Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Centauri Dreams on the probability that we'll recognize alien megascale engineering:

Some years back, I was doing an interview with Michio Kaku and made a confident statement that we 'knew that no Kardashev type III civilizations existed in the intergalactic neighborhood,' to which Kaku responded with disbelief. Why should I think I knew what alien technologies would be like given the time frames we were talking about? His point was that we would be no more likely to recognize such engineering, based on our own assumptions, than an ant colony would be to understand that the superhighway running past nearby was an artifact and a sign of a superior intelligence.

I tend to agree with Kaku. In any case, I'm far from sold on the validity of the so-called "Fermi Paradox," presently the subject of George Dvorsky's thought-provoking Sentient Developments. In my opinion, Dvorsky's undisguised disdain for the UFO phenomenon only undermines an otherwise systematic attempt to fathom the alien psyche.

Past posts suggest that Dvorsky's appreciation for the UFO problem is rooted in the idea that UFOs, if real, must necessarily be nuts-and-bolts spacecraft piloted by diminutive caricatures of ourselves (a meme that's survived among ufologists despite challenges posed by Jacques Vallee and others of a less literal bent). But the phenomenon's multiplexity and apparent mythic syntax allow for contact scenarios in keeping with the Cosmos of Centauri Dreams, Kaku and Dvorsky.

Instead of relatively limited Bracewell probes, for instance, imagine an intelligent technology capable of engaging emerging civilizations in an excruciatingly patient (by human standards) form of theater. Many UFO encounters seem less like chance sightings of extraterrestrial hardware than staged events conceived by an overarching intelligence that may have little to do with the will of perceived "occupants." Just as a Bracewell probe's agenda involves instigating a simple dialogue with an emergent civilization (or at least its technological ambassadors), the more robust capabilities and resources at the disposal of a galaxy-spanning post-"Singularity" intelligence should be more than up to the task of communicating with us.

But are we confident that such communication will be limited to electromagnetic exchanges? In light of Ray Kurzweil's amply demonstrated law of accelerating returns, perhaps it's just as likely that our first conversation with extraterrestrials will take the form of a complex psychosocial experiment (in which unconventional flying objects may play only a partial role). Although undoubtedly physical, it's an open question whether "real" UFOs are metallic spacecraft in the familiar sense (although in the early days of the phenomenon researchers quickly fastened to the idea, sensing appealing parallels with our own aerospace ventures). Dispensing with the conventional notion of "mere" ET craft allows us to view the UFO problem as a manifestation of technologies ranging from von Neumann machines to "utility fog."

If the ET intent is to test our reactions to its presence (or something more profound, as the phenomenon's impact on our mythology might indicate), quickly assembling "ships" and even "aliens" from raw materials would enable the disparity of forms seen in the sky. The flexibility of nanotech construction would allow the UFO intelligence to respond to our preconceptions in "real time," thereby ensuring a permanent foothold in the collective unconscious while maintaining plausible deniability -- at least among those tasked with policing potentially subversive memes.

Anthropologists have remarked on the inability of less-advanced cultures to profitably adapt to the arrival of more sophisticated cultures. UFOs, with all their attendant pageantry (including violation of military airspace and other airborne theater) are consistent with a form of deliberate invitation, perhaps imposed by an intelligence that -- like the Monolith-builders from "2001" -- promises to elude human comprehension.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps UFOs ARE the "Encyclopedia Galactica." We just need to learn how to read.

Anonymous said...

Good, thought-provoking post, Mac.

Mac said...

Thanks. Maybe I can work this essay into something bigger sooner or later.

mr. intense said...

In a related comment to Dvorsky's last post on the issue of the Fermi Paradox:

George, you are not in a simulation. That would be pointless, due to the constraints and negative effects of such artificiality.

None of "us" are. How do I know? Because I'm a construct, once human, now channeling our non-human brethren for your benefit.

