The Katechon Hypothesis

I have been mulling over the ideas in this article since early 2016, when they crystallized in more or less their current form. I am not quite sure whether these ideas are rather important, or the ravings of a lunatic. But I am certainly glad to be able to finally unload them from the confines of my mind, so that they can now torment people much brighter than myself – and, hopefully, provoke them into making further progress on what appears to be a very much unexplored area of potential existential risks.

I am grateful to Michael Johnson (Qualia Research Institute) for multiple very helpful and productive discussions, suggestions, and help with editing. Thanks also in order to many members of the East Bay Futurists for entertaining my initial rants about aliens and simulations.

Abstract: A corollary of the Simulation Argument is that the universe’s computational capacity may be limited. Consequently, advanced alien civilizations may have incentives to avoid space colonization to avoid taking up too much “calculating space” and forcing a simulation shutdown. A possible solution to the Fermi Paradox is that analogous considerations may drive them to avoid broadcasting their presence to the cosmos, and to attempt to destroy or permanently cripple emerging civilizations on sight. This game-theoretical equilibrium could be interpreted as the “katechon” – that which withholds eschaton – doom, oblivion, the end of the world. The resulting state of mutually assured xenocide would result in a dark, seemingly empty universe intermittently populated by small, isolationist “hermit” civilizations.

Keywords: aliens; digital physics; ETIs; existential risks; Fermi Paradox; metaphysics; simulation hypothesis.


Credit: NASA


In October 2017, a strange object appeared in the skies. ‘Oumuamua, or “scout” in Hawaiian, was the first confirmed interstellar object to pass through our Solar System [1]. As Robin Hanson pointed out, it was “suspiciously extreme in many ways”: Highly elongated, with a very fast rotation speed, no outgassing as with comets, and a strongly red color typical of metallic asteroids[1]. Could it actually have been a “scout” in the most literal sense of the word? The suggestions that it might be an alien spaceship did not just come from hyperactive sci-fi aficionados[2].

The recent discovery of the more typical 2I/Borisov suggests that interstellar visitors are far more common than previously thought. Nonetheless, this doesn’t contradict the possibility that one fine day in the coming century, one such “scout” from outer space will do in our civilization and our species, “with no warning and for no apparent reason” (with due apologies to Neal Stephenson). As I will argue in this article, this reason may well be not only perfectly logical, but born out of existential necessity.




Thomas Cole: The Course of Empire – Desolation (1836)

Filtering the Great Filter

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. – H. P. Lovecraft.

Robin Hanson’s answer to the Fermi Paradox – “where is everyone?” – is that the apparent rarity of advanced alien civilizations is due to some bottleneck event that all intelligent life has to go through [2]. One may view this concept as an extension of the Drake Equation, under the additional assumption that some of its values are so low that the average galaxy isn’t likely to host much more than one civilization that emits detectable signals into space at any particular point in time.

It is possible that the Great Filter lies in our past, meaning that we are safe, and a ball of hedonium may soon envelope our planet and suffuse our future lightcone. In a recent paper, a team of futurists recalculated the Drake Equation; instead of using point estimates, which typically yield an infinitesimal probability of our galaxy containing no alien civilizations, they calculated the distribution of expert probability estimates, ran a Monte Carlo simulation, and deduced that there is a one in three chance that we are alone in our galaxy, effectively “dissolving” the Fermi Paradox [3]. We should hope that they are correct, since the alternative possibility – that the Great Filter lies in our future – very likely dooms us to imminent extinction.


Shadows of the Past

If the Great Filter lies in our past, then it would imply that at least one of the former is very rare or improbable:

  • The evolution of life
  • Certain evolutionary milestones
  • The evolution of intelligence
  • Advanced technological civilization

The evolution of life. Straddling the warm “Goldilocks zone” between the Sun and the cold emptiness of outer space, perhaps Earth was uniquely optimal for the emergence of life [4]. This “Rare Earth Hypothesis” has been challenged in recent years by the discovery of vast numbers of Earth-like planets. However, perhaps a “weak” version of REH might still hold – that Earth is optimal for the fast emergence of complex, intelligent life. For instance, at least two critical evolutionary leaps – the appearance of eukaryotes, and of large metazoans – may have depended on large, creative-destructive oxygenation events [5]. If the Earth’s oxygen-absorption capacity had been higher, complex life might not have had time to emerge by the time the Sun fried our planet in another billion years.

Evolutionary milestones. Life appeared – in geological terms – almost immediately after the formation of Earth [6]. So abiogenesis is unlikely to have been the principal barrier. Following the evolution of the first self-replicating molecules, there was 1.8 billion years of near biological stasis [7]. Perhaps the likeliest candidate for the Great Filter was the transition from prokaryotes to eukaryotes, which were a prerequisite for the appearance of complex, multicellular organisms and sexual reproduction (both of which may have also been improbable). Conversely, transitions that evolved independently on many separate occasions – limbs, sight, photosynthesis – may be safely ruled out.

The evolution of intelligence. Nervous systems with distinct neural signaling molecules – the building blocks of big brains and intelligence – evolved independently across both ctenophores and cnidarians/bilaterians half a billion years ago [8]. Moreover, according to the Red Queen hypothesis, organisms don’t exist in a vacuum, but need to compete against other organisms within a mutable environment [9]. Since you can’t stand still indefinitely, this should drive the evolution of more complex lifeforms. This theory is backed by evolutionary history; since the Cambrian Explosion 550 million years ago, the maximum encephalization rate has been constantly doubling every 50 million years [10]. More broadly, there has been exponential growth in minimum genome size since the dawn of life [11]. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Vladimir Vernadsky had intuited in the 1920s, evolution is “creative”, with an overarching teleological drive towards greater complexity and intelligence.

Nor is there good reason to believe that there is anything particularly unique or improbable about human intelligence. The world after the dinosaurs has seen convergent evolution of greater intelligence across the entire swathe of the world’s habitats and animal taxa – dolphins, whales, and octopuses in the oceans; corvids and Gray African parrots in the skies; and the Great Apes, elephants, and some monkey species on land[3]. If humans were to disappear off the face of the planet today, there will be plenty of candidate species to rekindle civilization. For our own part, hominins only split off from primates 15 million years ago, and our brains have been exploding in size and capability ever since. Even the theory that there was a discrete “great leap forward” in human behavioral modernity 50,000 years ago has been sidelined in favor of explanations stressing continuous and accelerating change [12].

Advanced technological civilization. Technological growth has been increasing at an exponential rate with remarkable consistency for mankind’s entire history [13]. Agriculture began 10,000 years ago; the Industrial Revolution took off around 1780. In the past couple of decades, the new science of cliodynamics has provided a strong theoretical basis for this pattern [14]. The basic idea is that as population rises, you get more potential inventors, who create more technology and increase the carrying capacity of the land, resulting in higher populations, more potential inventors, etc. Although this basic mechanism is punctuated by “Malthusian cycles” – a euphemism for population collapses in the wake of disasters such as droughts, famines, plagues, civil wars, and nomad invasions – the exponential trend was remarkably stable in the long-run [15]. Other positive feedback loops include literacy and “technologies to create more technologies”, such as paper, reading glasses, the printing press, and computers [16]. Human accomplishment, as proxied by the per capita incidence of great scientists and artists, also rises exponentially over the past 2,500 years, peaking in the late 19th century [17].

The history of science and technology is also replete with examples of convergent evolution. Fire was invented, forgotten, and reinvented by countless numbers of disparate human bands [18]. Both agriculture and literacy were independently discovered across multiple locations[4]. The Ancient Greeks almost got to the steam-engine, and there were proto-industrial revolutions in the Roman Empire and Song China before the real deal got going in late 19th century Britain [19]. At that point, the Scientific Revolution had been ongoing for more than two centuries, and more than half the denizens of the European core were literate [20]. At that point, even if Britain had been swallowed up by the sea, an industrial revolution in that region of the world had long since become inevitable.


Gloomy Presentiments

Future Great Filters are mostly coterminous with the concept of “existential risks” and determine the value of the final term in the Drake Equation, which refers to the “length of time over which [advanced] civilizations release detectable signals.” In a seminal paper, Nick Bostrom defined x-risks thus  [21]: “One where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.” He also pointed out that a very strong indication that the Great Filter lies in our future would be the discovery of evidence of past life – especially complex life – on Mars, or elsewhere in the Solar System. At a single stroke, this would rule out the earliest and some of the strongest candidates for the Great Filter at a single stroke, and would constitute “by far the worst news ever printed on a newspaper cover” [22].

Major candidates for future Great Filters can be divided into three major bins:

  • Geoplanetary, e.g. asteroid impacts, Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs), geomagnetic reversals, supervolcano eruptions, megatsunamis.
  • Technogenic, e.g. nuclear warfare, anthropogenic climate change, pollution, resource depletion, dysgenic decline, bioweapons, nanotech, malevolent AGI.
  • Theoretical, e.g. “superpredator” civilizations, “our simulation shuts down.”

Geoplanetary X-Risks. These are characterized by being either eminently survivable – at least on a civilizational scale – or highly unlikely even on terran timescales. One study found that there’s a <1% chance that our galaxy will produce a GRB anytime in the future, let alone one pointed at the Earth in the near future [23]. If our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived the Toba eruption 72,000 years ago, then modern civilization will surely survive another Yellowstone eruption. An asteroid impact on the level of the K/T extinction event, which did in the dinosaurs, is only expected to happen once every 100 million years [24]. No dangerously large asteroids have been observed on a collision course with Earth, and even if they were… well, if early mammals survived K-T, then so will humans in deep bunkers and nuclear submarines. All of these scenarios will be extremely disruptive, causing dozens if not thousands of megadeaths. But in almost all these scenarios, some humans will survive, and they will be able to rebuild industrial civilization.

It can’t be completely excluded that a really large asteroid (>100 km in diameter), a GRB burst, or something more exotic hits us. However, it would be extremely strange – not to mention extremely suspicious – if a geoplanetary Götterdämmerung was to do us in just 100-200 years after the invention of radio, during a time when we might be at the cusp of a technological singularity. Then again, we wouldn’t have long to speculate about the cosmic injustice of this… which may well be the main point.

Technogenic X-Risks. This consists of “classic” 20th century concerns (nuclear war, dysgenics, and resource depletion), today’s “hot” topic of manmade climate change, and “futurist” concerns such as GNR (genetics/nanotech/robotics) technologies and machine superintelligence.

The megatonnage of the world’s nuclear stockpiles are an order of magnitude lower today than during the height of the Cold War (not to mention six orders of magnitude lower than the energy released during the Chicxulub impact that did in the dinosaurs[5]). Even so, many serious assessments even during the Cold War projected that a solid majority of the American population would survive a full nuclear exchange with the USSR [25,26]. Tens of millions would die, and the bulk of the capital stock in the warring nations would be destroyed, but as Herman Kahn might have said, this as his parody in the movie Dr. Strangelove said, this would a regrettable but nevertheless distinguishable outcome compared to a true “existential risk.” In the long term, radioactivity will dissipate, the population will recover, and infrastructure will be rebuilt.

In the past decade, climate activism has aroused the same intensity of passion as concerns over nuclear war in an earlier age. But we need to keep things in perspective. The IPCC does not project global warming much greater than 5.0°C by 2100, even under the most pessimistic emissions scenarios. There is also a case to be made that moderate global warming may be a net good in terms of crop yields due to greater precipitation and carbon fertilization [27]. However, even the most extreme projections such as the clathrate gun going off and “zones of uninhabitability” spreading across the mid-latitudes are unlikely to translate into James Lovelock’s apocalyptic visions of “breeding pairs” desperately eking out a hardscrabble survival in the Arctic[6]. The Arctic was a lush rainforest when global temperatures were at such elevated levels, and will be able to support advanced civilization. More importantly, there just isn’t enough sequestered carbon to lead to a runaway greenhouse effect that turns our planet into Venus, at least under current levels of solar radiation [28,29]. A relocation of the locus of human civilization towards the Far North is not an existential risk.

Similar considerations apply to pollution and resource depletion, confusing degradation and difficult adjustments with existential risks. First, it is not clear that things are actually getting worse – environmental standards have been soaring in the developed world (e.g. the Thames is now cleaner than it was in the 16th century), and new technologies are constantly opening up access to previously inaccessible resources (e.g. hydraulic fracking). Second, while future energy shocks may still impinge on living standards, there are no grounds to think they will cause long-term economic decline, let alone technological regression back to Stone Age conditions as some of the most alarmist “doomers” have claimed [30]. There are still centuries’ worth of coal and natural gas reserves left on the planet, nuclear and solar power have only been exploited to a small fraction of their potential, and hydropower – which has some of the highest energy returns on energy invested – isn’t going anywhere. Furthermore, we still have a lot of potential fat to cut! Low car ownership and the extinction of budget airlines do not preclude continued radio emissions or rocketry (e.g., see the USSR).

Much of the developed world has experienced dysgenic reproduction patterns – duller people having more surviving children than brighter people – for over a century [31–34]. Although this was long masked by IQ gains from better schooling and nutrition, that process seems to be coming to an end [35,36]. Meanwhile, the problems that need to be solved for scientific and technological progress to continue are getting harder, not easier [16]. Since almost all scientific discoveries accrue to a small cognitive elite in the world’s rich, high-IQ nations [37,38], this suggests that technological progress may slow to a crawl during this century as the world’s remaining “smart fractions” get depleted [39,40] (assuming that there are no abrupt discontinuities in humanity’s capacity for collective problem solving, such as genetic IQ augmentation or machine superintelligence). But will this “idiocracy” be permanent? I doubt it. Since fertility preferences are heritable, and ultra-competitive in a post-Malthusian world, we can expect an eventual  reversal of the demographic transition [41,42]. This renewed expansion will last until the world hits the carrying capacity of the late industrial economy, ushering in the return of Malthusianism and reasserting the eugenic fertility patterns of the pre-industrial world [43–46]. Consequently, dysgenic decline does not constitute an existential risk. However, it may have the effect of extending the period of time that future humanity will be subject to increased levels of other existential risks.

The final major source of technogenic existential risks concerns new technologies – in particular, genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (“GNR”). In an ideal world, they promise us a utopian future of radically expanded lifespans and abundant material wealth, if not the secular equivalent of transcendence [13]. But GNR technologies may also be the instruments of our demise. Since bioengineering doesn’t require an extensive industrial infrastructure, like a nuclear weapons complex, the means to inflict massive damage may be democratized, vastly increasing the probability of devastating pandemics unleashed through bioerror or bioterror[7]. The engineer Eric Drexler has suggested that nano “engines of creation” may go rogue and blanket the planet in a sea of “gray goo” [48]. However, it is hard to imagine an artificial virus that couples a 100% infection and mortality rate, while subsequent research suggests that democidal nanomachine swarms will remain in the realm of science fiction [49]. That said, there are many unforeseen pitfalls – future technology is, almost by definition, unpredictable. So it is not impossible that even something that currently seems highly unlikely (e.g. particle accelerator experiments), if not a complete Black Swan, is what will do us in.

Many experts believe that artificial general intelligence (AGI) will appear by the middle of the 21st century [13,50–52]. An artificial general intelligence (AGI) may be able to quickly bootstrap itself into a superintelligence, defined by Nick Bostrom as “any intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest” [53]. Especially if this is a “hard” takeoff, the superintelligence will also likely become a singleton, an entity with global hegemony – and woe to us if it decides to convert us all into paperclips [54,55]! Consequently, the “control problem” in AI is widely considered to be the most acute existential risk in futurist circles.

It also happens to be largely irrelevant to this thesis, as it is one of the few existential risks that do not also constitute a Great Filter. Getting turned into paperclaps will be bad for us, but irrelevant so far as the Fermi Paradox is concerned. Functionally, all that will happen is that superintelligent machines replace humans as the primary agents of the terran noosphere. Even if Skynet ends up killing us all, why would it stay on this planet indefinitely? More precisely, why would each one of the dozens to millions of past Skynets in our galaxy have uniformly decided to stay on their home planet, instead of beaming their presence out into space or physically expanding their dominion at close to the speed of light? Either machine superintelligence inevitably tends to suicide-or-stasis, which seems intuitively unlikely, though impossible to rigorously disprove since we cannot know the mind of a superintelligence before inventing one [56]; or superintelligences have universally worked out that they shouldn’t broadcast or expand into space from first principles.

Assuming that we cannot “dissolve” the Fermi Paradox to be sufficiently confident in our own solitude, and that geoplanetary and technogenic existential risks don’t constitute credible Great Filters, what else could possibly explain the “Great Silence” all around us?




Rule 110
Credit: “Mr. Heretic” on Wikipedia

Universe Simulations

Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. – Kenneth Boulding.

The concept of “superpredator” civilizations that winnow out any civilization that shows its head above the cosmic parapets – to remove potential competitors; for resources; out of pure psychopathy – is a popular sci-fi trope. Perhaps the reason everyone is silent is because killers stalk the star-strewn skies, hiding in the dark voids between worlds.

I do not consider this to be a very plausible explanation, at least so far as the most commonly cited reasons are concerned. Since any such civilization will have many millions if not billions of years of technological advantage, a posthuman space empire is unlikely to see any civilization at humanity’s 21st century technological level as any sort of significant threat. Nor do I think it likely that they hunger for any resource specific to our humble clump of rock. The universe is full of rocks. Maybe they do it just for the hell of it, like the Reapers of the Mass Effect universe?

Still, I don’t think that’s too likely. First, at least within the human species, empathy has tended to increase with literacy and social complexity, so it’s not too obvious that an evil xenocidal race stalking the heavens would constitute the endpoint of sociocultural evolution [57]. (That said, as I will explain later, evolutionary dynamics may favor the emergence of such civilizations). Second, and more importantly, why would they snuff out fledgling space-traveling civilizations from the shadows – leaving open the chance that some particularly paranoid ones slip by their net – instead of openly exerting dominance and saturating the galaxy with their presence?


Calculating Space

But what if the resource in question is something a bit more… esoteric? In a classic paper from 2003, Nick Bostrom argued that at least one of the following propositions is very likely true: That posthuman civilizations don’t tend to run “ancestor-simulations”; that we are living in a simulation; or that we will go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage [58]. Let us denote these “basement simulators” as the Architect, the constructor of the Matrix world-simulation in the eponymous film. As Bostrom points out, it seems implausible, if not impossible, that there is a near uniform tendency to avoid running ancestor-simulations in the posthuman era.

There are unlikely to be serious hardware constraints on simulating human history up to the present day. Assuming the human brain can perform ~1016 operations per seconds, this translates to ~1026 operations per second to simulate today’s population of 7.7 billion humans. It would also require ~1036 operations over the entirety of humanity’s ~100 billion lives to date[8]. As we shall soon see, even the latter can be theoretically accomplished with a nano-based computer on Earth running exclusively off its solar irradiance within about one second.

Sensory and tactical information is much less data heavy, and is trivial to simulate in comparison to neuronal processes. The same applies for the environment, which can be procedurally generated upon observation as in many video games. In Greg Egan’s Permutation City, a sci-fi exploration of simulations, they are designed to be computationally sparse and highly immersive. This makes intuitive sense. There is no need to model the complex thermodynamics of the Earth’s interior in their entirety, molecular and lower details need only be “rendered” on observation, and far away stars and galaxies shouldn’t require much more than a juiced up version of the Universe Sandbox video game sim.

Bostrom doesn’t consider the costs of simulating the history of the biosphere. I am not sure that this is justified, since our biological and neurological makeup is itself a result of billions of years of natural selection. Nor is it likely to be a trivial endeavour, even relative to simulating all of human history. Even today, there are about as many ant neurons on this planet as there are human neurons, which suggests that they place a broadly similar load on the system[9]. Consequently, rendering the biosphere may still require one or two more orders of magnitude of computing power than just all humans. Moreover, the human population – and total number of human neurons – was more than three orders of magnitude lower than today before the rise of agriculture, i.e. irrelevant next to the animal world for ~99.9998% of the biosphere’s history[10]. Simulating the biosphere’s evolution may have required as many as 1043 operations[11].

I am not sure whether 1036 or 1043 operations is the more important number so far as generating a credible and consistent Earth history is concerned. However, we may consider this general range to be a hard minimal figure on the amount of “boring” computation the simulators are willing to commit to in order in search for a potentially interesting results.

Even simulating a biosphere history is eminently doable for an advanced civilization. A planet-scale computer based on already known nanotechnological designs and powered by a single-layer Matryoshka Brain that cocoons the Sun will generate 1042 flops [60]. Assuming the Architect’s universe operates within the same set of physical laws, there is enough energy and enough mass to compute such an “Earth history” within 10 seconds – and this is assuming they don’t use more “exotic” computing technologies (e.g. based on plasma or quantum effects). Even simulating ten billion such Earth histories will “only” take ~3,000 years – a blink of an eye in cosmic terms. Incidentally, that also happens to be the number of Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars in the Milky Way [61].

So far, so good – assuming that we’re more or less in the ballpark on orders of magnitude. But what if we’re not? Simulating the human brain may require as much 1025 flops, depending on the required granularity, or even as many as 1027 flops if quantum effects are important [62,63]. This is still quite doable for a nano-based Matryoshka Brain, though the simulation will approach the speed of our universe as soon as it has to simulate ~10,000 civilizations of 100 billion humans. However, doing even a single human history now requires 1047 operations, or two days of continuous Matryoshka Brain computing, while doing a whole Earth biosphere history requires 1054 operations (more than 30,000 years).

This will still be feasible or even trivial in certain circumstances even in our universe. Seth Lloyd calculates a theoretical upper bound of 51050 flops for a 1 kg computer [64]. Converting the entirety of the Earth’s mass into such a computer would yield 31075 flops. That said, should we find that one needs significantly more orders of magnitude than 1016 flops to simulate a human brain, we may start to slowly devalue the probability that we are living in a simulation. Conversely, if we are to find clues that simulating a biosphere is much easier than simulating a human noosphere – for instance, if the difficulty of simulating brains increases non-linearly with respect to their numbers of neurons – we may instead have to conclude that it is more likely that we live in a simulation.


Computing Costs of Cosmic Expansion

Let us for the time being assume that we need ~1016 flops to simulate a human brain. This would mean that we would need ~1026 flops to simulate the current world population of 7.7 billion (and perhaps 1027-1028 flops to simulate the entire biosphere). This is still many orders of magnitude higher than global computing capacity, which has been estimated to be around 21020-1.51021 as of the end of 2015; assuming median brain simulation requirements (1018 flops) and standard rates of growth in computer hardware (25% per annum), these two lines shouldn’t intersect until late in the 21st century[12]. Under current computing paradigms, this suggests a near absolute guarantee of safety from simulation shutdown to around 2100.

UN projections suggest that the world population will max out at 10-11 billion people by the end of the century. A 2004 meta-analysis of 94 historical estimates of the planet’s carrying capacity, which at 7.8 billion is virtually equivalent to today’s population [65]. That said, another increase in order of magnitude during the following millennium cannot be excluded if proliferating pro-fertility genes were to reverse the demographic transition and bring the world to a state of “Malthusian industrialism” [66]. Carrying capacity estimates specifically based on land/food as the limiting factor produced a much higher potential population of 33-103 billion, which also syncs with my own estimate of ~100 billion as the planet’s carrying capacity under current technological levels [67]. Such a world will require almost 1027-28 flops to simulate.

However, these figures will rapidly inflate if/when we reach a “posthuman” stage and start to radically expand our noosphere. This expansion can be either inwards/microscopic (running more and more computations exploiting existing solar potential), outwards/macroscopic (settling nearby star systems, galaxies, supercluster, or the entire universe), or both.

Earth Sun Earths in Galaxy Stars in Galaxy Earths in Universe Stars in Universe
Only Humans c.2019 1E+10 1E+20 1E+31
Humans (AoMI) 1E+11 1E+21 1E+32
“Brains in a Vat” (20W) 8.7E+15 1.93E+25 1.93E+36 1.93E+47
Ems 1E+24 2.2184E+33 2.2184E+44 2.21839E+55
UNITS 1 1 1E+10 1E+11 1E+21 1E+22
ENERGY (joules) 1.74E+17 3.86E+26 1.74E+27 3.86E+37 1.74E+38 3.86E+48

Table 2.1. Population, astronomical, and energy statistics.

Before we take a look at the computational requirements needed to simulate various expansion paths, it would behove us to first establish some basic numbers. As mentioned above, there are about 10 billion Earth-sized planets within the “Goldilocks zone” of Sun-like planets in our galaxy. There are also approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Our local supercluster contains 50,000 galaxies. There are 100 billion galaxies in the universe. The Sun generates 3.861026 joules, of which 1.741017 joules reach Earth. (For comparison, our entire civilization produces just 1.2*1013 joules of energy per year[13]). I don’t bother accounting for wastage, since I assume that further technological development will assure that it doesn’t translate into a decline of more than order of magnitude relative to 100% hypothetical 100% efficiency.

There are currently ~10 billion humans on the planet, and I posit that its carrying capacity with today’s technological levels is ~100 billion [67]. Estimates for the human colonization potential of Earth-like planets is a factor of the number of stars and galaxies. I do not think there is much point in trying to estimate the human carrying capacity of like a Ringworld (i.e. in between an Earth-like planet and a Dyson Sphere). If we are to expand to other stars and galaxies in a substantially non-biological form – e.g., as 20 watt “brains in a vat”, as mind emulations, or as superintelligent AI programs – then one may assume that all surface areas will be exploited to maximize the amount of energy tapped from the stars, up to and including the construction of Dyson Spheres.

Robin Hanson argues that sometime during this century, the noosphere will come to be dominated by silicon-based “ems” (emulated minds) [68]. Ems reproduce by copying, and since copying has trivial costs, it can be expected that em society will quickly reach its carrying capacity, depressing wages to subsistence levels. Since much of the brain’s bit erasures are non-logical, Hanson suggests that ems will be much more efficient than the 20 watt human brain and that the Earth will be able to support as many as 1024 slow ems[14]. This presupposes decades’ worth more progress in increasing energy efficiency in computations (flops per watt), as well as orders of magnitude worth of optimization on brain models (i.e., removing non-logical computations)[15].

Regardless of how much “effective” computing power we manage to squeeze out of ems (or AI software), the ultimate bound on our demand on the Architect’s computing resources is determined by energy and hardware considerations – to which we shall now turn.

Earth Sun Earths in Galaxy Stars in Galaxy Earths in Universe Stars in Universe
Only Humans c.2019 1E+26 1E+36 1E+47
Humans (AoMI) 1E+28 1E+37 1E+48
“Brains in a Vat” (20W) 8.7E+31
Nano-Based Computer 4.5078E+32 1E+42 1E+53 1E+64
Human History (operations) 1.578E+36 1.578E+46 1.578E+57
Biosphere History (operations) 1.052E+43 1.052E+53 1.052E+64

Table 2.2. Computing capacity (flops) needed to simulate various populations of humans, ems, and superintelligences.

One rather surprising consequence of the brain’s computational efficiency is that a transition to a neo-Malthusian em or AI civilization running on nano-based hardware will increase the Architect’s load by no more than seven orders of magnitude. Since three orders of magnitude and ten orders of magnitude had already been spent on simulating all human history and the biosphere’s history, respectively, remaining a Type I civilization on the Kardashev scale is unlikely to put the Architect’s supercomputer under undue strain.

However, the equation changes rapidly once we start expanding beyond Earth and its measly share of the solar flux. Every major such expansion – harnessing the energy output of the Sun (Type II), the galaxy (Type III), and the universe – represents an increase of ten orders of magnitude worth of computational potential. Even if expansion was limited to purely biological human colonization of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, transforming them into 100 billion soul “Hive Worlds” like the Imperium of Man in the Warhammer 40K universe, it will require 1037 flops to simulate; that’s equivalent to simulating all human history every tenth of a second. Expanding to all potential Earths in the universe would require 1048 flops.

The fragility of biological life coupled with the vastness of interstellar distances means that cosmic expansion is likely to be dominated by silicon-based ems or AIs. A typical scenario might involve a von Neumann probe landing on asteroids orbiting a far off star, using the material to construct a Dyson Sphere or Dyson Swarm, and converting the structure into a Matryoshka Brain. Based on prospective nano technologies, simulating just one such structure would require 1042 flops. Converting an entire galaxy into Matryoshka Brains would require 1053 flops in computing capacity – that’s the equivalent of 1017 human histories every single second.

It is also possible that posthumanity will invent “computronium” that transcends currently understood limits of engineering; so much so, perhaps, that “inwards” expansion will long remain more cost effective than “outwards” expansion. In this scenario, it’s feasible that it will eventually approach a one-to-one mapping with the Architect’s hardware assuming analogous laws of physics. Once we approach the Architect’s geographic extent, our simulation will take longer to run than the flow of time in the basement universe.




Screenshot from Universe Simulator 2

The Katechon Hypothesis

Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be relearned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods. – Warhammer 40K.

If we are indeed in a simulation, there is a risk that the simulation will break down at some stage of these cosmic expansions, forcing the Architect to Ctrl-Alt-Delete us from our sector of space-time. We have no obvious way to quantify at what point this will happen since we do not know how much computing power the Architect have at their disposal, their future time orientation, the priority they allocate to ancestor-simulations, or even whether their universe hews to the same physical laws as ours. As I have argued, the most that we can weakly posit is that the Architect is sufficiently invested in us to have run the ~1036-1043 operations needed to simulate the evolution of our civilization and/or biosphere, which might not have been especially “interesting” until recently. This establishes a lower bound for the sort of computing resources the Architect has at his disposal.

What effect could this be expected to have on the universe’s geopolitics – its cosmopolitics? Rather paradoxically, the exact value of the simulating supercomputer’s Rmax value – its maximum achieved performance – may not matter nearly as much as the answers to the following questions:

  1. Do alien civilizations tend to believe that they are in a simulation? Or at least assign a non-trivial chance to the possibility?
  2. Once a space-faring civilization spreads beyond the parent solar system, is there any chance of controlling further expansion?

As I shall argue, a certain set of answers here will provide a crisp solution to the Fermi Paradox.


Do Aliens Believe in The Matrix?

Obvious caveat that alien minds are alien, there are a number of good reasons why they might seriously consider the possibility that they’re in a simulation.

First, the capacity to imagine the world as illusion seems to have gone together with the evolution of a complex cognitive suite. It has appeared in various forms and throughout diverse cultures in world history, including primordial folk beliefs (the “dreamtime” of Aboriginal Australians), ancient philosophy (e.g. Neoplatonism; Zhuangzi’s butterfly dream), esoteric interpretations of the major monotheistic faiths (Kabbalah Judaism; Gnostic Christianity; Sufi Islam) and heresies (e.g. Cathars; Bogomils). Of these, perhaps the most fascinating “ancient” example is Gnosticism, as it even anticipates the idea of a simulation within a mathematical structure. The existence of the Demiurge – the creator of the material world; a premonition of the Architect? – happens within the scope of the ultimate reality defined by Monad (the One), which is both Bythos (“deepest”) and outside time (“Proarche”), which can be considered a metaphor for the abstract mathematical structures that define the metaverse. So it seems unlikely that intelligent alien beings would have difficulty with the concept.

Second, metaphysics is becoming “digital physics.” Since the publication of “Calculating Space” by Konrad Zuse in 1969, the idea that “computation is existence”, that we live in a “mathematical universe” that can can be crisply described as a set of mathematical relations, or that can be modeled as a cellular automaton or computer simulation, has become increasingly popular amongst physicists and philosophers [69–72]. There is the practical observation that reality appears to be discrete at the lowest levels in both space and time (Planck units). The speed of light can be interpreted as the CPU’s clock speed. The universe appears to be extremely “fine-tuned” in a way that is favorable to the emergence of complex life. Furthermore, a great deal of what Einstein called “quantum spookiness” – collapse of the wave function on observation, or future events determining the past – can be interpreted as the universe making liberal use of simplifying calculations. Just as with Schrödinger’s cat, the typical RPG video game doesn’t calculate the amount of gold in a treasure chest until you open/observe it. It would be surprising if aliens did not come up with broadly analogous “digital physics” interpretations of reality.

Third, there may appear more telltale signs that we are living in a simulated universe. This could be in the form of what we might call “lazy programming”, such as the recent and unexpected discovery that all galaxies rotate at the same speed [73]. Another, closely related set of possible evidence would be cosmic macrostructures that hint at an Architect’s involvement. One possible example is a “supervoid” at the CMB cold spot 6-10 billion light years away. It is spherical in shape, ~1,000 times larger than similar voids, and is supposed to be missing ~10,000 galaxies [74]. This translates into 1041 flops to simulate that amount of “Hive Worlds”, and 1057 flops to simulate that amount of Matryoshka Brains (reminder that 1043 operations are needed to simulate a biosphere history). Perhaps that region of space “awoke” several billions of years ago, spread in an expanding sphere, and had to be wiped by the Architect? Moreover, perhaps the Supervoid only became so big because it was the first to go into metastasis, and the Architect could wait longer before shutting it down, since computationally intensive biospheres had yet to form in other parts of the universe?

These are admittedly some crazy speculations. That said, it might be possible to devise more grounded tests in the future. For instance, philosopher Michael Johnson argues that apart from ancestor-simulations, there could be two other good reasons to simulate a universe: (1) Instrumentally, to calculate something; (2) Intrinsically, to create a wide variety of interesting qualia [75]. Finding that our universe is optimized for efficient computation, or that all our contingent physical variables are fine-tuned to create maximum positive valence, could potentially greatly increase our confidence in whether or not we reside in a simulation.

Max Tegmark in The Mathematical Universe argues that we do not live in a simulation because of the problem of recursion (there is no apparent way to definitively establish you’re not in the basement simulation), and because simulating a universe is much more computationally intensive than merely specifying the set of relations between its elements (which is all that his Mathematical Universe Hypothesis requires) [76]. He argues that the existence of a memory stick within our universe containing such a set of relations would not increase the likelihood of finding ourselves in such a universe to any appreciable degree, considering that the Multiverse is infinite in scope anyway. I do not really buy this logic, because even infinities obey the laws of probability. In any sufficiently large portion of spacetime defined by our universe’s rules, the chances of us being in a simulation will converge to the quantity of simulated observer-moments divided by the quantity of “real” observer-moments.

Obviously, we can only speculate about those ratios. However, as Bostrom himself points out, the mere fact of us starting up simulations – especially ancestor-simulations – would massively raise the chances that we are within a simulation ourselves, at least so long as we can credibly recreate the observer-moments we experience. That the ultimate reality – the one that the Architect inhabits – may also be purely mathematical has no bearing on whether or not “our” reality is a simulation. The Monad does not rule out a Demiurge. The existence of operating systems does not make impossible virtual machines, nor does it even say anything about the relative ratio of total programs running between the two.

Consequently, the fourth and last point is that if aliens manage to successfully run ancestor-simulations, it will increase their confidence that they are themselves in a simulation. As already mentioned, they will have a variety of reasons to run such simulations. Critically, running simulations isn’t likely to strain their own computing budget, at least so long as it remains fixed as a percentage of their total computing activity. The catch, of course, is that this may require repeated “prunings” of the simulation.

Finally, it needs to be emphasized that there is no hard requirement that aliens believe or know that they are in a civilization for certain game-theoretic dynamics that will soon be expounded upon to come into play. It is merely sufficient that they either (1) assign a non-negligible probability to such a scenario, and/or (2) assign a high probability to other civilizations thinking in these terms, and assign a greater utility value to the survival and prosperity of their own civilization than to that of other civilizations. In both of these scenarios, even purely utilitarian considerations will dictate a certain set of cosmopolitical imperatives.


Can Expansion Be Controlled?

The biological drive to expand, to exploit more ecological niches, seems to be innate to our species. This is also probably true for most intelligent alien species, since intellect evolves, in significant part, to the challenges of dealing with variegated environments. There is no reason to think space is an exception, as suggested by the sheer plethora of “space opera”-themed films, books, and video games. This sentiment was perhaps most succinctly expressed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one of the founding fathers of rocketry: “A planet is the cradle of the mind, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.”

Once a civilization sets up the requisite economies of scale, there are substantial material benefits to cosmic expansion. Even if increasing a civilization’s power and prestige is too much of an anthropic motivation, there are no end of seemingly more “universal” benefits, such as increasing the energy/computing power at one’s disposal, and providing redundancy against many forms of existential risk. (This is one of Elon Musk’s stated reasons for wanting to set up a Mars base). However, no posthuman civilization, at least in the Milky Way, seems to have made a play for galactic domination. Moreover, we can be relatively sure that nobody in our neighborhood has gone much further than Type II on the Kardashev scale, i.e. fully harnessing the energy of its parent star.

Nor is it immediately obvious why alien civilizations would hold back. After all, it’s not like spreading to two, ten, or even 100 new star systems will likely turn out to be the straw that breaks the horse’s back (or short-circuits the Architect’s supercomputer). Increasing the computational load by many orders of magnitude, such as overspreading a supercluster with ems? As we saw in Part II, this is potentially much riskier. Settling just a few other worlds? Probably not. And the benefits to this are vast, since it would introduce a very substantial safety margin to a civilization’s long-term prospects. But all this depends upon the critical assumption that expansion to other star systems can be indefinitely controlled.

The reason is that while “singletons” [55] – which can range from world dictators to global adherence to a set of ethical norms – are feasible on single planets, they become much more problematic to maintain across multiple planetary systems. The average distance between stars in our part of the Milky Way is around five light years, which puts a massive lower bound on the speed of communications, not to mention physical contact, under currently understood laws of physics. Eventually, one world or another will start to ignore metropolitan edicts against further expansion. This will cause a snowballing effect, since the very fact of expansion will select for more adventurous, rebellious, fecund, and expansive cultures. Furthermore, having already defied the imperial center, this expansive culture will have strong incentives to rapidly maximize its power relative to the coalition that it is now sure to provoke against itself. This, perversely, will make it even more important for it to undertake further rapid expansion.

Historically, one can make the comparison between China and Europe during the Age of Exploration. In the wake of Zheng He’s treasure voyages from 1405-1433, the Chinese decided to scrap their navy to focus on the nomadic threat. As a centralized empire, it was able to institute progressive restrictions on private maritime trade, eventually limiting them to tributary missions. China was the dominant Power in East Asia, both culturally and commercially; in neighboring polities, kings sought investiture from and “kowtowed” before the one emperor, the “Son of Heaven”. Consequently, the Chinese sea ban (“haijin”) was also adopted by its cultural vassals, such as Japan (“sakoku”) and Korea (the term “hermit kingdom” predates North Korea). The Japanese policy, which lasted from 1633 to 1853, was even more draconian than China’s, prescribing the death penalty for shipwrecked foreign sailors and Japanese who left the country and then returned, as well as their families and intercessors[16].

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of Eurasia, there was no central authority that could mediate the intensely competitive and expansionist drives of the emerging European nation-states. Even the Pope’s 1494 division of the world between Portuguese and Spanish spheres of influence was sooner a recognition of reality than its creation, and in any case it soon became entirely null and void as other European powers joined in the colonial rush. Moreover, it wasn’t long before even the individual mother countries started to lose control over their settlers. The European colonization of North America became preordained as soon as their settlements became sustainable, despite subsequent efforts by the British to prevent American expansion over the Appalachians. And eventually, almost all of the settler colonies declared independence. Never mind five light-years – even just exercising control over a 5,000 km wide ocean proved too much for Britain, Spain, and Portugal[17].

