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Superluminal travel, Fermi paradox, reprogrammable spacetime

(Michael Hrenka) #1

I have been thinking about the possibility of faster than light travel and aliens in my latest science fiction setting Universally Advanced. There are two reasons for that: First, I wanted to include some absurdly advanced technology that demonstrates just how insanely advanced the wise/advanced are. Secondly, I wanted to find a satisfying answer to the Fermi paradox in that setting.

Oops, I blew up the universe

In that process I’ve came up with some pretty absurd ideas involving creating tunnels of spacetime with increased speed of light, and the creation of private “parallel” universes. Following the logic of the fictional “physics” of those thought experiments I’ve come to the conclusion that any attempt to reprogram spacetime in a way that made those applications possible, even on a minuscule local scale, would result in the almost certain complete destruction of the universe as we know it. So, even if that kind of technology was possible, it would be insanely risky and ethically impermissible – though that’s not very reassuring given the possibility that someone could hold the whole universe hostage by threatening to use a device that almost certainly destroys it. Therefore it’s very reasonable to hope that such kind of technology is not possible at all.

Speculative stuff is too speculative

“Standard” ways of superluminal travel like wormholes or an Alcubierre drive using negative mass matter seem to be much preferable. At the same time, the existence of wormholes and matter with negative mass is still very speculative. The safest bet if probably that superluminal travel is not possible at all.

The one civilisation universe simulation (S1)

So far so boring. How can we resolve the Fermi paradox in the conventional default setting without FTL, time travel, artificial parallel universes, and crazy stuff like that? With the simulation hypothesis! The absence of any alien life can be explained by us being in a “one civilisation universe” simulation in which intelligent life is only allowed to arise on a single planet in the whole (simulated) universe. While that explanation is not extremely implausible, it’s still kinda contrived.

Emergence of spacefaring life is improbable, not

Are there more “natural” solutions to the Fermi paradox? A popular explanation seems to be that it’s astronomically unlikely that any species will ever reach the stage at which it can travel between the stars, or even send signals to other star systems. That might be possible, but it would imply that at least one of the steps necessary to get from dust to spacefaring intelligences is astronomically unlikely. Given what we know about evolution so far, that assumption can be considered to be rather odd and unconvincing.

The invisibility spell zoo (IZ)

What other options are there? Our planet might be something like a zoo for the other advanced intelligences in our galaxy. Why don’t we see them, though? It would seem rather contrived to assume that such advanced civilizations wouldn’t create any really obvious signs of their existence. And it wouldn’t seem to be reasonable for them to go through the necessary steps to hide themselves from us by refraining from doing things (stellar or galactic scale engineering) which would make themselves visible to us. There’s a more economic solution though: They could manipulate our minds in a way that makes them undetectable to us. So, to an unmanipulated mind it would be obvious that aliens exist, but their ubiquitious mind manipulation technology hides them from us reliably. Why? Perhaps because they prefer us living in the equivalent of a nature reserve, isolated from all the crazy influences of advanced aliens.

Now choose a repugnant conclusion

Personally, I find all other explanations of the Fermi paradox except for (S1) and (IZ) rather unconvincing or unlikely. Our universe is far too old and life friendly for aliens to be apparently absent for other reasons. In both cases we find ourselves as objects of curious interest of highly advanced observers. The most benign perspective is that we should feel honoured to be considered as sufficiently interesting. :grin: Ethical objections can be disarmed with something like “reparationism”.

Yeah, Star Trek was kinda right about the “Prime Directive”

So, what explanation would be “preferable”? Not that there would be a huge difference between both. I think that (IZ) is a little bit less contrived. It might be relatively natural for advanced civilizations to observe emerging civilisations in a way that lets them develop without much interference. After they reach a certain stage (system W?), the whole invisibility charade will be lifted and they will join the cosmic federation or something. If it happens to self-terminate before that stage, it will live on as entry in the galactic archives, which is better than nothing.

Anyway, that’s my solution of the Fermi paradox. Is it flawed? Are there better solutions? Do I get deleted by our alien overlords now, because I revealed their secret schemes? :wink:

Aliens eat stars, outside of nature reserves
(João Luz) #2

It’s funny how two of the most wildly speculative solutions end up being the only ones that make sense :slight_smile:.

The other ones allways end up being defeated by the words “but the universe is just too damn freaking huge:stuck_out_tongue:

Yeah, IZ is better. Sounds less religious and actually offers some possibility for testing.

