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Confronting the challenges of social evolution and dangers of technology to reach an ultimate destiny of transcendence, decay, or extinction

The Rise and Fall of Star Faring Civilizations in Our Own Galaxy

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The furnace of social evolution

BACK to The Establishment of the First Space Colonies and the Likelihood of Contact Between Alien Cultures...

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  • Forward to Our most probable first encounters of extraterrestrial intelligence: Who, what, why, when, where, and how

  • 10. Consolidation of major systems and successfully maintaining a balance between seemingly diametrically opposed concerns

    At this point civilizations will begin a series of divergences in development, much like the branching of a tree. The typically wealthy and democratic elite essentially are open, fast paced, balanced, and tend to survive and prosper on a fairly reliable basis. They have their problems, but usually manage to work them out.

    The struggling civilizations may outdo the democracies in narrow areas of endeavor from time to time, but become generally more retarded in overall development as time goes by, compared to their elite cousins. The fact that some subsistence societies economically may qualify as more strongly market-oriented than the elite states themselves does not generally allow them to outdo the elites in development-- for the lazziz faire capitalism which may take root in such cultures will lack the environmental, civil, and anti-monopolistic feedback mechanisms and safeguards of more democratic and contemplative states, and so more weaken than strengthen the civilization in question, over time. The balance of individual rights versus those of society practiced by the elites (plus an infrastructure designed for maximum empowerment of individuals for reasons of both security and dynamism) not only opens the way to a more just and healthy future, but acts as an effective backstop to prevent or minimize many of the disruptions, damages, excesses, and declines a totally unfettered economy and industrial base may wreak upon participants in the worst of times, over the long term.

    Add to all this the largess of resources that the elite societies enjoy compared to the struggling races by which to subsidize their policies, and you get the robust, dynamic differences between the elites and the stragglers.

    Challenges of Evolution and Technology Contents

    11. The orphans

    The next challenge for civilizations involves catastrophic technological and other mistakes. These elements are far more dangerous and complex than the earlier challenges faced by these civilizations, such as straightforward conventional and nuclear wars. They include (but are not restricted to) genetic, biological, nanotechnological, or other type errors which decimate a civilization's sole or central worlds, perhaps leaving behind small numbers of struggling colonies on secondary worlds, moons, or in other space-based settlements. Alternatively, some sort of civil war could splinter the core culture into many smaller and weaker elements. Many factors could contribute to this circumstance, chief among them being the increasing difficulty in maintaining control of or obtaining consensus among citizens who are increasingly diverse in their opinions and desires due to vastly differing local conditions, and ever greater physical isolation from other groups. At this stage may be created orphaned factions of even previously great civilizations. This path likely generates quite a few of the perpetually struggling civilizations which survive the 600 year contest.

    Catastrophes of this sort may come about unexpectedly from an almost infinite variety of small miscalculations or mistakes on the part of anyone in a society-- from the wealthiest and most powerful leaders or CEOs, to possibly the lowest paid and least educated members of a society.

    Those of you who keep up with the news will recognize this stage too may easily overlap with the competitive stage in which humanity is presently engaged. We are frantically racing towards and through this highly dangerous phase of development ourselves, as of the early 21st century.

    As should be apparent from previous text in this work, the odds of us surviving this test with our civilization mostly intact are not good. Most races probably do not, as it is so easy to make a fatal mistake, and so tempting to take the risks which lead to such errors. One bio-tech company saving a few cents on a lab tool, one biological warfare project that should never have been initiated, one error in judgment, one accident-- in the worst case scenario it would take only one of anything like these listed to seal our fate-- or that of our alien peers.

    Note the potential extinction threat here posed by the economics of historic human capitalism. The budget squeezing temptations our style of capitalism spawns may prove to be our own race's undoing at some point. It's conceivable that no star faring civilization anywhere ever discovers a suitable replacement for capitalism, and therefore all self-destruct due to critical budgeting errors alone, during their 600 year gauntlet.

    How long might this phase last for humanity, and when will the danger be the worst? At our present pace, the next 200 to 500 years should tell the tale for us, with the most critical time probably being between now and 2150.

    Note that the total number of star faring civilizations passing through the equivalent of Earth history 1900-2500 likely will undergo a severe culling in their numbers, for a wide variety of reasons. Some might so poison their biosphere that they choke on their own wastes, while others commit high tech suicide in a nuclear or biological world war, or elsewhere they allow market dynamics so much free rein (or mass poverty to fester worldwide) that a runaway catastrophe of some sort fells the entire culture. The end result is far fewer civilizations emerging from this period than entered it. But the survivors tend to possess technology far in advance of those which preceded them.

    As of 2000 many scientists are becoming concerned at the seemingly glaring lack of results from ongoing searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. Something seems amiss. Or else there's something fairly large missing from our current knowledge and speculations about the Universe and/or intelligence itself.

    -- Scientific American: NO ALIEN RESPONSE: July 2000

    In terms of Karadashev Type civilizations, we might consider the survivors of this time to usually be well qualified as Type I civilizations, and perhaps making significant progress towards Type II.

    Star faring civilizations may be classified according to the scale of energies they command, in a ranking termed as Karadashev levels or types I, II, and III. A type I civilization is able to utilize the power output of an entire planet. A type II, an entire star, type III, an entire galaxy. One estimate is that humanity itself may reach Type III status around one million AD (if it doesn't destroy itself in the meantime). As of 2000 AD humanity was estimated to rate 0.7 on the Karadashev scale, in terms of interstellar transmission capacities alone.

    -- pages 291 and 312, The Millennial Project by Marshall Savage, Little, Brown, and Company, 1992, 1994, and Scientific American: WHERE THEY COULD HIDE: July 2000 by Andrew J. LePage

    Challenges of Evolution and Technology Contents

    12. Go forth and multiply

    If a civilization has survived the previous obstacles, it almost certainly expands beyond its home solar system in a significant way by now, if it has not already done so. This time might be (from a human perspective) within the range of 300 to 3000 years beyond the present point in our own history (circa 2000 AD). So far as star faring is concerned, alien development may proceed rapidly from the human equivalent of 2200-2600 AD and beyond. Some cultures will already have small outposts in a few nearby systems as they enter into this period, and may thereafter push decisively outward to others, in a small but expanding bubble within the galaxy. By this time a surviving civilization is almost certainly largely democratic and free trading by nature, though this is far from a guarantee that they will treat outsiders the same way they do one another. Democracies may often be as xenophobic, cruel, or paranoid towards strangers as any other society. The civilization's technology base by this time is formidable, with common space propulsion speeds up to a significant fraction of lightspeed, and average lifespans easily measured in centuries, perhaps even millennia, to match their velocities. They may be undertaking some large scale construction projects in space, building enormous structures to collect energy from stars or black holes, or to manipulate the climate on planets from orbit. They will routinely move and mine asteroids, comets, and moons. The civilization may also be spinning off derivative entities, such as advanced artificial intelligences, mutated forms of their own kind, or elevated versions of other life found on their host worlds, for a wide variety of purposes. Where we might raise or mold the intelligence of chimps and dolphins into something comparable to our own, other civilizations might do the same with their own biological relatives, or bright animal species discovered on other worlds within their reach.