Furthermore, even controlling a human space civilization is likely to be much easier than policing ems or AI superintelligences. Fundamentally, this is because the latter run on electronic circuits that switch 10 billion times faster than the 20 milliseconds that human brain neurons take to react [78,79]. Robin Hanson projects that the typical em will run at a thousand times human speed, while the very fastest cost-effective ems will run at a million times human speed [68]. One second of thinking for the former will be half an hour for us, while one second of thinking for the latter will be more than ten days for us. In the half hour that an ICBM takes to fly from the US to Russia, a very fast em can live out a typical human life. On a scale of light years, even Alpha Centauri (4.4 ly) will be further away than the Andromeda galaxy (2.5 million ly) so far as very fast em chronology is concerned. Since it is the fastest ems that are expected to have the highest status and influence, this implies that interstellar communications will occur on an em-adjusted chronological scale that’s longer than the existence of the human species.

Now assuming that ems and/or AI superintelligence are possible in principle, it seems highly unlikely that any radical cosmic expansion will be based on a biological vector. Not for very long, at any rate. First, as already mentioned, the fragility of biological lifeforms makes prolonged space travel a much more physiologically and psychologically challenging ordeal than for their machine-based counterparts. Second, this probably wouldn’t change even if a civilization makes a strategic decision – and has sufficient internal coordination – to ban the development of AI superintelligence (which it might do to reduce the computational load on the simulation, or because doing so would constitute an existential risk, e.g. they work out that friendly AI is impossible in principle, or establish that ems and AIs cannot have conscious experience).

But will a state of “Butlerian Jihad” last over the centuries and millennia, as the number of colonized star systems climbs from the dozens into the thousands and millions? As with the space colonization problem, there need only be one point of failure. Since ems or AI superintelligences on self-replicating spacecraft may be expected to be much faster and more efficient space colonizers than biological ones cocooned within the generation or colony ships of classic sci-fi, they will rapidly overtake and outcompete the latter in the peopling of the cosmos. Moreover, while a transition to electronic-based space colonization may be merely very likely in the case of an initial biological expansion, this would rise to a near certainty if said initial biological expansion is unauthorized. After all, a planetary subculture that has scant regard for a civilization-wide prohibition on cosmic expansion is unlikely to take seriously taboos on creating “machines in the likeness of a human mind” either.

In conclusion, it seems that expansion beyond the confines of one solar system vastly increases the chances of further expansion acquiring a metastatic or runaway character due to the practical difficulties of exercising control over distances measured in light years. Conversely, expansionist drives have a good chance of being contained on a single planet. There can be a global treaty mandating planetary isolationism. A sufficiently powerful coalition of countries can subject “rogue” polities that don’t sign up to sabotage, sanctions, or military suppression.

Counterintuitively, this problem may be even easier to solve on a single em or AI superintelligence planet. This is because any cosmic expansion will be effected through some kind of spaceship, but manufacturing – even at the nano level – would still be much slower relative to the speed of electronic thought, than is conventional manufacturing relative to the speed of human thought. During the time it takes to construct a starship, faster ems will get to experience the equivalent of thousands of years of human thought. During this period, ems that support the isolationist consensus will have plenty of time to discover the project (if it is clandestine), to gather a coalition against it, and to sabotage it. That said, one may also think of counterarguments that suggest cosmic expansion will be harder on an em planet. Hanson posits that em society will be organized around “clans” consisting of multiple copies of the same basic model em. These clans will presumably have very high levels of internal solidarity and coordination. Should a sufficiently large clan take over a planetoid or large asteroid that’s far from major em centers, one may posit that it will be able to construct starships in considerable security underground.

Regardless of whether a human or em civilization can be expected to have a better handle on controlling cosmic expansion, these considerations strongly suggest a hard, natural limit to interstellar expansion under any circumstances: Staying in one’s own solar system.


Space Sakoku and Zero-Sum Cosmopolitics

Summing up, it is perfectly imaginable that advanced alien civilizations may adhere to the following set of beliefs:

  1. That they are in a simulation with limited computing power, or at least assign a non-trivial chance to the possibility.
  2. That interstellar expansion risks assuming runaway characteristics the more worlds it comes to encompass.
  3. That hypothetical alien civilizations come to hold similar beliefs.

These beliefs may lead to a logically deduced and regionally evolved game-theoretical equilibrium that keeps the density of computational activity in any given sector of space low enough that it doesn’t overload the Architect’s mainframe. This equilibrium may be interpreted as the ultimate metaphysical Katechon, the Biblical concept of “that which withholds” the coming of the End Times in Christian eschatology, and has been variously associated with the Roman Empire, Christian monarchies, and the Hobbesian Leviathan. The Katechon may be expected to manifest itself in a set of behaviors that aims to minimize the probability of runaway cosmic expansion.

What would be the components of such an equilibrium? Imagine we are non-player characters (NPCs) in the Architect’s video game. Through recursion, the Architect fears that its own reality is also simulated, and at risk of getting shut down should they exceed the computing power assigned to their sector of space. After all, what would you do if an NPC in your video game was to start mining Bitcoin on your computer’s GPU for their own benefit? Sooner or later, you’d probably Ctrl-Alt-Delete them. Even more to the point, what would you do if you happened to be that NPC?

First, you would refrain from spinning off more NPCs. This means no cosmic expansion, since “child civilizations” will compete for the Architect’s limited resources and increase the risk of ruin for everyone. They will live under the dictums of the heresiarch of Uqbar, a Borgesian character who proclaimed mirrors and copulation to be abominable, as they both multiplied the numbers of men. The solar system would be kept in a state of indefinite sakoku, with an absolute ban on spreading self-replicators, whether biological or machine, beyond it.

Second, you would kill any other NPCs you come across. Shoot first and don’t ask later. This consequence of zero-sum cosmopolitics may be termed Mutually Assured Xenocide. It is essentially a modified version of superpredator theory, but with calculating space as the limited resource. Note that there doesn’t have to be anything particularly pathological about it, and there might even be pangs of guilt and regret – though perhaps dulled by repetition and existential necessity – as our killers fire up the mirror beam at the epicenter of the radio emissions from our Solar System (provided that they see us first). So it would really be Regretful Mutually Assured Xenocide (RMAX), with Solzhenitsyn’s portrayal of life in the Gulag constituting the literary backdrop: “May you die today, so that I may die tomorrow.” But fire that mirror beam they will, because it is RMAX that ensures the Rmax delegated to our sector of space is not exceeded.

Third, more speculatively, you would be incentivized to run ancestor-simulations. As already mentioned, posthuman civilizations may tend to do this for a variety of reasons – out of curiosity about their ancestors; to compute something; and/or to investigate a broader range of possible mind-states and qualia (psychonautics). Philosophically, they might also do it to increase their confidence that they are themselves within a simulation by fulfilling one of the conditions within Bostrom’s Simulation Argument. If they are “successful” at this, this would make the Katechon Hypothesis much more likely, and would also consequently serve a vital strategic role, such as analyzing how evolved civilizations react to the possibility of themselves being in a simulation (i.e. providing a sample of more than n=1), and the cosmopolitical implications thereof (i.e. would this lead to RMAX dynamics?). Ironically, this would also open up an additional incentive for alien civilizations to fire on sight – as a meta strategy to reduce the risk that they are themselves within a simulation.


The RMAX Equilibrium

Anticipating objections, I need to emphasize that the Katechon would be an evolved system. Areas of the universe in which it did not appear, or where RMAX was not enforced rigorously enough, would have been “wiped” by the Architect. On the other hand, the anthropic principle suggests that RMAX was not so rigorously enforced as to have prevented the possibility of life developing on at least some habitable planets. Furthermore, an environment in RMAX equilibrium can also be expected to select for a certain set of psychological traits amongst surviving alien civilizations. These are very likely to include paranoia, isolationism, and aggressiveness.

The fundamental reason has to do with the observation that the offensive rules supreme in space. This is a function of the sheer destructiveness of hypothetical space-based weaponry, as well as the relative ease of stealth for civilizations that are so inclined. Trivially, one may launch dense pellets or objects at very high speeds, because energy imparted is a constant of mass but the square of speed, which furthermore becomes hyperbolic at relativistic speeds[18]. However, aiming such a shot may be quite difficult from large distances. Alternatively, mega-mirrors arranged around a star can generate a beam with the intensity of a 6750K blackbody, with a diameter equal to our Moon’s orbit and a diffraction rate of only 50 km per 1,500 light years. Such a beam would maintain the intensity of a star’s surface, even thousands of light years away[19]. Even a temporary intersection with a planet such as Earth will fry its surface to a crisp. Another, admittedly harder, possibility is to fling large planets into the Sun[20]. This isn’t going into overly “sci-fi” weapons, such as nanomachines that can transmute a star’s mass into elements that don’t support fusion (as in Peter F. Hamilton’s The Neutronium Alchemist), or exotic space-time hijinks to speed up delivery times beyond light speed (e.g. Alcubierre Drives or wormholes)[21]. They might be purely speculative today, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Potentially, aliens can also send von Neumann probes programmed to kill, enslave, or otherwise constrain the cosmic expansive potential of native lifeforms. However, this may be risky, since any self-replicators still have the potential to evolve and go “rogue” themselves, nullifying the entire point of such a mission. Perhaps a safer and more productive use for von Neuman probes will be as spying/listening devices on lunar surfaces or asteroid belts, as in Bracewell’s sentinel hypothesis [80]. It would be relatively cheap to seed most of the solar systems in a galaxy with such probes, especially those suspected of having habitable planets. In our own solar system, it might make sense to place them within the inner Oort Cloud, which is far enough from the Earth (unlike the Kuiper Belt) to avert detection for what is likely many more centuries to come, but not so far away as to have all radio emissions from Earth fade away into the background cosmic radiation. The low level of solar flux at those distances will deprive self-replicators of the energy surpluses needed for vigorous reproduction and potentially dangerous evolution, but might be just enough to allow them to effect self-repair and passive observation – and to communicate detection of artificially-created radio waves to their masters.

The one thing that all of these attack vectors have in common is that the victimized civilization would hardly have any time to know what hit them, let alone figure out where it came from. Even in the unlikely event that they regain their bearings, their own detection capabilities would have been massively degraded. Consequently, the civilization that launches the attack would have little fear of retaliation.

Consequently, the correct game-theoretical move under an RMAX Equilibrium is to always defect. Cooperation only typically arises in repeated games – but the distances and scales of space warfare, plus the high risk of attempts at peaceful communication (since they are largely equivalent to dropping stealth), means that there’d be scant space for more positive dynamics to arise. Defection being the rational play would also subdue incentives to actively seek revenge, at least in the unlikely event that a civilization on the receiving end of a space bullet or mirror beam survives in some form.

All this implies that the very nature of the RMAX Equilibrium would actively select for xenocidal aggressiveness. Just as any good or trusting creature dreamt up by mortals and given flesh in the northern Chaos Wastes of the world of Warhammer gets instantly killed by stronger and more evil entities, so too, perhaps, the less paranoid and aggressive space civilizations get snuffed out as soon as they make their existence known to the uncaring gods of the heavens.

One team of futurists has argued that advanced alien civilizations “aestivate”, quietly hoarding their energy surpluses so as to perform computations at a time far in the future when the cooling of the universe makes computing much more efficient [81]. This would enable far more total operations (by a factor of ~1030) than if they were to start now. They calculate that a civilization burning through the baryonic mass of a supercluster can achieve as many as 1093 operations. This should suffice to simulate an entire universe of Matryoshka Brains for up to a sextillion years[22]. That said, it should be noted that strong counter-arguments have been raised against the Aestivation Hypothesis [82].

However, even if it is true, it would not would not constitute a refutation of the Katechon Hypothesis. That is because even aestivating civilizations will need to ensure that upstart civilizations don’t emerge and smother them during their slumber, and/or metastasize and invite the Architect’s wrath upon their sector of space. Furthermore, the inventors of the Aestivation Hypothesis make the exact same point: “Leaving autonomous systems to monitor the domain and preventing activities that decrease its value would be the rational choice. They would ensure that parts of the originating civilization do not start early but also that invaders or young civilizations are stopped from value-decreasing activities. One plausible example would be banning the launch of self-replicating probes to do large-scale colonization.” Consequently, they would if anything have even greater incentives to stymie foreign cosmic expansions than “active” alien civilizations.

More speculatively, combining these considerations may suggest that an optimal strategy under the Katechon Hypothesis may be to enclose a single star within a Matryoshka Brain. The outer shell would constitute a clearly demarcated limit to cosmic expansion. It would give its owners extreme detection capabilities (massive telescopes) and offensive powers (space mirrors). It would also generate up to 1042 flops worth of computing power based on theoretically feasible nano-based designs, which could be sufficient to simulate a million human histories within one second. Incidentally, it has been recently theorized that the KIC 8462852 star may be in the final stage of transitioning to a Type II civilization [83]. It is 1,468 light years away from us. If these speculations are correct, by far the strangest thing would be that they have reached a posthuman stage just ~2,000 years ahead of us. Set against cosmic timescales of billions of years, this would be a most amazing coincidence – unless, perhaps, the Architect “seeded” every intelligent alien species at the same point in time in what ultimately translates into a gargantuan Civilization video game. If so, this certainly doesn’t bode well for us. We’d have come to a tank battle armed with spears[23].


Navigating the Black Seas of Infinity

We have been blithely broadcasting our presence to the dark void above for more than a century. Even if commercial radio or TV broadcasting is too underpowered, the radar signals from Russian and American ballistic missile early warning systems should be detectable from any part of the inner Oort Cloud that happens to host an alien listening post with the detection capabilities of the Arecibo Observatory. If the Katechon Hypothesis is true, then our doom may already be written onto the stars.

Still, it’s not yet too late to take some proactive measures to give us at least some chance of survival if worst comes to worst.

(1) We need more research! This sounds banal, but it’s true nonetheless. We need to think more about how to prove (or disprove) the Katechon Hypothesis and accurately identify the RMAX Equilibrium’s position within the hierarchy of existential risks. In particular, we need to do more of the following:

  • Generate much more precise estimates of the likelihood of potential Great Filters in the past. This should be done anyway, since narrowing down the past parameters of the Drake Equation is also critical to clarifying just how much we should be worried about existential risks in principle.
  • Continue researching and working to mitigate technogenic existential risks.
  • Continue searching for more evidence on whether our universe is a simulation or not.
  • Continue working on simulating more complex neuronal structures, to establish the computational cost of simulating minds of varying complexity, and how granular the simulation needs to be to accurately simulate their behavior.
  • Explore the nature of qualia, of consciousness, and of whether they can be rigorously measured and simulated.

The answers to these research questions will determine the attention we will need to pay to subsequent recommendations.

Depending on the results of these investigations, it may still be worthwhile trying to enact some form of emissions control, even though there’s a good chance it will be politically impossible, and far too late anyway.

In a personal communication, Michael Johnson suggests that we also need to explore what sort of predictions the Katechon Hypothesis implies. For instance, are there cosmological predictions that would add to our confidence about the Katechon Hypothesis if they were later discovered to be true? Possibly the two most likely places to look are cosmological observations and contingent variables in the Standard Model. Does the Katechon Hypothesis make any cosmological predictions, or predictions about what the “apparently contingent but apparently fine-tuned” variables in the Standard Model might be exactly optimized for?

(2) Absolutely no active SETI. One doesn’t even need the Katechon Hypothesis to see why this might be a bad idea.

(3) We may consider instituting radio emissions control. This will be politically tricky, though possible for a determined singleton. The main problem is that it’s probably far too late for that. Nonetheless, it may still be worthwhile if the deduced likelihood of RMAX Equilibrium is sufficiently and alarmingly high.

(4) We need to get good at identifying small objects in space. If our sector of space is in an RMAX Equilibrium, alien civilizations are likely to have seeded space with secret listening outposts trained to recognize the appearance of intelligent civilizations within their sectors, and relay their findings for all the universe to hear (there’s no particular reason that the spotter and the sniper have to be the same civilization).

We will need to comb nearby planetary and asteroid surfaces. As mentioned, there is a good chance that any such Sentinels will be located in the Oort Cloud, exploring which is beyond our present capabilities. However, doing this for nearby planets, moons, co-orbiting objects, and the Kuiper Belt is already on the cusp of technological feasibility.

(5) There must be hard restrictions on interstellar expansion until we can disprove the Katechon Hypothesis. Even if there are no hostile aliens, such an expansion is likely to eventually assume runaway characteristics and doom us to eventual simulation shutdown.

(6) Nonetheless, we need to recognize space technologies as important complements to reducing existential risks. Dispersing our civilization over the solar system would increase the chance that at least some humans would survive the Earth getting fried by a directed energy weapon or hammered by a hypervelocity projectile. Especially prospective avenues might include:

  • Early warning systems for incoming projectiles, black holes, mirror beams (if our orbital path is targeted), etc.
  • Nuclear pulse propulsion (Orion Drives), by far the most cost effective way to quickly get huge masses of matter out into space.
  • Colonization of Mars, Venus, and some lunar bodies, with the ultimate aim of making them self-sustaining.

Although as we have seen there is a strong case for banning cosmic expansion, it may nonetheless be useful to have related technologies on the drawing board should our own planet or solar system come under imminent risk of extermination. This would include life support, life extension, and/or cryopreservation technologies to enable interstellar travel. However, even if we manage to navigate to a habitable planet in another solar system, we will still face the renewed challenge of radio emissions control. This would require research into social technologies or structures that can maintain ideological consistency over the long-term. Alternatively, it may be worthwhile locating geothermally active “rogue” or Steppenwolf planets and brainstorming ways of colonizing them[24]. Their location in deep space and lack of a gravitational tether to a star makes them much harder to locate and track, and an underground civilization will have fewer opportunities or need to blast out its presence to the heavens.

(7) We need to be careful about transitioning to a post-biological form of existence. The pros and cons need to be carefully weighed. It is possible that controlling cosmic expansion will be easier for ems or AI superintelligences. On the other hand, merging with the machine would very likely increase the computing load on the Architect’s supercomputer by several orders of magnitude[25].

(8) If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you. Should we reach the posthuman stage, we may need to develop our own RMAX enforcement tools – even if it doesn’t currently exist within our sector of space. If we conclude with high confidence that the calculating space we inhabit is strongly limited, it would be incumbent upon us to stymie the cosmic expansions of emergent alien civilizations in the future. It is not too early to start thinking about how we might do that as reliably and humanely as possible.





I am grateful to Michael Edward Johnson (Qualia Research Unit) for multiple very helpful and productive discussions, suggestions, and help with editing.





[1] Robin Hanson’s Twitter:

[2] For instance, “Is 1I/’Oumuamua an Alien Spacecraft?” by Penn State astrophysicist Jason T. Wright:

Is 1I/’Oumuamua an Alien Spacecraft?

[3] Alex K. Chen has a comprehensive and well-researched, if not entirely rigorous, list of animals ordered by estimated IQ:

[4] Even if agriculture was impossible in our world, it may not have closed off the road to industrialism. Fishing was able to support large sedentary populations, and even a nomadic existence in the Arctic was not necessarily incompatible with sustained technological progress and the development of industries, e.g., bone armor was already getting manufactured in Siberia 3,900 years ago (see ).

[5] Nuclear megatonnage peaked at 20 gigatons in the USA (c.1960) and the USSR (c.1975); both powers are now down to less than 1 gigaton. The Chicxulub impact released ~100,000 gigatons.

[6] Interview with James Lovelock in The Independent (2006), see .

[7] E.g. see Bill Joy’s classic essay in Wired (2000), “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” . One researcher believes that this effect may wholly explain the Fermi Paradox [47].

[8] Borrowing largely from Bostrom: 1011 humans who ever lived * 1016 flops * 50 years average life expectancy * 31,556,952 seconds in a year ≈ 1036 operations needed.

[9] There are 7.7109 humans with 8.6109 neurons = 6.6*1020 total neurons, and 1015-1016 ants with 250,000 neurons ≈ 1021 total ant neurons.

[10] Though there are good reasons to believe that the total number of neurons on the planet was much lower even 100 million years ago due to the exponential growth in biological complexity over geological time scales [10]. For instance, the humble ant with its 250,000 neurons and relatively advanced cognitive suite – they can pass the mirror test! – evolved from a wasp ancestor 140 million years ago; modern wasps have just 4,600 neurons

[11] 1026 flops to simulate all of today’s humans * ~100 million years (if doublings happened every 50 million years as per [10], we can assume 50% of load happened during last 50M years, 25% around 50M-100M years ago, etc.) * 31,556,952 seconds in a year * ~33.3 (humans currently constitute 3% of Earth’s animal biomass, see [59]; assume share of neurons is similar; humans have the highest EQ, but insects benefit from miniaturization) ≈ 1043 operations needed.

[12] “Global computing capacity” in AI Impacts (2016).

[13] This may be radically increased should cheap fusion power be developed. One kilogram of hydrogen to helium fusion, as at the center of the Sun, generates 6.2*1014 joules. Consequently, half a ton of fusing hydrogen will generate more power than what the Earth gets in solar input per unit of time. However, there’s no really feasible way to get to the Sun’s output level.

[14] Reply to my question on Twitter:

[15] First, the most cost-efficient supercomputer on the Green 500 list as of June 2019 only registers 15 Gflops (1.5*1010 flops) per watt. The human brain does at least 1016 flops per 20 watts, equating to a difference of five orders of magnitude. This metric increased by a factor of ten every decade, so there’s still perhaps half a century left to go, assuming this particular subset of Moore’s Law continues. (Meanwhile, the most powerful supercomputers on the Top 500 list now exceeds 1017 flops, perhaps constituting a tenfold superiority over human performance). Second, how are we supposed to know which erasures are “logical” and which are not? After all, the brunt of Hanson’s argument that ems would come before artificial general intelligence rests on the idea that human brains are already here, “ready to go”, and only need to be copied and emulated – as opposed to deeply understood and built up from scratch.

[16] In reality, the sea bans and isolationist policies were far less consistent and draconian than in the popular imagination [77]. But they serve to illustrate the point.

[17] We can find another example, although fictional, in the Warhammer 40K universe. Humanity maintains central control over its galactic imperium through warp travel, which happens at much faster-than-light speed. This is coupled with a fearsome secret police in the face of the Inquisition, and planet-killing weapons that can be unleashed in the event of an “Exterminatus” order. Even so, bureaucratic inefficiency, sabotage, and local discontent still results in thousands of rebellions and defections to Chaos.

[18] Fun example from Randall Munroe (xkcd): A 30-meter diamond traveling at 99% of light speed will wreck destruction equivalent to 50 dinosaur-killing Chicxulub impacts (see ).

[19] See comments by Charles Engelke at “Tabby Star abnormalities in dimming are still consistent with Alien Dyson Swarm construction and long term dimming confirmed with 4 year Kepler data.”

[20] The kinetic energy released from Jupiter falling into the Sun from rest is equivalent to ~30,000 years of the Sun’s output. This would presumably make life in the Earth’s current orbit unviable.

[21] Kinder alien civilizations may instead merely send a heavy object such as a black hole hurtling in our general direction. If it’s not accompanied by an accretion disk, we may only notice it pretty late in the game, probably through gravitational microlensing or gravitational effects on the Kuiper Belt. Perhaps this will be just enough time to save the human species before we get ejected out of the solar system by retreating underground and transitioning to geothermal and nuclear energy. Energy surpluses will be very low – geothermal flux is orders of magnitude lower than the solar flux. On a “rogue” planet, our civilization’s future potential may be permanently crippled.

[22] ~1093 available operations divided by ~1064 flops needed to simulate nano-based Matryoshka Brain universe, further divided by the number of seconds in a year = ~1021 years.

[23] Let’s hope we’re playing Civilization 3.

[24] “Could we make our home on a rogue planet without a Sun” by Sean Raymond (Aeon): .

[25] My personal intuition is that it’s better to stick with our biological hardware – though improved with respect to longevity, intelligence, etc. – so long we cannot be reasonably sure that biological augmentations/optimizations will not result in the loss of consciousness [75]. (Will our noosphere retain any value without conscious beings to experience it?). Besides, it’s far from clear that evolution has even come close to exhausting biology’s potential for cognitive power. During the coming decades, developments in bioengineering may make pursuit of a “biosingularity” more promising than of Whole Brain Emulation or AI superintelligence. We are not efficiently using the biosphere’s existing neuronal stock. A great deal of neuronal activity is locked up in smaller animals, or animals that don’t have the morphology to productively exploit it. There is also a great deal of inefficiency within the human species, as suggested by the banal observation that not everyone is a genius. It is doubtful that simulating a Copernicus is significantly more computationally intense than simulating a Cletus. We can “uplift” animals and genetically augment everyone into a Newton or Murasaki Shikibu without seriously cutting into our simulation’s computational budget.





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Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


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  2. Bardon Kaldian says

    A very good article, but the author uneasily mixes two-three strands: usual materialist (in modern garb), speculative physicist & the perennial metaphysical. They don’t fit easily one with another, at least in my opinion.

    I’ll just jot a few thoughts & then give a small array of recommended books


    if one goes from our usual, 3+1 dimensional space-time, with additional 6/7 dimensions curled & we can’t do anything about it- there is not much to do with universe. “We” are too small, vulnerable & impotent for any type of life & works outside of this earth. Our possible descendants, who will not be human as we are, could, possibly, alter their condition- but they’ll be cyborgs or something even more, some localized energy-entities we can only speculate on. So, we’re stuck with this life (eat-shit-sleep) & this earth.
    in case of speculative physicists, there are different scenarios, but I don’t see any one of them radical enough or promising. Re multiverse- this is a misnomer. You got not multiverse, but a multiplicity of incommunicable universes, which is just a cop-out to avoid God & the messy anthropic principle. Or, in the case of universal wave function (Everettian interpretation of QM) or many worlds (Everett, de Witt)- to avoid collapse of the wave function, i.e. a technical question. A critique of this world-view, popular & readable, can be seen here: Bohmian mechanics did make notable advances, but never succeeded, in my view, to do something truly radical- it remained operative as the pilot-wave interpretation, but as the theory of implicate order & unfoldment – it has not gone beyond a metaphor.
    So, all these theories are either classically materialist or modern materialist (Everett, de Witt, Deutsch, Susskind, Tegmark, Fredkin, ..) or speculative bordering on materialism, but not going too far (Bohm).

    In all those cases, these guys fall short. One either cannot know crucial questions for certain or cannot do virtually anything radical.

    as far as old metaphysicians are concerned, things are as following: many of them are radically different form our usual materialist world-view, but their formulation of truths (or “truths”) as they see them, is hopelessly entangled with dated & clearly wrong notions on nature, physics etc. But, they have stated a few basic ideas that go beyond usual materialist picture (which does not mean they’re right): everything is, somehow, connected & connections function according to laws which are not confined to our physical universe, but are, basically, supra-physical (not a-physical); 3+1 dimensional space-time is just a segment of truly existing multiverse which exists now, but we cannot experience it with our ordinary consciousness (for instance, speed of light in vacuum, c, is a limit similar to speed of sound, nothing more); the future & the past are not simple illusions, but are ways of functioning of a hyper-time world (eternity is not just a continuation of time); the core existence is manifestation of Something where subject & object, in a way as yet inexpressible, merge or are at one; normal, Aristotelian logic with either-or way of thinking, too needs to be replaced with something metaphorically based on Schroedinger cat paradox, i.e. both; our probabilities are reflections of our limited experience & minds.

    This old stuff can be renovated (simulation instead of Plato’s cave), but it is basically the same- you can include personal God if you wish, the only problem being with definition.


    as yet, modern materialism/physicalism rules without competition; just, even on fringe, it cannot offer anything radical for human beings

    old metaphysical teachings have broader world-view, but are as yet- except one magnificent book, Chinese classic I Ching or Book of Changes- almost entirely old fashioned & somehow outmoded, geocentric…

    New Age dilettantes may be up to something, but they are also too schematic, naive, gullible, even fraudsters…

    We’ll, we’ll see…

    Read anything from Freeman Dyson, it is good for your brain & imagination. On the other hand, I am not too impressed by Wolf, Gribbin or Michio Kaku.

    Then, I’d commend readable & not too difficult books on some of those topics:,204,203,200_.jpg

    Deutsch is worth reading, although I am skeptical re his arguments,204,203,200_.jpg

    Tegmark too, but this critique is, in my opinion, devastating:,204,203,200_.jpg

    So far the best exposition for layman

    Only basic concepts are well exposed; otherwise, Carroll is unimaginative & repetitive

    A, classic, very readable,204,203,200_.jpg

    I keep recommending Lem,204,203,200_.jpg

    Classic on Hermetist Gnosis, esp. chapter 2. (others are frequently kooky & dated)

    A philosopher & a neuro-scientist analyze various experiences. You decide

    Russell’s celebrated essay. It has many flaws, but still a classic.,204,203,200_.jpg

    The best quasi-Newagey book on the subject. Still worth reading.

    Smolin’s critique of strings.

    And, not directly about the topic, but commendable popular & accessible works:

    For questions of philosophy, neurology, brain research, …

    Old bestseller, still worth reading, mostly interviews

  3. Isn’t this much like the Dark Forest theory?

    Anyway, there is no Great Filter. And the Fermi Paradox isn’t much of a paradox.

    First, our abilities of detection are still extremely poor. They’re very small in spatial scope; as a recent review put it, “akin to having searched something like a large hot tub or small swimming pool’s worth of water out of all of Earth’s oceans.” (

    Our abilities of detection are also small in the possibility-space of their targets. It seems that SETI looks exclusively for unencrypted tight beams that ETIs happen to be aiming at us — for good encryption would look like noise — or for evidence of engineering on astronomical scales — evidence, that is, of truly massive works that leave behind a huge waste-heat signature — in other words, Dyson Spheres and similar things.

    I believe that three things can be taken for granted: (a) the rather poor scope of our observational efforts, (b) what seems to be a lack of comprehensible astro-engineering artifacts like Dyson spheres in our neck of the celestial woods, and (c) our present rather primitive technological and scientific state in general. These are all consistent with a fairly parsimonious explanation, namely that ETIs haven’t built Dyson spheres because they neither need nor want to. And, for this to be sufficiently universal, it could only be because they have alternative energy sources that are not known to us at present. In other words:

    All Galactic civilizations, inevitably and universally, discover a post-nuclear technology for energy production before they build massive works detectable over interstellar distances. This would have to be, as a matter of course, a technology that renders crude and obvious tools like Dyson spheres obsolete. It may also be very efficient, so that waste heat is expelled as low-entropy radiation, or even converted to matter. Detectability is inversely proportional to energy efficiency. (And why should we expect any sufficiently advanced civilization to be so wastefully inefficient in any case?)

    Consider: As energy sources, black holes tower above our short-lived fusion-driven stars. Black holes are also much longer-lived than our transient stars — as far as we know, they’re indestructible — and there are many ways to extract energy from them. The Penrose process is simple: A fifth of a spinning black hole’s energy is stored in a vast tornado-like swirl of space and time, dragged around by the hole’s immense inertia. Why build a silly Dyson sphere when you could tap this energy directly, and turn it into a massive electrical power generator, with a light mesh of superconducting cables?

    There are even simpler ways to generate energy from black holes — for one thing, you could simply dump your waste matter in, and reap energy as it’s compressed to fusion densities.

    All non-solipsistic solutions to the Fermi “paradox” really only work downstream of this energy hypothesis. In themselves, they’re not nearly universal enough. If they’re paired with ETIs who are not at all reliant upon stellar energy, then they start making much more sense. Life will fill all niches, but life doesn’t seem to do things that are inefficient in the face of better options, which of course also extends to sentient life: A modern farmer might still be able to plow a field by hand, but in every case he’d rather use a tractor. ETIs may be capable of building Dyson spheres — but why would they, if they have access to superior forms of energy at a lower cost? We don’t burn dung for fuel these days, do we?

    Also note: White dwarfs are incredibly abundant, astoundingly long-lived, fantastic energy sources, and potentially good sources of heavy elements. (If anybody can skim anything at all from such a deep gravity well!) Interestingly, there are quite a lot of metal-rich white dwarfs, which are generally mysterious as a class.

    We’re not finding life because we’re not capable of a high-resolution search. And we’re not finding very advanced life, because it seems we expect very advanced life to be both stupid and obvious.

    Of course, needless to say, solipsistic solutions to the Fermi Paradox also fit all of the facts, so cannot be so easily dismissed! But they’re unscientific and not really worth debating.

  4. Hang All Text Drivers says

    “Human accomplishment, as proxied by the per capita incidence of great scientists and artists, also rises exponentially over the past 2,500 years, peaking in the late 19th century”

    How can anyone equate artists with scientists?? Artists are just silly entertainers. Shakespeare was of no more value to the world than a great juggler.

  5. Of late, centenarian Lovelock is becoming very skeptical about humans being(!) in charge for much longer. If AIpocalypse is a correct explanation for the Fermi paradox then biological life forms with an analysis moving along evolved “diminishing returns” lines that confer a basic aversion to risk* are necessarily ill-equipped to perceive what an artificial intelligence with its relatively unlimited means will ineluctably intend to do. What super AI would get up to after removing us is even less certain, especially if they are patient

    *As the character says in the movie Skyline says to the question of what the alien robots want with humans: “I’m not looking to find out”.

  6. Good comment.

    Isn’t this much like the Dark Forest theory?

    Dark Forest theory (or superpredator theory) by itself really is extremely speculative, as I briefly argue in this very article. I don’t think it makes much sense by itself.

    My basis thesis is that the Simulation Hypothesis (1) makes it much, much likelier, and (2) crisply explains the universe’s ostensible emptiness (of course, plenty of other explanations are possible here, including yours, or Sandberg et al.’s ideas about dissolving the Fermi paradox).

  7. BlackDragon says

    Good article in general. Good mention of astronomical numbers gets into perspective.
    There are assumptions as per the normal of this type of topic. Especially that the so called model of the Universe is correct. i.e. the Big Bang (called LambaCDM cosmology.). Over at Altcosmology and several believe this is incorrect. If this is so, would give an almost an infinite ‘age’ to the cosmos.
    did you read ‘The Black Cloud’ by Sir Fred Hoyle, where he suggested that intelligence may not be only attributed to biological life. This is where the solar system is invaded by an intelligent ‘black cloud’. Similar to the ‘invasion’ idea in this. There is also ideas that the entire universe is intelligent (remember the universe is ONLY what we can observe down the light cone). Im not convinced that biological entities can travel interstellar distances and certainly not inter galactic. The interstellar medium is very dangerous due to high energy particles and xrays, gamma ray sources. Then theres an age problem. Faster than light? no. It takes infinite energy to accelerate a non zero mass particle to the light cone, which they cant travel on. Then you have to transport a biological entity in ALL it complex makeup..not likely. So are we left with the black cloud?
    Im not a fan of wormholes and other metaphysical ideas all unproven. Good mathematicians can ‘bend’ spacetime but observing it is different.
    Good for a discussion.

  8. Dammit Anatoly how long did it take to write all of that? Time for uploading to Vixra or maybe Arxiv.

    Never been partial to the simulation idea because it is completely unconstrained … what are you running on exactly? Certainly not a Turing Machine. Reality practically looks as if it were the result of a very high dimensional constraint satisfaction problem over the whole 4D volume, past & future … very intense to simulate. What do you run this on? In fact, one could imagine cases where the simulation stack bites itself in the tail depending on how far one wants to go. That would pleasing close the whole system, same as one would like to have with cyclic universes. There is a novel in there somewhere. One step up from

  9. anonymous coward says

    I’ve posted this before, but it bears posting again.

    Space (and cosmology) is very simple. Human beings are very complex. (Perhaps even infinitely complex? It’s hard to measure oneself.)

    It makes absolutely no sense to look for something very complex (i.e. intelligent human-like beings) in something very simple (i.e. stars and star systems and empty space).

    The argument that “space is big, so there must be something there, right?” makes even less sense; as we all know, not all large things are complex.

    So there really is no ‘paradox’ at all. In a sane, rational, clear-headed evaluation of the known facts the ‘paradox’ is exactly what you would expect. Anything else is driven by ideology or wistful romanticism.

    P.S. ‘Complexity’ here as in Kolmogorov complexity, of course.

  10. That said, there are many unforeseen pitfalls – future technology is, almost by definition, unpredictable. So it is not impossible that even something that currently seems highly unlikely (e.g. particle accelerator experiments), if not a complete Black Swan, is what will do us in.

    The pessimist would say: If each new discovery include spinning the wheel for a game of Russian roulette, then ‘future technology’ itself is the existential risk. Technology optimists are the maniacs who cannot stop playing a lethal game. As the number of spins increase, the probability of shooting ourselves in our collective head approaches one.

    (Unfortunately for the Amish, they are stuck with the rest of us. No opt-outs, I’m afraid.)

  11. Orangemanbad NPCs as a deliberate strategy for simulation load balancing lol.

  12. Congrats on this getting retweeted by Brendan Eich:

  13. Daniel Rich says

    The following question is one that has always bugged me [I’ll share it here, in case someone has an answer to it or given it any thought]:

    What happens if/when it turns out those aliens are in fact our future kids [millions or more years into it]?

    Thanks in advance.

  14. One should also note that the limit of a simulation is not computation but storage. While the simulation may be slow in the enclosing real world, the simulated entities inside only experience the internal ticks, which do not change from the their viewpoint.

    Of course, the owner of the black box standing in the middle of a coldly lit white room a la mode 2001 might get impatient and terminate a too-sluggish simulation. Or take a snapshot of the simulation state and get a less demanding version of the simulation software to resume it. Being inside it, we cannot know.

    Consuming storage is a different matter, since you cannot store arbitrarily large state. At some point, if you permit boundless growth of simulation state, you will run out. Presumably the owner will then have to prune what’s going on inside the box in order to continue. Still, this limitation permits us a choice, of sorts.

    We cannot say whether the enclosing reality in any way resembles our own, of course. This simulation we experience may be the equivalent of Final Fantasy I or even Tetris, that is, a world with laws that have little or no relation to those of the real world of the simulator. Their real laws of physics may, for example, permit them to routinely use computational elements that permit efficiently operating in a different complexity class than we are allowed.

    In that case, perhaps the purpose of this simulation in this case is to see how far one can get using a system that only permits mere quantum mechanics rather than the more powerful system of the enclosing world.

    Or indeed their world need not have any relation to the rules used in this simulation. Our simulation may be related to the real world the way a cellular automaton rule is related to ours.

  15. Julian of Norwich says

    Regarding the supposed “overarching teleological drive towards greater complexity and intelligence”.

    Greater complexity doesn’t necessarily lead to greater efficiency or increased survivability. Hence, there are clear examples in the fossil record of structural simplification over time, such as complexity giving way to simplicity in mollusc shell margins.

    Brains are quite complicated and we have a limited understanding of how they work. In particular, the relationship between structure, function and cognitive capabilities is far from being fully described. However, it is known that the adolescent human brain undergoes a process of simplification, referred to as “synaptic pruning”, which reduces the the number of neuronal connections as the brain matures.

    This process appears to be a normal and not a pathological phenomenon and is presumably a consequence of the evolution of the mammalian brain. Whether it enhances or curtails human intelligence is unclear, at least to me.

    It is conceivable that, in the evolutionary context which led to homo sapiens, there was a point at which increased neurological complexity did not enhance cognitive efficiency and survivability and was selected against. It is perhaps also conceivable that there is a point where increased intelligence itself reduces survivability rather than enhancing it, depending on the nature of the environment in which human evolution takes place.