Very possibly. You should probably get yourself one of these :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye::

(Michael Hrenka) #3

Haha, great tinfoil hat picture! :laughing: But that’s won’t do for a real transhumanist. We need tinfoil nanobots to interfere with the invisibility spells of the alien overlods! :wink:

In alternative versions of (IZ) I had just assumed that the solar system is surrounded by a “Dyson sphere” type tapestry that simply displays a “lifeless” cosmos to us. And terran spacecraft that try to pass the tapestry simply get dematerialized and replaced by simulations within the Dyson sphere that send back data that is compatible with the “lifeless” cosmos theatre.

But then I got the idea that simply hacking the brains of a few billion humans and distort their perception by a tiny bit would probably mean much less effort. The (sub)nanotech used for that would also allow them to record all our thoughts … for scientific purposes of course. :innocent: It’s only a matter of decades until NASA scientists will come up with the idea to do the same with relatively advanced alien animals out there. :smirk:

(João Luz) #4

I don’t really think the aliens would need such exotic mechanisms to hide from us. We’ve only explored a tiny portion of the wavelenght spectrum after all, and a much tinier portion of the physical universe.

Maybe they just communicate in frequencies that we simply cannot reach or maybe they have learned how to hide their communications with some very advanced crypto (making it look like cosmic background noise or something).


That’s pretty likely considering even we already have radio technologies that you can’t tell from background noise unless you know both the method as well as a scrambling key that tells you exactly what to listen for at each point in time. I read an article about such a method some years ago, I forget the name though. However, it was such that you could send data through it non-encrypted because the transmission is impossible to receive properly without the scrambling key. I recall the term ultra wide band being used to describe the frequencies used by the method.

The transmission might not necessarily be undetectable at close range, but at longer ranges, it’s probably indistinguishable from background noise.

(Michael Hrenka) #6

Good point. The only way we would find out about alien transmissions would be, if we got hit by a high intensity transmission, which might look like the Wow Signal. Perhaps someone out there was overly optimistic about our rate of technological progress and tried to contact us that way. They certainly know that are here, at least in a radius of a few thousand light years, perhaps even more. It’s not widely known that humanity already caused some changes in the atmosphere since the neolithic revolution, but those would be a clear sign that something interesting is/was going on here.

I think it’s quite likely that there are cloaked research posts in our solar system. At our current level of technology we might have almost no chance of finding them.


another problem is, that we could only think in human terms. there are plenty different species ( approximations range from 3-100 millions) on our home planet. and we look for similarities of just one. we have a human idea of what we call “intelligence” and a human idea of “progress”. and from our perspective there is only one of x millions of species in which we could recognize progress. not long ago “we had” only one species on this planet which “was” intelligent and sentient. fortunately our perspective changes and we learn more. but we declare only those species “intelligent” or “sentient” in which we could observe behaviour we could recognize in a way familiar to ourselves. if there is intelligent life that look much different from our definition of intelligence we might not realize it as intelligent at all.
and what about “progress” that is not a technological one?
another problem might be differences in sizes as well as in senses as in matter.
for example: if microbes were intelligent, it would be nearly impossible for us to recognize them as intelligent and the other way round. there are plenty species on this planet which could never know that humans are intelligent. for many we are probably nothing more but natural forces.
and in comparison to an unimaginable variety of different species possible only on one planet ( and here we are all the same: terrans) and a much more variety possible in space, humans could be like microbes for an elephant or the other way round (from an alien perspective): although they are both terrans they would probably never communicate.

(João Luz) #8

I see what you mean by that, but, isn’t “our definition of intelligence” the only one we can have in the end? The word “intelligence” was created by humans with the sole purpose of describing a trait (or a set of traits) inherent to our species, therefore, I think the concept loses its meaning once we try to disconnect it from those traits.

If we find “intelligent” life that does not correspond to our definition of intelligence, than that life is simply not intelligent. Period.

So, in my opinion, the problem is not that we are “thinking in human terms” (those are the only terms in which we can think, after all), but that our definition of intelligence is not objective enough.
Let’s see what wikipedia has to say about that:

Intelligence has been defined in many different ways including as one’s capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, planning, creativity and problem solving.

Now, these are, in fact, the characteristics that we humans normally describe as “intelligence”. They are the concept of “intelligence” and their presence in humans is what makes us “intelligent”. However, as question remains:

How many of those characteristics must be present, and to which degree, for a species to be considered “intelligent”?