    Here divergences begin to multiply quickly, with possibly many offshoots of the parent race being artificially evolved, each perhaps going its own way along the expanding frontier of any exploration/assimilation bubble.

    The temptation to produce child races at this stage (or even earlier) could be a strong one for many cultures-- perhaps resulting in the probability of such happenings being as high as 2.0 on average. The Child race(s) might be nothing more than artificial intelligences or cloned versions of a species, essentially enslaved to the parent race in their early existence. Or, they might be "uplifted" evolutionary relatives (alá David Brin). Whatever the composition, any culture that produces one Child race may well produce many over time; and child races may perform their own reproduction of sentience in turn. All this possible recursion in terms of new sentient beings is the reason we set the initial probability relatively high, at 2.00-- because a low initial setting here could often prove wildly inaccurate as an average, due to the recursion that took place subsequent to the intitial uplift process. And the branching which might occur afterwards rapidly becomes much too complex to quantify here. The 2.0 estimate allows for one artificial intelligence offshoot, and one biological uplift, creating two distinct, intelligent lines of potentially self-replicating beings, well separate from but probably supportive of their parent culture.

    The tendency towards democracy, free trade, and open scientific and innovative endeavor, and creation of a wide variety of new life forms should help mold a civilization into something more rewarding than dangerous to encounter, for strangers such as ourselves. But we should keep in mind this will likely be more true of the parent civilizations than the child-race spin offs.

    Almost certainly the far leading edge of most technologically advanced civilizations' expansions into space will be composed of artificial intelligences, robots, and/or hybrid biological/inorganics. Anything else would be prohibitively expensive and impractical, according to our own current knowledge. Combined with the general tendency to produce sophistocated artificial intelligences for many domestic uses as well as others, this means such a civilization will present a powerful computerized or cyborg face to anyone and anything they encounter at the leading edges of their explorations. It also means artificial intelligence may enjoy many advantages in any competition among the various derivative cultures springing from a parent civilization, perhaps being the favorite for a lengthy period, and enjoying a development environment much more generous and versatile than that of their siblings.

    Let us consider at this point the most probable form of the 'far leading edge' of such a civilization's exploration technology. Such a race has mastered some level of nanotechnology, micromachines, and advanced software programming, which means besides being capable of building immense fleets of formidable robots much smaller than gnats, they could shoehorn powerful artificial intelligences into the same small packages as well. These machines could easily be self-replicating and autonomous as well (so in some cases a race might only build one such device, instructing it to create the fleets on its own over time).

    Such tiny but powerful devices could not only be dirt cheap to mass produce by some point, but exact similar low prices for launching into space-- and traveling throughout the galaxy.

    Being so small and capable of operating at astonishingly low power levels, while at the same time exploiting almost any natural source of energy available in a given environment, these machines could function for centuries, millennia, or longer, travel in a practical manner at speeds much nearer the speed of light than larger vessels, and be about as stealthy in their treks as could ever be hoped for a physical entity in our universe.

    Even if all these devices did was periodically relay local vicinity observations to their masters at the speed of light, they could provide an ever improving virtual model of a large section of the galaxy to their owners over time.

    A civilization like humanity's could be saturated with such monitoring devices from multiple alien sources and never suspect it. Not at our level of technology circa 2002. Or perhaps even that of 2102.

    Various discussions in the SETI community have raised the point that such tiny devices may not possess the durability to withstand millennia or more of bombardment by interstellar cosmic rays and other forms of radiation likely to be encountered. That perhaps a minimum of several meters worth of shielding would be required for such long-lived and far traveling spacecraft to have a reasonable chance at long term functionality.

    However, in far shorter term space stays, usually with far less protective shielding and much larger masses and volumes subject to exposure to radiation (and perhaps exposure to considerably more radiation than an interstellar probe would encounter) human beings and their spacecraft have managed to survive and function and make progress towards a variety of goals with stays lasting up to a year or more, dealing with radiation and debris collision damage via replacement parts, repairs, and natural biological healing and various medical arts, as well as periodic rotation of crews.

    Surely an inorganic-based spacecraft of advanced design and materials could match or surpass this record? Keep in mind that in many ways and measures an inorganic device should be far less vulnerable to many types of damage or injury to which biological forms are subject. And yet could still possess a self-healing/self-repair capacity similar to or superior to that of any known biological lifeform.

    And if such a craft could successfully endure a short period of such conditions, what would prevent it from surviving for much, much longer? Even to a million years or more? The craft could be smart enough to recognize if and when it had sustained too much damage for simple maintenance to cure, and make its way to a protected spot in space rich in whatever resources it required for a major overhaul or construction of an entirely new body, and essentially rebuild itself from scratch, to regain its original specifications anew.

    But let's say it required still more protection or contingency measures to survive a lengthy period in flight. These too could likely be achieved. For instance, perhaps if the origin base of the probe doesn't receive a regular message from the craft every so often, the nearest mass laser or particle beam projector to its last known location will form a brilliant bootstrapping film or mist in suitable media as near to the craft's last known position as possible, and that film/mist base will be charged with the task of creating and launching a fresh edition of the lost craft, insuring that the original course and plan are completed. Other means for sustaining such craft are also possible.

    A craft might neutralize most damaging radiation by way of emitting its own opposing wavelengths of same, much as noise can be canceled out acoustically. Sure, there might be some minute time lag between the detection of the radiation flux and the generation of cancellation rays, but still a sufficiently capable device could likely prevent 98-99% of the damage whch might have been inflicted without such cancellation.

    The craft's design could be such that it depended upon a regular feed of cosmic rays to keep it energized, or maintain the integrity of its physical internals-- thereby turning a potential risk into merely an essential component of its operation. Believe the randomness of cosmic and other radiation baths would prevent any attempt to produce order from its effects? Well, the very laws of physics themselves, upon which all the order in the universe is built, stem from the randomness of quantum mechanics. So in theory it should be possible to insure a certain type of desired order even from the chaotic effects of radiation exposure in space. If early 21st century humanity can conceive of such a thing, surely a more advanced race can build it.

    But still more possibilities exist. It might be that a micro-singularity could form the heart of such a tiny craft, serving partly as an energy source, and perhaps in another way as a secure repository for contingency programming or gear. Or even as an exotic communications and transportation terminal, that the craft could utilize for maintenance, repair, and consulting purposes to stave off destruction due to excess wear and tear.

    But of course such speculation concerning the long term survival of tiny deep space probes qualifies as a major topic of discussion all its own. So let us return to the subject at hand.

    Lagging far behind such a microscopic or near so exploration force could be more substantial industrialization and colonization efforts. These projects could utilize powerful mass lasers or particle beams to lay down vast carpets of 'smart' films of organic or inorganic technology onto the surfaces of worlds one or more solar systems away from the projectors, at the speed of light or just slightly below it. A variation on these films might even be applied to suitable dust and gas clouds in space itself.

    These smart films or mists, once successfully deposited at their destinations, would begin a lengthy 'bootstrapping' process exploiting local resources to become ever more complex and capable in their own right. Basically these entities would start out as huge thin films or dispersed mists, and gradually reorganize themselves into something more resembling the nanotechnology of the homeworld.