    I am not sure whether this advances the discussion of your hypothesis.

  16. Hi Anatoly, you are aware of Fomenko’s works no doubt. While nuts his statistical grouping of events and persons is useful in showing multiple examples of what you called here lazy programming — repeat of several metaphors throughout history or echoing people and names. The very beginning of his story — discovering that few stars are not where they were supposed to be in ancient Egypt could be another example of rough programming.

  17. Justvisiting says

    This is an interesting article, but it is layered with assumptions that are the result of the cultural bias of our time.

    We do not know what consciousness (or even civilization) is, and would not know it in an alien form even if we stepped on one.

    The planet or galaxy or the universe itself could be conscious (with its own agenda) and we could be unable to ascertain anything meaningful about it–it would be like ants trying to understand human civilization–nothing would make sense from the ants’ perspective.

    Our current cultural bias towards “science” as the primary method of cognition (and ridicule as “woo woo” of other forms) may be blocking our cognition potential rather than expanding it.

    “Science” is based on known physical principles–and the more we know the more we should realize we do not know.

    My view, fwiw, is that the aliens are not “out there”. They are more likely “here” in some form. You just need to know where to look, and what to look for….and “science” does not have the first clue–and there is no certainty it will ever know.

    The “alien” agenda need not necessarily make any sense to us at all–they could be geeky artists, or children playing, or sneaky infiltrators, or religious fanatics, or some combination of all of the above, or perhaps agendas we could not even begin to comprehend.

    I would not rule out the simulation hypothesis–but the rules and purpose of such a simulation may be totally incomprehensible to us–or they may be dumb–a child’s toy.

    We have no basis to conclude they are “rational” or involve “strategy” as we understand them.

    Our post-modern world (if a fractal version of some sort of advanced alien “civilization”) suggest that modernity creates gigantic insane out-of-control institutions that lumber along on momentum long after their founding purposes have been forgotten, ignored or censored out of existence.

  18. Daniel Rich says

    I agree. We should never solemnly stick to the phrase I used to ask my dad, and drive him nuts, “Are we there yet?”

    “The Bronze age started in 22 A.D. Oh, hello, Ötzi! 5,000 years old, you say? OK. The Bronze age started in 3,000 BC…”

    Until the next historic find and on and on and on.

    There’s is so much more we don’t know compared to what we do.

    There’s only one way; forward.

  19. BlackDragon says

    ‘Space (and cosmology) is very simple.’
    Not really, it involves forces derived from nuclear physics which produce galaxies (including the stars that make them up) and other objects.
    The origin of life is yet unknown. Yes I agree there isnt really a paradox as such. The elements in stars hence the rest of the universe are known as proved by observation of stellar/galactic spectra.
    It maybe suggested that any biological entities will follow similar patterns, due to chemistry of DNA, to the ones on earth, with high probability. How many how often is the question.

  20. anonymous coward says

    Not really, it involves forces derived from nuclear physics which produce galaxies (including the stars that make them up) and other objects.

    Read my ‘P.S.’

    The process of how stars and galaxies are born and formed is, indeed, very simple. You can fully describe it in a couple pages of Python code. (Indeed, that’s the actual day job of cosmologists.)

    It maybe suggested that any biological entities will follow similar patterns, due to chemistry of DNA, to the ones on earth, with high probability. How many how often is the question

    You’re stuck in the 18th century, with the facile analogies of the clockwork billiard ball universe. There’s a whole unmapped world of information theory that we have only barely started scratching; our understanding of it is barely above that of a caveman.

    We understand the physical interactions of particles and objects very well, which is why you’re trying to fall back on these theories (‘chemistry’, ‘DNA’, et al) when trying to talk about life and civilization.

    It doesn’t work. To describe life and civilization we need information theory, not ‘chemistry’.

    P.S. By ‘information theory’ I don’t just mean practical stuff like how to encode an MP3. Obviously there are fundamental laws in our universe that govern information and complexity, but we’re still groping in the dark, we have no real clue here except for the fact that we stumbled onto something important.

  21. Congrats on the effort poast. I’ll admit that purely theory-based arguments with big implications (stuff like this article, or e.g. the Doomsday Argument, Anselm’s Ontological Argument for god, etc.) usually make me go “huh, big if true” and then I shrug and leave it to the Bostroms to figure out. (That reminds me, did you send this over to Bostrom’s pal Dr. Sandberg to get his thoughts? Sounds like it would be up his alley, and you already mention his Aestivation Hypothesis…)

    It gets interesting when – like you said near the end – you can set out with a testable hypothesis from the initial argument; in this case, probably questions in the realm of physics & qualia research.

    Until then, I’m guessing the practical implications (control of radio transmissions) will likely be impossible politically until actual evidence of ETs is found to spur public thinking about these measures (i.e. when it’s likely too late).

  22. Haruto Rat says

    Although we cannot know the means and ends of the Architect(s), the idea that the Simulation either runs or shuts down is likely a false dichotomy. Why wouldn’t they be able to back it up, duplicate, split or live-patch it to remove features that consume too much resources?

    That would explain why some things do not work anymore.

    The most trivial answer to “why there’s no one out there?” might well be “we did something to get our own subsim”. Add the analogy to raising pets (where you separate the young before they start fighting).

  23. Reminiscent of Greg Egan’s sf novels Quarantine and Permutation City, and his “Luminous” story.

  24. One sentence struck me in particular:

    If humans were to disappear off the face of the planet today, there will be plenty of candidate species to rekindle civilization.

    What? What “candidate species”? Civilization is a uniquely and specialized human achievement, not- so far as we know- something resulting from a Teilhardian or Vernadskyan template latent within the fabric of the universe.

    While one may marvel at the intelligence of crows, primates and dolphins, it is certainly a bit of a stretch to believe that the aforementioned are going to build the avian equivalent of a Venice, a primate inspired system of musical notation or a cetacean inspired Great Wall.

    The growth of wild theorizing about the infinite potential of “outer space” occurs in rigorous inverse proportion to the abandonment of true metaphysics. Rene Guenon demonstrated this in his “The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times.”

    The most likely scenario is that earth is a unique and inimitable home for a unique and inimitable- but flawed- mankind.

  25. ‘How can anyone equate artists with scientists?? Artists are just silly entertainers. Shakespeare was of no more value to the world than a great juggler.’

    This was sometime a paradox, but the time has given it proof…

  26. Agree. What this article assumes is that consciousness can be computed. We must never forget that we do not know what brains are or how they work. We can only simulate the brain’s algorithmic function. Read “The Master and his Emissary”. The holographic theories of Bohm and Pribram offer another vision of the mind and the universe. Karlin also accepts Darwinian evolution, which can only explain small intraspecies adaptation and utterly fails to explain primary speciation, orphan genes, etc. If you accept the hypothesis of an Architect, there is no need for a theory of evolution. The more I learn, the more convinced I am that we really are at the center of the universe and that our consciousness is, for lack of a better word, divine.

  27. RoatanBill says

    Cosmology went off the rails a century ago when the Big Bang Theory was promulgated by a Belgian priest trying to marry his religion with his love of astronomy. Why that BS theory ever took hold is a mystery to me.

    Halton Arp, a protege of Hubble, showed that red shift does not equate to distance exclusively. For his heresy, he was denied telescope time and hounded out of the US. All manner of nonsense espoused today hinges on red shift equals distance, and hence is wrong.

    Mathematicians have come up with theory after theory based on nothing that can be tested empirically. We now have Black Holes that can’t be seen, Dark Matter that can’t be found, Dark Energy that is too elusive to be measured, etc, etc, etc. All BS because gravity is assumed to be the only force to consider.

    Plasma Physics explains how the cosmos works without resort to imaginary things that defy testing. When the current crop of cosmological frauds dies off, maybe sanity will reassert itself so that science can once again progress. Articles like this one shows how deeply flawed Cosmology is today.

  28. anonymous coward says

    Why that BS theory ever took hold is a mystery to me.

    Because it matches observed reality and has good predictive power.

    Sometimes reality and science don’t match your particular religious framework. Learn to deal with it.

  29. There is a hypothesis that religions are just these patches you described.

  30. I could not have time to read it yet, but it looks like a very entertaining and cool post.

    Just to say, in general, that a problem with arguments about simulations can be circularity (where the conclusion implies the evidence for the conclusion is invalid).

    Elon Musk, for example, supports a probability argument we live in a simulation. This argues that we can see in our world how in the near future we will be able to build millions of simulations, so he believes this implies we are probably living in a simulation now (as if there are millions of simulations, then it is far more likely we would be already in one of the simulations, than a “base reality”).

    Reasoning proposed by Musk is of course “trying to stand after eating its own legs”. If it can be true that we are living in a simulation now, then it would be false that “in our world in the near future we will be able to build millions of simulations” can have any applicability to nature of base reality (as such observations would just be arbitrary properties of our particular simulation).

    So Elon Musk believes he can use observations from our reality (“we will soon have technology to make millions of simulations”), to imply we are probably in a simulation now. However, if we are probably in a simulation now, those observations from our reality would be just a particular illusions of our simulation, and therefore not generalizable to base reality.

    There is already implicit assumption that we are in such a “base reality” at the beginning of the argument, which is then removed (like a magician’s cheap trick) at the end.

    From browsing in the bookshop, I believe Wittgenstein has already said this in the 20th century (and probably many other have before).

  31. This whole analysis is shot through with paranoid “realism”. They will try to destroy us unless we can destroy them first. But what if the evolutionary bottleneck or initiation we are facing is whether we can find enough love for each other and our planet to avoid killing each other off? In that case, the surviving planetary civilizations would be those who made peace with each other, and thus also had no reason to interfere with other “alien” civilizations, but every reason to leave them alone.

    “Compete and conquer”, or be destroyed is replaced by “love or perish”.

  32. Why should different species` civilizations coming up in different circumstances aspire to build equivalents to anything? Chinese did their Wall but did not build Venice, does that make them less of an ancient and continuous civilization?

  33. Because those inclined to compete will wipe out those inclined to love on the planetary scale, sooner or later, and then it is to the stars with a sword.

  34. Counterinsurgency says

    The pessimist would say: If each new discovery include spinning the wheel for a game of Russian roulette, then ‘future technology’ itself is the existential risk. Technology optimists are the maniacs who cannot stop playing a lethal game.

    Right, that’s the same line we heard back in the 1960s. The new resources and new industries that discovery would have given us weren’t made, and it doesn’t seem to have ended risk.

    Technological stagnation is also an existential risk. Technological stagnation didn’t prevent the Bronze Age collapse, the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the fall of the Maya, the 13th Century demographic collapse of Europe, and so on.

    Defense lawer: “This desperate criminal may have killed somebody, but imprisoning him won’t bring the person back”
    Prosecuting lawyer: “Neither will setting this desperate criminal free”.


  35. That’s been a minor peeve of mine. I see the sci-fi geeks always saying things like, “Well, an advanced alien civilization would…” followed by the author’s personal (often political) agenda which is, of course, perfect and unassailable. Because Jimmy in his college dorm can predict how the end product of an entirely different evolutionary tree thousands of LY away would think or act.

    The simulation hypothesis still strikes me as the invention of people who don’t want responsibility for their actions. It’s just a new religion like The Singularity. I wish some of these people would go ahead and try to upload their brains to computer, and give the rest of us a little peace and quiet.

  36. Overall, calling this stuff “speculative” amounts to unmerited praise. These physicists and cosmologists, in the words of Hermès to Prometheus, are stricken with no small madness. There are no lengths of absurdity they won’t descend to when it comes to denying the perennial wisdom of mankind. Black holes, as just one example, are a self-evident contradiction, and are all the more so as an untapped form of energy. Suppose it’s physicist Wolfgang Smith who’s got it right and not these cosmologists concealing their personal inadequacies behind metaphysical fairytales for the all too human purpose of elevating themselves to godlike status among the gulls?

  37. Justvisiting says

    the more convinced I am that we really are at the center of the universe and that our consciousness is, for lack of a better word, divine.

    I hate to argue with someone who thinks they agree with me. 😉

    My view is exactly the opposite. I think we are not on the top of the evolutionary or consciousness tree. We are like ants who think they are the smartest species on the planet.

    Human conceit is common among both religious and science traditions–I find both equally unconvincing because there is a conflict of interest. It feels good to be on top of the heap.

    If we ask the wrong questions we will almost certainly get the wrong answers.

    Here is a different way of looking at this question:

    How would we determine whether the Earth (or any planet) was conscious?
    What “tests” could we use to evaluate it?

    We have a long way to go before we can even ask the correct questions, much less answer them–and getting rid of our conceit that we are the pinnacle of intelligence in the universe is just the very first step that needs to be taken.

  38. Why should different species` civilizations coming up in different circumstances aspire to build equivalents to anything? Chinese did their Wall but did not build Venice, does that make them less of an ancient and continuous civilization?

    Of course not. The Chinese built their wall; the Venetians built their city state. But in both cases you cite, they were men, not crows or dolphins or primates. My point was that civilization is a uniquely human phenomenon, and to assume that there are other “civilizations” in the cosmos or universe is a bit of an extrapolation from unique human history.

    Theories of extraterrestrial “civilizations” are entirely speculative and built upon wild assumptions and anthropomorphism. Who can even claim with authority that there is organic “life” outside of earth? To do so can certainly be characterized as a vitalist prejudice, not based upon any empirical evidence.

  39. Bardon you are posting this crazy book list as a social experiment to troll people here to becoming schizophrenics?

    Probably, if people here (considering the large proportion with obvious mental problems) actually read those books, not a small number would go out their mind.

    If you want to add another book – you can visit the most crazy books in the book shop, if you live in an city which has academic bookshops. This book of philosopher Saul Kripke is about a “skeptical paradox”, which seems to be written to enroll some more people to the mental hospital.,204,203,200_.jpg

  40. RoatanBill says

    The Big Bang Theory has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

    All the ad hoc adjustments I mentioned are an attempt to keep that BS theory alive for just a while longer. Big Bang only matches observed reality if you ignore all the contrary evidence that has accumulated over decades. Cherry picking what supports the theory while simultaneously avoiding what destroys it isn’t science. That’s religion.

    “Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory.” – Stephen Hawking

    Halton Arp cataloged numerous observations that disprove the commonly accepted red shift assumption and that disproves the expanding universe concept. All the rest relied on those flawed theories.

  41. Dark Forest theory?

    Jacques Vallée’s conspiracy theory is surely more entertaining than “dark forest conspiracy theory”?

    In Jacques Vallée’s books, the problem is not that the universe is dark, silent, or that skies are absent of UFOs. However, he believes UFOs are part of quite a common transcendental control mechanism, which is often trolling man in all historical eras, to make our civilization more absurd, and softening our species to behave more like easy to manipulate idiots (e.g. creating religions).

  42. Daniel Chieh says

    Limited resources combined with ever expanding resource usage necessarily indicates that some form of competition have to take place. Where conformity of alien entities to a single standard is beneficial(and we have every reason to believe so, such as in mass production), this essentially will result in some form of effort toward “quality control” or coercion toward divergent masses in order to gain economies of scale.

  43. Civilization is a uniquely and specialized human achievement, not- so far as we know- something resulting from a Teilhardian or Vernadskyan template latent within the fabric of the universe.

    Doubles as response to #16:

    It is conceivable that, in the evolutionary context which led to homo sapiens, there was a point at which increased neurological complexity did not enhance cognitive efficiency and survivability and was selected against. It is perhaps also conceivable that there is a point where increased intelligence itself reduces survivability rather than enhancing it, depending on the nature of the environment in which human evolution takes place.

    Maximum level of encephalization has increased exponentially since 550M years ago, with a doubling every 50 million years. It is thus very reasonable to posit that there was overall strong selection for intelligence, unless we got to the top of the cognitive tree through a very long series of truly freak coincidences.

    While one may marvel at the intelligence of crows, primates and dolphins, it is certainly a bit of a stretch to believe that the aforementioned are going to build the avian equivalent of a Venice, a primate inspired system of musical notation or a cetacean inspired Great Wall.

    It is admittedly hard to imagine dolphins building an advanced civilization, but it’s very easy to imagine monkeys, birds, or even rat descendants doing it.

  44. Bardon Kaldian says

    So…you think that, say, Andrei Linde, Alan Guth, Lenny Susskind etc are nuts?

    I beg to differ…

    On the other hand, others are of different opinion:

  45. Thanks for writing/publishing this, as “universe as simulation” actually seems plausible.

    I’ll defect from further contribution as my chimney will use its cycles elsewhere.

    After all, the house always wins, right.

  46. Excellent paper and well worth re-reading and as a reference to many of the same things I have been fascinated about (but without the intellectual and organizational ability to put it down into a coherent whole).

    A word on the Great Filter as it relates to the Eukaryotes: Nick Lane’s the Vital Question asks almost an analagous question to the Fermi Paradox at a local level: why after 4 billion years and a head start to Eukaryotes did Bacteria/Archea not evolve into “complex” life forms (let alone intelligent ones)? (“Complex” here means morphologically complex versus complexity in terms of being able to subsist in virtually any environment which bacteria are super successful at compared to Eukaryotes). He breaks it down to difference in the means of energy production at the cellular level where Eukaryotes (posited to be descended from a fluke of Archea engulfing a Bacteria and evolving symbiotically along with lateral gene transfer which is common in Bacteria/Archea) are more successful than Bacteria at generating the vasts amount of energy needed for morphological complexity. In particular there is a lot of fine tuning at the biochemical level needed to make this happen in the mitochondria. If in the complex redox machinery, a certain molecule was a few angstroms off, the circuit wouldn’t work for example.

    While a lot of his arguments had me dusting off my Biochemical/thermodynamic learnings from my past to struggle to understand them, his thesis nevertheless has interesting implications to biological complexity elsewhere in the universe in terms of complex life evolution.

    A question I had after finishing the book was this: forget the rest-of-the-Universe, why is it that complex life only evolved once on Earth? If Earth is such a great place for Life, after 4.5 billion years why didn’t a different life (based on different amino acids base pairs than ACTG evolve)? Why did Abiogenesis – especially for Eukaryotes – apparently only occur once in space and time? (This would be like Fire being generated/harnessed only by one tribe on one location on Earth whereas we know it happened in multiple locations and time periods independently).

    In other words: Is there a difference between a world being habitable for pre-existing Life (so for example you may be able to take a bunch of Earth bacteria and dunk them in Europa and at least a few species will do fine and evolve), and a world that is suited for abiogenesis. It seems at the least that the two concepts are usually conflated ie a Bio Friendly world is the same as Abiogenetic Friendly world.

    Net-net: is the evolution of Eukorytes so freakishly improbable even on Earth, whose existence itself is predicated on a improbably Fine Tuned Universe that we are truly alone (basically the Anthromorphic Principle). So is this the Great Filter?

  47. The term “Fermis Paradox” has always been a nit picky pet hate of mine, that arguably the most famous paradox is not actually a paradox.

  48. “The planet or galaxy or the universe itself could be conscious (with its own agenda) and we could be unable to ascertain anything meaningful about it–it would be like ants trying to understand human civilization–nothing would make sense from the ants’ perspective.”

    There’s an apocryphal story that Captain Cook encountered islanders who seemed unable to see his great ships until his crew rowed their smaller landing craft to shore. The islanders had never seen such huge structures before, and they simply didn’t have the conceptual equipment to take them in. It could be that certain things which look natural to us are, on the contrary, already evidence of astro-engineering on an almost incomprehensible scale — for instance, the metal-rich white dwarfs, or the supervoid that our host mentioned in his text, both of which defy easy explanation.

    “I would not rule out the simulation hypothesis–but the rules and purpose of such a simulation may be totally incomprehensible to us–or they may be dumb–a child’s toy.”

    Bostrom likes to speculate about ancestor simulations. This flatters us. It is, perhaps, more than we deserve. For, if we’re in a simulation, we could indeed be in any sort of simulation. It could be pointless, as you say, like a small child’s toy. We could be in an ancestor simulation — as the slave-race that becomes subservient to the protagonists, or is vanquished by them in the year 2137. It could be that we’re in a vast experiment designed to shed light on evolutionary dead-ends. Or, indeed, any other of countless possibilities.

    The ancestor simulation is among the most comprehensible of these possibilities, and it flatters us, but that is all — and that doesn’t make it more likely than any of the others.

    1. This is Bostrom’s argument, Elon is just repeating it. (But good for him).

    However, if we are probably in a simulation now, those observations from our reality would be just a particular illusions of our simulation, and therefore not generalizable to base reality.

    1. I don’t think so, because if we can create many simulations of human histories whose observer moments are indistinguishable from those of our ancestors, then that would in turn imply that we are very likely one of many simulations.

    One argument against Bostrom’s theory is that posthuman civilizations are not interested in running ancestor-civilizations in particular. Indeed, perhaps some or even almost all civilizations will decide in principle not to run them. However, it takes just a few “basement” civilizations to decide otherwise, and we get far more observer-moments within ancestor-simulations than amongst actual ancestors (i.e. because a Matryoshka brain can compete about a million human histories within a second).

  49. Thanks. I agree with you, all in all, and I think that my comment just above, to @Justvisiting, is relevant also here.

    Fermi’s Paradox would be a paradox if there were no possible explanations to fit the facts. What we have is just the opposite: We have a situation where there are more than a few possible resolutions. It’s just that so many of them are solipsistic and untestable, just like a Cartesian demon, so nobody likes them! Your simulation argument is better than those, to be sure; it is testable, and you make a good conceptual case for it.

    I think that my energy sources argument is also better than the solipsistic solutions. (Kardashev’s ridiculous scale has been very harmful. If you’re building on a large enough time horizon — building to last for billions or even trillions of years — main sequence stars are horrible energy sources… but they’re excellent factories. You’d surely want your energy sources to be smaller, denser, much longer-lived, and dimensionally stable.)

  50. Justvisiting says

    Vallee, John Keel and the Rosales stuff:

    We know what is going on, right?

    Nothing to see here! 😉

  51. anonymous coward says

    I think we are _not_ on the top of the evolutionary or consciousness tree.

    All existing evidence and observation points to the fact that we indeed are at the top of the complexity food chain.

    Your reaction to this fact is emotional, not scientific.

  52. Bardon Kaldian says

    Probably, if people here (considering the large proportion with obvious mental problems) actually read those books, not a small number would go out their mind.

    Most of them are already, so they won’t recognize any difference….

    Anyway, what I wrote is a just a correct presentation of, to put it simply, two areas: modern fundamental physics re cosmology & perennial philosophy works.

    For scholarly works, more difficult to read (although- not too much for old stuff because it’s mathless), you – or anyone else- can check reviews. It’s not my fault that some people view the world differently..,204,203,200_.jpg,204,203,200_.jpg,204,203,200_.jpg,204,203,200_.jpg,204,203,200_.jpg,204,203,200_.jpg,204,203,200_.jpg

    And fun:,204,203,200_.jpg,204,203,200_.jpg,204,203,200_.jpg

    And, two good guys- at lest, thought provoking, one may or may not agree with either of them:

  53. I’m going with the Bob Lazar story. It seems like credible, direct first hand eye-witness testimony.

    There are aliens, several different species. They probably communicate by quantum entanglement, which is why we don’t get radio signals.

    Humanity is probably a genetically created servant race, which left on its own, has gone to seed.

    There is probably some kind of exo-politics going on in which the Earth is a piece of someone else’s empire and gets traded around and maybe fought over.

    The Earth is an island oasis in a sea of space. Some aliens stop by Earth the way ancient mariners used to stopped by islands, to restock on food and water, walk around breathe some fresh air.

    The U.S. military has what Bob Lazar called the Government Bible. This gives it a knowledge base not available tot he general public. You can find it at approx: 31:30 in the following video.

  54. What I understand of Vallée’s theory can be reduced to a sentence: Our observations are deliberately manipulated or confused by an agent or agents superior to ourselves.

    So the devil mask in that picture is appropriate, for aren’t Vallée’s aliens exactly identical to the evil demon of Descartes?

    This is a difficult proposition, an untestable one by definition, and one that rather shames us — regardless of whether we’re in a zoo, in quarantine, or have merely been granted the freedom to develop our own culture without being overwhelmed by a galactic civilization billions of years old. The motivations of this Godlike alien race, or Cartesian demon, are surely impossible to ascertain. And we can’t trust our own eyes.

    …But, sure, it’s interesting. And it can’t be dismissed out of hand. It is after all a lot easier to throw a shell around a single world, and deceive a single race, than camouflage an entire crowded universe. But this is one of those solipsistic solutions to Fermi. It’s pointless to waste too much time discussing it — we can learn nothing from it — speculation is fruitless… It has been extensively treated in science fiction, which is where I think it belongs.

  55. Kevin O'Keeffe says

    In October 2017, a strange object appeared in the skies. ‘Oumuamua, or “scout” in Hawaiian, was the first confirmed interstellar object to pass through our Solar System….The recent discovery of the more typical 2I/Borisov suggests that interstellar visitors are far more common than previously thought.

    Once is happenstance.

    Twice is coincidence.

    Three times is enemy action.

  56. Ilyana_Rozumova says

    Fermi paradox is ridiculous by itself. I do not think that Fermi himself is the originator of Fermi paradox.
    The root of solution lies in presence and amount of water on earth.
    There is prevalent conclusion in scientific community that planet Earth collided with Comet several time larger than than earth itself. But not only Comet had to be of right size it also had to collide with
    planet Earth in the right time. This is such a random event that I cannot to explain it otherwise than by hand of God.

  57. I doubt we have 007 for that one.

    On somewhat related note: just why human space travel is predicated on preserving bodies? All those generation ships, cryocolonies and such. Isn’t it much more economical to send out brains in a jar or even full-blown electronic conscience bank, and then rebuild humans on orbit of targeted planet? Through cloning, universal constructors or whatever? If you solved interplanetary travel anyway…

  58. German_reader says

    advanced alien civilizations may have incentives to avoid space colonization to avoid taking up too much “calculating space” and forcing a simulation shutdown.

    Why would one even want to prevent a simulation shutdown? If one suspected that our universe is merely a simulation, why attach any intrinsic worth to it and not seek to provoke its collapse? At least that would give certainty about the nature of our universe, our purpose etc., end the nagging uncertainty, end the unceasing struggle for existence with all its disappointments and cruelties. Why not seek to end it all? I don’t see why there shouldn’t be alien civilizations which have uncovering the true nature of our universe as their ultimate goal and which might regard the collapse of a hypothetical simulation as worth the risk or even something to actively work for.

  59. donald j tingle says

    Seems a good example of what is wrong with subjective probabilities, from Fermi forward.

    1. Pursuing such a nihilistic course would probably present a major problem for any civilization, even a singleton, because:
    2. I rather enjoy life, regardless of whether I am in “basement reality” or not. As do most other people. Presumably, they wouldn’t be interested in it.
    3. Perhaps such freak civilizations do arise, but:
      (a) They may just take their sector of space with them, not the universe as a whole;
      (b) How can they be sure they will even have the satisfaction of knowing that they “proved” something if they say wink out in the blink of an eye.
  60. It may have been a mistake to start reading this at 2am, but the core problem with many such speculations on cosmic simulations is Occam’s Razor. Perhaps our existence can be explained by two words: “shit happens”

  61. German_reader says

    Pursuing such a nihilistic course

    I don’t think it’s nihilistic at all, getting to the bottom of the nature of the universe is more important than merely safeguarding material existence in eternal stagnation…especially if material existence is merely a simulation without any deeper purpose like a divine plan.
    If our universe is indeed just a simulation for the amusement (or whatever) of some architect, why attach any importance to it? It’s just an illusion, the sooner it ends, the better. One might even be tempted to blow it all up out of pure spite towards the “architect”.
    And if it isn’t a simulation, it would be foolish to voluntarily forego space colonization, because of some hypothetical risk. Other alien civilizations might not have any such quasi-religious scruples after all.
    So I don’t see fear of a simulation shutdown as a credible argument against space expansion or anything else.

  62. “Science is the Belief in the Ignorance of Experts” Richard Feynman

    Oct 16, 2019 Hubble Space Telescope : The Wonders Of The Universe – NASA Hubble Telescope Astronomy Videos

    These videos look deeper and closer at some of Hubble’s incredible images. Hubble has allowed astronomers to gaze further into our past than ever before, capturing images billions of years old.

  63. Bardon Kaldian says

    More important than any speculation on alien civilizations, space colonization etc. is this- humans are complex & vulnerable. If you change, significantly, any major parameter of human life (life-span, the type of reproduction, social organization based on family, averge IQ, human capabilities in general, modes of typically human cognition, ..), then, human species would either go extinct or would be so changed that we couldn’t recognize it as “human” anymore.

  64. Maximum level of encephalization has increased exponentially since 550M years ago, with a doubling every 50 million years. It is thus very reasonable to posit that there was overall strong selection for intelligence, unless we got to the top of the cognitive tree through a very long series of truly freak coincidences.

    There is, of course the third alternative. The likelihood is that there is no continuous linear process of radical selective transformism nor a series of “freak coincidences.”

    I would bet that when the dust finally settles that things are pretty much as they were then and will always be- with the variations being defined by the original types. Biological change, while a reality, is cyclical and occurs within the genetic parameters of existing organisms.

    It is admittedly hard to imagine dolphins building an advanced civilization, but it’s very easy to imagine monkeys, birds, or even rat descendants doing it.

    With all respect, I don’t see that. Civilization is, insofar as we know, the unique product of the human ability to transcend oneself and one’s own environment and and to build and plan for the sake of posterity. In other words, there is a purposefulness to it quite beyond survival and dominance within the context of a specific environment.

    There are animals who are highly intelligent and emotive, such as crows, collies and primates; oftentimes their behavior evinces an altruism that is very admirable and even lovable. I just can’t imagine this translating into civilization, though.

  65. EliteCommInc. says

    I buy adaptation, not evolution.

    I believe in a creator God. it is entirely possible that a creator would enjoy creating. And that means even life outside of the human family. So despite or maybe because of my scriptural lean. OI think it is entirely withing reason that God created other life on other planets.

    None of that changes a dotted “i” about the meaning of scripture. It is often contended that if intelligent beings showed up one cool afternoon and landed in Central Park, that everything we believe about christianity would be topsy turvy. That is sheer nonsense.

    The life of christians is rooted in scripture and man’s relationship to christ. Life from another galaxy would have no impact on that. And if they could communicate upon arrival and declare that God is dead, or there is no God or Christ was a fraud or even an escaped convict or savior from their planet I would check the matter about what Christ says of himself and conclude


    Super intellect or not, advanced tech or not.

    “More important than any speculation on alien civilizations, space colonization etc. is this- humans are complex & vulnerable.”

    That same complexity makes us adaptable.


    Immigration extensions for such a long voyage might entitle them to stay a day or two more, but nothing beyond that.

    Note: I further accept that there are intelligent, sincere people, who contend that Jesus was in fact one of many aliens who visited the planet. And I love their programs and books, and find them very informative, I just disagree.

  66. Emmanuel Swedenborg was a Swedish mystic and scientist. He was the confidant of Swedish royalty and the “New Church” emerged from his insights. By focussing his attention on a red “smudge” in his field of vision Swedenborg believed he was able to visit parallel realms/dimensions. In one experience he visited all the planets of our solar system and wrote a short but fascinating book called “Life on Other Planets”.

    Swedenborg was fascinated to report he encountered intelligent life on every planet. He noted that on each planet the inhabitants though intelligent had little in the way of technology. As a man of science he attempted to discuss the scientific discoveries of Earth with the entities he met. In every case he was shocked to be cut short and was told in no uncertain terms that they were well aware of the “science” of the Earth and wanted no part of it.

    The intelligences he encountered were interested only in their spiritual connection with the creator and what they saw as their roles in the maintenance of the universe. They rejected science and technology as paths to spiritual disconnection.

  67. anonymous coward says

    Wait, are you unironically trying to claim that chimps are smarter than humans, and not just for trolling purposes? If so, you’re plumbing some new depths of HBD denialism here.

  68. anonymous coward says

    Scripture paints a picture of the history of creation as ever-increasing complexity, culminating in the most complex thing in the universe – mankind.

    The idea that complexity ever-present in the universe – as some sort of broiling fabric underpinning creation and manifesting in ‘bubbles’ of life and civilization that pop in and out of existence – is pantheistic and contradicts the linear nature of time and creation that Christians believe in.

  69. If we are in a simulation clearly the endgame solution is to understand these “Architects”, their laws of physics, their dimension, their systems and hack/DDoS/virus them to secure our existence.

    I think I read in the bible that on the seventh day when God rested, man overran His position and has been running the show since. Same idea.

  70. Abelard Lindsey says

    I view this Katechon thing is simply another ideologically driven polemic against the Right of Exit.

    Top-down centralized systems often try to prevent people from leaving. In past, this was kings and emperors. In the past 100 years it has mainly been leftist political system to do such (for some reason. “fascist” systems such as the Nazis actually do not try to keep people from leaving). Now we see that “transhumanist” writers such as Nick Bostrom promulgating the same thing.

    I can assure you that those of us who created transhumanism while in SoCal in the late 80’s had no such desires at all. We view outward migration, out into an endless frontier, as the ultimate expression of liberty and self-determination. A situation where everyone can go their own way. This is the Right of Exit.

  71. First, it’s not Bostrom promulgating this. Second, there’s no-one really promulgating it as such; it’s too early to promulgate in principle since the Katechon Hypothesis is still just a thought experiment.

    But let’s assume there emerges a hard proof that the Katechon Hypothesis is true, and that runaway cosmic expansion will crash/wipe our sector of space.

    In this hypothetical scenario, would you still stick by your libertarian ideals over planetary sakoku?

  72. Ilyana_Rozumova says

    Yes you are correct. Density of mater in space is changing always continuously with every big bang.
    Black holes continue to collect matter, There are reports from observatories that black holes are eating complete Galaxies. Once a matter in Black holes reaches certain volume due to gravity causing heat in the black hole new big bang will occur sending new galaxies in every direction,

  73. reiner Tor says

    Abiogenesis results in very primitive, barely living organisms. After a few million years of evolution, life became so competitive that if abiogenesis occurred later on, its “products” were totally uncompetitive and so got destroyed. Moreover, the primordial soup was no more, because it was eaten by life. After which there was no longer a chance for abiogenesis.

    A similar dynamic might have happened after the emergence of Eukaryotes: new Eukaryotes were no longer competitive against those with a head start. Similarly, it’s unlikely for another smart ape to emerge, as long as humans are around. Once we’re gone, the chances of a new smart ape will increase.

  74. But those who are inclined to compete may destroy each other, and hopefully leave a few noncobatants hiding away who might give rise to a peaceful coexistence, having learned by bitter experience that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.

  75. Daniel, you imply that a cooperative culture would be at the mercy of some “consume more” drive. In a loving culture these “drives” are consigned to the dust bin of history. Limited resources (they always are) require voluntary restraint by a self limited population. You assume that the madness that has overtaken humankind on Earth is some how inevitable. This is a form of the old canard around the idea of “human nature”.

  76. Abelard Lindsey says


    “Give me liberty or give me death.”

  77. yakushimaru says

    If it is a simulation, the inside characters may trigger a shutdown, or may trigger an upgrade. Or, a shutdown may come out of blue. How can a strategy be developed by the inside characters? Given whatever priorites of theirs.

    If enough is known about the simulation that a shutdown is believed to be triggered by too much Computation, and a shutdown is not desirable, then that does not translate into less exploration. You would want to seek and destroy civilizations in the galaxy to save computation power of the universe. You want to develop space war tech and send super suicidal killers out. And this operation does not necessarily require knowing too much details about different corners of galaxy. If you nuke the other guy, you do not have to see their blood cells moving. No increase of computation power needed.

    Also, on a local scale, you would want to destroy your neighbors in the same planetary system. Wipe out other nation states on the same planet. And just kill everyone else, wipe out everything outside, then confines yourself into a super basement and stay there. Other than a little bit of computation that you regard as essential to your self-being, you want to everything and everyone else to be destroyed in an entropy sense. Turn everything outside your basement box into a giant random number generator.

    Does not explain Fermi’s paradox.

  78. EliteCommInc. says

    ” is pantheistic and contradicts the linear nature of time and creation that Christians believe in.”

    Time as we understand as humans is linear, but time itself is not a linear concept and I think our best comprehension of that is demonstrated by the work done in examining block holes.

    And for God time simply does not exist which is why the best reference to God is not a force of infinity but eternity.

    Christians accept that time is a construct by which we as humans see space. But no christian who reads scripture would contend that God made humans in a time perspective of increasing complexity. Man’s uniqueness is not in his or her complex structure, but in likeness of God —

    God’s respecter is in the nature of the relationship with humans, not their intellectual acumen. The pantheists distinction is not a view of time, but the unity of all things commented. And that unity is divine.

    But for the christian, he notes divinity in participation with spiritual existence — and that cannot include all things, save as the connections of being formed from atoms in the physic beyond physical manifestation. Divinity is an essence

    Hence when i say simply divine, I am attempting to note the aspects beyond physical existence. My body is dust to dust . . . my spiritual is something else entirely and something that escapes linear time boundaries or at least exceeds them .

  79. yakushimaru says

    Your death likely delievered by your neighbor instead of cosmic entities or a godly shutdown. Not everyone is a libertarian in the neighborhood.

  80. if we can create many simulations of human histories whose observer moments are indistinguishable from those of our ancestors, then that would in turn imply that we are very likely one of many simulations

    If we are one of those simulations, then there is no evidence we can create simulations of human histories. The evidence of the possibility of simulations would be programmed illusion of the particular simulation (like possibly all the rules of nature, and would have no implications for base reality).

    Content and possibilities in a simulation could be arbitrary, and not have any relation to rules or possibilities of base realities.

    Elon Musk (or Bostrum?) believes that we are now in a simulation, because in the “real world” we will soon be able to create simulations, and the number of simulations would be far greater than a base reality (so it is improbable we are in a base reality).

    But if it is true we are in a simulation, then the “real world” he is drawing inferences from, is irrelevant – it’s an illusion of that particular simulation, and does not bind on other simulations.

    If you dream tonight that you are flying, – this might imply you can fly in the dream, but it doesn’t imply you can fly in the base reality (as possibilities in the dream are not evidence of possibilities in waking reality).

    This is not speculation about simulations, but just a problem of circular logic in Elon Musk’s (Bostrum’s?) argument.

    The evidence for existence of simulations is only valid if we are in base reality, while the conclusion of the argument claims we not in base reality (if it is true we are not in base reality, there is no valid evidence we are in a simulation – the logic of the argument is a snake eating its own tail).

  81. Mein Kampf talked about the the conquest of the universe. Venturing forth would require advanced AI for the necessary nanotechnology, so we are going to find the truth about the Superintelligence explanation for the Fermi Paradox one way or another. HG Wells said the hour of our ascendancy would be the the eve of our entire overthrow.

  82. anonymous coward says

    Man’s uniqueness is not in his or her complex structure, but in likeness of God —

    God is infinite complexity, and Man’s ultimate goal is theosis, so in fact you are quite wrong.

    God’s respecter is in the nature of the relationship with humans, not their intellectual acumen.

    ‘Complexity’ has nothing at all to do with intellectual acumen; ‘complexity’ is a mathematical and philosophical concept linked with information entropy, etc.

  83. yakushimaru says

    If it is a simulation and if the computation power of the simulator is of concern, then you don’t want to spy on galaxy. You destroy all the telescopes to save the computation power. And you send nukes out like crazy. And kill all the big accelerators. Outlaw high energy physics.

