Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Monday, February 19, 2007day link 

 The Fermi Paradox
picture Slashdot:
"The Fermi paradox says that if extraterrestrial civilizations exist, at least one of them should have colonized the entire galaxy by now. But since there is no evidence of this, humankind must be the only intelligent life in the galaxy. The Space Review has an article on how the Fermi paradox can be applied to human civilization. It says that, like the extraterrestrials, humans have three choices: colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct."
And the conclusion is pretty much that if nobody else seems to be colonizing the galaxy, we've got to do it. Which is of course fun to think about.

But I wanted to comment on that whole idea that if extraterrestrials existed, they'd inevitably have colonized the galaxy, and we'd have met them, and since we don't see them, they don't exist. It seems to be a pretty prevalent view amongst science-buffs.
The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence of contact with such civilizations.
The problem is that it all assumes that extraterrestrials would be very much like us, and they'd be doing the same kinds of things we could imagine doing right now, and they live in a universe that's based on the theories we've come up with so far.

But this is all very iffy. Sure, if the universe really is as mechanical as we imagine, and if the only thing these guys could do would be to send radio signals, and send up rockets, and then make better rockets, and after a few centuries send out inter-stellar rockets, yeah, then we'd be able to watch their TV shows, and some space probes ought to have passed by.

But if reality really is constructed radically differently, maybe not. Imagine for one thing if we live in a 3 dimensional reality, what if most everybody else live in a 4 or 5 dimensional reality. Would they bother giving us signals we can recognize on our terms? There are plenty of anthills on our planet, but have we ever bothered to send in a representative of our civilization that would talk with one of them on their terms? Maybe a little ant that would walk in, and wave his antennas and try to say that we come in peace, and there's a big world beyond their anthill. We haven't bothered, because it didn't seem worth the trouble, and ants aren't all that smart anyway. What were we gonna talk about? Uhm, there's food over there! And they're probably just going to kill our representative. Who says we don't seem the same to a suitably advanced alien race. Kind of retarded folks living in our own little world.

And we assume that there's sort of limited space that we all share. Even though the galaxy is big, we'd guess that if there's intelligent beings on some planet circling some other star, they'd think of colonizing the galaxy, and its the same galaxy we're in. That's a mechanical view of how reality works, which might not check out.

Imagine that maybe we're living in more like a virtual reality. What we see is stretching billions of light years in all directions, but what if it still is just basically our own virtual reality projection, corresponding with how we look at the world right now. And all these other guys might not have exactly the same virtual reality to operate in, because their world view is different.

Think of the way we can construct virtual worlds right now, on the Internet. There's a server, or a bunch of servers, rather, where World of Warcraft is simulated, and lots of people can go and log in and live in that. And there are some other servers that house Second Life, and one can go live there. The rules are different between them, and they're different spaces. If you walk to the edge of the Warcraft world, you're not going to see the Second Life world. Doesn't matter if you get an extra large telescope or something, because it isn't there. Even if the servers were in the same datacenter, you could not see one from the other, because that's not how the simulation is done. Somebody could very well make an interface, like a phonebooth from which you could teleport from one to the other, but if they don't, there's no way of getting from one to the other, other than logging out altogether, and logging into the other. And say one group in World of Warcraft decided to colonize all of the known universe, they could go and do so without ever running into any aliens. They'd find nothing but other World of Warcraft players, no matter how far they walk in any direction. And if some of these guys had forgotten that they were just humans who logged in from home, and they tried to reason things out from inside the game, they might well conclude that this is all that exists, and there's no other kind of virtual worlds, and no other kinds of people. Which would be all false, of course.

You can't necessarily make sense of a problem when you're inside of the problem. You can't solve a problem with the thinking that created it, as Einstein said. If you live inside a certain illusion, you can't necessarily transcend the illusion, using only pieces of that same illusion.

When some civilization is expanding, even greatly, there's not necessarily any reason they should run into every other civilization. Particularly if we're talking about 3 or 4 dimensional civilizations in a universe with more dimensions. There's plenty of room for everybody.

Say you do want to contact some other world, maybe the way of doing that is something totally different than just travelling far in your own world.