    Eventually these self-organizing cells will transform themselves into fully functional communications and transport terminals, including whatever local replicator capacities might be required for their mission. After that was accomplished, more conventional local colonization and construction efforts could commence atop these platforms, streaming in from the locations from which the first film or mist projection beams originated.

    Utilizing this method could allow very rapid and low cost expansion throughout the galaxy, with the main delays stemming from the time required for a race to achieve the levels of technology and wealth necessary to initiate the process, lightspeed, and however long an individual film or mist deposit required to take shape and develop into fully functional remote stations.

    All the above is of course enhanced in utility and practicality by the transition of the spawning race itself from organic to inorganic status, thereby enabling members of the race itself to easily travel to the new remote bases in virtual form, and live and work there as desired.

    Two small but still important factions of an expanding alien civilization, at least from our own perspective, would be those analogous to our own far ranging anthropologists and zoologists, and front-line entrepreneurs or corporate scouts-- combination scientists/scholars/adventurers/explorers/small businessmen, or corporate soldiers/mercenaries, who might personally take absurd risks and expend enormous sums to find, catalog, and study new life forms and their worlds; especially sentient ones. Alternatively, this same group might also seek out rare or unusual worlds or stars, due to some important trace elements for which value humanity is as yet unaware. This stubborn, far-ranging group might be highly eccentric examples of their race, perhaps even outcasts in some instances, and could be highly unpredictable in their behavior and objectives-- as well as their location at any particular time. This means this group might enjoy a disproportionately high probability of being in our vicinity (most likely by artificial proxy), or intercepting our signals, relative to other alien sub-groups.

    Perhaps another relevant point to mention here is the high plateau in total population numbers most star faring civilizations reach during passage through the last several stages of development described above. And following that plateau, population numbers per distinct species likely decline again, before settling at a far lower number per species in subsequent centuries.

    We do not include here the vast numbers of virtual beings and artificial intelligences which come to exist within these civilizations, as those typically possess no physical form and require little if any net input of mass or energy to sustain them. Indeed, a good portion of the net decline in physical populations here is due to physical beings exiting the corporeal to join the virtual realm. Also relevant is the vastly increased capacities and productivity of those physical entities which do exist-- thereby reducing manpower requirements per any desired goal. Old biological imperatives like reproduction too have fallen by the wayside as more satisfying replacements for such activities have been developed, and increasingingly genetically engineered and cyborg-style citizens are far less prone to the natural hormonal or genetic influences of their ancestors.

    But while total population numbers per species are declining, the number of distinct species themselves is rising, for reasons like the creation of the Child races, as spoken of before.

    Keep in mind that by this time or before these cultures likely can no longer be neatly categorized as land-based or sea-based, having adapted themselves and/or their Child races to exploit multiple environments. However, their overall expansion into space is slowing dramatically, and overall population growth rates declining, so that despite the increase in total effective races here, the probability of contact between each of these and foreign races is actually reaching a plateau, soon to begin a decline.

    The probable maximum reach/domain of a typical star faring civilization in this stage of development

    Is it possible to predict just how far out from their home system a typical star faring civilization has ventured by this point? Perhaps. This may be an excellent spot to calculate a given civilization's effective reach, as relatively few venture much further than this, or for very much longer, for a variety of reasons.

    The levels of technology we're speaking of here include those which might be expected of humanity for the 24th through 60th centuries. This could mean deep space physical transport of velocities up to 0.5 lightspeed or better for the vast majority of manned journeys, and 0.9999 lightspeed for the fastest and most important expeditions. They would have been launching missions into deep space for anywhere from several to many tens of centuries already, and their average individual lifespans might range from centuries to millennia. The combination of long lifespan and substantial typical spacecraft velocities makes for journeys of up to 200 lightyears being not out of the question, even for private voyagers. Use of suitable stasis, multi-generational missions, or virtual status could multiply this range indefinitely. Their nearest 'peer' civilizations (and so a likely constraint on domination/exploitation of the vicinity on any particular vector) would tend to be some 1500-3000 lightyears away. Thus, a reasonable expectation for their long term sphere of robust influence and knowledge might be a radius of 200-400 lightyears, or sphere some 400-800 lightyears or so in diameter. This could easily work out to hundreds of thousands (maybe more) individual solar systems within their realm of domination to use pretty much as they see fit (But likely only some dozens to hundreds of these places are actively exploited by many such civilizations, for reasons of practicality, among others).

    100,000 star systems have received humanity's oldest broadcasts from the 1920s

    -- Universe 2001: Beyond the Millennium, TLC, 9-13-99

    In general Earth has been transmitting radio signals into space for about 70 years now.

    -- ABC Are We Alone? How SETI Works By Kenneth Chang, found on or about 4-8-2000

    There are around a million stars similar to the Sun within 1000 lightyears of our own solar system.

    -- Scientific American: Feature Article: Where Are They?: July 2000 by Ian Crawford

    In terms of Karadashev Type civilizations, we might consider the civilizations of this stage to sometimes qualify as Type II cultures in many (if not all) ways.

    Star faring civilizations may be classified according to the scale of energies they command, in a ranking termed as Karadashev levels or types I, II, and III. A type I civilization is able to utilize the power output of an entire planet. A type II, an entire star, type III, an entire galaxy. One estimate is that humanity itself may reach Type III status around one million AD (if it doesn't destroy itself in the meantime). As of 2000 AD humanity was estimated to rate 0.7 on the Karadashev scale, in terms of interstellar transmission capacities alone.

    -- pages 291 and 312, The Millennial Project by Marshall Savage, Little, Brown, and Company, 1992, 1994, and Scientific American: WHERE THEY COULD HIDE: July 2000 by Andrew J. LePage

    Challenges of Evolution and Technology Contents

    13. The growing lure of inner space

    Here the challenge will become one of cheap, fast, and powerful fantasy versus a slow, expensive, and difficult reality. By now a surviving civilization enjoys nearly every creature comfort it could desire (at least in theory-- artificially created political, social, and economic barriers may well prevent such a distribution of wealth in some cases), as well as a near infinite variety of recreations and research subjects to pursue. But inner space is proving to be a worthy competitor to outer space for their attentions. Virtual reality meets and surpasses physical reality here by almost any measure which might be applied. It's cheaper, easier, faster, cleaner, safer, and more flexible than the real thing, plus capable of offering great advantages to users in regards to solving real world problems as well. With sufficient data virtual reality can bring distant worlds to the user instantly, where physical transport, even at costly lightspeed or small multiples thereof, may take lifetimes. Enormous advances in artificial intelligence and computer interfaces have only hastened this day.

    The lure of virtual reality eventually makes for a dramatic slowing in the follow ups and consolidation activities previously made in the wake of the exploratory survey craft mapping of the real world frontier. Faraway stations may fall into disuse and obscurity.

    It seems logical that the first civilization to undertake consistent colonization efforts of the galaxy might over run the whole place before a second such civilization could even emerge to challenge them.

    At least, if some internal change to the first star farers' society or technology didn't stop them first.

    Take us for example-- our own potential for conquering the entire galaxy if we're the first star farers:

    Our own first colonization missions to two close stars might require 100 years, given present (2000 AD) knowledge and expectations of propulsion technologies. Assuming an average delay of 400 years before a newly formed colony launched its own two fresh colonization missions still further into space, humanity could command every solar system inside a 400 lightyear diameter sphere centered on Earth just 10,000 years after the first mission. The whole galaxy would require less than 4 million years.