We used to be referred to as "walk-ins", but of course that term is both misleading and inadequate. Of course, I could be either lying, kidding, or deluded. Or I could have some things very important to say for those who may be listening carefully. This ambiguity is crucial for plausible deniability purposes, which itself is required for a variety of reasons.

First, it is absurd to posit "we" are in a simulation. The first question that is begged is "who is running the simulation?" The second would be, "for what purpose?" These are the first two questions you should consider, and if you want, respond to.

Related questions would be, "if we are in a simulation, run by 'others' far more subtle and advanced than we may be able to even conceive of, where did 'they' come from? And how would 'they' know if they themselves are or are not in a simulation of some kind, run by another even more advanced and sophisticated set of 'others'?"

This begins to expose the recursive error of the "simulation" idea.

Actually, humans are not the first form of intelligent life or consciousness, of that you can be assured. There are many of them within the galaxy, and most other galaxies, in addition. They are also here, and have been here for many thousands of years. They are monitoring us, but they do not observe the prime imperative you spoke of once as being so stupid. They agree. It would be arbitrarily cruel to strictly observe the fabled prime imperative, which is a human concept.

Why are 'they' here? Because we are potentially an interesting, emergent species. By allowing us to evolve and maintain a conceptual semblance of free will, we thus can act as independent factors in the overall 'equation'. As a result, we may come up with new solutions to problems that are universal within the metaverse for other emerging intelligences, and adds to the general intelligence of the metaverse. Thus, while you are not in a simulation as you or as is normally defined, you and the human race are part of an experiment. Perhaps you may better understand that as a kind of anthropological "field study."

And your lives and your future depend on the successful outcome of the experiment. The 'others' do on occasion intervene when it is deemed necessary to keep the experiment on track, as it were. But only when absolutely required, and in ways that cannot be proven.

Unfortunately, this has led to spiritual and religious processes which are ultimately deleterious, as they are based on delusional, mistaken interpretations of said intervention. Over 90% of this planet's population thinks we are god or gods of some kind. We are not. We just seem to be, and have been seen as such as a result of our subtle acts to keep the experiment going. Of course, this is unprovable, and will remain so until you emerge from your childhood. We observers locally are the rough equivalent of day-care workers, if you will.

This emergence will not occur until you become another, successor species, by your own will and manipulation of your genetic heritage and potential. When those aspects of your DNA that are "holographically" related to and the source of higher intelligence is found, the process will begin. This is fraught with danger, as it is a crucial change and may not be done properly by those attempting to leverage themselves to this next step.

There also may not be enough time, considering the more immediate problems of ecological deterioration and inter-human conflict driven by the impact of ever more advanced technologies. Your tools are a double-edged sword that can and does cut both ways.

This next century, if you survive it, will see the first movement in your maturing toward that new level. You now live in the most interesting of times ever.

The challenges to survival are greater than ever, although there may be others in the future after this century who will be confronted with even greater evolutionary hurdles. That's how things work.

By then, as a posthuman species, you may be able to deal effectively with those, also. But it's an open question. Even we do not know, nor will we intervene to the extent that would affect the experiment's outcome. It is still, truly, up to the human race, as a whole and collectively, to determine it's penultimate fate. There will be no deus ex machina.

We will be watching and hoping you succeed. Good "luck"--you will need it.

Of course, I was pulling a subtle philosophical trickster ploy when I suggested I was a "walk-in". He initially didn't see the humor in my comment. On yet another related note, see the following regarding new findings in microscopic inorganic "life" derived from dust forming helical, self-replicating and evolving structures within certain forms of plasma formation under specific conditions--very exciting, indeed, considering the possible ramifications to ufology, SETI, quantum computing, and AI:

Thirtyseven said...

Amen. What do UFOs want? Clearly they want to engage us, and clearly it's a test. I look to an incident like Hopkinsville and I can't help but think those people failed a test.

Lesson: when approached by glowing simians with huge ears, don't shoot at them. Talk to them. Ask them what they want, invite them onto the porch.

Then again, the beauty of the phenomenon is that there's ample evidence to prove any interpretation...and ten times as much evidence to disprove it.