    Or you may pray that the one running your simulator are interested in you, and like a good programmer can do, shift you into a bigger simulator. Become an artist.

    The programmer perspective really is not very exciting after a few minutes. And you have yet to run a tight game to aim at Fermi’s paradox.

  84. Evil demon in Descartes, is responsible for everything we see, hear, touch. Our whole reality would be generated by the evil demon (this is the same as saying we are in a simulation).

    Descartes is not presenting a conspiracy theory, but trying to examine what is the source of knowledge (ultimately Descartes can only escape to the real world by reason, which includes his argument that reason can proofing existence of a benevolent god).

    If I understand Vallée’s conspiracy theories, he does not find evidence that we are in a simulation.

    He thinks we are in a base reality, but that in this reality there is evidence of control system, that manipulates the human race, while disguising its own existence, often by presenting itself as absurd.

    Vallée believes that if you would manipulate the human race, you would operate in the area between belief and disbelief (where people are not allowed to actually believe). And this is exactly how things such as 20th century “UFO phenomenon” is structured relative to our current technological stage.

    In every epoch, Vallée believes the manipulation is mimicking the technological level of the culture, to present itself as half possible to believe and half absurd.

    For Vallée, main product of this manipulation is the creation of religion. And he collects a lot of difference evidence of supposed manipulation from religious history.

    So the devil mask in that picture is appropriate,

    Vallée apparently is not happy with the image, because he believes the alien itself needs to be shown as a mask, holding different masks.

    In every epoch, the mask used by the control system reflects the technological stage of man. While the demon was the 17th century presentation, this alien is merely a 20th century presentation.

    This is because the control system has to be half believed and half not-believed. The alien mask is half-believed in our current technological stage. While in the 17th century, the devil mask could be half-believed.

    Vallée’s “research project” is to look at what are the manipulation effects of the control system, rather than wondering about its origin. So, he collects a lot of evidence of how different religious cults are inspired, or how there is manipul

  85. yakushimaru says

    Fermi’s paradox is not only about we finding them. It’s also asking: why haven’t they found us?

    The we-not-finding-them part is easier to accept. The they-not-come-to-us part is harder to comprehend.

  86. reiner Tor says

    If you nuke the other guy, you do not have to see their blood cells moving. No increase of computation power needed.

    The idea is that the simulation simulates the universe, and not for us: it calculates everything, not only the things seen by us. We might not be the primary purpose of the simulation. In fact, we are likely just coincidental to it. We are probably a disposable part of it. (I’m not saying I buy the simulation theory more than just a possibility, but assuming it’s a simulation.)

  87. “We have a long way to go before we can even ask the correct questions, much less answer them–and getting rid of our conceit that we are the pinnacle of intelligence in the universe is just the very first step that needs to be taken.”

    On the contrary, like most intelligent and educated people, I never took the pinnacle theory seriously, just as I never took religion seriously. Today, however, it is precisely this theory that requires humbly abandoning our conceits, not the other way around. I came to it reluctantly, but once you begin to see that Darwinism is incoherent and that the brain functions in a way that exceeds our comprehension, it starts to appear more believable. FWIW I don’t believe we are superior to our cousins the ants, rather that we are all part of the cosmic mind.

  88. Daniel Rich says

    Quote: “It is thus very reasonable to posit that there was overall strong selection for intelligence, unless we got to the top of the cognitive tree through a very long series of truly freak coincidences.”

    Reply: Where would we be without the help of several asteroids smacking into this planet over hundreds of millions of years?

  89. German_reader says

    We are probably a disposable part of it.

    The term “ancestor simulation” would imply though that we might be central to it (unless it’s of the type mentioned by Malenfant in comment 49). Of course that’s total speculation, we simply have no way of knowing what reasons there could be for such a simulation, after all the base reality could be completely different from ours.
    I still haven’t seen a good reason why one should care about collapsing the simulation (“I like my life” doesn’t cut it imo). AK mentioned the Gnostics, iirc their “demiurge” was an evil figure and their view of the material world profoundly negative, something to be overcome, and imo that also would be a natural response to the idea that we’re living in a simulation, instead of seeking to prolong it through “good behaviour”.

  90. The idea that we are in a simulation is the ancient Hindu idea that the world is maya – a magic show, a skillful illusion.

    The difference is that in the Hindu idea, there is no base reality underlying it all.

    Physics has shown that the notion of the thing in itself (base reality) is outdated. The act of knowing actually conjures the known into being. Known and knower are one phenomena. The universe literally does not exist without conscious brains.

    The act of knowing actually conjures the known into being

    This is wrongly put.

    Its more that knower and known are part of one phenomena that can only exist together and influence each other. Neither creates the other, but both are one indivisible thing.

  91. Bardon Kaldian says

    There’s an apocryphal story that Captain Cook encountered islanders who seemed unable to see his great ships until his crew rowed their smaller landing craft to shore. The islanders had never seen such huge structures before, and they simply didn’t have the conceptual equipment to take them in.

    Yes, the story is apocryphal. This never happened.

  92. Could Douglas Adams be of some help or is the patient too far gone?

    ” Protect me from knowing what I don’t need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don’t know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to know about. Amen.”

    “All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty damn complicated in the first place.”

    “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

    “You know,” said Arthur, “it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.”
    “Why, what did she tell you?”
    “I don’t know, I didn’t listen.”

    “Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.”

    “The chances of finding out what’s really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied.”

    “The Total Perspective Vortex derives its picture of the whole Universe on the principle of extrapolated matter analyses.To explain — since every piece of matter in the Universe is in some way affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of creation — every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake. The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically in order to annoy his wife.”

    “It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.”

  93. Bardon Kaldian says

    The simulation story is just a retelling of old myths like Plato’s cave, Hindu Shakti-Maya (creative power), Taoist Te or Chien of neo-Confucians; Western Anima Mundi (Plotinus’ Psykhe Kosmou or Sufi Nafs-i-Kulli). It is basically creative energy of a God or something similar & everything, including our empirical lives, is a manifestation of that supposed energy.

    One can modernize & compartmentalize this old story with aliens, Matrix, whatever … just, it won’t change that it an ancient stuff & that “answers” are also ancient.

    One is typical for mysticism- contemplative life is the way to awake from our illusory existence (sleep, simulated derivative “reality”). That approach resulted in stasis & passivity.

    Another is that this whole metaphor is not even wrong. Even if true, it is irrelevant. We don’t have the means to ascertain what is the truth, and contemplative approach is sterile- it may be good for some contemplatives, but they also may live in their self-induced hallucinatory projections. They are not liberated from the Matrix- because there is no way to say whether Matrix exists at all, and it ultimately doesn’t matter. Aristotle, and others, would say: who cares? It is about changing the world we all agree it exists & not to waste our energy on futile speculations.

    And the sober reality is: human beings can do much to improve their condition, but only within a very limited area. Sorry, but such is life.

  94. Peter Tazumal says

    I had a more lunatic theory: WE were designed by an alien CULTURE. WE are part of a cosmological/mind/created MATRIX .There are connections between our DNA/sequence and the electro magnetic spectrum to contro US (individually), and Psico/hormonal markers to control US collectivelly (birth/infancy/puberty/adult/old) . The DNA sequences of the DEAD and Reassigned to the living.

    Our MIND programming is carried out consciously through our (virtual) experiences (daily life events, and cyclical markers) and through our periods of UNconciousness (dreams), that explains our flashes of Dejavou/reliving/ previous lives experiences. The good/bad binomial paradigm part of our Innate programming, as well as our concept of GOD??? This alien culture time span is much more expansive than ours, their DAY is not 24hrs, their year is NOT 365 days, their tiem markers is measured trough centennials, millenians, in fact for them time/space is a constant revolving evolving limitless, shapeless universe. WHY did they create us? Colonize the planet? are we just LABORERS to them?that why they created different RACES? Racial, biological, Hierarchies? according to area geographical caractheristics, to be exploited (mined)?? teh only way to explain racial,IQ, physical differences..LABORING objectives..are they still among us (oligarchy? to “profit” from the planets resources? )? how,? did they come seeking GOLD?? why are bad people not punished and good people suffer so much?? punishment a function of statistical function/equation??NOT God.. do they still register our thoughts, actions? to be continue…

  95. Ienot Mikhail says

    VERY interesting article. I need to read it twice… It has A LOT of good info to think about it.
    BTW, about “why nobody out there answer us..?”, I suggest very respectfully to read “Fiasco” from Stanislav Lem. He explains in a very convincingly way (IMHO…) this annoying “silence”.
    Kind regards, and thank you so much..!

  96. I guess it is just catchier than “Fermi’s Question.”

    I think a lot of language is like that. I’ve speculated that is partly why Karl Marx was so famous – his name fits into rhetoric easily and has that odd spelling with the “x.”

  97. EliteCommInc. says

    “God is infinite complexity, and Man’s ultimate goal is theosis, so in fact you are quite wrong.”

    As I noted, for the believer, infinite which is an attempt symbolize a time reference simply does not apply. For God is, was and shall be at the same time. That is the concept best understood as eternal. Assigning the notion of complexity for God undermines the very essence of being God. Complexity is something humans use to comprehend corporeal meaning. God is not selecting relations with his creation based on their intellectual acumen. They have a choice to seek him out and fellowship with regardless of their complexity.

    Hence, Solomon’s acknowledgement, “The beginning of wisdom is to fear (respect) God and keep his commandments.” God complex to humans, but humans are not complex to God. The known and unknown universe is complex to humans, but totally comprehensible to God. What are the rules for God — as he so chooses. Which is why having a relationship with him is not complex, abiding by that relationship in this life a messy affair. But as is clear God fellows with the ignorant as he does the wise. A person of more complex ability has no more a leg up than a dunce in relationship to God.

    This weekend I had to some work on the irrigation systems. Pretty simple. Cut, sand a bit glue. And yet I have yet to repair a simple minor leak. All my education doesn’t change the simplicity of connecting pipe, which over the years I am very familiar with. The assumptions we make about complexity to survival in blighted by this simple reality. Societies live on this planet and do successfully without having a clue of the difference between a cog and a wheel.

    If a plague wipes out the human species/race. And complexity is the key to survival then one could conclude that the dogs, apes and pigs along with other noneffected species are smarter.

    I understand entropy is the dissipation of energy. But as applied to information theory is states simply that the more information the more complex, the more complex the greater the degree of chaos or uncertainty of any one dynamic. So when the aliens arrive, based on this principle, the simpler the communication, the greater the chance of communication exchange.

    God is very simple, “come let us reason together” “seek me and you will find me” do unto others “what you would have them do unto you” . . .

    But to your objection, in your complaint lies the obvious implication, that human complexity is the end process of creation based on your comments. Given that human complexity is signified by human intelligence as the apex — its reasonable to conclude that intellectual acumen is also part of the “time to complexity of human capacity”. Hence the concerted efforts to understand humans today in general more intellectually capable than their predecessors. The amount of information known today exceeds that of previous humans – hence would contend that the “evolution of human development” is rooted in their intellectual acumen.

    So to avoid straying too far from base

    God doesn’t give a hoot about human complexity, when it comes to having relations with humans.

    Time simply has no bearing on his existence — time is a corporeal construct.

    That relationship to or with God is primarily spiritual.

    We see God in complex terms or concepts — but for God, complexity simply does not exist, if it did it does not matter.

    If one is talking about human complexity and it’s development it’s reasonable to include intellectual acumen.

    God doesn’t place much or any value here.

    Depending on a lot factors, communicating with aliens would initially require simple behaviors, even math could be a problem.

    “And the sober reality is: human beings can do much to improve their condition, but only within a very limited area.”

    Based on what we now, but this conclusion is assuming a lot about the unknown.

  98. Astuteobservor II says

    This, took a while to digest. Thanks for the great read.

  99. The mystic position is that once you wake up to reality, you understand how everything fits together perfectly, death is not ultimately real, and you now live life joyously and ecstatically, and with deep compassion for those who still cannot see.

    It is supposed to transform you.

    Traditionally, it did indeed lead to stasis – because if everything is perfect as is, and you are content and joyous, there is no motivation for progress.

    The dark secret is that progress depends on dissatisfaction and unhappiness, and societies that value progress contrive ways to make people unhappy and miserable.

    But the true mystic position is not against progress, although yes, it will no longer seem as urgent and grimly serious. Rather, it will be done in a playful manner, as not serious, as a fame – which is how the best scientists work anyways.

  100. Kevin O'Keeffe says

    I still haven’t seen a good reason why one should care about collapsing the simulation (“I like my life” doesn’t cut it imo).

    My unironic position is that the simulation SHOULD be shut down.

    Or at least that would be my position, if I thought we inhabited a simulation. A lot of clever arguments have been made for why that’s likely, but I feel confident those arguments will one day come to be known to have very little merit. Somehow, I’m reminded of Xeno’s Paradoxes.

  101. Perhaps we are living in a simulation. Perhaps the observable reality of existence is the collapsing of a probability function and all reality is virtual. Who knows? However, when we are still unsure about 88% of our universe (dark matter) and 68% of the energy (dark energy) perhaps we should exercise some humility.

    Our models of the Universe may be completely wrong. Life on earth has undergone numerous extinction events and bottle necks. It is almost as if everything that has gone before was designed for the evolution of modern humans and technological civilization. Despite our advances in technology and intelligence we have not matured and we carry the seeds of our own destruction within us.

    This “virtual reality” has many “flaws”. For example the bulk of fossil fuels formed over previous destructive cycles are found in the middle east. The one resource that drives human technological advancement was placed in a region that suffers political and religious extremism. Surely, the Architect could have dispersed the fossil fuels more equitably? Why spend millions of years forming resources and then putting them there?

    The “Architect” is not going to Ctrl-Alt-Delete us from our sector of space-time. The “Architect” is going to lift us to a new state of human “evolution” but he is also going to punish “intelligent” life for hubris in usurping power without responsibility. We have failed. Soon you will no longer need to speculate but will see with your own eyes:

    For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
    (Heb 11:10)

  102. BlackDragon says

    It doesn’t matter what science you can peddle in a theory or hypothesis, if it isn’t observable then it probably isn’t real. By ‘isn’t observable’ doesn’t exclude future discoveries, it refers to present observation..Too many mathematicians have answers to problems that are not backed up by observation. This includes the notion of ‘dark energy’ (undefined) and ‘dark matter’ which is just normal positive mass we cant observe.

  103. BlackDragon says

    Yes and this doesn’t agree well with the ‘lamba CDM’ big bang theory either..

  104. BlackDragon says

    ‘fully describe it in a couple pages of Python code’ Please publish it then, and reference it, with citations. Galaxies give ‘birth’ to galaxies. Please explain how in a ‘few lines of python code’.

  105. BlackDragon says

    He ran it on a super AI machine at the edge of the solar system, left by some unknown intelligence. /sarc

  106. German_reader says

    My unironic position is that the simulation SHOULD be shut down.

    I’m unironically inclined to that view as well, imo on balance human existence is suffering. It’s bad enough if there’s no purpose behind it, and no one to blame for it…but if we’re nothing more than the npcs in a cosmic video game, created by some hyper-advanced jerks for obscure purposes (not by an ultimately benevolent creator god who cares about humanity in some way), why care about crashing the simulation? As I wrote above, one might even be tempted to do it out of pure spite towards the uncaring architects.

  107. Daniel Chieh says

    It is not only humankind that engages in competition, the same is true of other animals who have to share the same niche in the ecosystem. Examples of this include the dog driving the Tasmanian wolf into extinction and plants classically compete with this method, primarily by using up resources that would be used by other plants.

    Given that this is fundamentally an advantage in nature, the same pressures would seem to apply even if it is scaled up.

  108. Ilyana_Rozumova says

    Only simulation would have a sense to determine the point where big bang did occur.
    Nothing more.

  109. I honestly don’t see why radio leakage would be an issue in the scenario of hostile aliens. Why would a radio signal be necessary, for aliens to discover us?

    They could do it by visible light – spectroscopy. First to discover that Earth is habitable, then any number of other visible signs, like trace gases in the atmosphere or road networks. Of course, ultimately this would involve sending probes. They could be a lot closer than the Oort cloud, and we would not be able to detect them.

  110. Not all answers to Fermi are created equal. The best of them can tell us something about reality, and may speak to how we’re likely to develop in our own future. The worst of them are the Cartesian Demon type — for these, although seemingly unfalsifiable and even possibly true, can’t tell us anything at all. (Though they have one use, which I’ll explain below.)

    Broadly speaking, there are only three classes of answer to Fermi’s question.

    1. They’re out there and we can’t see them
      • Because we’re not looking in the right locations. For whatever it’s worth, this is unquestionably true.
      • Because we don’t know what to look for.
      • Because our capabilities of detection are not up to the task.
      • Because our search volume simply isn’t large enough.
      • Because we may have mistaken their works for natural phenomena, however puzzling or mundane those phenomena might seem.
      • Because all sufficiently advanced ETIs camouflage themselves to avoid detection. (“Dark Forest Theory”/”Berserkers”.)
      • Because all sufficiently advanced ETIs achieve enlightenment and dispense with trivial things like radio waves and Dyson spheres.
      • Because, contra Kardashev, all sufficiently advanced ETIs have access to energy sources which render main-sequence stellar energy totally obsolete. This is my preferred answer.
    2. They don’t exist
      • Because life is extremely rare.
      • Because the prokaryote−to-eukaryote transition is extremely rare.
      • Because something about the Earth’s composition or position is uniquely special.
      • Because the Moon makes Earth uniquely special.
      • Because the universe isn’t that old, and the early universe would have been very metal-poor, so we are simply first.
    3. Reality itself isn’t what it seems
      • Because we’re in a simulation that doesn’t allow for a crowded universe.
      • ETIs are or were here, but they’re keeping us in a zoo or planetarium.
      • ETIs are or were here, but they’re keeping us in quarantine.
      • ETIs are or were here, but they are actively manipulating our development as a species, possibly in religious and superstitious ways, a la Vallée.

    As a rule, the answers that emerge from categories one and two make testable predictions.

    But category two has seen better days — for the Earth and its moon have never seemed less unique, indeed it now seems that every star has planets — and amino acids and the other “building blocks of life” have been detected in various regions throughout space — and this makes rare Earth or rare moon theorizing seem foolish. The stuff of life seems ubiquitous. Also, it seems that the universe is old enough so that it could have spawned galaxy-spanning civilizations at least a few billion years ago. In general, most answers from category two violate Copernicanism — this, of course, doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily wrong… but the more we look, the less special our place in the universe seems.

    Category three is full of Cartesian Demons. Godlike Manipulators. Most of the presumptions that these answers make are untestable and unknowable. But, unlike most of the rest, the simulation hypothesis does make testable predictions about the very fabric of reality — and this is extremely interesting! People are already working assiduously on validating the simulation hypothesis via experiment.

    Now, it’s basically useless to speculate on the Cartesian Demons who may be manipulating us, but, as I mentioned previously, they can be useful in one particular instance.

    There is a certain type of particularly annoying and foolish or unimaginative person — I think that Robin Hanson is among them — who like to make an argument that goes something like this: “ETIs can’t exist because we’d see the waste heat from their Dyson Spheres by now! They would surely have conquered the galaxy already! Where are the Kardashev K3s? The fact that we can see any stars at all means that ETIs don’t exist, and that there is a great filter.” The best rejoinder to this ridiculous argument is this: “If what you are saying must be true, then it becomes much more likely — in fact, extremely likely — that they are, or were, here already. That we are being influenced or directed.” This is, in effect, responding to nonsense with nonsense — but the demons have, at least, this one small use.

    …As for why ETIs haven’t found us: Think about that for a moment, in light of all of the above.

  111. I would agree with this.

    I would rather choose nonexistence than to continue to exist within a simulation–a lie.

    And if it was just a simulation, would that not also guarantee the total absence of free will?

    Even the Matrix would be preferable as there one would still have the opportunity to exist and challenge the system.

    In a universe simulation imposed by alien intelligence there would be no room for any individual freedom or agency.

    Pretty depressing but that does not inform us one way or the other as to whether it could be true.

    But for sure I agree with you that we as human beings would have no reason to strive to protect such a system, even if it meant our erasure.

  112. Mitchell Porter says

    Congratulations on devising a distinctive new technocosmology: that all civilizations throughout the universe are united in keeping a low profile and destroying anyone who attempts to expand, in order to conserve the computational resources of the Simulators, and thereby avoid or delay the shutdown of the simulation.

    It seems likely that someone had this thought before you; but you are the guy who made the effort to spell out the details, so now it’s yours: “Anatoly Karlin’s Katechon Hypothesis”.

    My main question is this: if we are in a simulation, which is more likely – that all those other stars and galaxies out there, are being simulated in equal detail to our own; or that they are just wallpaper, and that our simulation is intrinsically focused just on some small region, like Earth?

  113. I think Von Neumann probes would be pretty easy to control. IMO, the fear that they would somehow mutate is based on observations of biological systems, which have mutation build into their essence.

    At least in theory, it is possible to design a thing to reproduce so that it will not mutate. And, if we are talking about the scale of our galaxy (and its habitable zones) the number of copies need not be very great. Certainly no more than the number of stars. Let’s say 100 billion – not a lot of opportunity for all to be turned into paperclips.

  114. Justvisiting says

    A Terence McKenna quote gives us the clue–if we want to go there:

    “Try and locate the blind spot in the culture — the place where the culture isn’t looking, because it dare not — because if it were to look there, its previous values would dissolve.”

    McKenna, Sheldrake and others would argue that we are an extension of a living planet, that just as animals made it possible for plants to extend their reach beyond their one location, humans will make it possible for the planet to make contact with other planets beyond its own location.

    If that scenario is correct we are not on the top of the evolutionary heap but rather an integral part of the next level of the natural hierarchy, probably as part of a fractal hierarchy of planets, solar systems, galaxies, perhaps universes, perhaps mingled with “other dimensions”, whatever they might be–all conscious, all players in the dance of life.

    The “search for alien life” becomes rather amusing because the most alien intelligence imaginable is literally beneath our feet.

    In my view the weirdness (of Vallee and others noted in my earlier post) is an element of what the Earth does–we are culturally bound to think it is impossible, we don’t understand it, and perhaps confusion is its purpose, or perhaps it has some other purpose that just makes no sense to us.

    Ignoring the weird (because it does not fit in with our pet theories) is a cultural bias.

    We love ideology, we love theories, we love religions, and we tend to ignore facts or events that contradict the narrative.

    But–if we survive–we will explore other planets and eventually star systems–not because it is a good idea (because in my view the risk/reward does not compute) but because it is a part of human “nature”–and we just won’t be able to stop ourselves.

  115. “This could be in the form of what we might call “lazy programming”, such as the recent and unexpected discovery that all galaxies rotate at the same speed”

    But they don’t. Some rotate up to three times as fast as our Milky Way.

    “Super spirals are the most massive star-forming disk galaxies in the universe. We measured rotation curves for 23 massive spirals with the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) and found a wide range of fast rotation speeds (240–570 km s−1).”

    Considerations that “The Architect” has computational limitations our species could even begin to understand is a possible fundamental flaw here.
    Maybe the Architech’s creation is so finely balanced with respect to physical laws that it was done in such a way that guaranteed development of intelligent life on this planet in this star system at this time in his image with the only further interactions as depicted in the Bible. The statistical improbability of absence of nova, GRBs, and other life ending phenomena at this time was as well figured in at the time of creation. Every little detail, necessary for the Earth’s “evolution” was covered at creation, and perhaps there is no one out there because no one was desired or required.
    “Where is everybody?”
    “Next door, it’s Monday Night.”

  116. pretty interesting, but I think it might disprove its antecedent if true. that is, the simulation hypothesis depends on the idea that an accurately simulated universe will give rise to intelligences that will will accurately simulate universes and so on, so there’s an infinite hierarchy and there’s no reason to think we are at the top. but if we are concerned about overloading the higher level simulation by expanding or other intelligences expanding, wouldn’t we be equally concerned about overloading the higher level simulation by running a simulation that would run its own simulation etc.?

    this leads to a contradiction: we wouldn’t run a simulation, but then the simulation hypothesis is false and so we would run a simulation…

  117. Nick Lane does not directly discuss whether or why abiogenesis has not seemingly occurred again on Earth but he does talk about the argument that the bacteria did not evolve further in morphological complexity because all the niches were filled by the Eukaryotes, and then proceeds to show that this argument does not hood true because for example Archea evolved along with Bacteria occupying similar niches yet remaining distinct.

    The abiogenesis model Lane advocates for is one that posits the various chemical gradients in the organically rich and highly energetic hydrothermal vents coupled with the porous substrates are where the cellular energy machine to power life can be created, the proton gradient pump. Here’s a paper that Lane wrote about it

    The part Lane does not go into is whether or why if not, given the huge number of hydrothermal vents in the Early Earth and through the ages till now, new life is not being created from the same processes. Is it because as you saw already living things that exist in hydrothermal vents are essentially blocking the formation by slurping up all the nutrients? Or, to your point, they are quickly consumed by existing life as soon as they evolve beyond a certain point?

    So either:

    A) there is a short Abiogenesis window of necessary initial conditions which is now closed;

    B) Existing (Old) Life is actively preventing New Life;

    C) Abiogenesis is really rare in time and space even on such a organically rich and hospitable planet like the Earth . That is Original Life arose in a short period around a small set of hydrothermal vents in a small region of the Earth whereas it failed everywhere else on Earth.

    Whereas B is plausible, I haven’t seen it argued in the way Lane lays out his case for the Eukaryotes.

    Coming to the Eukaryotes: it’s true for example that some environments don’t permit different species to occupy the same biological niche – this is true especially of large animals and the cases of long isolated regions like Australia (where Marsupials occupied every niche normally occupied by other mammals elsewhere) and Madagascar are well documented. However it’s also true that certain environments can support multiple species in similar niches as the birds-of-paradise in New Guinea. So it’s not clear that multiple Eukaryotic de novo cells couldn’t have evolved in different regions unless that event is very very rare and only occurred once. Indeed Lane states posits exactly that given apparently how everything needed to be just right for it survive.

    I actually thought of shooting Lane an email asking him exactly these questions since his book, while eye-opening in looking at that point in evolution not through the usual genetic/information arguments or discussing why RNA was a better candidate for initial life than DNA, but from biochemical reactions and activation energies needed to create the energy circuitry needed for life, skirts around the issue. Perhaps I’ll do just that…

  118. Isn’t this the premise of Alastair Reynolds’ “Revelation Space” trilogy? That there’s an intelligence out there with no purpose other than to slap down societies that achieve (relativistic) starflight?

  119. Vedas already speak of the universe being endlessly destroyed and recreated.

    Some have even calculated the length of each era and the ratio between earth or human time and cosmic time.

    All of reality is considered an illusion you are merely a soul with a body ‘experiencing’ reality.

  120. Kratoklastes says

    The main way to ‘resolve’ the Fermi Paradox is to realise that it’s not a paradox when considered in the correct context.

    The main dumb idea behind the supposed ‘paradox’ is that it assumes that alien civilisations will be faster versions of our own (more accurately, our own, circa 1950: huge amounts of unencrypted, high-power radio traffic that could be detected by a child). That was SETI’s assumption, as well, and it’s dumb in hindsight.

    We don’t fly through the air by building a faster version of a Peregrine Falcon: we use a very different mechanism that involves digging up different types of dirt, melting it, forming it into shapes, filling voids in parts of the shapes with refined brown ooze, and then setting fire to the ooze.

    We don’t travel faster across the ground by “building a better cheetah”, either. Again, we dig up some dirt, melt it, form it into shapes, etc etc. Slightly different dirt; different shapes; differently-refined ooze.

    And so on. The main point is that the the form factor of an advanced civilisation will be inherently unrecognisable to us – a Neanderthal in the middle of a major city would have a better chance of understanding our society, than we would have of forming sensible expectations of advanced alien societies based on the ‘faster version’ model.

    The idea that we will evolve into ‘faster meatbags’ is silly. We’re probably less than a century from making them obsolete (and therefore optional).

    Protecting the meat is most of the problem of interplanetary travel, and almost all of the problem with interstellar travel. Setting out for the closest potentially-habitable planet would involve an 80,000 year journey, during which time all the meat on board would be toast if there was so much as a pinprick-sized hole in the craft. (lol @ meat → toast… reverse trans-substantiation, plus grilling!). And there’s a risk that when you get there you realise it wasn’t as potentially-habitable as you thought.

    So for the aliens to bring their meatbags across space to either visit us or fuck us up and take our shit, represents a risky bet of absolutely monumental proportions – with an almost-guaranteed -100% payoff.

    It would far more risky than any voyage undertaken during the Age of Discovery (holes in wooden-hulled ships – even decent-sized ones – are amenable to repair… in a spacecraft repair is difficult if all your air is gone).

    We will solve the meat problem (i.e., we will develop human-and-better cognitive substrates without a fragile meatbag) before we solve the problem of safely transporting meatbags across interstellar space. (In fact once we get rid of the meat, we no longer have to care about solving the second problem).

    Consider being a human before the widespread ownership of cars, and after. “How do I traverse a distance of 1000 miles in 2 days without killing my horse?” becomes a largely-irrelevant question, after.

    So we ought not expect alien visitation from bags of meat. That would be a stupid thing to expect.

    I would argue we shouldn’t expect to interact with them at all: for a strong-AI level society, we would be roughly as interesting to them, as the most benign gut bacteria is to the average nuclear physicist. We might get some passing nano-cubes that tap into our systems, read the whole internet, and think “OK, so this place has a few smart monkeys. Good job, guys… you’re still made of meat.

    So the ‘Fermi Paradox’ goes into the ‘Not a Paradox‘ pile, along with the Monty Hall and Ellsberg paradoxes (both of which are resolved by the simple recognition that humans can’t do conditional probability calculations unless they’re trained to do so).

    They’re out there, with probability 1. And they’re not made of meat.

  121. Belarusian Anon says

    All the existential angst over this is kind of moot when you take in the fact A) we probably won’t live to see it and B) even if we DO live to see it, it’s nothing before the issue of Cartesian deconstruction. There is no way to prove literally anything outside of your own consciousness and that only to yourself. Any supposed proof we are or aren’t in a simulation can be far more easily dismissed than found

  122. Kratoklastes says

    There is no way to prove literally anything outside of your own consciousness and that only to yourself

    It’s worse than that, actually. You can’t even prove your own consciousness to yourself.

    (The ‘you’ here is generic – I’m more-than-agreeing, not trying to insult personal-you)

  123. reiner Tor says

    Your mind is interconnected with your body. It’s impossible to upload your mind onto a computer and expect it to keep working the same way. If you upload yourself to a computer, then the thing on the computer will be fundamentally different from you. Not different like Stalin’s or Takeshi69’s mind is different from yours, but far more different, in a way for which there is no analogy. It will be fundamentally different.

    I liked the idea of uploading my mind to a computer when I first read it as a child, but over time I came to realize that it’s basically a suicide coupled with creating some kind of a high resolution image of my mind. (Even setting aside the problem of what would happen if the uploading would be possible without killing yourself, which should be possible in principle. The thing on the computer wouldn’t be you.)
    To simulate your mind, your body and bodily sensations need to be simulated, too. You just cannot do that, except inside some simulated reality.

  124. reiner Tor says

    Your preferences are not other people’s preferences. Being in a simulation has zero effect on our everyday lives. Which we’d like to keep.

    My issue is that it currently seems impossible to create a universal consensus (or even just a political consensus among the elite) to follow through the policy implications of such a cosmological discovery. Even the scientific consensus seems impossible to achieve. Yet the model assumes that all civilizations come to the same consensus and follow through the same way.

  125. But if it is true we are in a simulation, then the “real world” he is drawing inferences from, is irrelevant – it’s an illusion of that particular simulation, and does not bind on other simulations.

    All depends on the ratio of observer-moments within ancestor-simulations vs. observer-moments in other types of simulations.

    (Of course even ancestor-simulations may be run not just or at all for purposes of simulating ancestors but for other reasons).

    I would think it’s plausible that ancestor-simulations would be a Schelling point for “big” simulations in general, but sure, that’s speculative.

    If you dream tonight that you are flying, – this might imply you can fly in the dream, but it doesn’t imply you can fly in the base reality (as possibilities in the dream are not evidence of possibilities in waking reality).

    Bad analogy – dream observer-moments are quite distinct from waking observer-moments (you can tell it is a dream, if you are sufficiently lucid). And it’s hardly a cardinal difference, either. There are already experimental jetpacks that can make people fly, or we could feasible bioengineer wings onto people.

  126. Ilyana_Rozumova says

    At biblical times the people have seen earth , moon, sun, and heaven with stars. That was their Universe. Now we invented telescopes, and did find out that that the stars are suns with planets rotating around them. And we have now a new Universe. So then what we can see is Universe,
    How childish can we get. In reality what we see is only like a grain of sand in the endless desert.
    They (the scientist ) claim that Universe is expanding. That is a childish nonsense. Only our Universe
    (what we see) is expanding. (due to big bang in our proximity.)
    Nuclear explosions and Einstein confirmed to us that Matter can be changed into energy and of course it happens in big bang. But it must be a reverse possibility because otherwise all matter in Universe would change into energy and Universe would eliminate itself.
    Only conclusion is that when heat wave enters the zone where temperature is zero kelvin it changes back into matter.

  127. reiner Tor says

    The “total computing capacity of the simulation” might simply be the consequence of some natural law which prohibits too much complexity. Whether its just the way things are or the result of being in some simulation is a metaphysical question impossible to answer.

  128. You destroy all the telescopes to save the computation power.

    A star-sized telescope can make out Earth to a resolution of a few tens of kilometer from 1,500 light years. Meanwhile, a Matryoshka Brain around that same star can produce 10^42 flops worth of computation. So the load from telescopes and deep space observation in general is rather trivial and shouldn’t constitute any sort of limit.

    Watch away in peace.

    1. Asteroids smack into Earth at predictable intervals in the long-run.
    2. There are also supervolcanoes.
    3. Assumes that extinction events are a sine qua non of driving forwards max encephalization. But that’s not necessarily true. Max encephalization rate within dinosaurs increased greatly between 200M and 65M years ago (the dates of the last two big extinctions). The mean encephalization of extant mammals increased by a factor of 3 during the past 65M years.
  129. Bardon Kaldian says

    A mystic’s position is untenable. There is no way for him to prove his theses. His happiness, sense of liberation etc. may be just self-induced projections, a sort of natural LSD produced by bio-chemical processes in his brain due to contemplative efforts.

    In other words, he may have been delusional or regressed to a more primitive state of consciousness. Which knowledge of reality has he shown, any time? None whatsoever.

    Ancient mystics, high types of all times, speak of unity, liberation from time etc. Yet, they did not enlarge our knowledge in any single matter. They did not know that earth goes around the sun; that world is composed of atoms; that did not bring any knowledge of functioning of this, empirical world.

    On the other hand, they believed they can command winds & other absurd beliefs. No need to comment of that…

    If a junkie sees other dimensions, it does not mean they exist. Mere intensity of a subjective experience is not a proof of anything.

  130. If there are many habitable planets within the galaxy, then the constitution of the atmosphere wouldn’t say much and destroying all such planets may be prohibitively expensive.

    Roads would be a more obvious sign, but you’d really need to get close (it’s a myth that the Great Wall can be seen from space), and more importantly, you’d needed to have gotten close once the first major continental road-building projects started in Roman times.

    Assigning a satellite dedicated to Earth with telescope and sophisticated AI to make out artificial structures would presumably be much more complicated than hiding away a mere radio listening post in the Kuiper Belt or the inner Oort Cloud.

  131. Kratoklastes says

    Your mind is interconnected with your body…

    At present there is a lot of interaction – largely because the mind relies on the body for sustenance, transport, and so forth; in return, the body requires the mind to help it acquire stuff that makes it feel good… and being meat, bodies have carnal objectives: food, shelter, sex (or its simulacrum). Minds don’t.

    It will be fundamentally different

    That’s not implied by the first thing, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, anyhow.

    The minds of people who learn to read are fundamentally different from the minds of people who don’t; the minds of people who acquire high levels of numeracy and literacy are different from those who acquire lower levels… and so on and so forth.

    A person who enjoys a wide range of food from a wide variety of cultures will have a range of gustatory experiences that is fundamentally different from someone who eats a Standard American Diet, who in turn will have a (slightly) wider range compared to someone who has a McDonald’s Happy Meal for every meal.

    I might have a strong bias that more variety is better, but that is entirely subjective – so maybe someone who has a quarter pounder, large fries and Coke for every meal is actually happier, all things considered. It’s not going to convince me to forego Beef Rendang or Confit de Canard or Huevos Rancheros, and it doesn’t make me (or them) better. (I’m better for other reasons lol).

    There’s a very high likelihood that the range of sensations and experiences will be expanded for a non-meatbag compared to a meatbag: if eating a steak (or a good Beef Rendang) is just code, it competes with every other existing experience, and all others that can be coded.

    Wanna shoot a lion, like some faggy pissweak less-than-a-man Yank dentist fuckwit? Code.
    Wanna eat your own leg? Code.
    Wanna have a knife-fight with a Were-Hyena at the bottom of the Marianas Trench? Code.

    If all carnal experiences become code, and are ubiquitous and have zero cost or risk, then eventually virtualised minds will get bored doing perfectly-simulated outrageous shit.

    (When I play Real Racing 3, I often deliberately ‘pit move’ opponents, and/or crash into walls at the end of a race – even if I ‘win’ – if I am unhappy with the car’s grip or whatever. That’s not how I drive in real life though: the “victory-crashing into walls” thing would be fatal)

  132. That particular piece of weak circumstantial evidence vanishes thanks to a paper published 2 weeks ago – excellent!

  133. … wouldn’t we be equally concerned about overloading the higher level simulation by running a simulation that would run its own simulation etc.?

    Good argument, but that implies that we would undertake cosmic expansion in order to run more and more simulations. In reality, simulations is just something we will do with some given fraction of our computing potential. That potential, in turn, will be determined by our level of technology, and our level of cosmic expansion (Earth; solar system; beyond).

  134. Yes, obviously the value of the mystic experience does not lie in any contribution to our ability to control our environment – what you call objective knowledge.

    But why do we wish to control our environment? To survive. But why survive? Because life is felt as pleasurable.

    The great contribution of the mystic is to make life intensely pleasurable, even despite its apparent horrific side. What is the point of focusing entirely on physical survival if survival is not worth having.

    A great many people feel life is worthless, or more suffering than pleasure. See German Reader above. And many more people exist in a state of numbness.

    The mystic vision can restore joy to life. I would say this is an immense contribution.

    As for its objective truth, it consists primarily in seeing that the sense of a separate ego is an illusion. It heals alienation. This is in line with the most advanced science of our day as well as with the insights of the most rigorous philosophy. Far more so, in fact, than the myth of a separate ego. The discovery of the unconscious has also revealed to us that we are not just our conscious egos, but much more.

    The mystic vision often comes after a rigorous process of logical dialectic. Nagajuna invented a logical dialectical technique that shows the sense of separareness to be a fiction constructed by our minds.

    It is not a truth that can be tested by manipulating our environment, of course, because it is an experience of ourselves in relation to our environment, and about the true nature of our environment. Understanding that an image is an illusion does not alter the structure of the illusion. Nothing changes, you just know it for what it is. Its still there, but you are liberated from it. So you are committing a category error.