    So if anyone has preceded us in such ventures, they should now be everywhere around us. But we have found no sign of them so far. Could the lure of inner space alone prevent virtually all star farers from ever colonizing more than a small slice of the galaxy?

    -- Scientific American: COLONIZATION OF THE GALAXY: July 2000

    At least fractional (10-20%) lightspeed propulsion for interstellar travel methods appear feasible to humanity, even at our present primitive level of technological know-how (2000 AD).

    Five million years would be a reasonable amount of time for a single star faring race to colonize the entire galaxy, even if equipped with only 10% lightspeed propulsion, and an average of 400 years was spent inbetween establishing a fresh colony and undertaking further colonization missions from that colony. If an interim period of 5000 years is substituted for the 400 number, then 50,000,000 years would be required to colonize the galaxy.

    Possible resolutions of the Fermi Paradox due to things like aliens adhering to a Star Trek style "Prime Directive" demanding non-interference with primitives, or destroying themselves early in their history, or being disinterested in colonization, might only work if the total number of emerging galactic civilizations is relatively small.

    Just one star faring race with a history and motivations similar to our own, which avoided self-destruction, would be sufficient to colonize the entire galaxy no more than 50 million years after they began.

    The article cited below seems to discount much change in a star faring race's prime motivations coming about even from radical social, economic, genetic, and other changes wrought by extreme advances in technology. This seems to be a blindspot of the author(s). They see something like a human civilization of 3000 AD through 50,000,000 AD acting much the same as a human civilization of 1500 AD. I would argue that the vast majority of individuals living in 3000+ AD might be unrecognizable as human by people from 1500 AD. And so might the societies they inhabit be so radically changed as well.

    The article also states the belief that the drive to explore and colonize the galaxy would be especially strong in the first star farers to emerge, as they'd harbor some great desire to answer the Fermi Paradox themselves. But assuming this is so, might the star farers not soon cut short their expansion after discovering another race or two, or even lesser life forms, which might serve to satisfy the Paradox to their satisfaction?

    The article next suggests something of an opposite motivation-- that of surviving the death of their home star. That a civilization would logically undertake the veritable colonization of the galaxy once it appeared their home system was doomed. Again, it is not explained why the race would not simply move to another system and be done with it, rather than setting out to conquer the entire galaxy.

    -- Scientific American: Feature Article: Where Are They?: July 2000 by Ian Crawford

    The Copernican Principle is simple: that Earth and humanity represent nothing special in the Universe. Darwinism is a similar idea applied to biological lifeforms. Using these as guides, one scientist has projected that we probably won't colonize the galaxy simply because lifeforms rarely fulfill their ultimate potential. This same idea would appear to be applicable to many other star faring races as well.

    -- "ALREADY, NOW, WE ARE FORGOTTEN ON THOSE STELLAR SHORES" From Science Frontiers Digest of Scientific Anomalies #88, JUL-AUG 1993 by William R. Corliss, citing J. Richard Gott; "Implications of the Copernican Principle for Our Future Prospects." Nature, 363:315, 1993, with article title apparently taken from a Stephen Spender poem

    These changes and others in the parent civilization might not be welcomed by the child races. The virtual reality of the adults may not be shared with them, or else be too tailored to the older race to hold their interest. If child and parent have not already developed serious divisions, these begin to appear now. There is also the possibility that these roles are reversed, with the Child races embracing virtual reality to the dismay of the parents.

    The vast riches of matter and energy in space, and the technological prowess of both parent and child races to exploit same, help insure relative peace, prosperity, and cordiality among the group, while also making each the clearly dominant member of the regions they attain majority status within, at this level of development.

    The growing fascination with virtual reality and other internalized pursuits, as well as the ever present and considerable limitations on comprehensive outer space exploration and exploitation, and the enormous wealth already enjoyed by most or all, may lead to a low probability here that a parent civilization (or its child races) will continue the rapid expansion into space seen in earlier stages.

    Those races which continue their expansion may be by definition unusual civilizations, behaving in other ways too with puzzling actions, when encountered by other life forms such as ourselves. These explorers may be habitually dissatisfied with the status quo, searching for a breadth and depth of novelty or freedom or power they feel incapable of getting at home. They will be on the look out for new, exciting, and different items of complexity and intricacy unknown to the peers left behind. They likely will not be after raw materials or simple animal life, but may delight in finding, tracking, collecting, testing, breeding, mutating, dissecting, and studying higher animal forms such as ourselves. They may also be intrigued with art forms, such as imagery, music, and films-- wherever such stuff departs dramatically from that they're familiar with. They may desire certain aspects of our knowledge, though it's likely these areas will consist of elements unique to our species, such as medical, psychological, biological, and politico-economic-- not universal constants such as physics and mathematics, in which we may lag far behind by comparison. They might display some interest in our anomalies, such as idiot savants, as well as more balanced geniuses.

    These alien explorers might be looking for candidates for higher development-- races they might consider for molding into higher intelligences of their own taste-- to create their own child races. Development of child races may be considered an art form in itself in some advanced cultures, much as an individual 20th century human might take up painting as a hobby.

    Almost certainly such explorers will not be interested in raw materials or real estate, or even in domination of the space surrounding us. All these things are in plentiful supply, and therefore of little value. Advanced beings may even abhor the gravity well of our planet, and so would almost pay us to keep it, rather than want to invade and conquer our world for their own designs.

    The number of civilizations actively exploring space by this point in their development may dwindle down to virtually zero-- a handful at best might continue on. Those cultures remaining more grounded in realtime than virtual existence probably diverge significantly from those that preceded them, in both motive and behavior. The perception of time passage will become increasingly out of phase between the virtual and realtime groups, with centuries of subjective time passing for the virtuals in what seems like only weeks or months to the realtime inhabitants. The vast majority (perhaps all) of the civilizations surviving up through this point now turn inwards towards a virtual existence.

    Challenges of Evolution and Technology Contents

    14. The transformation from organic to inorganic status.

    AUTHOR'S NOTE: I assumed early in this document that the only lifeforms worth considering as star farer material would originate as (or be initially created by) organic forms-- that is, be carbon-based, as opposed to some other platform such as silicon. END NOTE.

    Few intelligent organic races will be able to resist complete transformation to an inorganic platform at some stage in their development. They may take pains to make the process a slow and gradual one, perhaps reproducing original organic patterns in their new housings for a lengthy period after conversion, as a security blanket of sorts. But eventual wholesale change may be inevitable, given the apparent benefits compared to organic tissue. Perfect health, instant repair and healing, practical immortality, photographic memory, deep, unlimited recollection storage, near lightspeed of thought, actions, and transport, enormous strength and relative invulnerability to most physical harm, as well as capacities to easily manipulate their environment on both a macro and micro scale, will be but a few of the benefits of inorganic platforms for those who are so housed. Purely inorganic beings may often be unbothered by unprotected exposure to space, as well as be capable of self-propulsion through the vacuum.

    The most important element of this change from organic to inorganic forms will be the natural greater affinity inorganic beings will have for the virtual realities described before, than even their organic precursors. For wholly inorganic entities should be capable of deriving far greater benefits from virtual realities than their organic ancestors.

