did once suggest Kiln People to him. He enjoys puns, and loves very carefully intricately plotted novels--Heinlein's *All You Zombies* is his favourite SF. I may have another go at that.
Voltaire understood the true horror that lay behind the assumption that this is the best of all possible worlds. The possibility that this may be the case.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

You wouldn't be the only person who had difficulty imagining life could be ubiquitous. [I expected some, but not real common.] A lot of the best science arguments are quite recent. Older ones had inclined heavily toward aesthetics. Consider that line of Sagan's expressed through Contact. “The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” Heh. Not much science in it, hmm?

There are lots of origin stories nowadays, but I think the one-most-likely has life originating near ocean vents without leaving much of a fossil record. The early sun was kinda dim AND photosynthesis isn't easy.

1. The catalyst needed to break dissolved CO2 is very non-trivial.
2. The O2 generated oxidized damn near everything, but not before early photosynthesis-life depleted the green house so much the early Earth froze over. Maybe a few times. Overshoot.
3. Avoiding overshoot required photosynthesis-life figure out how to survive around dissolved O2, but not perfectly. ALSO nontrivial. Appears to have taken a few cycles here on Earth. Maybe.

I suspect we'd find Terran vent-life has dug in down there. Deep. Deep enough to survive asteroid strikes. Deep enough to ignore a GRB hit. Not quite deep enough to ignore the Theia hit, but with such a slow metabolism that some of it survived long enough for the mess to cool. Maybe? Or maybe just so inevitable that it can be re-invented quickly. Not sure, but there are entropy arguments for the simple bits of carbon-life falling from chaos pretty quickly.

I suspect we will find vent-life on every roofed world with a moderate amount of interior heat to dissipate. Every Jovian will have it until they get too close to their parent star. The smaller, cooler ice balls running out of heat will still have it, but with metabolisms so slow we will find it hard to define them as life. Even Mars probably has it, but we'll have to dig. Deep.

I don't think vent-life is going to look all that alien unless we decideTerran varieties do too. We'll find these worlds all stink like rotten eggs which is kinda what they are. Ice shells replacing calcium.

Alfred Differ said...

Daniel,

I'm with you on the notion of Ancient Ones in the billions of years range, but not so in terms of half a billion or less. If Earth had been a little closer to the Sun, I see no reason to believe ice-ball phases would have slowed evolution causing the Cambrian explosion to occur so 'recently' in Earth's history. A slightly smaller orbit would mean trouble nowadays, but might have brought on the explosion 500 million years earlier.

GRB's aren't the best argument against the existence of Ancient Ones. Theia hits that leave a massive Moon stabilizing Earth's rotation are the lynchpin to a rarity argument. Our very fluid core should have caused all sorts of mayhem with our spin axis leading to more frequent super-massive extinction events. Our Moon prevented a whole range of disasters including how it sweeps small bodies in our path.

Still… there are an awful lot of stars out there. Many have Earth-sized worlds. Some are going to have decent sized partners stabilizing their spin axes. Not all of them. Not even many of them. Enough, though, to leave the door open to Ancient Ones appearing hundreds of millions of years ago. Probably not enough to make for a good space opera. Maybe not enough that they'd have met. However, there WILL be evidence. We'll leave evidence… right? Heh. Surely the METI folks would want that.

Daniel Duffy said...

Any alien monster with a ravenous taste for blood can be easily sated by blood grown from stem cells in large vats and tanks. Instead of being attacked by these horrors we just have to give them the genetic recipe for our blood. Season to taste.

Which reminds me of the classic Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man" ("It's a cookbook!!!").

Why can't the very tall aliens just synthesize those parts of the human anatomy and chemistry that they find so yummy?

It would be a lot simpler than their actual plan.

Same for the insectoid aliens in Enders Game. Instead of going to war to obtain tasty human protein, why not just grow vast quantitates of human flesh in vats from stem cells?

Predators however are all about the trophies. They may actually be vegetarians.

Daniel Duffy said...

Alfred "there are an awful lot of stars out there."

Perhaps we should distinguish between being absolutely alone in the galaxy and being practically alone.

If there are only a few dozen or a few hundred intelligent space faring alien species out there its Could be millions of years at sub-light speeds before we come into contact with one.

So for all practical intents and purposes, we can consider ourselves to be alone.

Jon S. said...

"Predators however are all about the trophies. They may actually be vegetarians."

If you mean the Predators from the movies, that's possible in an ethical sense. However, those aren't the teeth of an herbivore. Whatever world the Predators evolved on, they needed to rip and tear at the flesh of their food, rather than masticating masses of plant matter. It's why cat's teeth are so pointy, too - they're obligate carnivores. (No, nice lady, your conviction about the sanctity of animal life is not a good reason to put your cat on a vegetarian diet. It will die.)

Jon S. said...

Man, now I wish I could go back and edit a comment. Because the idea of Predators being ethically vegetarian raises some intriguing societal questions.

Are the Predators seen in the movie all social outcasts from their homes, due to their insistence on hunting living beings - sapient beings by preference? If humans managed to capture one alive, might their equivalent of game wardens be along in a few years to take the miscreant off for punishment?

Now I want to see that story. But I'm not steeped enough in the lore to write it, and anyway I'm still wrestling with how the Great War in the Fallout games could possibly produce the semi-arid Boston region we see in Fallout 4, and what effects it might have had on weather the rest of the year. (In-game time, while seeming to pass, is effectively frozen on October 23, 2287, the day the Sole Survivor emerged from Vault 111, mostly because the game engine isn't up to depicting the changing of seasons.)

Larry Hart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

As for my dour friend, I did once suggest Kiln People to him. He enjoys puns, and loves very carefully intricately plotted novels


He might enjoy the 2019 Watchmen miniseries then. Very intricately plotted.


Voltaire understood the true horror that lay behind the assumption that this is the best of all possible worlds. The possibility that this may be the case.


My dad used to like this quote, though I don't know who it's attributed to:
"The optimist says 'This is the best of all possible worlds,' and the pessimist agrees with him."

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

The O2 generated oxidized damn near everything, ...


Very tangential, but my wife and I have taken to jokingly referring to oxygen as "dehydrated water".

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Why can't the very tall aliens just synthesize those parts of the human anatomy and chemistry that they find so yummy?
...
why not just grow vast quantitates of human flesh in vats from stem cells?


Maybe they're the equivalent of our science-denying Republicans. And stem cells? What Would Alien-Jesus Say?

David Brin said...

"the older I get the more I consider 'shields' as mostly magical. "

That's why it was cool in ENTERPRISE that they would "polarize the deck plating..." an early version of shields/


A plot thread in VOYAGER was Janeway unleashing a robot probe filled with virtual crew to run away from predators who live for the chase... followed a season later with a guilt trip over the poor viutal guys/

David Brin said...

onward

onward