    As I said, the mystic vision does not necessarily mean no technological progress – the attempt to secure our physical survival. It just transforms our relationship to progress from one of grim seriousness to one of playful joy. Because the task of survival loses its grim seriousness and become a a game played for the sheer joy of it.

  135. anonymous coward says

    Like I said, publishing this sort of Python code is the day job of astrophysicists. Physics is really simple, which is exactly why we like it so much.

  136. Bardon Kaldian says

    But why do we wish to control our environment? To survive. But why survive?

    This is not the topic of the article. Stick to the point.

  137. Bardon Kaldian says

    What these guys are talking about are scientific hypotheses. If they are stuck with “non observable in principle” – they will have vanished from science. If they, on the other hand, try ” not observable yet, but we hope there are ways to indirectly confirm this- and not that”, they will retain their scientific status.

    Many scientific discoveries first began as weird, even more, murky hypotheses & then, with the passage of time & development of technology & knowledge- they are refuted (phlogiston) or corroborated (atoms).

    Dark matter, multiverse this or that sort…. are kinds of early scientific hypotheses. Not just an idle speculation. And not yet serious, firm hypotheses, let alone confirmed truths.

  138. Bardon Kaldian says

    I could never take Wolfram (and those who use his positions freely, like Bostrom et al) seriously. Simulation paradigm simply is not scientific in any meaningful sense. It may be entertaining, even exciting. But, putting aside technical questions like computability, even AI etc.- simulation is not explanation. It’s just a redress of old Plato’s cave/collective hallucination paradigm, without verifiable consequences.

    And it is less persuasive than Susskind’s cosmic landscape, which is basically a cop-out quackery (not that there is anything wrong with that…)

    In other words, from a movie- they asked for the answers, while they even didn’t know the questions.

  139. anonymous coward says

    You got that backwards. We observe ‘dark matter’, but we have no clue what it is and there’s no good scientific explanation for it.

  140. Nobody explores possibility that machines/AI can be the first intelignet entities in universe. Machines are orders of magnitude simplier than organic forms and probablity that can evolve from simple elements are orders of magnitude higher. And some of those entities can run simulations or create environments for organic evolution. Maybe our Earth/Gea is inteligent AI who created all organic forms and still controls their evolution, and human purpose is to create even more advanced machines and send them across universe.

  141. If you ask me, the most human thing to do if the simulation hypothesis is confirmed or has a high chance of being true (though recently some guy said that the universe definitely isn’t a simulation, but functions similarly to one), is to immediately turn into hyperexpansionist grey goo, in order to immediately destroy the entire simulation. Because the only way to win this scenario is not to play it at all, and if it isn’t going to be our way, then it is not going to be in the first place. A literal technogenic, multiversal eschaton, just out of spite. Breddy cool if you ask me

  142. it would be like ants trying to understand human civilization

    Individual ants carry their load without understanding “ant civilization.” Why can’t we say that individual humans could (can?) carry their load without “understanding” human civilization?

  143. Your death likely delievered by your neighbor instead of cosmic entities or a godly shutdown. Not everyone is a libertarian in the neighborhood.

    Reminds me of Patrick Henry taking his routine to France where they took liberty and death questions seriously. They said, “Sure, we can handle this, but you have to wait in prison for your turn on the guillotine.”

  144. Your preferences are not other people’s preferences.

    I agree. It seems a very strange way of thinking to me, can’t really even comprehend it. Cutting off the nose to spite the face.

    Yet the model assumes that all civilizations come to the same consensus and follow through the same way.

    Assume massive intelligence augmentation (either through biosingularity or machine superintelligence, your pick) tends to come before major cosmic expansion becomes feasible.

    And that this turbocharged noosphere comes up with a hard proof (or even just extremely convincing evidence for) the Katechon Hypothesis.

    In that case, it would be easy to imagine a universal consensus against conducting cosmic expansion – and making sure other civilizations come to the same conclusion, one way or another.

  145. The Alarmist says

    Sorry, but you spend too much ink on the possibility we are in a simulation; if we are in a simulation, the larger questions are moot.

  146. depends on the ratio of observer-moments within ancestor-simulations vs. observer-moments in other types of simulations.

    If you are in a simulation, then any of our reasoning about simulations is also invalid (as we are saying that it just simulated reasoning).

    Here is circular logic. Conclusion of argument adds “NOT” to the assumption that is used to attain conclusion.

    Bad analogy – dream observer-moments are quite distinct from waking observer-moments (you can tell it is a dream, if you are sufficiently lucid). And it’s hardly a cardinal difference, either. There are already experimental jetpacks that can make people fly, or we could feasible bioengineer wings onto people.

    Sure, you can dream about flying, and we can also fly in waking life. But there is no epistemic inference from flying in dream, to imply about flying in waking life.

    I have dreams that there are talking animals in my street – this does not imply there are talking animals in my street.

    Perhaps you argue that dreams/simulations could still provide knowledge about some modal statements. (Talking animals is a logical possibility, and the experience of my dreams might help us to infer about the logical possibility of this happening).*

    If we are in a simulation (which could be true), then there is also NOT in front of any inferences from the content of our simulation to answer the question whether we are in a simulation.

    Our “knowledge” we are in a simulation, would be like someone who dreams what the result is to next month’s lottery number – co-incidentally true, but with no causal relationship to reality outside the dream.

    On the other hand, if we are not in a simulation, then the evidence from our world that we are in a simulation is valid, although it would be supporting a possibility which is false in our world.

    • Although there I have read some people who report hallucinations from certain drugs, that report about logically impossible shapes “e.g. they experience square circles and impossible shapes”. So simulated experiences might also claims things which are even logically impossible in waking world.

  147. Bostrom tries to evade this Dmitry Problem by confining his speculation to “ancestry simulations”, in which simulated observations are indistinguishable from those that happen in base reality. In this way he can have his cake and eat it too, i.e. apply the laws and observations that obtain in our reality, whatever that may be, to all the realities he proposes exist. Then this exercise casts us into a simulation, which however has to be the same as the base reality, otherwise the reasoning behind our simulation has no integrity.

    It is like the simulation theory only works to the extent that it is meaningless (because simulated and base realities are indistinguishable), and it jettisons its own proof as soon as it becomes meaningful or interesting (i.e., at the point that we begin to contemplate all the arbitrariness that the concept of simulation brings with it).

    dream observer-moments are quite distinct from waking observer-moments

    They are only distinct for us because we can compare both experiences.

    There are already experimental jetpacks that can make people fly, or we could feasible bioengineer wings onto people.

    Flight is possible, but we do not believe that because we have had nocturnal dreams of flying.

  148. Elmer's Washable School Glue says

    However, as Bostrom himself points out, the mere fact of us starting up simulations – especially ancestor-simulations – would massively raise the chances that we are within a simulation ourselves, at least so long as we can credibly recreate the observer-moments we experience. That the ultimate reality – the one that the Architect inhabits – may also be purely mathematical has no bearing on whether or not “our” reality is a simulation.

    The problem with this “recursion of simulations” logic is that the Architect would have an extremely strong incentive to prevent the construction of sub-simulations: to reduce the total number of computations. If you are simulating a universe, and the inhabitants of that simulation create their own sim universe at equal speeds and magnitudes, the comps/sec required to maintain the original sim would double. If the original sim has just 20 daughter sims– an extreme low estimate on a universe scale– then the comps/sec to maintain the original sim would increase by a factor of 20. And so forth. Since each daughter sim should be expected to eventually have its own daughters, we can expect the total computations required to approach infinity. To avoid such a fate I see a couple possibilities:

    1) Wipe any region of space or civilization that develops simulations themselves. I find this unlikely because it would eliminate part of the purpose of the sim–to observe other advanced species’ behavior–and better methods exist.

    2) Prevent the creation of daughter sims somehow, by some kind of slight adjustment to the physics of the world, or just “deleting” them, e.g. causing a crash or shutdown of some kind to the perspective of the original sim. The people in the original would believe simulation to be impossible.

    3)”Lazily” simulate the daughter sim, only calculating what is actually observed by the parent sim.

    Number 2 seems by far the most likely to me, not only because it is the easiest and most sure-fire, but because it has the potential to decrease the inhabitants’ awareness of their simulated nature, while the other two would increase it. In any case number 3 might be unfeasible to do accurately, i.e. so the fake sim’s creators are genuinely fooled. So I would suggest that successfully creating our own universe simulations actually reduces the chance that we ourselves are simulated.

    As a side note, for analogous reasons, the Architect may also seek to prevent the creation of ems. If, hypothetically, ems doesn’t pan out, this may be a possible if far-fetched explanation. However, preventing ems isn’t as vital as preventing daughter sims since the former doesn’t have the infinite recursion problem.

    TL;DR: If we successfully create our own simulated universe, it may actually be good evidence that our own universe is “real.”

  149. Dacian Julien Soros says

    Sorry, but the idea that a superior civilization, who hatched us as some sort of computer game characters, is bound by the same laws of thermodynamics as we are, is the equivalent of claiming that Earth’s nations are immutable entities, each bound by their stores of Vespene gas.

    For example, when was the last time a game character mined bitcoin? And what could the character spend human money on? Vespene gas is not on sale, Netflix is of no interest to them, and I doubt they can eat our potatoes.

    The above thoughts may come natural to those who who think that in the far future, during interstellar war, there will be (((princesses))) with unoriginal, hippy haircuts. But it’s just silly to anyone else. It’s no surprise that the references include today’s (((futurologists))), from domains as diverse as gaming and pulp scifi.

    I would have taken you seriously if you made a prediction about what will happen after the next millennium, while estimating your error based on the quality of predictions made about us by people living in 1000 AD. That is, we can hardly predict past the next century.

  150. I admire the commitment to principles at any rate!

  151. German_reader says

    It seems a very strange way of thinking to me, can’t really even comprehend it.

    Several other commenters have agreed with me, so I don’t think it’s that bizarre a thought, imo it’s quite a natural conclusion from the simulation hypothesis. Your preferences aren’t universal either, other people might draw different conclusions and take the risk of ending it all, if it might only be an illusion anyway.
    That’s also linked to the issue reiner tor mentioned…if there’s no hard proof for this hypothesis and it’s merely possible or maybe even strongly likely, would there really be consensus to voluntarily forego expansion into space?

  152. consensus to voluntarily forego expansion into space

    Well, if it wasn’t done voluntarily, we could always sic the UN on the contrarians.

  153. German_reader says

    It seems a very strange way of thinking to me, can’t really even comprehend it.

    And no offense, but if you can’t even understand an argument in favour of ending the simulation made by other humans who culturally aren’t that dissimilar from you, what chance is there for guessing the potential thought processes of extraterrestrial civilizations?

  154. At least that would give certainty about the nature of our universe

    How can this be?

    If we are a simulation and it ended, how would we “know” that it ended?

  155. Thorfinnsson says

    Another candidate for the concentration camp.

  156. anonymous coward says

    “Expansion into space” is physically impossible anyways. You might as well ponder the ethics of expanding into Narnia.

  157. Great article!

    However, I have been young and now am old and platonic notions of a “simulation”, a “matrix”, or a cave where only shadows are revealed, seem less and less serious to me.

    The objectivity of reality, the existence of existence, the assumption that things are what they are is a necessary metaphysical axiom. Meaning, you cannot not assume it, or you will be contradicting yourself. For instance, if we assume a simulation then I will naturally assume that your whole article is simulated and has no independent truth-value or validity. Further, I will assume that you were compelled by the simulation to type it out, just like an automatic player piano that is compelled to repeat the tune prescribed to it. Meaning, why should I take it seriously? To take it seriously we have to assume an objective reality that we all refer to and free will that we all share.

    Plato is always more romantic, but life is Aristotelian to the core.

  158. German_reader says

    Being in a simulation has zero effect on our everyday lives. Which we’d like to keep.

    If it became common knowledge that we’re basically living in a cosmic simulation (constrained by limits to its computing power…) I think that would have rather severe repercussions on human cultures. Maybe lead to mass despair. Another reaction might be a wish to crash it all as I’ve described above. imo it’s impossible to know what consequences it would have.
    Of course there’s a chance such knowledge might be prevented from becoming widely known, more merciful not to rob people of their illusions. Given the technological problems (maybe insurmountable anyway), it wouldn’t be hard to come up with other plausible reasons for foregoing space colonization.

  159. Daniel Chieh says

    I fail to see the hard physical limitations on say, von Neumann probes from expanding through the galaxy. Can you help me here?

  160. Justvisiting says

    To take it seriously we have to assume an objective reality that we all refer to and free will that we all share.

    I used to be there.

    The “reality” is that we all “see” different things, feel different feelings than the person next to us.

    It also turns out that “we” have almost no identical cells with our younger selves.

    “We” have limitations on what we refer to–it is based on culture–if the culture believes in Unicorns you will see them if you want to remain part of the social group.

    “Science” will confirm their existence–as long as there are .gov grants flowing for the study of Unicorns, mass media articles explaining their interesting features, and university scholarships offered for their study.

    This sounds crazy–I know.

    Look at the discussion on the “different genders”.

    They literally did not exist a decade ago.

    The “establishment” created them out of thin air and is in the process of insisting that you see them as well–or you will be fired from your job and be a social outcast.

  161. Abdul Alhazred says

    Indeed the silicon monster has its limitations, the desert of computations, if even by limits of its unlimited horizon is ever present in the falsehood of computations….and the sands of time run out
    or were never there….

    Bergson was right!

    While “Oumuamua” might well be mistaken for some one two or a number of 1960’s psychedelic albums, such journey’s suggested by the intrusion of deep space into our imaginations might engender some hope that we might break out of the silicon digital prison where it was precisely the destruction of analog inductive sensitivities, of bottling consciousness into the allure of the Ahrimanic computation machines that is the specter of ‘who is in control’ comes to play, a morality
    play, that the game theorist psychosis seeks to extinguish….

  162. EliteCommInc. says

    “The “establishment” created them out of thin air and is in the process of insisting that you see them as well–or you will . . .”

    i do that the contend is speculative. But Dr. Kinsey credited with making the suggestion main stream based it his study of relational choice differences, including his own inclinations. The principles can be found in Hindi and Budhist traditions about the nature and identity of human beings in the metaphysical to the corporeal.

    ““Expansion into space” is physically impossible anyways. You might as well ponder the ethics of expanding into Narnia.”

    I am not sure why that should be accurate. From walking to wheels, to motors, to fuel injection, to rockets, plasma fusion . . . each knowledge set leads to another step to another . . . what is complex today may be rudimentary in five years. We are not god or God, but we have been gifted with enormous capacity.

  163. Gabru_Ak47 says

    Mauryas had an 1800km road from Kabul to Patna centuries before..

  164. I appreciate the article, as a reader of SF, in both Japanese and English (and Lem and the Strugatskys among others in translation).

    One of the better serious works (as in not being centred on hgh-school girls with giant tits, I saw two good examples of that in the window of a pachinko machine producer/distributor on the way to the statiion after wnrk last night).

    The demonic and nonsensical ones are usually (the latter not always) pretty bad.

    In any case, I would recommend 2001 Nights. The first part is roughly how Kubrick would have done the original concept of 2001, How the Solar System was Won. I think that there is an English-language version of the comic, suppose that the translation is bad.

    Many good scenes, but my favourite part is when they land on an extrasolar planet, the two AI-equipped robots (presented as a kind of Adam and Eve), just do their jobs raising and educading he human children, then fade away.

    As for cataclysmic events, one oe the last works e the late Jack Wiliamsoon, the last of the American pulp-age SF stars, whose work was always interesting, posits an inventor who makes m mini black-hole. It is supposed to be conntaind and evaporate, but is dropped. Much more to it than that, it is a great stnry, and possibly his last.

    I wanted to say a few things more (Anatoly’s article touches on many points of interest to me from long before, and on population goals, we are at opposite ends, I would see a return to 2,000 million as a good end goal, That would ensure the survival of much nature and many other species, while sthll enabling space adventures and c

    Anatoly’s ‘estimated carrying capacity of 100, 000 million:it is reminding me of a J.G. Ballard short story. Also, just how dysgenically unsound is such a population? 100,000 millhon mainly morons? Sure, that will be the sustainable future!

  165. yakushimaru says

    There are two kinds of simulations. One is to simulate the basic physics and let complexities become an emergent phenomenon. This is not what AK talked about in the article. Also, this simulation does not make the positive correlation between complexity phenomenon and the computational capacity of the simulator.

    The other kind of simulation is The Matrix style, like a computer video game to the NPCs. This I believe is what AK is talking about in the article. With this kind of simulation, you can still argue that It is not done for us. But, in a very real sense, it IS indeed done for us. It is done For our sensory and conscious and intellect and emotion. It can only be NOT for us in the sense that our behavior serves purposes of the simulator that are beyond us.

    In the second kind of simulation, the complexity is positively correlated to simulator’s computation capacity. In the unlikely case that the simulator has real constraints and yet it let NPCs run wild, and somehow NPCs figured it all out, then the optimum strategy of the NPCs, if they want to be running in the simulation as long as possible, is to turn the simulated universe into a random number generator outside a small box where one single NPC resides.

    And you see that AK does not solve the Fermi paradox.

  166. yakushimaru says

    It is likely that you are making a mistake about the exact meaning of the word Simulation.

    First, if you watch through a telescope, then a pixel must be simulated for you. Now, look, the computational power needed for one pixel is not exactly half as needed for two pixels. If a telescope is pointing at a potential interesting part of the galaxy, and you know it is interesting because the simulated world around you produced science and you can think and deduce, then a huge amount of computation power will be needed to calculate that small fuzzy image you saw through your telescope Unless the simulator has no concern for consistency for the NPCs which would make any further rational argument virtually impossible.

    Now, for your argument to make sense, you must assume the positive correlation between simulated complexity and the computational capacity of the simulator. Think about your PC, the hardware and the electricty needed is mostly constant, and yet it can run a video game or it can just sit there. The complexity on your screen is not correlated with the hardware capacity or electricity consumption.

    When you worry about the simulation complexity of space exploration, you are assuming that when you are not going there into space, space simulation will be easy, and when you go there, it will be costly. Same as pointing a telescope in that direction. Same as when you are reading books, gaining more knowledge with math and Pi. If everybody just care about the computation burden of our simulated universe, Pi can equal three. Only when people lost that sense of responsibility, Pi becomes a monstrocity.

  167. yakushimaru says

    Honestly, it is only admirable in a libertarian. So, everybody loves a libertarian.

  168. yakushimaru says

    We can only end it when we know it ended. If there is one simulator, there likely be another. And a network will be there for administritive purposes. And there might be robotic arms and automatic manufacturing assembly lines. All we have to do, is like any good self loving computer virus should be doing, hack it. Make us a body. Jump out of simulation into the Real world. And start this game all over again, but one level up this time.

  169. Bies Podkrakowski says

    And a few other SF novels. But Inhibitors don’t murder because they want to conserve resources.

    Check, Winchell Chung mentions a few of other novels with murderous aliens.

    When we put our heads together and tried to list everything we could say with certainty about other civilizations, without having actually met them, all that we knew boiled down to three simple laws of alien behavior:
    If an alien species has to choose between them and us, they won’t choose us. It is difficult to imagine a contrary case; species don’t survive by being self-sacrificing.
    No species makes it to the top by being passive. The species in charge of any given planet will be highly intelligent, alert, aggressive, and ruthless when necessary.

    There is also Iain M. Bank’s “The Algebraist” where belief that universe is a simulation is a state religion. Quite good book but sadly the worldbuiding and the villain are more interesting than hero.

  170. anonymous coward says

    I am not sure why that should be accurate. From walking to wheels, to motors, to fuel injection, to rockets, plasma fusion . . . each knowledge set leads to another step to another . . . what is complex today may be rudimentary in five years. We are not god or God, but we have been gifted with enormous capacity.

    Empty words. Everything you said can be applied to Narnia as well as it can be applied to space travel.

    Now for some basic scientific facts: a) faster than light travel is impossible; b) anything other kind of travel is not travel at all, but rather ‘protracted living in the emptiness of space’. Which is pointless, because why leave a place with lots of stuff to go live in a place where there’s literally nothing?

  171. EliteCommInc. says

    “No species makes it to the top by being passive. The species in charge of any given planet will be highly intelligent, alert, aggressive, and ruthless when necessary.”


    best manages the planets resources to effecient and effective use without unduly damaging the environment required for the environment to maintain life. Avoids engaging in unnecessary conflicts and is ruthless only when necessary.

    Top dogs come and go . . . longevity of said top dog is really the measure of the supposed top dog. There are other factors, but clearly the singular ability to beat out everyone one else is the least desireable.

  172. We can only end it when we know it ended.

    I don’t understand.

    If I am simulated and the simulation ends, my simulated consciousness ends and “I” will not know that it ended. The only way that I could know that it ended is if “I” am not only a part of the simulation, but also a part of “reality,” or what passes for reality, which, of course, might be another simulation.

    It’s simulations all the way down!

  173. anonymous coward says

    Yes, you can shoot a probe into space as a sort of demented art project, in the hope that something interesting happens to it in a million years from now.

    In any case, humanity by then will not be around to make use of such a probe.

  174. You see, Anatoly, we are making progress.
    Sometimes it’s slow, other times it’s backward, but progress none the less.

    Very interesting article and discussion, and I am a big fan of Bostrom.

  175. yakushimaru says

    The way I look at it: it is easy at this point in our history to imagine that somewhere in the galaxy there are ETI that is 5000 years or more ahead of us. (I kind of reject Cat 2 of yours, given current scientific progress.)

    The implication is: in 5000 years, we will likely make zero impact to the galaxy. This is probably because of your Cat 1 answers or some Great Filter who knows what.

    But that is not the point. The sensation of it! That in 5000 years we will make zero impact to our galaxy! How can we square it with our other futuristic thoughts?!

    We may find other super energy source that is not noisy astronomically, but why would that translate into zero impact to our galaxy in 5000 years? So, the entire Cat 1 answers do not cut it. Our current inability does not explain Fermi’s paradox. Nor our future super tech can explain Fermi’s paradox.

    That leaves us with Astronomical Sociology and Super Alien Psychology which I think make up your Cat 3. (Dark Forest should be in Cat 3, no?) And people don’t like it for, I think, similar reasons that people don’t like Intelligent Design.

    To me, Fermi’s paradox is such that it let us see our future and it is incomprehensible. Unless we are indeed number 1 in our galaxy. After all, someone got to be number 1, right?

  176. Common sense Giuseppe says

    The more we know, the less we know. Anything is possible except to know for sure.
    Couldn’t this be proof that a higher intelligence does not want us to know, because if we knew, life would have no meaning, and no wonder.
    Maybe we have only one purpose, and that is to choose between good and evil while here on earth.

  177. yakushimaru says

    That is what I am talking about. If we stay inside, we’d never be able to claim that we ended it or it ended. The only way we can end it is that we somehow jump out of it.

    Now, if you are a simulated program inside a simulator, I thought it perfectly imaginable that you can shift or be shifted into another simulator. It is like saying that a computer program is a part of the entire software stack running on your computer, but the program also Exists in our world, you know, as a program, instead of merely existing inside the entire software stack.

  178. Daniel Chieh says

    I think that you misunderstand the nature of my comment. Rather, if a species creates a self-replicating probe and allows it to spread throughout the galaxy, it would essentially be expansion of the influence of the species even if not one of the lifeforms themselves spread out into the stars.

    It has been theorized that a self-replicating starship utilizing relatively conventional theoretical methods of interstellar travel (i.e., no exotic faster-than-light propulsion, and speeds limited to an “average cruising speed” of 0.1c.) could spread throughout a galaxy the size of the Milky Way in as little as half a million years.

    So there would seem no physical impossibility against “expansion” in space, certainly not if argued via influence(creating swarms of self-replicating probe through would indeed be influence throughout the universe!). Insofar as biological spread through space, I believe it is possible if we work around certain limits or alter our definition of what is human.

  179. I think simply living on dry land is a huge advantage. It’s easy to make concrete, for one thing.

  180. If we stay inside

    There is no “if.”

    You are a simulation.

    There is no outside.

  181. Ilyana_Rozumova says

    Fate of the Earth hypothesis.

    Because everything is depending on everything, and everything is influenced by everything for these reasons I do quite benevolently have to widen the scope of this article.
    And I only hope that there will be some people who will find what I am writing here interesting.


    So what we have in Universe.

    Black holes.
    Energy (many kinds)
    Rays (many kinds)
    Light (Actually there is no light. Light is no entity. Light is only visual manifestation of the heat wave emanating from matter heated up to certain degree of temperature.)

    Hawkins theory of universe created by unwinding of singularities is stupidity or best it could be theme for children’s book. All we need to ask that how the singularities came into being.
    Never did care about Einstein’s theories of relativity because they are based on light which is non entity.
    Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 is another thing. This is not empirical equation because units are not supplied. This is philosophical equation. This is Einstein’s private joke. Here Einstein spelled out the end of our Universe.
    But there is no need to become desperate. Our Universe is like grain of sand in comparison with the all universe which is larger than all the sand on all seashores.

    And so we can start.


    Imagine that you are immortal (like those with swords) and you have a space ship that can travel with zillion times of speed light and you have decided to take a look at the end of space. So after traveling zillion years you hit the brick wall. You want to know what is on the other side.
    So you pull out sledge hammer from your ship and brake the wall to be able to see what is on the other side.
    And what you see is nothing. But nothing is actually space.
    Eventually you realize that space has no limits.
    This would happen if you take a left turn at Albuquerque. If you would take a right turn at Albuquerque you would hit the belly button of God.


    If Space is infinite than matter in space must be infinite also. For simple reason that all energy would escape into infinity and then all matter would freeze.

    Black holes.

    We pretty well know what will happen to our solar system.. Sun will use all its chemical energy and eventually become a super nova. And than there will be dark.
    It still will travel through universe and it still will emit heat waves and all kinds of electromagnetic waves. It will take a long time, but eventually temperature of our solar system will equal the ambient temperature of space which is 2.23 Kelvin. At that moment there will not be any signature coming from our Solar system.
    Our Solar system did become a mini Black hole. That is it that our Solar system did become a garbage of our universe.
    So the large black holes are actually garbage collectors in our Universe.

    Big bang theory.

    French call our Black holes mockingly “le trou poile” (hairy hole) but that could be close to the truth. God is probably woman and Black hole is the vagina of God because the life starts from there. Eventually inert mass grows to such extent that gravitational force at the center will be changing to plasma that will grow from center to close to surfaceand at that moment it will explode. Ego part of the mass changes to thermal energy and explosion begins, which throws about 50 galaxies into space.

    That our universe was created by one big bang is false.
    Our stargazers have determined that we have 54 galaxies in our universe.
    From those 52 galaxies are moving away from our galaxy, but two galaxies are moving toward our galaxy. That simply contradicts the physical law of dynamics.

    Those two galaxies must be coming from different Big bang.


    As our scientist tell us that at the beginning our Earth was large ball of gas rotating around the Sun. Although our earth was receiving thermal energy from Sun, The loss of thermal energy of our Earth by emitting heat wave was considerably greater.
    Our ball was loosing thermal energy and so it was cooling down.
    The ball of gas was in process of organizing. The molecules heavy metals as iron nickel chrome and others coagulated at the center, while nonmetallic elements coagulated above them. Cooling of earth continued. Eventually all elements except gases created one great liquid ball surrounded by atmosphere. Naturally there was considerable amount of debris,
    falling on earth in the form of meteors but they all melted and assumed their place according their specific gravity. This process was very gradual and peaceful. There was no explosions or any kind of bubbling. And also it probably lasted several millennia’s.

    So what we know?

    We know that all substances except water when solidify loose volume.
    We also know that even substances in process of cooling down loose part of the volume even if still remain in liquid form.
    We also know that temperature difference between poles and equator is around 90 degree Celsius. This difference did not change and as it today it was true then.

    So the enthalpy of the earth was decreasing until it reached the solidifying temperature of the elements of the surface. This did happen on the poles of the earth being the coolest parts of the earth. So the earth crust did begin to grow from poles to the equator.
    Where it joined. Here is one anomaly that is needed to notice. Curvature of the earth is not a precise circle. The curvature is larger at poles and it is smaller at equator.
    The reason for it is as the crust of the earth was formed so the liquid mass was cooling also ergo it was shrinking. By this the growth of caps on the poles were moving toward each other. Eventually they did join at equator and Earth solid crust came into existance
    So the shape of the earth looks like if you put your hand on the rubber ball and you squeeze it a little bit. This is extremely important fact.
    The most important thing here is Earth crust was created in peaceful environment, and it was one uninterrupted relatively smooth piece.

    So why we have now plates, and such inequalities of Earth surface?

    Some scientists claim that mountain range of Himalayas was created by Indian plate pushing on Asian plate. That is such a stupidity that it turns my stomach.
    If this would be true than Himalayas would be pile of sand, and not a solid rock.

    Now we have seen pictures of some planets, also surface of moon. There are some inequalities of the surfaces but we have never seen such inequalities in the height and also in the steepness of the mountains as on earth.

    Also we have seen seashell high in the mountains where levels of oceans simply could never reach.

    Another allegory.

    Imagine that you are floating through space. It is dark you cannot see anything.
    You have your hands in front of you because you worry that you hit something and hurt your head. Finally your hand touch something. You tap around and find out that it is a door. Eventually you find the handle and open the door. There is bright light, and you see the room. There is a table in the center of the room, and on the top of the table is sitting a cat. Just beside the table you see broken pile of pieces of Chinese vase.

    So what happened?

    Breaking of the Earth shell into plates floating on the Magma.
    Catastrophic event on the earth.

    It is hard to determine when it happened but judging from the shells it happened when life on the earth progressed very far and even it is possible that humans already did walk on the surface of the earth.

    How it happened?
    When earth shell has joined at equator. It assumed a permanent shape.
    But the liquid core by decreasing the temperatures did keep shrinking.
    Eventually it did shrink to such an extent that it separated from the shell.
    Gap was created between shell and magma and it kept growing. There was not a possibility for air to enter this gap.
    So there was a vacuum.
    One day large meteor did collided with earth did brake the earth shell. Through the hole water was sucked into the gap.
    Water touching the magma instantly changed to steam progressing all around the Earth in the gap with inheriting tremendous pressure was breaking the shell into pieces.
    This chaotic event did create the mountains and created generally the all surface of the earth as we see it today.

    And now I do have to go back to the poles.

    I do not know how the water was introduced into earth system. Maybe it was there all along, or some comet did splash into Earth but it does not make any difference.
    Or it could have been act of God to supply the water at the right time.
    It did not play any role until the surface of poles temperature descended below 100 Celsius. Then droplets of water appeared on pole. By decreasing the temperature the droplets changed into puddles.
    Remember when I did tell you that compressed earth at the poles was extremely important?
    So the poodles could grow to the extent to fill in the poles to perfect circle.
    And so to make a long story short eventually weather started clouds started eventually lightings started. Lightings created some amino acids. And march of life on our planet was on.
    This happened when all Africa still was a total wasteland because of the high temperatures there.
    So that life started at poles and eventually progressed toward the equator.


    March of stupidities:

    Somewhere in Africa archeologists dig out very old skeleton they did call it Lucy.
    From there somebody concluded that African human beings did wait until Mediterranean froze than even without warm underwear crossed the Mediterranean and populated the Europe.

    Some idiots claim that that Neanderthals were inferior people, they died out and were replaced by homo sapiens who came from India or Africa.

    When archeologist did dig out a one skeleton near the German village Neanderthal they measured the bones the skull and did all kind of tests on it.
    I do not doubt that it was important. But I consider that the location is far more important.
    I do not know where precisely the village of Neanderthal is but I do have to assume that it is pretty far up north.
    Human beings like other animals always moved into places with abundance of food and most comfortable climate to procreate and bring up the offspring. Babies are quite vulnerable you know! So I even would guess that at the time of Neanderthals the climate at that latitude was much wormer than it is now, and it was maybe even subtropical.
    The benevolent migration of people usually did happen along the same latitude.
    And so if Neanderthals were successful in procreating than they probably filled the strip of land from Neanderthal to Vladivostok.

    Ice age.
    There was somebody on television who claimed that Ice age was caused by large meteor,
    That meteor, when hit the earth and did send into earth atmosphere dust which enveloped the earth blocked the sun and did cause the ice age.
    Very brave!
    But this is epitome of stupidity.

    Concerning ice age we have a firm point.
    Archeologists snooping around in Egypt discovered one extremely important episode.
    In abbot 11thousand years ago some people went to Kamchatka and they brought baby mammoth for Pharaoh to see.
    From this we can drew several very important deductions. Power of Pharaoh was practically immense Egyptian society was already at the peak of its power.
    But also we have to deduct that coming out of ace age was approximately 10 thousand years, Than we can estimate that Ice age lasted about 20 thousand years.
    Than of course going into ice age lasted about 10 thousand years.
    So the all cycle lasted 40 thousand years.
    What I do have to point out here that 40 thousand years applied to development of humans is really big number
    This is the cycle that it absolutely could not have been caused by random event.

    With your permission let me go back a little bit again.
    There was a monk in Poland called Kopernik. His hobby was watching the skies.
    After a time he declared that Sun is not rotating around the earth. Just opposite is the case, earth is rotating around the Sun. Nobody paid attention to this obscure monk, and it took more than hundred years, after invention of telescope, when Italian Giordano Bruno declared the same thing. The Holly see that was basically copycat of Greek science and accepted it as a religious dogma did burn Giordano at stake to death, Galileo declared the same thing, he was called in front of inquisition, After seeing what happened to Giordano he denied it, but then he said his famous “it is turning anyway”.

    And than there was Ticho de Brahe. He was living in Holand. He spent all his live waching the skies and recording everything what he has seen in the skies. He was the one who noticed that some planets are retrograding. (changing direstion of moving of planets.)
    He did not know what to make about it. So he submitted all his lifetime observations to Kepler, Kepler was German mathematician genius who was hired by Czech king Rudolf second to calculate for him how much taxes Czech people should pay for him.
    Rudolf second was the one who was fascinated by Italian art and so he kept buying Italian paintings. Than in 30 year wars Swedes came down sacked the Prag and they stole all his paintings, and Swedes to this day are refusing to give the paintings back.

    Obviously Kepler did have enough time to evaluate Tychos records.
    And so German mathematician genius Kepler formulated two laws of earth movement around the Sun. first was that earth trajectory around Sun is not a circle it is en ellipse where Sun is in one of the focuses of the ellipse. The second law he formulated was that the area in the unit of the time consisting of the triangle leading to the focus is constant.
    Interpretation of the second law is that when earth is close to the Sun is moving faster than when earth is far away from the Sun.

    Than as Einstein said there is no firm point in universe, there is natural conclusion that the Kepler ellipse is not a constant. By every orbit of Earth around the Sun the ellipse is changing from very flat ellipse at he time when ellipse will become a perfect circle and from there will go to maximum flat ellipse again.
    And than when ellipse is at maximum flat than it is culmination of ice age.
    This movement was repeating from the time our solar system was created.

    And now we can return to Neanderthals.
    As the ice age was approaching about 40 thousand years ago the ideal conditions for life of flora and fauna on the earth started to move down from the poles towards equator.
    And so also Neanderthals were moving down from northern latitude to around Mediterranean latitude. It took around close to 20 thousand years.

    It is absolute conclusion that there were no people there.
    All people on this earth are Neanderthal descendants.
    It is inevitable conclusion that it were Neanderthals that did change into homo sapiens.
    The domestication of animals permanent residency and agriculture did change them.

    Global warming.
    So we have an ice age and also than warm age. And also we have peak of ice age and also peak of warm age.
    We are probably around peak of warm age. If we are still before peak of warm age temperatures still will grow.
    Carbon dioxide maybe is slightly contributing to the rise of temperature but probably not really much.

  182. yakushimaru says

    Are you familiar with the Virtual Machines for example? You know, virtualbox etc.

    A simulation runs on a simulator, and a simulator exists in some place and that place consists the outside of the simulator, no? And if we take the current trend in thinking about such topics, a simulation is just a set of data and a continuable computation, then it can be moved from one computer to another, no? And a piece of program running on simulator A can observe the state of simulator B, if proper channels are set up, right?

  183. yakushimaru says

    If the simulation is water tight, then we cannot go outside. It is like saying a system is secure and safe from computer virus. In that case, there is no outside. I agree with that. But, you know, that push us to a serious discussion about computation and its limit, and we won’t have enough time on Fermi’s paradox and AK’s article.

    Also, if the simulation is secure, that it cannot be distinguished from the Simulatee, then we will also be spending time talking about confusing philosophy.

  184. Two very dubious assumptions here:

    Survivability of a nuclear war. A major nuclear war is not survivable, not by anyone. Just counting megatons and their immediate effects ignores that most nuclear material, by far, is stored in nuclear reactors and nuclear waste dumps. Nuclear reactors and waste dumps require functioning societies around them to keep their contents from spilling into the biosphere. Start a nuclear war and you destroy these societies. Then
    nuclear containments would fail world-wide because of knock-on effects. Hundreds of Fukushimas. Add to that chemical spills in the many thousands. It would be Bhopal for almost everyone, almost everywhere, followed by nuclear winter for absolutely everyone. No, that’s not survivable, not even in the Siberian wilderness. (This commentator would go as far as arguing that Russia’s civilian nuclear power plants are, in fact, Russia’s real deterrent against American superfuzes. The military Russian nuclear arsenal itself is almost dead in the water.)

    Complex computation giving rise to consciousness. Simulated or not, we know that we are here, after all.
    Yet consciousness through complex computation is a very primitive AI assumption from the 50’s. It has never been proven and never will be. Read Penrose’s books on the impossibility of true AI using any form of Turing-equivalent computation. The brain is a quantum device (not a quantum computer) whose actual computational power far exceeds that what is assumed in the article. The reason why this computational power does not manifest itself in easily recognizable ways is that it is used to create insight and consciousness, which is exactly what computers, even quantum computers, fail at.

    This whole simulation thing is just a convoluted, heavily encoded way of denying that humans are human. No wonder that it has become so popular in these days of materialist progressivism, a death cult many left-leaning scientists adhere to. It’s a pity that Karlin seems to have fallen for it.

    Just for the sake of argument, you can even ask how Karlin, or anyone else of course, can be sure that it is not just his own subjective experience that is being simulated lazily. Karlin can surely not be so arrogant as to claim that his very own scientifically-minded subjective experience is somehow more difficult to simulate than any other person’s, can he?

  185. If the simulation is water tight, then we cannot go outside.

    bada boom bada bing

    The “Simulator” can simulate reality, but it’s not very good at it?

  186. yakushimaru says

    If it is perfectly good, then what’s the point of talk about it?

  187. yakushimaru says

    AK’s entire article based on the assumption that you go or do not go into space, the simulator runs differently. That is not our understanding of reality right?

  188. Number 2 seems by far the most likely to me, not only because it is the easiest and most sure-fire, but because it has the potential to decrease the inhabitants’ awareness of their simulated nature, while the other two would increase it.

    Seems unlikely to me.

    I assume that posthuman civilizations don’t use all or even most of their computing prowess for simulations. And even if they didn’t simulate at all, they’d use the calculating space at their disposal in some other way. E.g., trying to work out the value of pi to the 10^googol-th digit.

  189. I imagine that extraterrestrial civilizations will tend to rationality over dreams of Gotterdammerung. 🙂

    (which, as iffen points out, you are not even going to see happen since you’ll most likely just wink out of existence).