    And so the siren call of virtual universes will be stronger than ever.

    Eventually the nature of such transformed intelligences would change substantially in other ways as well. For the emotions and shades of perception we are accustommed to as organic beings would simply be replaced eventually by other stimuli, no matter how determined a race might be to hold on to their past biological identities.

    This change in perspective and goals of an alien culture could be harmful to the health of others-- especially unrelated organic races like human beings. But it could also be benign-- there's no way to tell from our present vantage point.

    For the most part however, organic beings living in realtime such as ourselves should have little to fear from inorganic beings living a stable existence, mostly inside virtual reality empires. The main dangers from such entities would come from us accidentally stumbling across the physical foundations of their state in deep space, or from their far ranging, automated exploratory probes surveying space for them in our vicinity. Should we encounter their physical plants in space, automated defense systems would likely destroy us, and perhaps even backtrack our flightpaths to destroy our source or study it, or both, as a form of pre-emptive strike against a followup attack, since we'd by then be aware of their precious location. In space (as the net) one's home address is perhaps the most sensitive information there is.

    If instead our encounter were with the inorganics' survey craft, far removed from the aliens' home region (and safe from any attempt at backtracking it to origin), the primary danger would likely come from us making aggressive actions against its presence. Otherwise it might merely study us for a while and move on, peaceably enough. If we attempted to interfere with the probe's mission it might automatically destroy us, or else place us in a stasis of some sort, pending further orders from its remote command. Other alternatives would be to destroy us after first taking a representative sample for analysis and possible re-creation later under controlled conditions, or dropping a problem on us to keep us busy for the next few centuries. For instance, inserting a robust bacteria whose preferred food was petro-chemical products of all kinds into early 21st century Earth's eco-system would definitely set us back by decades, perhaps even centuries technologically. We'd be forced to find alternatives for nearly all of our most essential machines and processes, while at the same time struggling against economic depression and rampant starvation, as our mass farming methods, industrial base, and distribution means would suddenly all stop working catastrophically. Perhaps two thirds of the Earth's population would die within a single generation if such a bug were dropped on us today. Note too here that the alien device would not be trying to destroy us with this tactic, but merely slow us down and contain us, until its superiors could send some more capable survey craft to deal with us.

    Summary: The lure of inorganic existence (and from there extrapolation into virtual reality) would likely be overpowering for almost any civilization, at some point in its development. Probably all of those races which previously began cutting back on realtime explorations would go the inorganic route (if physical forms were still desirable at all to them). And of the few still actively expanding through space, probably over half of their own populations would eventually succumb as well. This would leave still fewer highly advanced star faring races physically moving about the space lanes (by 'highly advanced' we mean roughly equivalent to what might be expected of human technology circa 2400-3000 AD or better). This last remnant of realtime culture would by necessity have to be an odd lot, not to have given in whole-heartedly to the obvious benefits of inorganic/virtual existence.

    My hunch is that human beings would not enjoy meeting these hold outs.

    By this point the varying rates of time passage will have surely created enormous differences between the virtuals and any remaining realtimes. The virtual cultures will have changed to something almost unrecognizable to even their most advanced realtime relatives, with perhaps only decades of realtime passage.

    Note that a small percentage of any remaining realtime races, as well as likely all the virtuals, might well develop truly awesome technological capacities by this stage-- although perhaps not in the way early 21st century humanity is accustomed to seeing among worldly powers. No, we're talking true galactic super powers here-- but largely superpowers only in particularly narrow areas of technology and knowledge, and possessing capacities closer to 'average' for advanced galactic civilizations in most other respects. Specialists in a particularly narrow band of endeavor, such as building Dyson spheres around rotating black holes, or possessing the very best translation capabilities between the widest range of different galactic languages. Indeed, many of the specialities might seem downright silly or insignificant or far too risky to lesser beings like ourselves, until and unless we see an example of their worth in action.

    Of course, the nature of each civilization itself will help much to determine what niche they specialize in. I.e., likely only a realtime race would tend to specialize in physical space construction.

    Given the eventual greater numbers of virtual races as compared to realtime cultures, the virtuals might offer the greatest diversity of super powered specialties or niche capabilities.

    The virtuals would usually be difficult to find, contact, and do any business with whatsover. It would not be surprising if a lesser race tracked down and attacked a virtual superpower stronghold simply to get their attention (note this may be a foolhardy thing to do in many cases).

    By contrast, a few unfortunate lesser civilizations might spend much of their time fleeing or actively avoiding realtime superpowers. And there may be far flung and long lasting wars occasionally break out between such realtimes (and between the realtime superpowers and lesser races) too, also making them easier to locate than the virtuals-- unless the rarity of the realtimes throughout the cosmos makes even that prohibitive.

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    15. Transcendental numbers

    Marshall Savage, in his excellent book and proposal "The Millennial Project", postulates that 100 billion is a magic number of sorts, as it seems to be the approximate value required for critical events to occur in processes as diverse as cellular organization from atoms to the creation of a human brain from individual cells.

    Savage makes an intriguing case for the possibility that we might experience a quantum leap in understanding and/or other capacities if and when we reach this magic number in terms of total, interactive population. That we will, in effect, form a collective intelligence far greater and more powerful than any lesser number of human beings would be capable of achieving.

    Savage extrapolates further that with substantially greater increases in human population, more such super-intelligences might be created, until there might eventually be sufficient numbers of them to create the next level in intelligence, based on 100 billion of these super-beings themselves! Then, a small group of these super-super-beings may come to all exist and work together to accomplish staggering feats of God-like magnitude in our corner of the Galaxy.

    Logically enough, even Savage himself falls short of being able to imagine much of what such entities might do with themselves. But it's clear that they could be wonderous and valuable forces to have around. For finally, humanity would actually have something like a God (or Gods) that they could rely upon to really do something for them, if needed (unless they were malevolent or uncaring). No more of those old bed time stories and ancient myths and legends, mom; I want to know about the real Gods.

    The point here is that this same idea could apply to practically any civilization-- it wouldn't necessarily have to be human.

    At some point certain alien races are going to achieve the critical mass implied by Savage, and give birth to (or transform into) real-life God-like entities, capable of feats and thoughts on a scale unimaginable by us (until and unless we too reach that stage).

    "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." -- Arthur C. Clarke

    "Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God"

    -- Scientific American: Skeptic : Shermer's Last Law: January 2002 By MICHAEL SHERMER

    Certainly not all civilizations will generate such beings. First of all, the numbers involved may be doable for one or a handful of super-beings, but a race would definitely have to enjoy a substantial grasp on its own solar system to achieve them. And getting from there to the super-super-being level would require a lot more. Plus, the awesome numbers of individual beings required to make up these entities would have to be fairly densely packed, as interplanetary distances go, in order for the network effort to function at a useful speed-- much like the transistors in a microprocessor today must be very close to achieve practical operating speeds. There's all sorts of reasons why a civilization might not achieve even the first 100 billion mark-- the law of entropy, cultural bias against such large numbers, a perceived shortage of some critical resource to support such numbers-- and even more and better reasons why a race couldn't achieve multiples of 100 billion.

    So what are the odds that a civilization would achieve the 100 billion mark? And go further, to reach other milestones in super-super-being generation?