Imagine curved space. 3D space can easily be curved so that when you travel far in one direction, you'll end up where you started. It might be arbitrarily big, but still limited. That's what you see, for example, with a sphere. 2D Flatlanders could live on the surface of a sphere, and if they go far enough in one direction, they come back to where they started, from the opposite direction. Which would seem very puzzling to them, as the world obviously is flat. But for us with a 3D vantage point, it is perfectly obvious, that their plane is curved. No big reason to not think the same applies to us. Even if we can see billions of lightyears away, the space might just curve around, and the whole universe might just be one little bubble of reality. Of which there might be many more.

That you don't see anybody else in your own little bubble says absolutely nothing about whether there is somebody else in other bubbles. But if we wanted to contact them, we'd need to do something more than just walking around in our own sandbox. We'd need to create a bridge of some kind. We'd need to come up with some construct in our reality that can interface with a construct in another reality.

If a reality is a self-contained simulation, with its own objects, rules, players, etc, then it would be natural enough that you can't just violate its rules by throwing in a alien element. Like, again, if I want to meet somebody in Second Life, I have to play by the Second Life rules. I can't walk in there in my physical body, obviously. I couldn't walk in there as a World of Warcraft avatar either. I could probably construct something similar in Second Life, and I could maybe create an interface between the two. Like, I could be wearing some kind of body suit that mapped my movements to those of the Second Life avatar I had constructed. But I have to play by the rules.

Imagine that it works in a similar fashion in our physical reality. An alien can't just walk in and play by totally different rules. If he wanted to get into our reality, he'd have to find out how to log into it, how to choose a suitable representation of himself, and how to play by the rules. And if we follow the video game metaphor, it doesn't matter what kind of absurd powers you have in real life, if you want to play in the game, your only option is to use the tools available to do so, which per definition would follow the rules that create the simulation. It doesn't matter if I'm Donald Trump and I yell at people on the phone, I simply just can't drive my car into Second Life. Oh, I can pay somebody to create a simulation of my car in Second Life, and then I can operate that with the mouse of my computer. But the real car, no.

Makes sense? So, if some extraterrestrials really want to talk to us, what would they appear as? If the rules of our simulation allowed landing spacecraft and alien blob creatures, that could work. But it wouldn't necessarily be the REAL alien creatures in their real spaceships you'll see, just like it isn't the real you I see in Second Life. And if they'd have to pick some avatar anyway, they might as well pick an avatar that we find normal. Like, uhm, regular human beings who drive in cars and eat cheerios and go to work. That seems to be a reality we humans can understand. So, if you wanted to interact with us, you might get further with that than with trying to land a 50 mile long trans-dimensional light-craft on the White House lawn. That would get our attention alright, but it would change our civilization irretrievably at the same time, so it wouldn't be a very gentle way of communicating. So, maybe better being a human, driving a car. Or you might try some more artistic, surreal stuff, like crop circles. Or maybe a few scattered appearances of strange flying craft, to gauge our response, but always making sure they only appear on really fuzzy pictures, and only seen at a distance by groups of not too reliable witnesses.

So, I'm saying that just because aliens exist, it doesn't mean they sort of randomly come by on their way somewhere else. If they come by, it might be because they particularly have decided to interact with us, or to study us, and they particularly need to log in to our reality. And if they do, they'll probably read the user manual first.

What I'm touching on is a view of reality where reality is a simulation created by individual or collective worldviews. We here on this planet obviously share a certain reality, and we can interact with each other within it. But if we want to interact with drastically different realities, or beings in those realities want to interact with us, we might both need to transcend our game rules a bit, and find some common ground.

So, should we go and colonize the galaxy? Yeah, why not. But if we want to meet some other interesting people, we might have to come up with something different than just sending pieces of metal lightyears away. We might have to understand reality a little better first.
[ | 2007-02-19 18:56 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 4 Women Rescue 100 Horses
picture One of these things people send you in e-mails:
Did you hear about the horses that were trapped for 3 days on a tiny piece of land in flooding wind and rain in the Netherlands?

Apparently it had the nation mesmerized, watching about 100 horses huddle against the wind and having to watch 18 of them die.

First firemen, then the Dutch army, tried to rescue them - both unsuccessfully. So 4 WOMEN on horseback rode out to the rescue.

Here's a video of it. This is such a wonderful thing to see!
Yeah, it is, particularly when somebody sets it to a Vangelis soundtrack. You find it here.
[ | 2007-02-19 23:45 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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