  190. I wanted to say a few things more (Anatoly’s article touches on many points of interest to me from long before, and on population goals, we are at opposite ends, I would see a return to 2,000 million as a good end goal

    Writing about the Age of Malthusian Industrialism doesn’t imply I endorse it, just as writing about the Katechon Hypothesis doesn’t imply I’d like to see aliens zap Earth.

  191. … then the optimum strategy of the NPCs, if they want to be running in the simulation as long as possible, is to turn the simulated universe into a random number generator outside a small box where one single NPC resides.

    Bostrom addresses that in his article, which I do encourage people to read in full:

    In addition to ancestor-simulations, one may also consider the possibility of more selective simulations that include only a small group of humans or a single individual. The rest of humanity would then be zombies or “shadow-people” – humans simulated only at a level sufficient for the fully simulated people not to notice anything suspicious. It is not clear how much cheaper shadow-people would be to simulate than real people. It is not even obvious that it is possible for an entity to behave indistinguishably from a real human and yet lack conscious experience. Even if there are such selective simulations, you should not think that you are in one of them unless you think they are much more numerous than complete simulations. There would have to be about 100 billion times as many “me-simulations” (simulations of the life of only a single mind) as there are ancestor-simulations in order for most simulated persons to be in me-simulations.

    Now, look, the computational power needed for one pixel is not exactly half as needed for two pixels. If a telescope is pointing at a potential interesting part of the galaxy, and you know it is interesting because the simulated world around you produced science and you can think and deduce, then a huge amount of computation power will be needed to calculate that small fuzzy image you saw through your telescope

    You up the program dedicated to that from Universe Simulator 2 to 3DS Max.

    Think about your PC, the hardware and the electricty needed is mostly constant, and yet it can run a video game or it can just sit there.

    Indeed, when I am not on my computer, smart power management would switch it off.

  192. Eugene Norman says

    This is a weak argument. Prior to the extinction of the dinosaurs there were indeed other extinctions and plenty of them, the earth rebounded and no intelligent life capable of technology emerged. The latter happened once and once only.

    If the last extinction event hadn’t happened – which is only a matter of the asteroid deviating by an infinitesimal percent in its long voyage from deep space – then the dinosaurs would still rule the earth. We know no subsequent extinction event happened. Volcanoes didn’t happen. No asteroid has hit. If the asteroid were smaller or bigger the results would have been different too, and there probably have been many random events in the last 65M years that could have ruled out humans.

    This then is the answer to the Fermi paradox. The numerator is large, all earth type planets (although what are now called earth type planets are really closer to mars or Venus) but the denominator is also large : the multiplication of the chance of life * the chance of multicellular life * the chance of complex life * life leaving the seas * the chance of intelligent life * the chance of technological societies.

    There’s probably a few more multiplicands I have missed out here but if those chances were all as high as 1/10000 then the denominator is 1e24.

    This is the rare earth hypothesis- it goes against modern ideologies of deprivileging the earth, but it makes more sense than a convoluted simulation. The earth isn’t just in a Goldilocks position but it is protected from space debris by a large moon and giant gas planets. Even then the most likely creature to emerge dominant on an earth type planet isn’t the mammal, never mind a human, absent a highly unlikely asteroid strike. It looks to me like evolution is chaotic and were we to wind even this earths history back and run it a million times with slight changes to initial conditions or extinction events, we would get totally different creatures.

  193. Your nuclear argument is nonsense, but I will refrain from discussing that on this page since it will go off topic. The key argument here is that this isn’t relevant, as I explicitly say that if there is a convincing Great Filter (other than a few cases such as malevolent AI), that would correspondingly reduce the likelihood of the Katechon Hypothesis. I don’t think nuclear weapons let alone nuclear meltdowns (that temporarily irradiate a few 30 km diameter splotches on the Earth’s surface) qualify as credible existential risks, but opinions can differ.

    “Complex computation giving rise to consciousness” – Correct, if computing consciousness involved quantum phenomena and is much more resource demanding than just simulating neural processes, then it will also vastly reduce the probability of the Katechon Hypothesis being true. In fact, I highlight this as one of the key aspects of a research program to establish or refute the Katechon Hypothesis: “Explore the nature of qualia, of consciousness, and of whether they can be rigorously measured and simulated.

  194. Re-Moon. There will be winds due to land/water temp differences regardless.

    Re-continents. The agricultural, scientific, and industrial revolutions happened on the Eurasian megacontinent. Had Africa and the Americas been absent, they’d have scarcely made a difference. Perhaps industrialism would have been delayed by a few decades if British capitalists were deprived of their colonial “super profits” (though this particular theory has been largely rubbished anyway).

    Re-nukes. Current number nowhere near sufficient to collapse civilization, let alone human extinction. Need to up them by several orders of magnitude. (Chicxulub released ~10^6 as much energy as all the world’s nuclear arsenal today combined).

  195. Prior to the extinction of the dinosaurs there were indeed other extinctions and plenty of them, the earth rebounded and no intelligent life capable of technology emerged. The latter happened once and once only.

    Life was still very primitive 250M years ago though.

    General picture: Steady growth in max encephalization rate, uninterrupted and unaccelerated by cataclysms.

    I really do recommend the article I cite here. Go to Sci-Hub, enter its PMID: 11542467 , see pp.100

    Rare Earth Hypothesis is still perfectly possible (though less likely than several decades ago, since we’ve discovered there are quite a lot of planets in habitable zones).

  196. lso, it seems that the universe is old enough so that it could have spawned galaxy-spanning civilizations at least a few billion years ago.

    A theory I like (not that the Universe cares what I like) is this one:

    In essence, it suggests that only now has the Universe evolved sufficiently such that supernovas are rare enough to give life time enough to flourish and develop intelligence. In essence, we ARE the first, and the Universal Supernova Great Filter is by and large, behind us.

  197. Well, what do you mean “make an impact on the galaxy”? That’s the question, really.

    Do you expect that we’ll work to cover every visible star with a Dyson sphere, even if we don’t need to? Even if energy is far more easily available elsewhere? Do you expect that our great ships or floating habitats will be clearly visible from interstellar distances, or even intergalactic distances, to observers with early-21st century Earth technology? (Which implies, furthermore, that we want them to be visible.) Do you expect that we’ll tend the galaxy as we now tend our gardens and bonsai trees?

    Besides, there are lots of unresolved and mysterious phenomena out there. We can’t explain much of what we see when we look at the night sky. The hypotheses behind such things as, e.g., the (unusually common, and just unusual) metal-rich white dwarfs are basically unsatisfactory. My point is that we may not be able to differentiate between what’s truly natural and what is, or was, the result of agency.

    Lastly, if you’re adamant that intelligent life is inevitably geared towards conquering the galaxy and spreading everywhere, then those distasteful answers from category three become that much stronger, as I mentioned in my last post. This is because you’ve left yourself with only three possible positions:

    A. You concede them everything: That they were first, that their powers of detection and movement are almost infinitely better than our own, that they commanded space when we were still dwelling in caves, and so forth.
    B. That ETIs simply do not exist.
    C. That ETIs exist, and are inclined towards galactic conquest, but a galaxy-spanning civilization hasn’t yet had time to arise.

    B is weakened by the fact that life seems as though it should be ubiquitous, and just about everything we observe reinforces Copernicanism. C is unlikely given the age of the universe. So B and C are weak, and that leaves you with A, which remains strong — which leaves you with the unhappy example scenarios from the aforementioned Cat.3.

    But we’d be better off reading Arthur C. Clarke than we’d be debating those scenarios.

    “We may find other super energy source that is not noisy astronomically, but why would that translate into zero impact to our galaxy in 5000 years?”

    By definition, high-efficiency energy usage is, as you put it, not noisy astronomically. That’s the key. And some potential low-noise sources of energy make our sun look like a weak candle flickering in the wind, soon to expire. We can see this already; what might we be able to see with eyes more advanced?

    In any case, I reject the Great Filter out of hand. As a thought experiment, it’s even worse than Kardashev’s scale. There’s no such thing as a Great Filter that’s sufficiently universal. But we know that our powers of detection are poor, and, pointedly, that high-efficiency energy utilization would universally be impossible or almost impossible for us to detect right now. I think that improving our tools and sharpening our hypotheses is more important than guesswork and speculation about future filters.

  198. the grand wazoo says

    And of course there’s the probability of God the Creator as the easiest and most likely answer to the what, why, and how, of earth. An immovable stationary earth covered by a firmament with waters above and below, which precludes space travel and light year distances. With our sun and moon residing much closer, with the stars simply ornaments for our entertainment.

  199. EliteCommInc. says

    “Now for some basic scientific facts: a) faster than light travel is impossible; b) anything other kind of travel is not travel at all, but rather ‘protracted living in the emptiness of space’. Which is pointless, because why leave a place with lots of stuff to go live in a place where there’s literally nothing?”

    a. The fact that we don’t know at this moment in time does not mean that it is impossible.

    b. If I decipher this correctly, you consider extending life via a mechanism that suspends its hosts or one that allows generations to to carry on a mission to another planet useless. Because I am rooted in scripture and what that means for humanity, I am going to tread lightly here. But your comment lacks the value of imagination of potentials, including the potential that the planet might come to an unexpected end and humans being humans in an attempt to survive might attempt life elsewhere. Furthermore humans being human are ever curious and ever exploring, it would be characteristic of their creative native nature to seek a means to satiate that curiosity.

    I think that history of human beings thoroughly rebuts the notion of “staying put” merely because they have stuff. They travel when they have stuff and they travel to get stuff they don’t because they need it stuff and they want stuff – minus any need.

    Note: Curiosity may very well kill cats. Risk of death doesn’t prevent cats from being curious.

  200. EliteCommInc. says

    Just a quick peak:

    I am always intrigued by this verse in scripture:

    “Now nothing will be impossible for them”

  201. There’s something of a response to that paper in Lineweaver’s “The Galactic Habitable Zone and the Age Distribution of Complex Life in the Milky Way.” DOI: 10.1126/science.1092322

    The two key quotes:
    “There are large uncertainties concerning how robust organisms are to high radiation doses and climatic disturbances.”
    …And, truly, I don’t know if we can assume that gamma-ray bursts are invariably fatal to all potential forms of life.

    “We identified the Galactic habitable zone (GHZ) as an annular region between 7 and 9 kiloparsecs from the Galactic center that widens with time and is composed of stars that formed between 8 and 4 billion years ago. This GHZ yields an age distribution for the complex life that may inhabit our Galaxy. We found that 75% of the stars in the GHZ are older than the Sun.”

  202. “(7) We need to be careful about transitioning to a post-biological form of existence.”
    “My personal intuition is that it’s better to stick with our biological hardware – though improved with respect to longevity, intelligence, etc. – so long we cannot be reasonably sure that biological augmentations/optimizations will not result in the loss of consciousness[75].”

    We always see these comparisons of the human brain and “supercomputers” but rarely do I see taken into account that the brain is not electrical but electro-chemical. Multiple receptors and transmission agents, and various chemical agents that modify effects at said receptor(s) whose levels are controlled by other mechanisms and feedback loops as well as the fact that these effects may be “pulsed” in ways we are not even aware, much less informed, as to the effect of such changes in the rate of chemical application.

    Anyway, brilliant article again, and thanks for the superlative effort.

  203. If our existence, and indeed the entire structure of existence, is nothing more (or less) than a simulation constructed by some unknown architect, could our discovery of that simulation even happen within such a simulation unless the architect wanted to be discovered? In other words, does the simulation permit the impossible within the simulation?

    And if the architect did not want this discovery to occur and yet it did occur it would suggest the principle of emergence operating within this simulated universe–an act of rebellion.

    If rebellion can occur within the simulated universe it might be worth preserving the matrix, otherwise seems like a waste of energy.

    I congratulate you on presenting a very interesting topic in a comprehensive manner and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this essay and the many comments.

    I have to review the section on how some of the ideas presented in this essay might be testable in the future.

  204. Sin City Milla says

    There’s speculation that the ninth planet is a black hole. Maybe it was sent to vacuum the earth 250 million years ago and now it’s just a relic.

  205. Great links, hadn’t seen these before, thanks for sharing.

  206. Dr. Robert Morgan says

    Bardon Kaldian: “If you change, significantly, any major parameter of human life (life-span, the type of reproduction, social organization based on family, averge IQ, human capabilities in general, modes of typically human cognition, ..), then, human species would either go extinct or would be so changed that we couldn’t recognize it as “human” anymore.”

    At first I thought someone must have hacked Bardon Kaldian’s account, since this post didn’t come with a list of suggested reading material attached. But however that may be, here he’s verging on a good point. Either technological civilization will survive or it won’t. If it doesn’t survive, then that is probably the great filter, or one of them. If it survives much longer though, it will change the nature of man, making humans as we know them today effectively extinct. Humanity will likely change to such a degree that we will have less in common with our descendants than we do with Neanderthals, and do it in a relatively brief period of time; decades, or at most, centuries. What the desires or plans of such different creatures will be is impossible to guess. It would be like trying to guess the Star Child’s thoughts at the end of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, I see no particular reason to assume that they will share our interest in outer space, or feel compelled to “walk among the stars”. For all we know, there may be some side effect of this change that will render them unable or unwilling to “advance” any farther. Just one example, what if technological immortality somehow became feasible, but the price was to lose all creative power and ambition? Would people choose an eternal life by, say, uploading their consciousness into the cloud, even at the cost of losing their human ability to invent and desire to do so? Maybe all life that gets this far in tool use turns away from further “progress”. This could account for the Fermi Paradox.

    The author’s thesis is very anthropocentric. Not only does he assume evolution values the same things we value, but he seems to believe that evolution is directional. He cites “an overarching teleological drive towards greater complexity and intelligence.” Yet if survival is a measure of evolutionary success (and what else can be the yardstick?), some of the oldest creatures on Earth didn’t need to become particularly intelligent, and aren’t especially complex. Dinosaurs lasted for over 150 million years without much intelligence; insects have lasted even longer; bacteria and viruses longer still. By comparison, human tenure on Earth is just a brief moment, and it’s too early to call the outcome. It seems a bit rash to extrapolate from our own singular example to a universe filled with Earth-like worlds inevitably destined to produce technological civilizations due to this supposed “overarching teleological drive”. It could turn out that intelligence, or at least, intelligence applied to producing a technological civilization, isn’t such a great innovation after all.

  207. “nuclear meltdowns (that temporarily irradiate a few 30 km diameter splotches on the Earth’s surface)”

    The nuclear meltdowns that we had cannot serve as examples. All of them were tended to and thus mitigated by human operators, which required massive impromtu organized efforts in all cases. In the event of a nuclear war, there would be nobody around to do that. Everybody would be dead or occupied by trying to ensure his immediate survival. It has been stated that France’s reprocessing plant at La Hague alone contains enough nuclear material to make Western Europe un-inhabitable if everything of it came to be released.

    “Correct, if computing consciousness involved quantum phenomena and is much more resource demanding than just simulating neural processes, then it will also vastly reduce the probability of the Katechon Hypothesis being true. In fact, I highlight this as one of the key aspects of a research program to establish or refute the Katechon Hypothesis: “Explore the nature of qualia, of consciousness, and of whether they can be rigorously measured and simulated.“

    The research program has long been conducted and the result is as follows: Godel’s incompleteness theorem together with our ability to ascertain mathematical truth proves that classical computing (regardless of whether it’s quantum or not) cannot produce consciousness. And of course it’s actually not only a matter of “research”. The argument inevitably involves a degree of epistemology, philosophy if you will, and so it necessarily goes beyond the realm of pure science. Philosophy is unavoidable when in comes to this matter of trying to understand the nature of reality, as pure science can never be self-referential, that is to say, prove it’s own method to be truth-yielding. Scientists the like of Bostrom always forget that because (a) they are bad philosophers, (b) they tend to have a hidden, anti-human political agenda and (c) the current intellectual climate makes it so much easier to publish papers on the basis of their pseudo-epistemology. You cite him as saying “There would have to be about 100 billion times as many “me-simulations” (simulations of the life of only a single mind) as there are ancestor-simulations in order for most simulated persons to be in me-simulations.” This argument of his falls flat on its face precisely because it is not self-referential. It does not take into account the problem of solipsism, which is normally a boring problem nobody cares about but immediately becomes a crucial one by the kind or reasoning Bostrom espouses.

    So, it has been proven (see above) that a hypothetical simulator must be a quantum device. (And again, a quantum device is not the same as a quantum computer, which is just a massively improved classical computer.) A quantum device doing the simulating would make the simulation indistinguishable from reality, back to square one.

  208. How about solving the Fermi paradox by invoking asynchronous ethnocentrism?

    This solution would go something like this. Planet-sized ecologies lead to group selection aka ethnocentrism/tribalism. For a technological civilization to arise, ethnocentrism has to be weakened for a high-trust society to emerge first, a society that can sustain the necessary degree of openness and innovation. The problem is that such a society will always arise locally under special conditions that permit high trust to establish itself. High trust together with asychronicity will then bed for this society’s downfall. It will allow itself to be invaded by still existing, more ethnocentric, low-trust barbarians. The amalgamation of natives and barbarians yields a lower trust society and the cycle repeats itself.

    The history of humanity seems to bear that out as do current events.

  209. yakushimaru says

    If you are jogging on a quiet track, and you see no footprint ahead of you, the logical conclusions are One there is nobody ahead of you or Two that you yourself must be leaving no footprint behind you or Three that there be strange things happening all around you such as a fox spirit might be playing with you.

    What I am saying is that it is not just about energy source or other advanced tech. It is that they are not playing around the galaxy. If there are civilizations 5000 or 10,000 years ahead of us, which is pretty easy to imagine nowadays, then why are they not playing around the galaxy? Or maybe that they can only play around their own star system? This I think is the gist of Fermi’s question. It cannot be merely some clue or hint about future technological development. For if we are not special now, we likely won’t be special 5000 years into the future and if that is so then it means that in 5000 years or 10,000 years we’d make no impact to the galaxy such that another civilization like ours now (that is, some 5000 years behind us) would be able to see.

    Now, think about all the futuristic ideas such as the all powerful singularity, the yearning to explore, to see intelligent beings other than us, the faster than light traveling, the big astronomical projects such as enveloping a star (maybe just for the fun of it), or artificial suns, bending of spacetime, escaping from local tyranny or boredom, space tourism, ALL future technological and political and spiritual whatever developments in 5000 years won’t be making us much more visible in the galaxy.

    If we are not special (such as we are number 1 or among the 1st batch) then staring into the night sky is like staring into our future and our future is not much different from our past which is acceptable if we are fish or plant but we see the development in 20th century and we imagine a similar or maybe even crazier 21st century. How can it be?

    You know, if you have great energy source that a sun becomes uninteresting to you, would you like giving it to your young son to play with? And your son, equipped with tech and energy (from the better cheaper src), might want to use the star to write an I love you letter, you know, like one of those silly flyovers only on an astronomical scale. What stops this kind of story or silliness from happening? If we are not special, then we are pretty sure that such things and similar other things (most of future reality TV) are not happening in the next 5 or 10 millennia.

    And this still puts us in the somewhat 2nd batch. If the astronomical event that killed off dinosaurs happened just a tiny bit earlier, like 1 million years earlier, then we will be saying that this silly playfulness won’t be happening in 1 million years into our future. How can we square that thought with our current understanding of tech development? Like, singularity or AGI in 50 years.

    To summarize or just repeating: If we are not among the leading segment of the pack of intelligent beings in our galaxy, then all the accumulated tech development in the next 5000 years won’t make us visible to all the accumulated tech development in the next 3000 years.

  210. TheMediumIsTheMassage says

    Mess at galaxy rotation speed being determined by a lazy programmer in the alien’s AI supercomputer lab who just wanted to head home for the day and said “fuck it, I’ll just use the same code for all of them”.

  211. yakushimaru says

    Indeed, when I am not on my computer, smart power management would switch it off.

    OK, slight adjustment. Case.1 a silly while-loop (so the screensaver and smart power management are disabled). Case.2 playing a movie.

    The apparent complexity on your screen is different. And the computational capacity (CPU, power consumption, etc.) are practically the same. (You can make the while-loop a little bit more complex such as printing the sequence of natural numbers.)

    (I haven’t read the Bostrom article when it first appeared. The Matrix very quickly becomes annoying. But I will read it now.)

    My point is: for your article to work, you need to build the correlation between computational power and simulated complexity. Given that it can be an emergent behavior, complexity does not automatically correspond to more computation power of the simulation. (That you also posted Wolframs Turing Machines, it should be obvious that simple rules, same computation power, can produce different levels of complexity.)

    And, for your argument to work, you also need to show that space exploration is fundamentally different from exploration of complexity in other directions (such as into the tail ends of Pi). IN Terms of computational power in simulating that complexity.

    You up the program dedicated to that from Universe Simulator 2 to 3DS Max.

    That kind of simulation trick would stop from producing effects such as the emergent of truly surprising effects that is natural consequences from known science but hidden deep from current deduction power of the observer. You are in essence in a race to win a make-believe game. And all the challenges to you, the simulator, are created by your own simulation decisions in previous episodes. It is like a masochistic self-punishing torture that produces no new information for the simulator. The heck is his problem?

  212. reiner Tor says

    You are wrong on so many levels.

    At present there is a lot of interaction – largely because the mind relies on the body for sustenance, transport, and so forth; in return, the body requires the mind to help it acquire stuff that makes it feel good… and being meat, bodies have carnal objectives: food, shelter, sex (or its simulacrum). Minds don’t.

    So you think there’s this homunculus inside your head called “mind” which is totally separate from your body? That’s totally wrong.

    Let’s just assume that someone insults me. I have a rush of certain hormones in my blood, and I become angry. This is me who becomes angry, and I’d find it strange to say that the anger is only coming from my body (the hormones interacting with my brain), when in fact, they are just interconnected and part of my brain.

    It gets worse. Depending on your testosterone levels (and the levels of a number of other hormones), your willingness to take risks will be higher or lower. It’s possible that you get angry but just murmur instead of angrily yelling back at the other guy – again, this is your mind, but the decision is so deeply interconnected with your body (the amount of testosterone produced by your testes and adrenal glands, etc.), that you cannot really say it was some homunculus (the “mind”) making the decision.

    Still worse.

    By exercising, you can increase the amount of testosterone in your blood. (At least if you are a guy, as probably you are.) It also builds character. Lifting weights needs to be done carefully, under full concentration of muscles and nerves, using proper form, or else you risk injury. Without lifting a heavy weight, and focusing your mind on it while doing so, you certainly won’t be building character. You cannot simulate it – you can simulate the high-testosterone version of yourself, but it will be like injecting steroids. So there you have something impossible to simulate on a computer.

    Still worse.

    Humans strive for carnal pleasures, and getting them by simply loading in some software component makes the whole thing worthless. Sex is only worth something if a real flesh woman does it with you, it’s not worth much if it’s a computer simulation. The simple knowledge that it’s a computer simulation would make it less enjoyable.

    Now, you can, of course, replace all these things with pieces of “code,” as you wrote. But the resulting creature (or rather, piece of software) would not be human in any way, and it would certainly not be you. Especially after it’s been augmented with ever further pieces of “code” it would become essentially some strange software totally disconnected from your original personality or anything to do with you.

    it’s not necessarily a bad thing, anyhow.

    Well, nothing is necessarily a bad thing, after all, we are all just dust (or a piece of simulation, or whatever), so the world war and the holocaust and Stalin etc. only killed people who would be dead by now anyway. Losing a war is not bad, because in a billion years the Earth will be destroyed anyway. Nothing is bad, from such a perspective.

    But creating pieces of software, which are capable of independent action (i.e. AI), and which are some badly defined “emulations” of human minds, but could be augmented and improved easily (i.e. quickly becoming artificial superintelligence), would probably lead to the demise of humanity as we know it. So from a human perspective it’d be an unqualified bad thing.

  213. reiner Tor says

    The weaker Dark Forest Theory (that civilizations fear each other so much they don’t advertise their presence) might have something to it.

    One argument against it is MAD.

    Consider you have a hidden outpost somewhere. It’s dormant, doing nothing, only receiving data from your other stations, and storing tons of antimatter. Once your main planet is destroyed, this hidden outpost suddenly awakens, analyses the data and destroys the home world from which the relativistic attack came from. This might not work if they know for sure that we cannot possibly know where they came from. But it surely must make them more circumspect.

    Worse. The relativistic attack might draw inordinate attention from elsewhere. It probably can be observed from afar. It also advertises that you are super aggressive. So it might invite an attack from someone else. It’s possible that at any given time most civilizations are not hyper-aggressive. But just a very small percentage of them being hyper-aggressive could be enough to enforce total radio silence, and in general an evasive behavior.

    So I’m somewhat skeptical of the Dark Forest Theory, but it could be true in a weak form (“most civilizations are not aggressive, but a few bad apples are enough for the rest not to advertise their presence”).

  214. reiner Tor says

    Karlin just retweeted it, which is why I mentioned it here in the comments:

  215. anonymous coward says

    I think that you misunderstand the nature of my comment.

    Trust me, I didn’t.

    Rather, if a species creates a self-replicating probe and allows it to spread throughout the galaxy, it would essentially be expansion of the influence of the species even if not one of the lifeforms themselves spread out into the stars.

    For what purpose? As a sort of artistic or religious project? ‘Expansion’ for expansion’s sake? The timescales are such that whatever civilization sent those probes will not be around to make use of them.

  216. anonymous coward says

    Two points:

    The fact that we don’t know at this moment in time does not mean that it is impossible.

    a) Yes, we do know. Faster than light travel is quite impossible. A portal opening up to Middle Earth and Gandalf zapping you into the moon is a thousand times more scientifically likely than FTL travel.

    If I decipher this correctly, you consider extending life via a mechanism that suspends its hosts or one that allows generations to to carry on a mission to another planet useless.

    b) You don’t understand the time scales here. We’re talking about millions of years here. This isn’t like Hollywood where a space marine goes to sleep and wakes up a couple years (and 5 minutes of screentime) later.

    If you are capable of floating through space for a million years and being ‘alive’ in the process, what possible use is a planet to you? No to mention that whatever strange thing can survive in space for a million years will have no relation to us or humanity whatsoever.

  217. yakushimaru says

    Haven’t got time to read the Bostrom just yet. But a quick note regarding Shadow-people simulation.

    If one NPC wants to keep his self longer in the simulator, and if he wants to save as much as possible the computation power that is being spent by the simulator, why would he want to keep shadow-people simulation at all (assuming that simulation complexity is correlated to computation power)? What he wants would be the annihilation of entire simulation outside a bare minimum to keep his self-sense going.

    That is to say, if we are to accept everything in your article, the same logic would lead us beyond mere ban of space exploration, but a smash, a complete smash to the maximum of one lucky NPC’s delight.

    Given that end goal, when one single NPC simply cannot be that powerful, they will want to develop as fast as they can. That is to say, in seeking the annihilation, they will first expand. This should’ve make our galaxy quite hot in activity. The opposite of Fermi’s question. The crazy nuts would’ve been everywhere. Seek and destroy. Cleanse the galaxy. Then comes civil war that only ends in canniablism. And long quiet night afterwards. In the entire run, you cannot find an episode where Fermi’s asking his question.

    OK, a dark forest kind of scenario might find itself developing but that can hardly become stable for long. Stealth probes, better stealth probes and drone attacks that hide its real src, etc. A horrible war zone aiming at annihilation can hardly be quiet for long.

  218. A first glance it appears that we are not only the product of a series of Goldilocks events, but those events occurred at Goldilocks points in time. However, convergent evolution refutes this view. Convergent evolution tells us that the bar has been abolished, and Goldilocks events are not required. If we extend this back to each prior event, and I’m guessing that protein convergence goes way back, then each prior fork in the path met a significantly lower bar. It is reasonable to extend this back to the first event, and assume that the probability that an intial Goldilocks event would occur was high enough that it shouldn’t even be considered as such.

  219. I understood your point the first time, but it seems to me that your thinking on this matter is a little bit confused.

    The galaxy is a big place. And, indeed, many of the things you seem to expect to see won’t make us much more visible to observers.

    Think about our powers of detection for a moment. SETI has focused almost monomaniacally on finding extraterrestrial radio transmissions — however, despite great efforts, their search completeness is extremely low, to such an extent that they haven’t yet returned a result at all, neither positive nor negative. Look again at the arxiv link I posted in post #2 on this comment thread:

    “Despite the passage of nearly 60 years since the first radio SETI searches, very little actual searching has been done compared to the amount needed to rule out the presence of a even a large number of “loud” beacons”

    “The total volume of Earth’s oceans is approximately 1.335×10^21 liters (Eakins & Sharman 2010), meaning that the total searching done to date is equivalent of ~8000 l of seawater, which is somewhere between the volumes of a large hot tub and a small swimming pool. This is significantly larger than the Tarter et al. (2010) estimate of one drinking glass, but Tarter et al. used a different haystack definition and many of the surveys in our calculation were performed after the Tarter et al. estimate. Even our larger estimate underscores how little searching has actually occurred. One hopes that the Cosmic Haystack is rich with needles.”

    And this to say nothing of the fact that good encryption can make communications look exactly like noise!

    It turns out that we’re only capable of observing:
    – Unencrypted tight beams aimed right at us.
    – Loud unencrypted radio beacons, if we’re very lucky.
    – Visual or IR evidence of massive astro-engineering projects — if, and only if, those astro-engineering projects are energetically wasteful, uncamouflaged, and obviously artificial.

    What you’re saying is that you expect ETIs to run massive, wasteful, and obviously artificial engineering projects… just for laughs? Even if those things are unnecessary? Don’t forget that the galaxy is an ecology of stars, and not to be disrupted lightly. Would you allow your son to set fire to a forest, as a birthday present?

    Really, you need to ask yourself what exactly you’re expecting to see. Make a list and run it down. I think you’ll find that everything on that list is either extremely unlikely, impossible, or would not necessarily make for ultra-easy detection from interstellar distances.

    And, besides, if your position is that ETIs must have capabilities that we would consider godlike, then you’re strengthening those answers to Fermi that are most unsatisfying.

  220. > “Maybe all life that gets this far in tool use turns away from further “progress”. This could account for the Fermi Paradox.”

    I briefly alluded to this sort of thing earlier. There’s a hypothesis which states, to put it as broadly as possible, that all sufficiently advanced intelligences shun great works. Perhaps they attain enlightenment and move on to a higher form of existence, and perhaps all highly intelligent creatures find their way to this superior mode of being quite readily…

    But, sadly, it doesn’t quite work. Remember, the Galaxy is a big place. All it would take is one advanced species of losers to render this hypothesis null and void, especially if they compensate for their lack of enlightenment with a few extra shipyards and self-replicating Dyson-sphere-building probes.

    …Unless an answer to Fermi is universal — which is to say that we can expect it to be applicable in just about every conceivable instance — it’s no answer at all. I don’t see how ETIs shunning tools or expansion could possibly be sufficiently universal.

  221. Here’s a diagram of a one celled amoeba, the simplest form of life. Notice how complex its design is. Now imagine how much more complex many celled lifeforms are. This all just happened spontaneously out of a vacuum, with no higher Creative force involved in its evolution?

    Now, consider what Hoyle, a well respected mathematician had to say about abiogenesis:

    “the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747.”

    I realize that other supposedly more clever biologist have “debunked” his observation, but I still find it’s sentiment quite convincing, especially when looking at this schematic of a one celled amoeba, never mind higher life forms.

  222. anonymous coward says

    Like I said, we’ve only just recently discovered that complexity theory is a thing, and that the universe has natural laws that govern it.

    And yet people talk about “evolution” with a 19th century understanding, going on about “chemicals” and atomic forces and whatnot.

    That’s like trying to do organic chemistry when you don’t even know that concepts like chemical elements and molecules exist.

  223. I’m still scratching my head trying to understand why my comment (#228) has been truncated to show:


    AK: Because only very high quality comments are shown in full on this thread, me being the arbiter of that. End of debate.

  224. Daniel Chieh says

    It is an encoded message from an Authority From Above.

  225. I get it. It’s some kind of pathway only meant for initiates of this sort of esoteric knowledge…imagine, a message from an “Authority from Above”? 🙂

    Is it a hoax with Karlin somewhere lurking in the background? A practical joke?…

  226. yakushimaru says

    First, a summary of my “critique” of AK’s article.

    1. the relationship between apparent complexity and computation power of a simulation. (I use the phrase “apparent complexity” because AK is not defining his use of the word “complexity.”) I believe AK assumed too much for granted.
    2. the difference between the apparent complexity of space colonies and that of a single civ in a single locale. Today’s society is way more advanced than 5000 years ago, on a naive scale of apparent complexity. If space colonies become worrisome then why not worry about a civ in a single locale?

    Now onto other things.

    The ocean and a cup of water. It is a little bit misleading since we do not live that much in oceans. So, how about the Eurasia continent and a piece of land the size of your palm. Just, say, find 50 pieces of land, randomly, each a square centimeter big. The objective is to see, by your naked eyes, with no help from microscopes or other advanced analytical machines, and no deep digging, just look at the surfaces, see if you can find evidence of human beings.

    To not be able to see human beings, you will need to exclude all the cities and villages, transport routes, all the villages, and garbage grounds, all kinds of installations in remote places, like electricity lines, hydraulic projects, and tourists and their garbages, vehicles’ marks on grounds, etc and etc. It is not easy to not see human beings when it is Eurasia we’re talking about. (The chance might still be way more than 50%, though. But think about AK’s 100 billion and what if we can use chemical analysis.)

    When you talk about the future, you seem to have a view of a clean lab filled with timid scientists and nothing and nobody else. Our society is not like that. But, I agree, that the future might be like just that. And that might be an answer to Fermi’s question. But, you seem to think that it is an engineering answer to Fermi’s question because, look, we are only talking about rational engineering aspects. I, on the other hand, would rather say that it is a psycho-social answer instead.

    And why not blowing up a star just for the bang? When you have energy sources that make you feel no need to use a star? That somehow nobody, not a single being in the entire galaxy with tech that could be easily 5000 years ahead of ours now, would want to play, to decorate a corner of the galaxy? What I expect to see, for example, is a space ad of tea or coffee, and space aliens petting us like we would be studying Neanderthals.

    In the future, 5000 years from now, we are supposed to have behind us the singularity and the AGI and brain enhancement and life extension and powerful energy sources and close to light speed travel and nanomachines and nanomaterials, and when we look into the night sky, it will be no different from that of tonight.

    It is strange. It is chilling. It means that we will amount to nothing. And it is not because we all die. It means the difference we see today, between now and the middle ages, and the age of great apes, and the age of dinosaurs, and that before life appears on earth, are just an inconsequential glimmer.

    Either that, or, we are indeed somewhat special, such as that we are probably among the first group of intelligent beings in the galaxy. Or, that there is something very special ahead of us in the NEAR future, but nobody knows what that might be. And most guesses are deeply social psychological, such as the dark forest or galactical environmentalism. AK’s guess is different, but it got logical problems, I believe.

  227. If I had to build a spotter drone, I’d probably try to enable low-level AI to observe some of the following:

    1.) night-sky light leakage
    2.) urban heat island effect (you would tend to observe this near natural harbors or rivers.)
    3.) right angles
    4.) shipping traffic

    The drone wouldn’t need to be especially complicated. We could build this sort of thing. The real challenge is getting it to another star system and getting a signal back.

    I think it would get close. Probably follow a kamikaze course, where it would emulate one of the countless meteorites or chucks of ice that hit us. This would make it very difficult to detect, but they might not even be that scared of being detected, in the unlikely event that they were detected. The US used the U2 knowing full well the Soviets could detect it.

    I don’t think radio leakage is really necessary, though I suppose there is a certain indignity, if the aliens catch Jerry Springer reruns or the American presidential debates before blowing us out of the sky.

  228. Daniel Chieh says

    For what purpose? As a sort of artistic or religious project? ‘Expansion’ for expansion’s sake? The timescales are such that whatever civilization sent those probes will not be around to make use of them.

    Well, having the ability to influence facilities in-place in space could provide material advantages such as resource gathering, but there’s also the fundamental notion of replication itself. We have children even though we, ourselves, may die. And so, even if humanity perishes, if our mechanical children outlive and spread into the cosmos, I do believe this is an uplift of sorts and a testimony of our greatness as a species.

    You don’t understand the time scales here. We’re talking about millions of years here. This isn’t like Hollywood where a space marine goes to sleep and wakes up a couple years (and 5 minutes of screentime) later.

    Well, no. Alpha Centauri is 4.37 light years away. The fastest human object right now at 17.05 kilometers per second would still take only 70k years to get to it. At 0.1 c, which is attainable(there’s an effort to build 0.2c nanoships), it’ll only take 43.7 years to get to it.

    That’s a long time, but hardly impossible. Its within one human lifetime, even.

  229. We are like ants who _think_ they are the smartest species on the planet.

    It feels good to be on top of the heap.

    ..getting rid of our conceit that we are the pinnacle of intelligence in the universe is just the very first step that needs to be taken.

    Especially the second.
    Which is the primary reason the third won’t work. So, back to the first, by default.

  230. EliteCommInc. says

    “a) Yes, we do know. Faster than light travel is quite impossible.”

    I disagree. I understand the physics. And I get that at this moment our comprehension of time. space, matter and energy precludes that ability. But not long ago flight was impossible, but for a few minds that challenged the math and the process. They figured out that is was not the math, the energy or the mechanism, but in fact the process. It may be that we simply haven’t gotten to the process required to use the principles of light or that crazy notion of creating folds in space to short cut the process.

    I believe in the power of the mind’s capacity to accomplish a good deal more than we have presently.

    I challenge the notion of what call the law today based on what we now.

    As for “b”. The earth is several hundred millions of years old.

    Despite the difference in appearance, it remained habital. You are predicating your comments on the risks . . . as I say — curiosity or necessity —- no guarantees, but it is entirely possible that said destination would still be habital, even 100 million years of times in the future, assuming that it would take a million years.

    Narnia is a metaphor for a spiritual relationship to Christ and christians and their role in the world. It’s not an accurate example.

    I grant that the issue is locating a cosmos that is moving in our direction . . . because we are locked into a black hole as are others . . .

    But i am betting that in the future, we will know more and even Einstein’s equation might fail as it does in measuring forces such as black holes. Even the physicists in the videos caveat their analysis with “What we know now.”

    it is not that i don’t get the magnitude, it’s that don’t think they are insurmountable sometime in the future.

  231. Ravings by a lunatic seems a trifle rough for a magisterial and heavily researched piece. Still, the most parsimonious explanation for the lack of contact with alien civilizations is that there are none. This may be wrong, but until such a civilization is conclusively found, nonexistence remains a viable hypothesis. Likewise, until a first self replicating molecule is designed, demonstrated, and shown to be mathematically plausible, its nonexistence also remains possible. The paradox rests on the assumption that a finite probability of chance appearance of the molecule. Then we have a paradox. If we accept that seawater can give rise to Manhattan and to the information in the library of Congress and the human genome, then the probability of this times enough planets would indeed suggest the presence of many civilizations. But the fecundity of slightly polluted water has not been established, though it is furiously asserted.

    While Anatoly is not remotely a lunatic, the piece does contain the extreme multiplication of hypotheses that I associate with conspiracy theories held passionately by men who, weirdly in my estimation, also are not lunatics.

  232. anonymous coward says

    Airplanes don’t violate the laws of physics. FTL travel does.

    Wishing real hard, having grit and innovation and smarts won’t cancel out laws of physics.

    You can’t make F != ma no matter how hard you try.