    I'd guess the probabilities for reaching 100 billion and other milestones would be much higher for virtual reality based civilizations than realtime-based ones, merely for reasons of the resources required to support the numbers. For a virtual society, the probability for achieving super-being status, and then super-super-being, might be 1.0 (100% certainty)-- or even higher, as a single virtual society might have few resource based limitations on their numbers, and so be capable of creating ten billion trillions of citizens (or a single super super being) about as easily as 100 billion people (a single super being).

    For a realtime-based culture, the probability might be substantially lower. Perhaps low enough as to be negligible.

    Perhaps all the introverted, virtual super power civilizations we're following here could achieve super being status, and maybe even super-super-being status (if they desired it), only we'd most likely never encounter them or their super alter egos, since they and it could remain ensconced in their galactic safe houses-- doing whatever it is that super-beings and their constituent citizens like to do. One exception to this isolation might be that we'd observe cosmic changes wrought by such beings in the physical universe. Unfortunately, we might be unable to differentiate between the acts of such super-beings and the more unusual activities of nature itself, as they would typically seem one and the same to us, at our present level of technological sophistocation.

    If any realtime star faring races did achieve this critical mass (100 billion + population capable of spawning a super being), they'd likely make a lot bigger and messier mark on the cosmos than the others discussed here-- because it'd take a lot more resources, both used and wasted, for a physically based culture to generate such numbers.

    In other words, such a realtime culture in transition might well create a commotion we could detect from hundreds or thousands of lightyears away, and be able to discern as artificial in nature too, even if they couldn't or wouldn't directly communicate with us themselves. Yes, this scenario flies in the face of some other principles discussed before, such as a civilization's acknowledgement of vulnerability in exposing itself to others. Still, the possibility exists-- especially for a culture which effectively achieved super being status.

    Let us pause for a moment and reflect upon these findings. What do they mean for our purposes of contact here?

    It would appear that we can allow all the virtual civilizations to simply 'drop off our radar screens', since they are so introverted and unlikely to communicate with us, as well as powerful enough to easily defeat any attempt on our part to force contact, for thousands of years to come. Too, there is the matter of their largest actions being possibly indistinguishable from natural events, which would make it still more difficult for us to detect their presence. For all these reasons and others, we hereby drop all of these 'phantom' civilizations (and the potential super beings which may spring from them) from further consideration for contact here (but we'll continue to track their fates in general, as in 'rise and fall').

    This leaves us with the contact possibilities of an extremely rare but possible realtime 'super-being'or two, a handful of various elite super powers, and dozens of more 'down-to-earth' realtime cultures (civilizations we can better relate to in terms of technological level) out there today.

    Being still grounded in the physical, any existing 'super-being' organizations or cultures may or may not find contact with such as we somewhat interesting or entertaining. They certainly would not feel the need to protect themselves from anything other than (perhaps) another super being. So security concerns regarding a race like ourselves would be practically non-existent.

    On the other hand, such super beings might get an idea for something more interesting than us which they might use our current space and mass for-- and in the blink of an eye we would be no more.

    It's very difficult to say what the handful of realtime super powers might be like-- but in humanity's own history of planetary super powers, plenty of violence seems to ensue. Plenty of heavy exploitation and abuse of more primitive peoples also seems to occur. If such a superpower desired to destroy us it would take just slightly more time and effort on its part to do so than would be required by the super being above-- but not much more, so long as we inhabit only one world and a single tiny space station. So chances are 21st century humanity would do well not to draw such attentions to themselves, if possible.

    The majority of more secular realtime civilizations, probably consisting of a mix of organic and inorganic platforms by now, as well as some use of virtual reality in daily life (it's almost unavoidable), may be a very odd lot, unpredictable in almost anything but their response to messages from the void. These peoples will likely stick to their original caution about messages, prefering to either not respond at all, or else respond only by sending untraceable vessels or probes to the source to investigate (and perhaps worse).

    In other words, there's not a whole lot of positive probable outcomes here for people like us beaming messages into space. We are inviting chaos by doing so, and should immediately stop the practice.

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    16. The children come of age

    At some point even advanced parent civilizations may find themselves locked in confrontation with a surprisingly powerful and determined child race of their own making. If the challenge goes to full scale war a vast operatic conflict may unfold across the gulfs of inner and outer space. Such struggles will likely be either very brief or extremely long-lived. Some may last no more than a minute of our time, taking place entirely in virtual reality, where one second of realtime may be equivalent to days or weeks inside the virtual environment. Other wars may span hundreds of thousands of our years, as individual engagements take place in realtime, requiring the forces involved to travel tens or hundreds of lightyears simply to meet for individual battles.

    Should innocent passersby such as ourselves happen to intrude on such encounters, there may be an equal chance of our either being obliterated before we realize what we've stumbled onto, or so surprising the enemies with our presence that our very existence serves to stop or postpone the war.

    Should a Child race overpower or otherwise come to dominate their parent, the uncertainty of the consequences rises exponentially. Almost certainly the victorious Child race will act somewhat differently than their parent would as victor. On the other hand, those Child races who did not actively oppose their parents, but rather gained hegemony in a peaceful, negotiated way, may continue to be very much like the original race which fostered them.

    Child races which have come to dominate their parents, or otherwise split off from those from which they arose, will represent elements of unpredictability similar to those created by the orphans of stage eleven and the dispossessed of stage eighteen.

    This stage mainly signifies a change in dominance; in few cases will one race or the other be entirely obliterated. However, we could be pessimistic and say the lesser of the two in such a change sometimes does collapse-- that perhaps this occurs in some 5% of the cases. We'll also assume that virtuals as well as physicals are vulnerable to this statistic (but that the God-like entities of both types are not).

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    17. The by-products and aftermath of wars between highly advanced civilizations (as might concern such as we)

    The effects of all out war between highly advanced civilizations are highly unpredictable, due to unguessed at technological prowess and magnitudes of artificial intelligence beyond our wildest dreams. In the most extreme cases, war between such states could result in the abrupt end of our galaxy-- possibly even the entire Universe-- Armageddon, or Doomsday itself. Due to the vastness of the universe, such an extravagant end-to-everything might require millions or billions of years to unfold-- so we might get considerable warning of the event (and even manage to evolve sufficiently to someday escape our fate). Alternatively, if the wave front of universal or galactic destruction moves faster than the speed of light-- or there's little astronomical indication of what's coming before the main event takes place-- we may get no warning at all. Short of this end-to-all-things stemming from war between cosmic powers, almost anything else imaginable could be the case, from the creation of vast 'dead zones' in the heavens, where any living occupants of spacecraft instantly die in trespass, to roaming "Berserkers": deadly automated battleships guided by advanced artificial intelligences, as envisioned by Fred Saberhagen in a series of novels.

    Less severe versions of 'dead zones' could be communications blackouts enforced over the entire spectrum of wavelengths, across enormous regions of space. This particular tactic would prevent communications between solar systems by actively opposing/cancelling out all non-natural signals, while possibly not affecting contact within each system, as a matter of treaty, to prevent interference with primitive non-combatants, and as a convenience for the opposing forces in local matters. From our own experience up through 2000 of detecting nothing more than natural phenomenon outside our own system, and experiencing no difficulties communicating inside system, we could well live in such a blacked out region without even realizing it.