If there is a species that shows no signs of self-awareness or emotional knowledge but presents a high capacity (maybe even higher than humans) for logic and problem solving, is that species intelligent.

So yeah, things may get difficult if we find some really weird aliens.

If we are looking for technological advanced aliens, than yeah, progress is a technological one.

I disagree with that. Even though microbes are small, much of their actions are visible at a macroscopic level, and we can perfectly observe them with the appropriate equipment. If microbes were creating complex tools or technology, for exemple, I’m pretty sure we’d know.


this is exactly what i meant. we could only compare others to us. and this is a limitation. if we would observe a microscopic, intelligent alien, that refuses to use tools or technology, talk to us, using a kind of language, we could recognize as such and refuses to do anything familiar, we would refuse to call it “intelligent”. if we observe, that it does something we couldn´t make sense of, it would lose our interest. we would compare it to other microbes we are familiar with and that´s it.

right. but that is not all:[quote=“Joao_Luz, post:8, topic:1436”]
If there is a species that shows no signs of self-awareness or emotional knowledge but presents a high capacity (maybe even higher than humans) for logic and problem solving, is that species intelligent.
signs, we could understand! aliens could be that much different, that we will have problems to perceive them with our senses ( we rely so much on what we see and hear! and these are just two senses we could offer aliens to communicate…) and in addition to that they could have much different senses as we know on earth. compared to the senses of other species on earth, like echolocation, electroreception, or infrared sensing that are alien to us because we don´t have them,( but we could grasp them with the help of technology), aliens could have unimaginable senses that might be not only alien to human senses but to all known senses on earth.

(João Luz) #10

If a being possesses one or several of the characteristics we associate with intelligence, than I don’t don’t see how it could not use it in a way that we could recognize with some effort. For exemple, one of those characteristics is “complex problem solving”. That should be pretty easy to identify. Every species in the universe must have problems, right? So, if we observe a life form facing a hard problem and finding a complex solution to it, than we can say that life form is capable of at least that form of intelligence. Neither the problem nor the solution need to be familiar to us. If we can find a sufficiently sophisticated logical pattern in the life form’s behaviour, we can recognize it as intelligent in that regard.

Not all aspects of intelligence are easy as that, but many of them are.

If a species is intelligent, than it must certainly use its intelligence for something, even if it is something weird, and, when it does, we’ll figure it out.

First of all, it must be said that the “signs” that I’m talking about don’t necessarily need to come through direct communication with us. We can learn a lot about them just by observing their behaviour.

Now, the issue with communication is also one that should be talked about, of course.
I’m not sure what you mean when you say the aliens can have “unimaginable senses”. I get the impression that you underestimate my imagination :wink:.

No matter how different from us they are, the aliens must certainly perceive the universe through some sort of physical process. Given that, there has to be a way to communicate with them, even if it’s only through technology.

Now, you may be saying that there may be aliens who communicate exclusively through some physical process that humanity don’t understand yet (something to do with dark matter, maybe). If that’s the case, than I agree it will be pretty tough, but still far from impossible. We only need to get to know that physical process.

(Michael Hrenka) #11

While it may be possible that far advanced intelligences out there operate on the cosmos in ways we can’t perceive, it would be weird, if all advanced intelligences only modified the cosmos in ways we don’t see any evidence of. Humans change the world on all kinds of scales, from the microscopic, over mesoscopic building, to changes the the ecosystem and atmosphere. Perhaps it’s not the best idea to look for “intelligence”. The number of ways in which an entity can modify its environment may be a more salient indicator of “interesting forms of life”. While dolphins may be very intelligent, they don’t change their environment very much (at least as far as we know). Mostly because they don’t have to, but it’s also difficult to develop advanced technology under water (well, at least it looks that way to us).

Even if there were totally advanced aliens out there that did stuff that is so much above our understanding that we can’t see any signs of it, then their existence wouldn’t even be very interesting for us – at least until we approach their level of advancement.

What might be possible is that to very advanced aliens this cosmos is very boring, because they have access to other universes that are “better” in most respects. In that case, we shouldn’t expect many advanced aliens to hang around here, except for those who are interested in the development of primitive life (us) in this cosmos (their equivalent of microbiologists). Earth is probably as interesting to them as a moldy apple is to us. Perhaps we should expect that the aliens that actually take an interest in us aren’t exactly “typical” :spy:.