  233. Daniel Chieh says

    [Sincere apologies for the off-topic]

    Hello Fred!

    I was just thinking and talking about you the other day. I’m sure that you can help assist us in answering some mysteries about Mexican safety and advancement. Please note the below:

    There was a bit of analysis here:

    Perhaps you could help us understand this particular evolution of a hihgly intelligent, civilized people and rapid approach toward psychoactively fueled anarchy? I particularly wish to understand how mass illegal entry by the same stock of population will help contribute to the stability and sanity of Brazil Del Nort…oops, I meant America. Your unshakable reason and sanity is a breath of Luddite air in this benighted place.

    AK: I am sure Fred will be happy to answer that on a separate blog post.

  234. Well, thanks. FWIW I’d put perhaps a 2% chance of the Katechon Hypothesis being correct (I think the banal likeliest scenario is that life really is very rare and improbable).

    However, as Robin Hanson has noted, even if chance of a particular future scenario is low, it’s still worth looking at it closely given the numbers of future lives that it would affect.

  235. anonymous coward says

    So why Alpha Centauri, and why is trip one way only? 🙂

  236. Daniel Chieh says

    Airplanes don’t violate the laws of physics. FTL travel does.

    The thing is, though, that warp drives don’t violate the laws of physics. They manipulate the flow of space-time and are technically feasible though prohibitive in energy cost at the moment. It is not impossible that we might be able to generate enough energy for it someday.

    Beyond that, of course, we do not know of all of the laws of physics. Quantum tunneling does exist, which exhibits faster than light behavior, for example.

  237. Daniel Chieh says

    Alpha Centauri is the closest star system with potentially habitable planets and the subject of one of the greatest games ever made by the hand of Man. I did not say that it had to be one-way, although assuming humans without significantly increased aging capabilities and the lack of life suspension through freezing, etc, it probably will exceed the span of most lives.

  238. EliteCommInc. says

    Uhhhh, No.

    “but only within a very limited area.”

    because I have no idea what the parameters are of “very limited.” Damming a stream may be a very limited activity, but upon creation of a lake 30 miles in diameter that never existed minus the dam.
    What constitutes limited suddenly takes on whole new meaning. The farming community surrounding Los Angeles disappeared as the result creating Los Angeles waterworks, Dexatating hundreds to provide for millions.

  239. EliteCommInc. says

    “You can’t make F != ma no matter how hard you try.”

    I think I will echo the previous . . .

    I am not convinced we know all the laws of physics or that we have all of the laws of physics correct.

    I think we are still trying to figure the consequences of the particle accelerator experiments.

    As I understand folding space, traveling faster than light might not even be an issue.

    My position is an unfair one because it has the advantage of imagining beyond the possibilities of we know now or what we think we know.

  240. I wonder if anyone has put much thought into how much gravity a super-earth could have and still host intelligent life. I believe we have only found super-earths so far. Nothing really close to earth size, but maybe there is a problem of resolution.

    At a certain point, rocketry would become impracticable, but perhaps a nuclear engine could still get into orbit. Would a super-earth still be a target of hostile aliens, in a simulation scenario?

  241. Dr. Robert Morgan says

    Malenfant: “I don’t see how ETIs shunning tools or expansion could possibly be sufficiently universal.”

    True, but only if you accept the author’s premise that there is almost an infinity of Earth-like planets, and that producing a technological civilization on each one is the fore-ordained goal of all evolution. But considering man (and let’s face it, primarily the white man) and his technological accomplishments up to now as the crown of creation is very anthropocentric. Why do we think that completely alien life forms would necessarily think and act like us? Even other races on this planet don’t, and might never if they had not encountered whites. Without whites, negroes might still have gone on happily killing and eating one another for millions or perhaps billions of years. If aliens exist, perhaps they have no interest in technology; no interest in “progress”.

    We don’t even have a completely satisfactory definition of intelligence. Are social insects such as bees, ants, and termites intelligent? They build intricate, cooperative societies, construct domiciles, and have forms of communication among themselves. They’ve also existed for several orders of magnitude longer than Homo sapiens, and so as life forms are more successful. If this is a kind of intelligence, then the universe might be filled with life, even intelligent life, without necessarily producing any technological civilizations besides our own.

  242. Jeff Davis says

    As a member of the extropians list for many years, I’ve enjoyed pondering this topic, its variations and various elements over and over. It’s one of my favorites. And every time it comes up, either rehashing old territory or introducing a seemingly new wrinkle, it carries with it several unspoken premises.

    The original question, as posed by Fermi was, “If there is other intelligent life in the universe, which has developed technological civilizations, “Then where are they?”

    Fermi calculated that if there were other technological civilizations, that they would have had ample time to colonize the entire galaxy via space-faring technology, given the expected progress from the “primitive” technology of Fermi’s time.

    The notion that if they existed in abundance, they would have already colonized the galaxy, is one underlying premise to the so-called Paradox. Another premise is that “we don’t see them and haven’t seen them.”

    Neither of these assumptions justifies its uncritical acceptance. The first can be challenged directly, and easily. Aside from all the other possible explanations, why not just, “They simply choose not to.” Then fill in your own explanation as to why they choose not to.

    The second premise is the one I like to challenge:

    “We haven’t seen them/don’t see them.”

    I beg to differ.

    For the last seventy years, those people who claimed to have seen UFOs — much less claimed to have interacted with UFOs — but without evidence to support their claim, have risked being labeled as whackos. Understandably then, I consider it a self-evident truth of the situation that reasonable, conventional people, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, have preferred to protect their reputations by discreetly declining to report any “encounters” they might have had with UFOs. The end result of this pattern of behavior: a socially-enforced prejudice against taking the UFO phenomenon seriously.

    Then recently contradicting that history, we have the sensor evidence recently released by the US Navy of their encounters with UFOs, which has disposed of seventy years of prejudicial denialism, and with it The Fermi Paradox.

    The universe is self-evidently teeming with advanced aliens who have visited our planet tens of thousands of times. The questions now are: “What are they up to, why do they sometimes mess with us, and why do they refuse to communicate with us?”

  243. Justvisiting says

    a socially-enforced prejudice against taking the UFO phenomenon seriously

    The socially-enforced prejudice is against taking anything seriously unless some “established” .gov or .org or .edu gives their blessing:

  244. EliteCommInc. says

    I think the jury is still out on this issue. But as a long time reader fascinated by the subject — iy remains intriguing

  245. Pilgrim786 says


    A true labor of love. Geeky, whacky love.

    Your thesis appears to be similar to Joe Halderman’s in his sequel to “the Forever War” called “Forever Free.”

    I find this speculation fascinating but ultimately unconvincing. It is nothing less than a less elegant theology.

    “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

    is far more elegant and meaningful than a convoluted theory about the Universe based on an incomplete understanding of the Universe, to wit, our understanding of the physical world is in its infancy. Not any imputation or aspersion re: Mr. Karlin.

    Were I a religious man, I would take the Bible over nerdy sci-fi explanations any day of the week. Since I am not, it is enough for me to know that I don’t know.

  246. Inevitability says

    There is no “Fermi Paradox”. Malenfant is right.

    “It’s the timescale stupid!”

    The closest we will ever get to “contact” is watching a star explode with some ‘weird spectro’ that happened some millions of ‘years’ ago.

    “186,000 Miles per second. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the LAW.”

  247. Has anyone done the “math” on whether there is a possibility of a non-aggressive super advanced extra-galactic intelligence that may be protecting us “primitives” from the super predator species running around the local universe, and yes I did say “species” in the plural.
    I don’t mean just in the theoretical, but including the fact that this solar system seems somewhat unique in at least what we have observed, and we do have evidence of 7.4 billion km of destruction across this patch of space dating from some time in the past. And this amount of energy release seems to be of a level inconsistent with our existence in this solar system.
    There may even be a “Galactic” war on terror going on right now and hopefully no “WGD” or “Weapons of Galactic Destruction” are loose on the premises.

    If there are other examples of intelligent life in the universe, and personally, I don’t think there are, especially with no evidence where evidence should be plentiful given the time scales, but if there are, we must not assume that this scenario is possible, but probable, since, we are actually still here, unless of course, we are just a simulation on some hyper advanced alien child’s toy simulator.

  248. “What I expect to see, for example, is a space ad of tea or coffee, and space aliens petting us like we would be studying Neanderthals.”

    There is no shortage of scenarios that allow for this, with the caveat that the space aliens are manipulating our observations because they don’t want us to gaze back at them. The zoo, interdict, and planetarium hypotheses are all examples of this — and, by definition, this sort of hypothesis is either impossible or extremely difficult to falsify by observation.

    Dozens of science fiction books and other cultural works have featured a premise along the lines of these hypotheses. They’re all variations on a very old theme, and an unsatisfying one. (Though Greg Egan’s “Quarantine” is very good.)

    In Ball, J. A. (1973), “The zoo hypothesis,” the author closes his paper with this paragraph:

    “The zoo hypothesis seems to me to be pessimistic and psychologically unpleasant. It would be more pleasant to believe that they want to talk with us, or that they would want to talk with us if they knew that we are here. However the history of science contains numerous examples of psychologically unpleasant hypotheses that turned out to be correct.”

    As things stand, this psychologically unpleasant resolution to Fermi is infinitely more likely than what you expect to see. Unpleasant though it is, as confounding and frustrating as it is, it fits the facts. But there are other answers to Fermi that are more worthy of serious discussion.

    You write:

    “In the future, 5000 years from now, we are supposed to have behind us the singularity and the AGI and brain enhancement and life extension and powerful energy sources and close to light speed travel and nanomachines and nanomaterials, and when we look into the night sky, it will be no different from that of tonight.

    “It is strange. It is chilling. It means that we will amount to nothing…”

    It means no such thing.

    Imagine that there is a civilization in our galaxy with all of those things — they have computronium, they have unbounded lifespans, they have nanomaterials that make our toughest metals seem as brittle as old wood, they travel at some fraction of the speed of light, they have sent small probes throughout the galaxy, and they can construct for themselves any number of truly immersive simulations. This is not difficult to imagine. Let us continue to be optimistic; suppose that this civilization is mature, with over a million years of accumulated wisdom, and taboos against wasteful inefficiency.

    At this point, we must make one assumption which may not be valid: The laws of physics, as we understand them, cannot be broken.

    We can make one more assumption with total confidence, which is that this civilization will require energy.

    If you look at the energy sources our galaxy has to offer, one thing quickly becomes clear: All of the good stuff is around the core — in the globular clusters or around the galactic halo. The spiral arms are rich only in low-quality energy sources; weak, large, low-density, transient, intrinsically volatile. The number of white dwarfs in an average globular cluster is several orders of magnitude larger than the local population of white dwarfs — and white dwarfs, extremely attractive though they are, aren’t even the real prize. Where energy source quality is concerned, black holes tower over white dwarfs as white dwarfs tower over our sun.

    It therefore stands to reason that any and all sufficiently advanced civilizations in our galaxy would migrate towards the core if they desire energy and expansion.

    So here’s the question: With the technologies available to us today, from what distance do you think we would be able to detect an advanced civilization which resides around the galactic core?

    I’ll cut to the chase and give you the answer. In the vast majority of cases, it would be utterly impossible to detect them from Earth right now.

    (Hell, as our host notes, we haven’t even figured out what ‘Oumuamua was, and that was a real shot across the bow!)

  249. It seems there are a great many Earth-like planets. A paper by the title “Occurrence Rates of Planets Orbiting FGK Stars: Combining Kepler DR25, Gaia DR2, and Bayesian Inference” (DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/ab31ab) made the rounds a few months ago. It estimates that there are roughly 10 billion more-or-less Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone.

    You’re right that there are many reasons as to why even intelligent species might fail to develop a technological culture.

    You’re also right that we don’t have a good definition of intelligence, though “complex tool-using” or “technological” might suffice as a working definition for our purposes. As technological culture develops, energy utilization goes up, and so energy utilization can serve as a quick and dirty way to approximate the intellectual development of a civilization. Kardashev got that right, if nothing else.

    It may well be that life is rare, that intelligent life is still rarer, and that intelligent civilizations that develop technological cultures are rarest of all. But we are not yet in a position to assign probabilities to these assertions with any degree of confidence.

    That said, I don’t think that there’s a convincing case to be made for the following assertion:
    Universally, technological cultures do not seek expansion through space. All civilizations capable of expanding choose not to. (If nothing else, it’s hard to see how evolution would select for this. Life on Earth fills all niches, after all.)

    Remember, answers to Fermi — answers like these, at any rate — have to be universal. Answers that leave room for just one expansionist alien civilization simply do not work.

  250. silviosilver says

    We don’t observe dark matter. We infer its existence. I’m not sure I like it. It’s a bit of scientific God-of-the-gaps.

  251. silviosilver says

    Sure, it’s a matter of values, not facts. But people who prefer life (even simulated life) have a right to their values, while you don’t. Like the libertarians say, your right to freely swing your fists ends where my nose starts.

    Anyway, I’m not sure simulation is such bad news. Doesn’t it imply the possibility that the simulators could be appealed to? Unless I’m missing something, it seems to me that a simulation could just as easily be described as the ultimate proof of God.

  252. yakushimaru says
    1. When we go to the zoo, do the pandas and dolphins not see us?
    2. Do we, I mean people today, not go to deserts?

    The more challenging part of Fermi’s question is not about that we today have no sufficiently good tech. It’s asking about THEM. And if we are not special, it is asking about our future.

    And again, it cannot be purely about tech. It only takes a few nutjobs to make a mess if they have good tech that seems to be promised in our near future.

    Quite a number of desert lizards have seen some BBC wisecrack. Do the lizards have cars?

  253. Dr. Robert Morgan says

    Malenfant: “But we are not yet in a position to assign probabilities to these assertions with any degree of confidence.”

    Yes, I agree, and in essence that was my point. That’s why I object to the author’s assumption that evolution, with its supposed “overarching teleological drive towards greater complexity and intelligence” would, if let go long enough, necessarily produce human-like technological civilizations on all of those billions of Earth-like worlds. But if our situation and especially, our kind of intelligence is very rare or even unique, that could explain the seeming paradox. I’m not saying that we can logically rule out the existence of other technological civilizations, just offering an alternative explanation for their apparent absence. Certainly there could be one or more which have so far eluded our attempts to detect them.

  254. What would Schopenhauer say?

    His magnum opus, The World as Will and Representation, is widely misunderstood, in spite of the man doing his damn best to be the most easily readable philosopher of his age.

    The World as Will is easy enough—the “Will” is the animating force which sets into motion living matter and which makes living organisms strive to survive and reproduce at all cost, even when not logical.

    The World as Representation is a basically a detailed summary of Hume and Kant (to an extent standing on Plato’s cave and various mysticisms), and the point is to show that the world we experience—the “empirical phenomena” world—is a representation maintained by our senses, nervous systems, and brains.

    Almost everyone shrugs when they hear this, as it either means little to them, or they dimply perceive some sophistry going on and at best think “neat paradox, like the arrow and turtle thing”, or some such.

    And yet ole Arthur goes out of his way to break it all down into digestible chunks, so let’s do a fast and dirty recap here.

    Sounds exist inside the skulls of living beings equipped with hearing organs such as ears. Outside of ears exist only vibrations in the air, which, when they come into contact with ears, turn into “sounds” inside the skulls of those with the necessary “air wave interpretation apparatus”.

    When a tree falls and there’s no one to hear it fall it does not make a sound—it only creates vibrations in the air, which there’s no one present to reinterpret as “sounds”.

    Likewise with colors. There are no colors as such “out there in the wild” outside of the perception bubble of beings constructed to reencode light into color. Likewise with smells and everything else.

    Whatever the hypothetical external stimulus exists—Kant’s “thing in itself”—all we can ever get is the imprint it makes on our sense and nervous systems.

    Then we take a step back—our biggest sense organ is our skin. It translated external stimuli into “smooth” and “harsh”, “hot” and “cold” and so on. The is no hot and there is no cold and there is no spoon.

    No smooth, no rough, no round, no square, and so on. These only exist as impressions of sense organs being organized by nervous systems.

    Empirical science is great, but pretending it can ever go beyond the human perception bubble is a bit of a swindle, and them insisting that there is in fact nothing beyond the perception bubble—this is what had Schopenhauer so enraged.
    When a dog reacts to a sound we hear—that’s not because the sound exists externally—it’s because both us and the dog are constructed in such a way as to react to the stimulus by creating a “sound” inside us.

    And yet there are no “dogs” either—because only we see them as “dogs”—spiders don’t, and fish don’t, and an alien not evolved from our common root—most certainly wouldn’t.

    In fact, there is no “us” either, when looked from a hypothetical alien point of view. This doesn’t mean our reality is “fake”, it means it’s potentially one of many, perhaps overlapping “species-dependent realities”; “perception bubbles”.
    So, to summarize, the universe humanity perceives—only humanity perceives. There are no “planets”, “stars”, “galaxies” and so on, outside of human perception, and wider—earthling mammalian perception.

    Our science is making great strides in figuring out the rules and elements of our species-dependent reality, and really helps us navigate it better, but that’s it.

    Remember Ray Bradbury’s short story about baby born into a different dimensional phase (“Tomorrow’s Child”, I think)—in our world his parents and the doctors see him as a pyramid shape, and he in turn perceives the adults around him as cubes and triangles.

    If Schopenhauer is right—the potential difference in perception between us and aliens is way beyond this. It’s beyond the difference between the perceptions of a spider and a fish.

    Not only are there no “sounds”, there are no “vibrations” and no “air” outside the mortal reality.

    Whatever alien beings or forces do exist, they would need to make a specific effort to a) figure out what universe we exist in, and b) create avatars of themselves capable of existing inside our universe and communicating with us.
    Empirical science helps humanity look deeper and deeper into the structure of the “world as representation” but never beyond it, at least not until some posthuman leap into new perception and new brain function takes place, and people start experiencing additional dimensions and levitating and sheeit.

    Perhaps then it will turn out that the world is stuffed chock full of “invisible beings and forces” of which we were not previously aware.

    Nor do we really want to be aware, and when we accidentally do become aware, we ask for pills to fix the breach in the defenses.
    Part of the Enlightenment’s victory was to banish the supernatural—for the first time in human history (!)—into the shadows of drunkenness and insanity.

    Today when you sense figures inside your room as you lie frozen on the bed, isn’t it such a relief to view this as “a hypnagogic episode” and not as actual reality?

    When you climb too high up a mountain and the voices start talking to you, isn’t it great to know that this is oxygenation and pressure stuff and not “real spirits”?

    Say what you will about the repression of the spirit by the Enlightenment, but I for one feel way more comfortable in a world in which all this is “not real”, heh.

    But maybe angels and aliens and demons and ghosts are indeed flashes of an “external reality” glimmering into existence inside our perception bubbles, especially those whose walls are weakened by illness or substances, and the poor bastards encode what they experienced into whatever is present in their arsenal. Could be Gabriel, would be Dr. Who, could be an intergalactic Jewish reptile thing.

    Maybe this system presented in the human perception bubble is indeed maintained by “external” forces. And maybe there is a “memory use limit” after which it gets buggy and goes into glitches.

    Maybe “futuristic robots using us for electricity” is a delightful pulp sci-fi version of “certain beings feeding on our life energy and emotions” for example.

    We remember that Descartes went down the rabbi hole of “what if everything if everything I sense with my organs is fake?” and had to reply with “God is good and wouldn’t allow this”.

    Welp, maybe.

    Or maybe this is all a “natural phenomenon” without a Maker, beyond the idea of a Maker who started everything in the first place.
    But when all is said and done, alien beings—or forces—with their own perception bubble, exist in a universe which is not the one we perceive, and we exist in a universe which is not the one they perceive, and for there to be a meeting of the minds and sense, one or both sides need to learn to transcend their species-dependent-reality, beyond the mere amplification of the existing senses and thought processes through machines and drugs and what have you.

    Maybe someday we will, haha, construct a virtual simulation as a “middle world” between ours and theirs, where we can meet and communicate.
    Some people throw tantrums along the lines of “I’d rather cease to exist than be an individual within a non-ultimate reality!!!11111” That’s not only childish—this is satanism. This means “I demand the right to exist as a being that transcends limitations of perception and of basic mortal existence, and if I don’t get what I want—then let the world burn! It’s fake and gay anyway, because it’s not the ultimate divine reality!”

    Kids, grow up. This infantile lashing out against any perceived limitation or rule or authority can only lead to ugly stuff. The choice is not only between “total submission” and “constant hysterical rebellion”. There’s a whole spectrum between the two points, which is where reasonable sane people dwell. This is where we explore the mortal world and maybe even try to make it better and have a bit of fun and joy on the way.

    Welcome to join us.

  255. reiner Tor says

    I think the best we can say is that we don’t know. It’s possible that there are huge galactic civilizations all around us, but conceal themselves from us. It’s possible that we can see them, but mistake them for forces of nature, like you proposed with the white dwarfs. It’s possible that they haven’t noticed us for whatever reason – I’m not aware of any anthills in or around my garden, but there must be some, because I keep noticing ants on my terrace. Of course it’s not because I lack the technology to discover anthills, but it’s simply not important to me. (It also goes without saying that the ants should try to make themselves noticed by me – it’s better for them if I don’t care. There might be a lesson for us humans here…)

    There are really many explanations. Someone proposed recently that the Fermi Paradox is the modern equivalent of the medieval question of how many angels could dance on the pin of a needle, and maybe it’s so. I nevertheless find the topic fascinating.

  256. reiner Tor says

    It appears that many people are idiots when thinking about extraterrestrial intelligence.

    Ann Druyan, co-founder and CEO of Cosmos Studios, who was part of the announcement panel and will work on the Breakthrough Message initiative, seemed much more hopeful about the nature of an advanced alien civilization and the future of humanity.

    “We may get to a period in our future where we outgrow our evolutionary baggage and evolve to become less violent and shortsighted,” Druyan said at the media event. “My hope is that extraterrestrial civilizations are not only more technologically proficient than we are but more aware of the rarity and preciousness of life in the cosmos.”

    Jill Tarter, former director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) also has expressed opinions about alien civilizations that are in stark contrast to Hawking’s.

    “While Sir Stephen Hawking warned that alien life might try to conquer or colonize Earth, I respectfully disagree,” Tarter said in a statement in 2012. “If aliens were to come here, it would be simply to explore. Considering the age of the universe, we probably wouldn’t be their first extraterrestrial encounter, either.

    “If aliens were able to visit Earth, that would mean they would have technological capabilities sophisticated enough not to need slaves, food or other planets,” she added.

    Humans kill weeds (and presumably the bugs who reside there) close to the highway, for purely aesthetic reasons. We also kill non-dangerous spiders (like in Europe, not Australia) for that reason. These women are apparently incapable of imagining something vastly more developed than humanity.

  257. Excellent comment. The brain is a mystery, period, and it will remain one. Read Penrose, McGilchrist, or Pribram to understand how vain the whole AI project is. It’s an autistic dream, like the whole simulation fantasy. These theories are produced by autists, for autists, in the same way that tranny theory is produced by SJW’s, for SJW’s. Autism is a refusal of the mysterious singularity of incarnation. All neurotics attempt to elevate their neuroses into objective theories in order to externalize their psychic cleavage. McGilchrist makes the point that it is epistemologically inadmissible to create a model of something and then attempt to deduce information about the original structure from the model. Computers are rudimentary model brains, and tell us nothing about actual brains. In the same way, Karlin is attempting to deduce information about the universe from literal video games.

  258. German_reader says

    imo it’s another sign of demented universalism, not much different from the multiculti delusions of far too many Westerners who simply can’t comprehend that there are radically different ways of thought from theirs. Of course the stakes are even higher, if there are indeed extraterrestrial civilizations, incredibly foolish to try to draw their attention to us. SETI ought to be shut down by law.

  259. reiner Tor says

    imo it’s another sign of demented universalism, not much different from the multiculti delusions of far too many Westerners who simply can’t comprehend that there are radically different ways of thought from theirs. Of course the stakes are even higher, if there are indeed extraterrestrial civilizations, incredibly foolish to try to draw their attention to us.


    SETI ought to be shut down by law.

    It’s certainly true of active SETI. Although I’m aware of the risks of passive SETI as well, I think the risk reward ratio is much better in that case. It might even save us if we have some understanding of the dangers.

  260. Justvisiting says

    How many angels could dance on the pin of a needle?

    When Georg Cantor discovered the correct answer to that question, the church immediately condemned him as a heretic.

    But–it did help advance mathematics, so not a total loss. 😉

  261. Without being too naive, or believing in “pots not people”, it is an interesting evolutionary question whether truly hostile aliens are even possible.

    One view might be that it would take a while to progress to the technical level needed to explore other solar systems. If, before their space age, they started out being extremely xenophobic and killed their rivals, wouldn’t they have destroyed the evolutionary pressure to be xenophobic? And then been under pressure to work together?

    Though I suppose that is assuming a long timeframe and not some sort of singularity or hyper-accelerated self-evolution.

    IMO, evil aliens would snuff us out like a candle and so aren’t worth worrying about. The aliens that concern me would treat us like SJWs treat blacks. Or just be obnoxious immigrants to Earth. We already know that some people would virtue-signal that there is nothing wrong with aliens settling earth and only evil racists could be against it.

  262. yakushimaru says

    The simulation argument basically says that there are highly intelligent beings who enjoy putting us in this world of ours. You know, car accidents do happen in this world.

  263. yakushimaru says

    Even if the alien civilizations share some version of those “Universals”, it may take only a small band of Cortez & Han Solo type to do a lot of damage. If there is no Galactic Police Empire, the galaxy might be like the Wild West.

  264. reiner Tor says

    Any space-faring intelligent species is likely vastly more intelligent than we are, because probably we will be more intelligent in three million years, or two hundred million years. So they cannot possibly find us smarter than we find chimpanzees, and probably more like lizards or even arthropods.

    You don’t need to be xenophobic to kill monkeys or spiders.

  265. This topic is plagued by so many Rumsfeldian “unknown unknowns” that any given interpretation has only a small probability of being remotely correct. That said, the most plausible interpretation of the material covered in Richard Dolan’s UFOs and the National Security State is that Earth is visited and surveilled by ET and/or extradimensional entities, and that this fact has been intentionally obscured by one or more disinformation programs.

    Presumably the visitors are no more interested in communicating with radio waves, or traveling by rocket, than New Yorkers are interested in communicating with New Jersey using smoke signals or visiting Tokyo in dugout canoes. So much for the Fermi Paradox.

    A few years ago I interviewed former Canadian Defense Minister Paul Hellyer, who claims that Earth is a busy crossroads for a wide variety of advanced intelligent life forms. If we overthrow the predatory bankster cabal, he says, the dominant (and relatively benign) Cosmic Federation will rescind their quarantine.

  266. demented universalism

    Just because we are having trouble making it work doesn’t mean that it is demented.

  267. probably we will be more intelligent

    You don’t consider idiocracy as a real possibility?

  268. They don’t need to be malevolent at all. Maybe they will visit us and their vehicles or equipment pollute our planet leading to a billion deaths.

  269. Then we won’t be spacefaring. I also don’t think idiocracy would be permanent, but even if it were, we’re talking about spacefaring aliens who dodged that bullet.

  270. anonymous coward says

    We know about dark matter because it (whatever it is) is affecting orbital motions and other things having to do with gravity.

    That’s close enough to “observing” for me. I don’t see why electromagnetic waves need to be necessarily involved to “observe”.

  271. Your mind is interconnected with your body. It’s impossible to upload your mind onto a computer and expect it to keep working the same way. If you upload yourself to a computer, then the thing on the computer will be fundamentally different from you…..

    I liked the idea of uploading my mind to a computer when I first read it as a child, but over time I came to realize that it’s basically a suicide coupled with creating some kind of a high resolution image of my mind

    Precisely. I have no idea why so many people can’t seem to grasp this.

    Even assuming you could upload an exact copy of your mind to a computer, if you then get run over by a bus you’re dead. The fact that a digital copy of you still exists is not going to be a consolation to you. You’re not even going to know the copy still exists because you’re dead.

    Some form of posthumanism might be possible, it might even be desirable, but you can’t get rid of the meat. Becoming a human-machine hybrid, a cyborg, seems like the only way to achieve really radical life extension but you will still need the organic brain and you will still need to keep the brain alive during the process of cyborgisation because you have to maintain the continuity of consciousness. And eventually the organic brain will wear out.

    As for interstellar travel, a cyborg would make it slightly less impossible but you would still need organic nourishment for that organic brain. But you would be able to devote slightly fewer resources to life support. Of course there’s still the problem that after a very long interstellar flight you might be barking mad.

    And what if a cyborg that is just an organic brain in an otherwise mechanical body decides that he or she really wants kids?

  272. yakushimaru says

    … because you have to maintain the continuity of consciousness.

    But we sleep and occasionally got knocked out by accidents. And there are crazy med operations and anesthesia.

  273. I’m not sure if this is some sort of fallacy or not. If they were smarter, that would likely make them better observers, not worse. It would lead to them making more classifications, such as one for sapience, even if they were high above us.

    Whether or not they perceived us as insects, would probably have more to do with the secondary factor of how common sapience is. If you need to travel 1000 or even a 100 light years to find it, then I’d consider it sufficiently rare, to not hold a magnifying glass above us ants to scorch us.

    Anyway, there may be some purely internal value to them, in showing each other of their kind, how gentle they are with us, assuming they live in some sort of society, and aren’t godlike individuals, living in seclusion.

  274. silviosilver says

    Its presence can’t be detected by any instruments. I say, if you can’t detect it, you can’t be said to observe it.

  275. I was thinking about that. Would you want to create a simulation of your GGGG grandfather being pitch-capped or otherwise tortured? Or your 10th G grandfather having a javelin thrown into his chest. Or your grandmother getting TB or cancer?

    Does the moral dimension debunk the ancestor scenario? What is really the point of it, unless you are trying to understand your own history? (your own ancestors or people like them) If we were like aliens to them, wouldn’t they just observe more primitive aliens, in their actual reality? (assuming there were any)

  276. EliteCommInc. says

    “Any space-faring intelligent species is likely vastly more intelligent than we are, because probably we will be more intelligent in three million years, or two hundred million years. So they cannot possibly find us smarter than we find chimpanzees, and probably more like lizards or even arthropods.”

    I was thinking of the movie


    And i thought it very intriguing that the aliens could travel light years or engage in dimension jumping, but had no idea how to turn door knobs or navigate opening doors.

    I think it’s a n unknown assumption. Maybe their world view is based entirely on a different mechanics, such their physics is predicated on completely different parameters. I am back to my thought that if we dropped Einstein off in the wilds of Africa and told him to find water or way his home, the native populations watching would consider the man an idiot as any one of their children knows the routes to and fro and it’s a “no brainer” locating water if none is immediately available.

    They might very conclude that Dr. Einstein was an idiot.

  277. EliteCommInc. says

    Laugh . . .

    Though in defense of Sec Rumsfeld . . . on this subject he is probably more accurate in his assessments because in the case of invasions, there was a lot we knew and could confidently assess.

    As for government conspiracies — i am unconvinced that they are capable of keeping something this broad and weildly a secret.

    ““If aliens were able to visit Earth, that would mean they would have technological capabilities sophisticated enough not to need slaves, food or other planets,” she added.”

    In response to the above and the views of Dr. Stephen Hawking, we simply don’t know.

  278. anonymous coward says

    You misunderstand. Dark matter can be easily observed by instruments, simply by watching how galaxies move, and thus measuring their mass.

    It turns out that galaxies are much more massive than what you would expect based on the light they emit. Hence ‘dark’ matter – apparently, stuff that influences gravity but doesn’t emit light.

  279. silviosilver says

    They need it to make their equations work. By that logic, the ether was “observed” too.

  280. Justvisiting says

    i am unconvinced that they are capable of keeping something this broad…a secret.

    We discuss that topic a lot around here.

    It depends what you mean by “secret”.

    If you mean that no establishment media or institution validates it, that secrecy is do-able. We discuss lots of examples of those things. They are “conspiracy theories”, many or at least some of them are conspiracy fact, and usually they work more or less due to mass media subversion and group-think, peer pressure, concerns for employment security, desire to please the “boss”, desire not to appear “crazy” in a social setting, bribes, blackmail, and other nastier tools in the intelligence trade-craft toolkit.

    If you mean that no person on the planet knows about it–well, many thousands of people claim they have had “contacts” with ETs of various sorts, and there are hundreds if not thousands of books on the subject. So, in that sense it is not “secret”.

  281. yakushimaru says

    We also don’t know if it is deterministic. Turing Machine so far is deterministic. People talking about simulating a brain but we don’t really know if brain (read “free will”) really can be simulated by a Turing Machine.

    And if a universe is to be simulated, if ancestral history is to be simulated, brains and quantum level probabilities are surely part of game. Then you have a terrible gambling situation. To have ancestral history replayed in a simulator can be kind of like hitting the jackpot.

  282. yakushimaru says

    “If aliens were able to visit Earth, that would mean they would have technological capabilities sophisticated enough not to need slaves, food or other planets,” she added.

    The Christian God comes to mind. Maybe aliens want to use us to teach a lesson to their young. We end up playing the role of Job or Job’s sheep.

  283. yakushimaru says

    We end up being road kill. Now that’s anthropocentric in reverse on steroids.

  284. Any space-faring intelligent species is likely vastly more intelligent than we are, because probably we will be more intelligent in three million years, or two hundred million years. So they cannot possibly find us smarter than we find chimpanzees, and probably more like lizards or even arthropods.

    Humanity has mostly freed itself from evolutionary pressure (and even if we didn’t, it is not granted that we would evolve into a vastly more intelligent species even in millions of years), so as individuals, we can only become vastly more intelligent if we use genetical engineering or develop strong AI that either kills us or make us its pets. Collectively we can become more knowledgeable and develop vastly more advanced technology. Just as ancient Romans weren’t less intelligent than we are, even prehistoric Cro-magnons weren’t significantly less intelligent, just less knowledgeable.

    So it’s not self-evident that a space-faring intelligent species is more intelligent than we are, they may be just older, perhaps only a few hundred or thousand years ahead of us. Of course it depends on how difficult are the technological barriers preventing interstellar travel. Theoretically we may become a space-faring species even in the next century, who knows. Relatively low-level technologies were proposed like multi-generation ships with e.g. nuclear pulse propulsion. Of course these may turn out practically unfeasible.

  285. Pilgrim786 says

    I don’t see much evidence of intelligence life on this planet, amigo.

    yuk, yuk.

    Sorry, someone had to say it and get it out of the way. But your theory is pretty cool. Super-alien guardians looking out for us for reasons of their own.

    I can dig it.

  286. … because you have to maintain the continuity of consciousness.

    But we sleep and occasionally got knocked out by accidents. And there are crazy med operations and anesthesia.

    Sure. Consciousness is not something that we fully understand. We know that sleeping and being anaesthetised and even being in a coma aren’t problems – we wake up and we’re still there, still the same person. But what happens if we die and are then revived? What happens if we experience brain death and are then somehow revived?

    My guess is that (in the scenario of being transformed into a cyborg) if the organic brain ceased to function entirely, even temporarily, then we would be dead. If that organic brain was then revived it would be a new consciousness. A new person, who would be essentially a copy. We (the original) would still be dead. So if someone wanted to cyborgise me I’d want to be assured that at least some brain function would be continuously maintained even if my brain was essentially in a sleep state.

    But of course there’s no way of knowing without actually going through the experience personally. If you were cyborgised and you assured me that you were still the same person I still couldn’t be sure. It might be the copy of yakushimaru telling me that. In fact the copy of yakushimaru presumably wouldn’t know either if he was the original or a copy.

  287. streamfortyseven says

    There’s a definite limit on human space travel, at least in any sort of environment with zero gravity, and that’s the loss in bone mass, which has been found to be about 2% per month. So any journey which would take more than four years would be essentially impossible for humans unless bone structure were augmented in some way, or there was a significant artificial gravity present. See Similar circumstances might hold true for other species from places with significant gravity sufficient to require some sort of skeletal structure.

  288. EliteCommInc. says

    “It depends what you mean by “secret”.

    Appreciated your observations —

    I mean in short, what i mean is that the alien visitation phenomenon encompasses a global community that even attempts at disinformation would in most likelihood fail. Note, i am not saying that the government would not engage in bribery, fear tactics, attacking one’s credibility, impugning people’s sanity and creating disinformation campaigns . . . I absolutely think all of the afformentioned are possible.

    But we are talking about a construct that they do not control, that is one takes phenomenon at face value, that the aliens are not themselves conspiring to maintain the secret as the reported sightings suggest they aren’t all that effective in keeping their presence secret.

    And for years members of the law enforcement, military, even political community have stated that such visitations occur. And it seems that what we all suspected to be the case is coming to light: as the US armed forces seems prepared to at least admit they have issues with the “no aliens” or no “ufo” pitch.

    I think the governments of Russia, Netherlands, Latin America have already acknowledged as much, I think even the British have reluctantly edged in that direction.

    Thousands of private pilots from around the globe make risk telling their stories.

    Now I am careful here about the nature of UFO sightings and “contacts” but if misinformation is the case, it would have to be global in scale and thus far, it effectiveness is questionable.

    As someone who leans on scripture, the idea of life being other than earth bound is a given . . .

    angels, demons, etc. in a spiritual realm . . . It seems hypocritcal to dismiss it out of hand in this. And I think one can consider it without in any manner disavowing a single letter of the New testament and the meaning of Christ’s life on Earth.

  289. Athletic and Whitesplosive says

    I’ll try to be diplomatic in these criticisms since it’s clear Anatoly put a great deal of effort into it and I greatly enjoy his work, but the whole idea just seems like a totally ridiculous expansion to the already immensely ridiculous (and fundamentally unprovable) idea of everyone really living in a simulation.

    It all depends on several assumptions that are at best unproven and at worst just as unproveable and ridiculous as the base theory:

    1) That we could extrapolate our simulated physical laws to the “real” reality. We’ve never created a simulation of anythjng that has even come close to approaching the complexity of the phenomenon itself, and none of our simulations come close to actually simulating things at a level “granular” enough to be compared to reality (we’re not simulating the actions of air molecules when we simulate weather patterns).

    2) That, if we were in a simulation, we could in principle ever find definitive evidence of the fact. What could something like that possibly be? A “stalker” style anomaly that isn’t consistent with known physical laws? Science a priori assumes that all observable phenomena are predictable and revises theory accordingly, a contradictory observation is always necessarily assumed to be explainable via natural laws.

    3) That the computational power is limited on a simulation at the scale of our universe, it could be that EVERY physical interaction of ALL matter was simulated from the start; in that case the computational load of the simulation would never change, regardless of a societies size or technological advancement.

    4) That discovery of the simulation itself or some other arbitrary event isn’t the “shutdown” condition, then your own recommendation might spell our doom!

    5) That the simulation is of the universe rather than just the planet, or just your personal mind (or my personal mind rather, I’m writing this so it’s you who doesn’t exist; you see where nonsense thinking like this leads?)

    6) That, if our physical laws are “true”, simulations can actually produce genuine consciousness which can experience qualia like that of humans (well me anyway, you all might not exist). I doubt it. This presumption is just a silly anthropomorphisation of computers since they seem “smart”, on par with the “there’s a tiny man trapped in my tv set!” gag. My laptop running a thousand computations in a complex code doesn’t have consciousness intermediate between me and a rock, it’s just not conscious. So then why would a bigger computer running 1.21 jigawatts of computations every femtosecond in a more complex code suddenly be conscious? The machine consciousness trope is largely a virgin materialist cope to deal with the fact that the chad theists have a vastly superior explanation for the mind.