    As of 2000 many scientists are becoming concerned at the seemingly glaring lack of results from ongoing searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. Something seems amiss. Or else there's something fairly large missing from our current knowledge and speculations about the Universe and/or intelligence itself.

    -- Scientific American: NO ALIEN RESPONSE: July 2000

    If you're familiar with the noise cancellation technologies which began spreading across the world during the mid to late nineties, you can see that scaling up the devices and applying them to radio signals (or even obviously intelligent light emanations), in an appropriate geometric configuration around a solar system could keep that system's inhabitants blissfully unaware of any intelligent communications going on around them. At least, this could be done until the inhabitants managed to get a few probes out beyond the signal jammers, at which time their suspicions of the truth might be raised-- since all the probes too might subsequently be suspiciously silenced by the alien technologies.

    In light of this, it could be interesting indeed to see how far out our probes can get from our own solar system, before we inexplicably lose contact with them...

    Too, let us emphasize again how such artificial blackouts could be used to block our detection of intelligence other than our own in the universe. With such a system in place, we could literally be surrounded by more star faring races than are evidenced on Star Trek, and never know it-- unless and until the aliens switched it off. By way of sophistocated gravity lensing, even our astronomers might be subtlely deflected from observations of active star faring regions of the galaxy and towards fallow ones instead.

    As of 2000 many scientists are becoming concerned at the seemingly glaring lack of results from ongoing searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. Something seems amiss. Or else there's something fairly large missing from our current knowledge and speculations about the Universe and/or intelligence itself.

    -- Scientific American: NO ALIEN RESPONSE: July 2000

    2-25-98 Newz&Viewz: Supercomputer predicts discoveries to come in space over coming decades/centuries.

    Enormous, dense, and virtually invisible regions of space (shaped like "walls" and "filaments") which may shatter high speed spacecraft that unexpectedly encounter them? Blood-chillingly large voids of absolutely nothing for perhaps hundreds of thousands (or millions) of lightyears, too?

    Of the ten mightiest supercomputers on Earth today, the "Garching T3E" is the one making these predictions of discoveries to come.

    Folks, if these speculations turn out to be true, there could be even vaster wastelands in space than we can imagine today-- wastelands into which only the most suicidal of explorers might venture. And besides those immense "deserts" of emptiness (which coincidentally the original Star Trek talked about in the episode concerning the Q-like "Squire of Gothos", around 30 years ago), there's also the possibility of gargantuan dark 'barriers' so huge that even faster-than-light starships might find it impractical to try going around them(!), and giant fiber-like structures of the same material which might also damage or destroy unwary ships which encounter them.

    Hmmm. I believe the fictional starships of Star Trek have entertained us with stories about things somewhat similar to these dangerous barriers and filaments for decades now, have they not?

    There may be a lot depending on just how common these structures are, and their scale-- and especially their local configuration-- in our own galaxy. Like what? Like the future of the human race. What if we discover we're boxed in by an effective trap of dark matter, which prevents the practical use of starships beyond so many lightyears in every direction? Folks, Vernor Vinge in his novel "A Fire Upon the Deep" dreamed up a reality where all technology and higher life forms were dependent on varying 'zones' of potential speed of movement and thought-- so that starships and advanced computers would work only in certain regions, and elsewhere only rudimentary tools and biologicals could function. Now it seems 'Dark Matter' may make something like this a reality. For a ship physically traveling through space at significant speed might hit dark matter like a train hitting a mountain. A craft traveling much slower during the encounter might be able to make progress with little or no damage-- but the speed could be intolerably slow and impractical to maintain for any substantial distance. And yet, what if the dark matter region was something like 25,000 light years thick? And too wide to go around, too? In that case, star ships would simply be unable to do anything useful in such an afflicted region-- much less get to the other side of it.

    So Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep could turn out to be eerily prophetic-- if not for us, then for some other star faring races somewhere. Niven and Pournelle also have written sci fi about sentient beings stuck in a 'trap' of sorts in space, in 'The Gripping Hand' and its predecessor ('The Mote in God's Eye' I believe is the title).

    Of course, FTL (faster-than-light) ships which folded space itself, or otherwise avoided actual physical movement through the medium, might be exempt from such barriers dark matter might pose. Unfortunately, such 'warp' drives aren't yet something we can count on (and may never be).

    So here again we find yet another possible reason why humanity's true star trek may be forced to proceed painfully slowly at its leading edges for centuries or millennia to come-- while paradoxically behind those leading edges we might become capable of enjoying instantaneous transport across whatever distances we care to (See the Signposts Timeline for more on this mounting potential paradox).

    -- Some ideas above found in an EurekAlert! report relating to the "Garching T3E" supercomputer, found on or about 2-25-98

    Extremely lightweight but near galaxy-sized particles may fill the Universe, thereby reducing the opportunity for dwarf galaxies to have formed in the past.

    These awesomely huge particles would be affected only by gravity, nothing else, and pretty much invisible until you collided with one. Yikes! Can anyone imagine a worse obstacle to practical lightspeed or slower propulsion over great distances? Could such particles also affect faster-than-light vehicles and communications?

    Are such huge single particles composed of 'fuzzy dark matter'? And each particle's entire mass only about 10 to the 24th power the mass of an electron?

    What exactly would happen if a spacecraft impacted such a cloud of probability? This essentially humongous single electron?

    -- New Scientist: Globs in space by Roland Pease, From New Scientist magazine, 26 August 2000, citing Physical Review Letters (vol 85, p 1158)

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    18. The displaced and dispossessed

    It's possible the orphans of stage eleven might be figuratively joined in space by refugees of war or natural disasters happening to more advanced civilizations than stage eleven discussed. The cause of such would most likely be natural calamities like collisions of asteroids with home worlds, or unexpectedly dying stars forcing evacuation of same. Some wandering groups might be colonists who somehow lost their way, or discovered something irreparably wrong with their intended destination upon arrival, and so were forced to continue on. Finally, a few might be remnants of parent civilizations forced out of their home systems by conquering child races.

    Some of these groups will be quite comfortable and capable, despite their nomadic status, having been not so much forced out but rather having decided the status quo not worthy of defending or maintaining. Encounters of these relaxed groups by others (like ourselves) may be little different from meetings with their previous incarnations, which had not yet been dislocated from their original holdings. For example, a culture no longer tied to any particular fixed location might not be so easily alarmed or angered by our discovery of their location in space-- for they would pretty much always be on the move, anyway.

    Other factions of the dispossessed, however, will be far more like the less technologically sophistocated orphans of stage eleven; facing hardship and insecurity, and unpredictable in how they might deal with newcomers of a still more primitive stature.

    There is no change in the tally of races here; even in the worst case scenario of this stage, no cultures are destroyed-- they are only forced to move.

    So the end result of this stage is at most a further diversification in the kinds of groups roaming free about the galaxy.

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    19. Relics and artifacts of dead or departed alien civilizations.

    Since all the civilizations ever naturally evolved in our galaxy may largely have been confined to the same 84 billion cubic lightyear volume of space (in the shape of an imperfect torus), and some signs of a civilization may literally last and remain recognizable for a 100 million years or more, there's a decent chance that we'll someday run across planetary relics from a now gone or non-existent technological alien race.

    Assuming humanity ends abruptly sometime soon, around 100 million AD some fossilized human skeletons may still exist, primarily due to our practice of burying our dead, and there being so many of us on Earth before our extinction. Unfortunately, the best preservation may require an underwater environment-- something which will be an unlikely place of entombment for a significant number of people, fossil-wise.

    In dryland settings, encasement in amber worked for some insects, but not for others (intestinal bacteria often consume all but the outer layer of an amber-trapped insect). Freezing, mummification, or submergence in a bog can offer lengthy periods of preservation-- but nowhere near the 100 million year range. Because environmental conditions almost certainly will change enough to disrupt the preservation process over such a lengthy time-- unless such relics enjoy some sort of artificial arrangements in addition to the others listed.

    Some concrete and steel portions of our buildings constructed underground, such as foundations, sewers, subways, and the like, may still exist in somewhat identifiable form. Cables and pipelines may also be preserved in protected underground locations.

    Some remnants of coastal cities may be somewhat preserved due to sinking into the ocean early on, or being drowned by rising sea waters. But such inundation would only be preservative if it happened quickly; otherwise wave action and storms would destroy the relics before they could be saved for posterity by natural forces. However, growing sedimentary pressures above may crush or flatten many works, while some geochemical and biochemical forces may corrode the relics completely or partially away, while others slowly cover up or distort artifacts by way of accretive processes.

    Bricks and concrete may survive relatively well underground. Glass fragments may lose their transparency but still continue to exist. Many plastics may turn black and sooty, but still present good representations of their original forms.

    Pollution in the biosphere will be a long lasting legacy. Metals in soil and the bottoms of oceans and other bodies of water will remain for a long time to come.

    -- Buried treasure by Jan Zalasiewicz, From New Scientist, 27 June 1998; a supplement to the above ("Flesh and blood") seems to have been written by Kim Freedman

    But a planetary environment may not be the best one for initial deposit and later preservation (and so re-discovery) of a lost star faring civilization's most tantalyzing artifacts.

    The vast majority of such relics would surely be more than one million years old by now, which means many or most of those existing on geologically active planets like the Earth would have been destroyed or submerged or buried long ago. Contrary to what many might think, it is unlikely that a civilization would make the bulk of their devices, housing, and spacecraft out of truly indestructible and indefinite lifed materials and power sources. Add chemical and biological activity to such worlds as well, and the likelihood of destruction and/or sophistocated natural camouflaging of the remains goes even higher. Then there's the destruction and scattering due to weather and climate change, as well as impacts of asteroids or comets. All this boils down to there likely being few useful artifacts of extremely ancient (one million year old plus) alien civilizations existing on most of the types of life-friendly worlds we might expect alien biologicals to develop, colonize, or build outposts upon.

    Another factor is that those aliens which managed to make the leap into space likely would do most of their subsequent building and living in space too, rather than at the bottom of deep gravity wells. So there might be even less stuff created or left upon planets in the first place than we'd expect from our own past science fiction media.

    This then may be the crucial clue to advanced alien artifacts of age one million years or more-- there's likely to have been far more recoverable items of such originally left (and still intact) in space than on planets.

    Another bonus: in space there's far fewer of the destructive processes and possibilities of planets to ruin said artifacts as well. Sure, all contained air might eventually leak out and ruin some items stored inside. Power sources would run down, artificial gravity generators quit, so some stuff would freeze and crack, and things would start floating around and colliding with one another and the walls, creating damage there. Memory stores dependent on periodic energization or controlled climates would lose data. Eventually some items might be pulverized to dust or icy particles by the occasional collisions-- and the particles could short circuit electronics or otherwise gum up machinery. Virii and other potentially harmful substances (like radiation) might escape confinement, to provide a nasty welcome for the first salvage team to ever arrive. All these might be termed micro-decay. And the vulnerability of any particular vessel or station to this deterioration might be inversely proportional to just how advanced its building civilization was at time of construction (as well as dependent on the purposes for which a given platform was planned to fulfill).

    There'd also be forces of macro-decay. Such as low orbiting craft soon crashing into the source of their host gravity well. The higher and faster the orbit, the longer such decay might require. The longer automated orbit stabilization processes continued functioning, the longer crashes would be averted. A related topic to automated course adjustments and security systems would be defenses against impacts of solar flares, space debris, and particles. Over the vast time frames we're talking about here, even damage from relatively small impacts could total up to substantial injury to a spacecraft or station-- even to utter destruction. After any automated systems onboard ceased functioning, these elements too would begin seriously reducing the value of an artifact-- even those which had no gravity well nearby to pull them in.

    Lots of colonies, stations, and industrial platforms would likely be situated in Lagrangian point orbits (essentially spots rendered exceptionally stable in gravity terms by multiple large bodies sharing a single orbital system-- such as the Earth-Moon system), or far out in the outer fringes of a system (such as in a cometary or asteroid belt) and therefore remain safe from major gravity well crashes for a long, long time, even without occasional automated corrections to their orbit. These installations would mainly be at risk from new system debris finding its way to or through the same natural orbits and colliding with them (any older items would likely have been removed by the civilization at construction time).

    Still other craft and probes would be even more secure from major gravity well crashes/collisions due to being deployed on deep space missions, where they aren't really in orbit around anything in particular most of the time.

    It would thus seem that the most plentiful artifacts of advanced, dead or departed alien civilizations likely to be around will be those originally launched into interstellar space, and colonies and industrial plants located in various Lagrangian points or cometary or asteroid belts of given solar systems.

    It would not be especially surprising to discover an old dead alien probe in the far reaches of our own system-- perhaps even with an ancient asteroid or comet harvesting plant nearby as well.

    A highly unusual dark, wheel-shaped form with six distinct spokes, and of indeterminate composition, size, distance, and age, has been spotted in the foreground against the Great Nebula in Orion.

    -- CARTWHEELS IN SPACE From Science Frontiers Digest of Scientific Anomalies #9, Winter 1979 by William R. Corliss, citing "Cartwheels in the Sky," New Scientist, 83:804, 1979

    Is the unknown massive solar companion indicated by scientific research actually a distributed system? With at least a portion of the mass consisting of a collection of unseen smaller masses distributed among various Lagrangian points in our solar system?

    Whatever the case, the total mystery mass involved in the gravitational effects observed within our solar system may be equivalent to as much as half the Sun's mass.

    The distance the mystery mass orbits from the Sun helps determine how large it is. The further out along the edges of the system it is, the larger it must be to have the detected effect (perhaps being as much as half the mass of the Sun). The closer in it is, the less massive it would have to be. I.e., much smaller masses distributed over several inner system Lagrangian points would have a similar effect.

    -- MORE ON "THE MASSIVE SOLAR COMPANION" From Science Frontiers Digest of Scientific Anomalies #25, JAN-FEB 1983 by William R. Corliss, citing John P. Bagby; "Evidence for a Tenth Planet or Massive Stellar Companion Beyond Uranus," paper offered during the Tomorrow Starts Here Conference, September 1982

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    Forward to Our most probable first encounters of extraterrestrial intelligence: Who, what, why, when, where, and how

    All text above not explicitly authored by others copyright © 1993-2009 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.