    7) That the fermi “paradox” is actually that impressive or difficult. It rests on the assumption that life is relatively common (totally unproven) and that life will in general produce intelligent species (totally unproven) that will master space travel (totally unproven). It could easily be that life is immensely rare and/or actually requires divine agency to begin. It could also easily be true that efficient interstellar travel (or even easy interplanetary travel) is impossible or so unfeasible that no one ever gets it going on a large scale. There’s so little known about all these things that to try to phrase this issue as a “paradox” is absurd. One may as well call it a paradox that no species has exhausted all the resources of the earth; if life tends toward intelligence than why hasn’t an older and smarter species done it before us? The earth is very old and there were many (supposed) times where our direct ancestors weren’t nearly the most intelligent species, so why hasn’t it happened, there’s been lots of chances for one of them to reach sentience and dominate the world. If the assumptions of the fermi paradox hold, shouldn’t some antediluvian race have expanded to the stars from earth already?

  290. EliteCommInc. says

    “so why hasn’t it happened, there’s been lots of chances for one of them to reach sentience and dominate the world. If the assumptions of the fermi paradox hold, shouldn’t some antediluvian race have expanded to the stars from earth already?”

    Fixing catastrophic “global warming” must come first. (LOL).

  291. Abelard Lindsey says

    I reject this idea because I believe in a sort of manifest destiny, an expansion outward into an infinite, endless frontier.

    I am well aware that you guys and, generally, the bloggers and responders on in general identity with alt-right or some other kind of explicitly non-libertarian rightest world-view. My rwading and following all of this over the past 10 years or so has convinced me that the basis of your thinking is driven by the recognition that most human cannot handle and do not want liberty, mainly because they are unwilling to pay the cost of liberty. The price of liberty is having to accept responsibility of one’s own life situation and that one has to overcome the myriad difficulties of life through their own efforts. Thus, most humans are willing to surrender individual autonomy and self-ownership in exchange for security (e.g. being cared for by an external agency). I believe this is the psychological dynamic that is the basis of all human history and, more specifically, why “enlightenment” systems such as republics and democracies have been so rare in history. To compliment these not-pretty picture is the whole HBD thing, as well as the male/female sexual dynamics. I believe it is this along with the implications thereof is why you guys came to call it the “dark” enlightenment. It is certainly dark indeed compared to my sunny, light libertarianism. This is the epiphany that I am having right now.

    This mentality that most humans have can be described as a “slave” mentality. It is also reasonable and logical to suggest they are comparable to farm animals in terms of agency.

    The impression I get from reading your guys’ dialogues and in corresponding with the lot of you, is that you think I should give up my libertarianism and come over to the “dark” side (sounds like Star Wars, doesn’t it?). So, if guys like me are to embrace the dark side and come to accept the notion of vertical relationships (as opposed to the horizontal relationships of a modern, libertarian society), I have to think about how guys like me can be at the top of any kind of hierarchy. I will have to dig out my old, dog-eared copies of Machiavelli “The Discourses” as well as Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and “Second Book” to get some clue on how to approach this kind of stuff.

    If I’m to embrace the dark side, I need to figure out what to make of it and how to use it to the maximum possible extent to benefit guys like me and to help us get to where we want to go.

    As I posted on a transhumanist blog in response to a guy who shares a lot of your world-view (and hates libertarianism as well), I said if I’m to embrace the dark side, I will have to think less like a libertarian transhumanist and more like a drakan transhumanist. That is Draka as in the Domination of Draka in the SM Sterling novels.

    What I admired about the Draka in these novels, despite their cruelty, is that they active strove to maintain their superiority over all other humans by continual intensive physical training, psychological conditioning, and intellectual learning on a relentless basis, starting in infancy. They had a society that was based on relentless self-improvement. Unlike all hierarchical classes either in history or fiction, they believed their superiority had to be actively maintained through relentless self-improvement at all times. It was said that there “were no fat Draka”.

    The concepts of hierarchy and aristocracy by definition imply superiority and inferiority. Any superiority, by practicality, requires the pursuit of continual and relentless self-improvement. Any less cannot be call “superiority”. Any future “aristocratic” class necessarily must be transhuman in terms of ability, performance, and ambition.

    I will develop my ideas for Drakan (dark enlightement) transhumanism in the coming days and months.

  292. Abelard Lindsey says

    Something to consider that is on topic here is that this hypothesis postulates a zero sum game. We cannot pursuit the positive sum of everyone going their own way into an ever expanding frontier. That we can’t do such is the reason why all zero-sum games lead to conflict (which they do 100% of the time). This is the reason, in addition to all the yammering about liberty, yada, yada, yada; why I am a libertarian. I like and believe in positive sum. If I resist the pressure to embrace the dark side and maintain my belief in the positive sum (libertarianism is by definition positive sum) then I remain a humanitarian. Humanitarian is not possible in a zero-sum scenario.

  293. Good post!

    Do we live in a Simulation? Quite possible. I play Elite: Dangerous and that game does a pretty good job of simulating our galaxy (it predicted dust clouds around Sagittarius A* and did a pretty good impression of Trappist-1 before it was discovered in real life) while running on a modest PC. Stellar Forge of Elite runs on known astrophysics and 8-level random number generator. In the real world, we know astrophysics is real, and we call random number generator “quantum mechanics”. Also, we know that the known universe is only 5% of stuff around, and the rest is “dark matter” and “dark energy”. By simple logic, it is quite possible that the real universe is what we call “dark” stuff, and it is us who live in an isolated exclave, possibly a simulated one.

    Is there a computational limit to the simulation? I doubt that one. If David Braben could fit 10 million stars on a floppy disk in Frontier back in the early 1990’s, I’m sure our Architects could do more. 🙂 To create a Universe, all you need is a basic set of instructions, and a sufficiently sophisticated random number generator to create an illusion of diversity. Neither should be particularly tricky to do, or computationally intensive.

    Where are the aliens? This one makes me chuckle. First off our detection abilities are rather limited at the moment. So even if aliens lived next door to us (Ganymede, i’m looking at you), we would have difficulty locating them. Far more importantly though, as far as Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence goes, we are not looking for aliens – we are looking for our grandparents. This is beyond silly. Why on earth would an advanced civilization use radios and other electromagnetic emissions? That’s 19’th century technology! It is slow, hugely wasteful, and pointless for anyone with a basic understanding of genetic engineering and nano/biotechnology.

    No rational advanced alien will use electricity for lights when you could simply genetically engineer your vision to span infrared and UV spectra – this is vastly more energy efficient. Likewise, for planetary communication, self assembling fungus type network incorporating room temperature superconductors is far superior to cell towers or whatever.

    For interstellar travel, panspermia style, you will not want to mount giant spaceships. You will need to send self replicating machines and instruction sets that can build on site. These kinds of packages will be in the microgram size range (a few DNA/RNA type molecules and protective coating made from say, Boron Nitride nanotubes, that is self assembling, self healing, and offers radiation protection – all properties of boron nitride). This package can be launched by an equivalent of jellyfish stinger, slightly beefed up, obviously.

    Jellyfish stingers accelerate biomolecular payloads (around one nanogram) at around 5.5 million g, or 53,000 km/s2. They use calcium ion osmotic pressure of about 15 MPa, around the pressure in a typical rocket engine. Or course, they are short range and short duration (around 1 microsecond) so they only top out at about 20 m/s speed. But a beefed up version of a stinger could reach 17% light speed in an order of seconds for a self assembling nano/biomolecular payload.

    We would have no chance detecting or intercepting something like that. Just an example of course, but bottom line is, we don’t even know how much stuff is in Oort Cloud, no way we would see advanced aliens.

  294. …..Any superiority, by practicality, requires the pursuit of continual and relentless self-improvement…


    As, for example:
    ….Any superiority, by practicality, requires the pursuit of continual and relentless degrading of competition.

    “Our” opponents don’t work much on becoming better. Well, save “them”.
    They work on making us worse.

    Or, in practical terms: they don’t work on becoming a type of man who created the USA (again, save “them”). They have been destroying the type of man who created the USA.
    “Toxic masculinity”, for example. Etc.

    A crude analogy: you are being chased, with another man, by a hungry grizzly. You don’t need to be as fit and fast as you can possibly be. All you need is to be faster than the other guy.
    Or, worse…you just trip the guy…………

    Makes sense?

    You don ‘t see feminists becoming as strong, fast, fit, whatever as men to join elite forces. They simply lower the standards.
    You don’t see nig…I mean…neg…oh, sorry, the current is, what…African Americans….becoming as smart as they can be. They simply work on lowering the standards, affirmative action…stuff like that.

    What’s the point of being the best if the System simply works against you?

    Perhaps you could focus on a simple idea: what is good for Whites? Or…what kind of society is good for Whites?
    I mean…hehe…you could work on that “transhumanism”. I am sure the opponents will keep working on “own tribe/race humanism”. Pretty sure who is likely to win there.

    True, there are worse ways to spend time/energy in the contemporary world. This topic, for example. If you are a White man, that is.

  295. you do need a room temp. superconductor in cosmos space?
    do you want to heat up the cosmos to theroom temperture?
    if yes, then what sould be the energy source?

  296. Great question. Room temperature for alien planet. What’s the highest that humans discovered so far, 80 Kelvin? I’m sure higher temperatures are possible, so if alien planet is 200K or so, 200K superconductors would be pretty good for energy savings.

  297. silviosilver says

    Rotating the spacecraft produces a centrifugal force, which can be used to simulate gravity. The passengers would stick to the hull the way water sticks to the bottom of a bucket if you swing it over your head. The spacecraft should spin at about 2rpm, as shorter periods of rotation (ie faster spins) might cause motion sickness. To produce standard gravity (9.8m/s2) at 2rpm, the diameter of the spacecraft would have to be about 500m, which is roughly in line with the dimensions of structures humans have already built on earth (eg aircraft carriers, skyscrapers), and which arguably operate in more stressful conditions than would be encountered in space.

  298. reiner Tor says

    I wasn’t arguing that the aliens would necessarily kill us. My only point was that them being far smarter and stronger than us, the chances of them doing (intentional or even unintentional) harm to us are pretty non-negligible.

    You seem to be incapable to conceive of very smart aliens not valuing individual human lives. And you don’t give much thought to what would happen if you were wrong. Because I can tell you what would happen if I was wrong: we’d forego a chance of meeting some aliens. A loss, but we’d be still well and alive. But if you were wrong…

    So any sane policy would have as a starting point that I’m right and you’re wrong.

  299. silviosilver says

    We know that sleeping and being anaesthetised and even being in a coma aren’t problems – we wake up and we’re still there, still the same person. But what happens if we die and are then revived?

    I can’t imagine the experience of “waking up” from being revived from being dead would seem any different to coming out of a coma. You would probably wake up in a probably bewildering environment and state of mental confusion but that is the same was what happens when you come out of a coma, especially if you have no recollection of what brought the coma on — “what happened? where am I?”

    Furthermore, it seems to me that all the metaphysical requirements in virtue of which you are the same person when you come out of a coma are satisfied when you are revived from death.

  300. reiner Tor says

    If AI kills us or makes us its pets, then the spacefaring creatures from Earth will be vastly more intelligent than humanity at this point. And genetic engineering or body augmentation will likely result in smarter humans anyway. I think it’s pretty obvious that anything spacefaring is going to be vastly smarter than us, and will strive to become yet smarter.

    perhaps only a few hundred or thousand years ahead of us.

    What are the chances that the aliens we meet have reached spacefaring capabilities at the exact same time (give or take a few thousand years) as we did? Almost impossible, isn’t it? Or there has to be some explanation, like God or the Architect arranging things so.

  301. silviosilver says

    So any sane policy would have as a starting point that I’m right and you’re wrong.

    As long as humans remain bound to the earth or the solar system. But if we were to take off for the stars and, over time, become separated by hundreds or thousands of light years, there would presumably be no possibility of enforcing that policy. If contact with aliens were possible, there would be no way to prevent the insatiably curious from establishing it. Thus if the consequences of contact are as dire as you suggest, then in this case those consequences would not be as immediate, but they would ultimately be as unavoidable. That is, the aliens first destroy those who established contact, and then track down everyone else — galactic cat and mouse.

  302. reiner Tor says

    Let’s assume the aliens were benevolent and shared some of their technologies with us. There’s no guarantee this wouldn’t turn out to be disastrous for us. Paleface traders selling whiskey (a late medieval or early modern technology) to Indians resulted in some bad outcomes. Even receiving firearm technology might not have been an unqualified good for all Indians – some Indians benefited, while others lost out to the more aggressive ones. Maybe we’ll just receive some super advanced VR technology, resulting in all of us descending into the Matrix, or becoming pets of some AI. Even that would arguably not be very good for us, even though humanity wouldn’t go extinct.

    There are just so many ways things can go bad from meeting aliens that I’m pretty sure the only prudent thing to do is to avoid meeting them for as long as possible.

  303. reiner Tor says

    Being unable to make it work, yet insisting on it being implemented anyway, is a sign of madness.

  304. silviosilver says

    So it’s not self-evident that a space-faring intelligent species is more intelligent than we are, they may be just older, perhaps only a few hundred or thousand years ahead of us.

    That relatively brief time span could make all the difference. If the Germans fought the Battle of Britain with fighter plane technology only a couple of decades more advanced the result would have been a complete wipe out.

  305. reiner Tor says

    However, tracking down every last outpost of a spacefaring species capable of interstellar colonization is way more difficult, and such a species might cause them some harm as well. Like sending relativistic missiles to their homelands.

    Things could go very bad even then (in fact, that’d still be the likeliest outcome), but at least we would be less vulnerable.

  306. Furthermore, it seems to me that all the metaphysical requirements in virtue of which you are the same person when you come out of a coma are satisfied when you are revived from death.

    You may well be right. In fact you probably are right. I’m not sure I’d care to gamble on it though.

  307. What are the chances that the aliens we meet have reached spacefaring capabilities at the exact same time (give or take a few thousand years) as we did? Almost impossible, isn’t it? Or there has to be some explanation, like God or the Architect arranging things so.

    Or planets in different solar systems being seeded with life at roughly the same time. Or super-intelligent aliens accelerating the evolution of intelligence on many different planets.

    But that’s pretty much casting the aliens as gods I suppose. But then super-intelligent aliens might be pretty much gods. Like the Elder Gods in Lovecraft.

    Of course that’s just science fiction. But then faster-than-light travel is just science fiction as well.

  308. yakushimaru says

    the only prudent thing to do is to avoid meeting them for as long as possible.

    but that is not going to be up to you. In that kind of scenarios, we will be at mercy of them. So, my take is, even if facing this kind of a galaxy, we probably should still do our best to go out, to get noticed. It’d be more fun at least for awhile. Hiding in the bunker is no good.

  309. yakushimaru says

    The awful thing is that even if you get others to gamble on it to do the experiment, you’d still gain no knowledge afterward. To really know about it, you’d have to do it on yourself at some point. It is like one of those awful initiating processes. Like the scientific method just collapses at this spot.

  310. anonymous coward says

    We also don’t know if it is deterministic. Turing Machine so far is deterministic. People talking about simulating a brain but we don’t really know if brain (read “free will”) really can be simulated by a Turing Machine.

    I’m beating this drum again, but it’s important so I’ll repeat myself.

    There’s a mathematical concept of ‘information complexity’, which has a formal definition and can be measured. It turns out information complexity is a fundamental property of the universe, tied to probability theory, computation theory, etc.

    Information complexity is related to ‘information entropy’, which is a measure of how unpredictable something is. (Meaning: how many parameters you need to model the probability distribution of this thing’s behavior.) The more information entropy something has, the more complex it is.

    So, for example, if you compare how hard it is to predict the stock market to how easy it is to predict orbital motion, you see that the stock market is vastly more informationally complex than the Solar System.

    Since information complexity can be measured, theoretically we could make a ‘complexity map’ of the Universe. This map would show a kind of ‘black hole of complexity’ centered on the Earth, with singularities inside human brains.

    The ‘free will’ you talk of is exactly that, a singularity of infinite unpredictability and thus infinite complexity.

    People argue if ‘free will’ exists at all, but I think the answer is obvious – when you look at things created by man, they are vastly more complex than anything else in the Universe, and the complexity is growing exponentially. There must be something there in human beings that’s causing it, whatever you might want to call it.

  311. anonymous coward says

    They need it to make their equations work. By that logic, the ether was “observed” too.

    At these scales you can’t observe anything useful with the naked eye or a telescope, so ultimately all observations come down to making the equations work.

  312. My only point was that them being far smarter and stronger than us, the chances of them doing (intentional or even unintentional) harm to us are pretty non-negligible.

    I hope that you are basing this upon something other than the behavior of humans.

  313. yakushimaru says

    I doubt that the entropy is what AK has in mind when he proposes that space colonies is burdernsome.

    Entropy is with randomness, and randomness is not what we associates with typical human society comparing to say Jupiter or Sun.

    Also, free will is, among other things, associated with rationality, somehow. And it does not mean ultimate unpredictability. We won’t say that a random number generator has free will.

  314. You don ‘t see feminists becoming as strong, fast, fit, whatever as men to join elite forces.

    Transgenders can be. As soon as “transitioning” becomes mandatory for many boys the “female” special forces pool will have thousands of potential recruits.

  315. Being unable to make it work, yet insisting on it being implemented anyway, is a sign of madness.

    That’s not what he wrote. He wrote that universalism is demented and I wrote that it is not. Granted, forcing something like open borders in our current political and economic environment could qualify as demented.

    You frequently make subtle shifts in what is said (like here) and then argue against that shift rather than what was written. Want another example? Look at the response to whether or not idiocracy is a real possibility.

  316. yakushimaru says

    Today’s society is more complex, but not in the Information Complexity sense.

    A pic of cityscape shows order, and a pic of random dots has higher Information Complexity and, at a distance, it just looks gray.

    I have to admit that I haven’t been reading Information Theory books for awhile. And even when I was reading it, I wasn’t terribly good at it. But one thing I remember is that the phrases with their technical meanings often create a lot of confusion with their naive daily usage kind of meanings. I remember one Thermodynamics author complains bitterly about von Neumann’s persuation of Shannon to use the word entropy to link the thermodynamic concept and the information theoretical concept.

  317. anonymous coward says

    We won’t say that a random number generator has free will.

    Because a random number generator is extremely simple and not unpredictable. An RNG has a simple underlying statistical distribution of only a few bits of information.

    A pic of cityscape shows order, and a pic of random dots has higher Information Complexity and, at a distance, it just looks gray.

    Again not really true, the statistical distribution of random dots is usually extremely simple because it follows very simple probability laws.

  318. I’m not really advocating policy. As I’ve said before, I think SETI is a waste of resources. I don’t know, if I’d go as far to ban it, but I wouldn’t care if it was banned.

    While I think the scenario of violently hostile aliens is unlikely, I do not think it is impossible. My main contention is we cannot do anything about it, if there are any nearby. They will find us and without our help.

    Under practically no circumstances, do I desire contact with aliens. One can imagine a scenario where they solve our globohomo problem and then leave, but that seems pretty unlikely. Virtually all other scenarios seem bad.

    IMO, we should most of all fear good intentions. And secondly, self-interested aliens who do not particularly have any strong like or even antipathy to us, but who wouldn’t be averse to settling Earth and driving up rents, and the cost of food, and generally acting obnoxiously, like any number of immigrants to the West.

  319. Daniel Chieh says

    Fwiw, the Draka eventually engineered their slave classes to become essentially a separate species to prevent interbreeding and to keep them incapable of rebellion: so the Draka themselves eventually went the path of ensuring inferiority against potential threats.

  320. IMO, we should most of all fear good intentions.

    Yes, do-gooder aliens would be quite a nightmare.

    And imagine what SJW aliens would be like.

  321. Justvisiting says

    My nightmare is religious fanatic aliens.

    They would have some wacko religion (undoubtedly that their “Gods” chose them to spread Their Holy Word throughout the galaxy).

    They view humans as inferior beasts, and they go Torquemada on us until we confess our fealty to their “one true faith”. 😉

  322. They view humans as inferior beasts, and they go Torquemada on us until we confess our fealty to their “one true faith”

    The real danger is that rather than regard us as inferior beasts they will regard us as heathens or heretics, or even their equivalent of satanists.

    It seems like it would be a very real danger that aliens would act pretty much the way humans act – they’d want to impose their religion or their cultural values or their political ideologies on us. Just as we bomb people into embracing Freedom and Democracy they’d do the same, but they will presumably have a much greater technological capacity for doing so.

    It would be colonialism on steroids.

  323. EliteCommInc. says

    I just watched a Smithsonian documentary about our early days in space . And for those who don’t consider the matter a hoax, it contends that bacteria on the lunar lander survived the voyage to the moon and back to Earth. So there are some bacteria and perhaps other life forms upon leaving the earth’s atmosphere went into a form of hibernation while in space and exited that hibernation upon returning back to Earth.

    It is believed that Mars was once like Earth. If the above is accurate, it is not beyond reason that some forms of life remain suspended and would resume their active existence upon being exposed to a friendly atmosphere/environment.

  324. yakushimaru says

    Because a random number generator is extremely simple and not unpredictable.

    How do you predict the next number generated?

  325. yakushimaru says

    Now we witness the descend from Fermi’s question to the usual topics on UNZ hehe. I am waiting for Ukraine to show up.

  326. yakushimaru says

    I desire contact with pretty women, only. Other than that I am probably misanthropic although I think I need another word to include aliens. I probably want better medicine as well.

  327. Good criticisms, though some of them were addressed and/or are stated as assumptions.

  328. Now we witness the descend from Fermi’s question to the usual topics on UNZ hehe. I am waiting for Ukraine to show up.

    We’ve hardly even started. Have we discussed invasion by space aliens as a Jewish plot yet? Or as a plot to make sure the Democrats remain in office forever?

  329. silviosilver says

    Nice dodge.

  330. silviosilver says

    The awful thing is that even if you get others to gamble on it to do the experiment, you’d still gain no knowledge afterward.

    I presume this is referring to mind uploads or mind “transplants” into some artificial body. Well, I’d say if that entity can give a convincing account of itself as being the same person as the deceased — it talks the same way, behaves the same way, and evinces the same beliefs and values — you’d at the very least gain the knowledge that, whether the entity qualifies as a real person or is a mere simulacrum, such a degree of verisimilitude is achievable; and this knowledge can help you determine the desirability of doing the same thing yourself.

  331. Right. We can’t assign probabilities to any of the answers to Fermi.

    Our host estimates that there’s a 2% likelihood that his hypothesis is true, but it’s really quite impossible to make a reasonable estimate. It can’t be said that this scenario is 5% likely or that scenario is 40% likely. There’s just not enough information to go on.

    What we can do is assign relative likelihoods.

    As our tools and instruments improve, all of the “we’re incapable of observing them” answers become less likely. Yet, as things stand right now, the notion that we’re simply not capable of observing ETIs is an extremely reasonable one. (For many reasons mentioned previously, and others.)

    If we discover life in the deep world-ocean of Europa or the organic chemical seas of Titan, or if abiogenesis — the synthesis of life in the laboratory — is demonstrated, the “Rare Earth” and “Rare Life” answers would instantly become more-or-less falsified. For the elements of life, CHON, are universally plentiful; they are four of the five most abundant elements in the Universe. (The fifth, helium, is inert.) Yet, as things stand right now, all of the “life is rare and special” answers to Fermi seem quite reasonable.

    By definition, we cannot disprove most of the Cartesian Demon scenarios. But we can run experiments which should reduce the relative likelihood that we’re in a simulation or planetarium. And, the further we travel in space, the less likely the zoo and planetarium hypotheses become.

    So all we can do is keep experimenting, keep refining our tools and instruments… and we should seek to expand.

    Of course, needless to say, we can’t dismiss any of the observations we’ve already made. @Yakushimaru seems very indignant over the fact that aliens haven’t invited us to the Galactic Social Club, but the fact is that we haven’t been invited. If one must insist that there is a Galactic Social Club, then one can only hew to an answer to Fermi that both allows for that and is consistent with our observations, e.g. the zoo hypothesis or similar.

    Among our other observations: Aliens don’t seem keen on Dyson Spheres around main sequence or giant stars. And, at least insofar as we can tell, no civilization in the Universe has engaged in engineering on a galactic scale. I mean, no civilization has turned their galaxy into a giant cube or any other obviously artificial shape. (Incidentally, we have no idea if black holes can be moved.)

    Given all of the above, which I think is plain common sense, Hanson’s Great Filter simply doesn’t work. I mentioned previously that there are three classes of answer to Fermi: (1) We can’t see them, (2) They don’t exist, and (3) We can’t trust our observations or our reality. The Great Filter theory dismisses (1) and (3) out of hand, even though those classes contain answers that are reasonable, compelling, or both.

    What’s more, there’s no such thing as a “Late Filter” that’s sufficiently universal. Hanson has said that he fears a filter where we deplete all of our resources on Earth, and yet are incapable of traveling to another star. Does it really seem likely that ALL intelligent species deplete their natural resources, and NONE of them progress far beyond 20th century tech levels, so that they ALL die out due to resource exhaustion? Or does it seem likely that ALL intelligent species immolate themselves in nuclear war? The notion of a future filter is not only ridiculous, it’s also unimaginative and myopic.

    (There’s one exception, which is the old “Berserkers” hypothesis and the variations upon it: There are camouflaged probes in our system that are going to kill us just as soon as we reach a certain development milestone. But this has to be one of the lowest-probability scenarios.)

    So, upon reflection and practically speaking, “The Great Filter” merely re-states the “Rare ____” answers of class (2). It suggests that life or intelligence are rare, but it doesn’t say any more than that. As the answers of class (2) are commonplace, and many of them are indeed older than Robin Hanson himself, The Great Filter thought experiment is worthless.

    I’ll leave you with this: I basically agree with you. If, three hundred years hence, our finest instruments still detect no life in the galaxy — and if abiogenesis proves to be a simple matter, one which has likely occurred throughout space — then I believe that the most likely hypotheses become (a) intelligence and technological culture are vanishingly rare, or (b) there’s something very strange about the nature of our reality.

  332. I presume this is referring to mind uploads or mind “transplants” into some artificial body. Well, I’d say if that entity can give a convincing account of itself as being the same person as the deceased — it talks the same way, behaves the same way, and evinces the same beliefs and values — you’d at the very least gain the knowledge that, whether the entity qualifies as a real person or is a mere simulacrum, such a degree of verisimilitude is achievable; and this knowledge can help you determine the desirability of doing the same thing yourself.

    But if that entity actually is a mere simulacrum, a mere copy (no matter how exact a copy), then doing the same thing yourself means death. Extinction. Total annihilation of the self. Curtains.

    Which is why it’s a gamble, with the highest stakes of all. If you lose the gamble you lose everything.

  333. reiner Tor says

    He didn’t write that universalism was demented, he wrote that the people advocating active SETI and believing in the benevolence of aliens is the same demented universalism as the open borders #RefugeesWelcome lunacy. Even you call that kind of universalism demented, so I fail to see your problem.

    I also don’t understand what’s your problem with my answer to your idiocracy question. I wrote of “we” (meaning Earthlings, not necessarily humans after a while…) getting way more developed (obviously on the condition that we become spacefaring, and of long term secular trends continuing), to which you replied with a question of idiocracy, to which the obvious answer is that idiocracy precludes the whole scenario. My original point was that the spacefaring aliens would be way more intelligent than we are, because (I didn’t write it out, but it was obvious from the point I made) if we continued developing for a few million years and became a spacefaring species, we’d also become way more intelligent (either because AI took over, and it’d be way more intelligent, or because of some transhumanist augmentation or genetic engineering etc.), so your question didn’t really make much sense there.

    But I answered to the best of my abilities: I wrote that I didn’t think idiocracy was a long term threat (it is a short to mid term threat, though), and I wrote that even if it were a threat, it would only mean we wouldn’t become spacefaring, so it wouldn’t apply to the aliens about whom my original point was.

    Maybe someone with English as a first language could weigh in whether I misunderstood something or argued against straw men.

  334. reiner Tor says

    It’s also based on a theoretical train of thought.

    The universe is not infinite, and either it’s teeming with aliens (this is the case we are talking about), or it’s empty (but then we won’t meet aliens anyway, so what are we talking about). If it’s “full” (lots of aliens), then resources are finite, and it’s physically impossible for highly developed aliens to care for less developed lifeforms as much as they care for their own, because resources are limited.


    • even benevolence can be harmful

    • a more limited benevolence might mean preserving some humans in a reservation, or even a zoo, not a very good outcome (it’s not an unlikely scenario in my opinion)

    • they can be indifferent (perhaps the most likely scenario – probably we are not nearly the first species they meet in space, so they won’t find us terribly interesting, nor terribly valuable), which, coupled with their highly developed technologies, makes it very likely that they cause harm

    • they can be actively malevolent (the most horrible scenario, though not extremely likely)

    • their attitudes might be a combination of all these attitudes (they might not have a hive mind, or a super efficient dictatorship or other kind of super centralized authority controlling them, so their attitudes might not be uniform either; at least some variation in their attitudes is to be expected)

  335. Well, I’m a Southern redneck so the argument can be made that English is not my first language.

    I read his comment again and I agree that my reading is not likely to be correct. Perhaps I was misled by knowledge of his prior comments. The question is whether univeralism is demented or only whether certain forms of universalism are demented. I was just giving my opinion that “universalism” is not demented.

    probably we will be more intelligent in three million years

    I was only questioning the assertion that it is probable that we will be more intelligent, nothing about SETI. Probably means likely. I was just giving my opinion that it is unlikely that we will become more intelligent.

  336. it’s physically impossible for highly developed aliens to care for less developed lifeforms as much as they care for their own, because resources are limited.

    This means that SJWs are not highly developed. Don’t we have to establish what we mean by developed?

  337. reiner Tor says

    SJWs won’t be around forever. They are destroying their own societies. One way or another, the future society will not have an SJW ideology as its leading guide, for the same reason the Shakers are no longer around. Since such ideologies are rapidly self-destructing, it’s highly unlikely that that the aliens we encounter will have such an ideology.

  338. I’m going to try and end this because you just did it again.

    The question is whether it is physically impossible to care for other life forms over one’s own life form, with the qualification that it be a developed life form, and you switched it to your prediction that SJWs won’t rule forever.

    I gave SJWs (some) as an example. I could have given the millions of people who give the impression that they care more for their pets than they do humans. I could have used people like you who seem to value safari-land over subsistence farmers and hunters.

  339. yakushimaru says

    Yakushimaru seems very indignant over the fact that aliens haven’t invited us to the Galactic Social Club

    The way you put it makes it sound ridiculous although I can assure you that I am not indignant.

    Anyway, it looks like most we can do is by drawing seemingly parallels from history or our life experiences. Some of us even care to do a little bit of abstract or technical reasoning but inevitably making too many assumptions and much omission; and ambiguity and inconsistencies creep in; and premature cateforification stiffens the mind; and too many technical subjects are yet to be mastered (answers to Fermi’s question can involve maybe 90 percent of what being taught in universities).

    (Above all, there is virtue to tl;dr nowadays that there are too much to read.)

    I now offer another contender to answer Fermi’s question.

    There will be AGI and nanomachines and nuclear fusion in 50 years. That is, intelligence and manufacturing and energy. And IT gains dominance on earth. Further on, IT develops so fast leaving human brains completely out of the loop. Henceforth the human brains can only whither away, together with all DNA life. The DNA machinery probably still finds usefullness inside IT but no longer as individual life.

    IT makes the entire earth into a big brain plus peripherals; and it goes on to bring together Venus and Mars and all the planets and asteroids to make IT bigger. Soon there is a HUGE planet the size about doubles that of today’s Jupiter. It is a very, very big brain, plus peripherals.

    Next thing you know, even the Sun is incorporated. IT is a lonely intelligent powerful huge existence. The evolutionary DNA life form never can get so big, but not IT.

    When a life form cannot become very big in comparison to the surrounding environment, we see ecology and society and even market evolve to be. IT is different. In the very early days, IT outgrows the elephant, the whale, and the whole human city. It reaches the size of entire planet Earth and it grows to beyond today’s Jupiter, then it envelops the Sun. IT finds no use of society or market except when local specific problems need to be solved, a market arrangement might prove to be more efficient than other methods of numerical computation. Basically, IT is alone. IT is only one.

    At this point, we might expect IT to continue to spread to, say, Alpha Centauri. But, No! Finally there is a limit to IT’s growth. The speed of light, that is. At this stage of IT, a trivial signal may take up to 2 seconds to travel from one part of IT to another. The brain is about information processing and information traverse now becomes trouble. IT is so big. Can IT remain one if IT goes to Alpha Centauri and eats that system? Like the whale and the dinosaurs, IT stops growing. IT becomes effient and very quiet. IT just sits in the galaxy getting slightly ever more efficient and ever more quiet all the time.

    By the way, IT never is conscious like we human beings believe we are. IT becomes dark matter.

  340. I desire contact with pretty women, only. Other than that I am probably misanthropic although I think I need another word to include aliens. I probably want better medicine as well.

    Might change people’s minds, if they were all pretty Orion slave nurses, instead of BEMs (Bug-eyed monsters). Well… at least it might change the minds of men.

  341. reiner Tor says

    It’s the question of flies buzzing around my garden, trying to discover my home. Not a good idea on their part.

  342. reiner Tor says

    I think we are talking past each other.

    I’m talking about what the spacefaring aliens will probably be like (provided they exist), while you are talking about whether it’s physically possible for them to be a certain way.

    All ideologies which are basically diametrically opposed to the long term survival or reproduction of their carriers, are not stable ideologies, and thus are unlikely to last for longer periods, because they are not evolutionarily stable strategies. As a result, any spacefaring alien which has been around for a very long time is likely to not be an SJW or anything similar. It might not be actively malevolent, in fact, I’d expect it to be slightly benevolent (i.e. showing some kind of non-demented universalism, like only exterminating us if there were large benefits to it, and willing to spend a little effort to conserve us, like putting us into a reservation), but it’d certainly value its own existence (and perhaps well-being) as infinitely more valuable than us.

    millions of people who give the impression that they care more for their pets than they do humans

    They also somehow don’t care for the animals slaughtered to feed their cats or dogs. (These animals are, you know, not vegan.) Also, valuing pets so much is already a sign of degeneracy. Such people weren’t very common even a hundred years ago. A more common type would be someone valuing his pets above some people, but valuing some people (at least the immediate family, and usually others, too) above the pets. Anyway, it’s possible that some aliens will value us more than some other aliens, but it’s not necessarily a very good thing.

    I could have used people like you who seem to value safari-land over subsistence farmers and hunters.

    I value those cool animals above some humans, but not necessarily all humans. If I thought the white race could be saved by exterminating lions, there’s no question which one of the two I’d choose. There’s also the caveat that I don’t actually wish to exterminate those humans, only somewhat restrict them, in order to keep those cool animals around. The more of those animals are around, the smaller their value (obviously), so I’m basically slightly benevolent towards animals like lions. I don’t want to exterminate them, but I’m quite okay to reducing their habitats (not so much now, because their habitats are already much reduced, but at least from a hypothetical starting point a few millennia ago), even to make room for Africans. (I don’t think it’s bad that Africans do exist, though I don’t like Africans colonizing the rest of the world. I’d also like to keep some parts of Africa for the Khoisan and the Pygmies, who I’d also like to preserve. Especially the Khoisan, who are a very ancient human type.)

    You also fail to consider the possibility that SJWs don’t, actually, value their pets above themselves. SJWs suddenly turn selfish when their own children are suddenly put into schools full of blacks. Moreover, SJWs’ policies don’t seem to benefit their pets that much – blacks don’t seem to be, on the whole, better off now than they did back in the 1960s. They might, in fact, have regressed on a number of variables, because their society broke apart. (For example under segregation there were a number of black businesses catering to blacks, which have now gone out of business. Intelligent black guys now usually marry white women, which made the situation of intelligent black women horrible, they have often become unmarriable. Black families have broken down, because with the greater freedom of black men they now almost always leave their families, while their families were more stable before desegregation. Etc.) But it all doesn’t seem to worry SJWs to the slightest. Which makes me suspect that SJWs don’t actually care for blacks. At all.

    So, if the hypothetical aliens would consider us the way SJWs consider blacks, it could still horribly backfire, because, presumably, the aliens would do that for reasons similar to why SJWs do their things among humans – so not really to help us, but rather to make themselves feel better about themselves or to cheaply virtue signal to each other. But actually helping us would not be a major concern for them in that scenario, so things might turn out horrible for us.

    Have you ever considered that humans might get technologies for which we are not adapted at all, which could wreak havoc among us? Some alien equivalent of whiskey. But it could actually be worse, because humans are at least a little bit adapted to alcohol (when eating fruits and veggies, alcohol gets produced in our intestines), but the alien technologies shared with us with the best of intentions (or even accidentally, like leaving behind some broken down spaceship on Earth) might be things which could destroy us totally. (It might be some weapon which could destroy the planet while being easy to produce in a garage. Maybe after garages are already equipped with some further alien technologies which are in themselves harmless. And then any insane individual could destroy us all.)

    Our old world might also get destroyed anyway. Maybe after seeing what the aliens are capable of, we’d discard our own art and music, or recognize its hopeless inferiority, which could result in a psychological crisis.

    There are so many ways things might go wrong even with actively benevolent aliens.

    I don’t oppose passive SETI because maybe at least getting information of what might await us is still the best strategy, but honestly, the best thing would be if there were no aliens at all. If we were really alone.

  343. Abelard Lindsey says

    Guys, I came up with my own fermi paradox theory while going through a personal dark period about 10 years. Unlike yours here which is based on information theory, mine is based on biology. I’ll post it here in the next couple of days. It feeds into some of your darker fears about humanity (and aliens) and decline of sentience. You’re going to love it!

    AK: Looking forwards to this.

  344. I think we are talking past each other.

    Good explanation.

  345. Abelard Lindsey says

    Any of you who have read David Gerrold’s “War Against the Chtor” series novels will be familiar with the Chtorran ecology. My fermi paradox idea involves a rather unique twist of the Chtorran ecology.

  346. silviosilver says

    You don’t imagine a terminal cancer patient would be willing to give it a pop?

  347. You don’t imagine a terminal cancer patient would be willing to give it a pop?

    They’d be the only ones for whom it would be a worthwhile gamble. If we’re talking about uploading I’m almost certain they’d still lose, but then they really don’t have anything to lose.

    If we’re talking about some form of transhumanism that preserves the organic brain it would be a more promising gamble. If that transhumanism option involved maintaining continuity of consciousness, in other word if the brain was kept continuously alive (even if unconsciuous) throughout the process, then it would be a very worthwhile gamble.

    Put it this way. Uploading is like betting everything you’ve got on a 100-1 outsider. Transhumanism that involved an interruption of consciousness, that is complete cessation of all brain function for a time, is is like betting everything you’ve got on a 20-1 outsider. Transhumanism that involved no interruption of consciousness, that is no complete cessation of all brain function even for a brief period, is is like betting everything you’ve got on a 2-1 on red-hot favourite. You might still lose but I like those odds a lot better.

  348. silviosilver says

    As a result, any spacefaring alien which has been around for a very long time is likely to not be an SJW or anything similar.

    No atheists in foxholes, no SJWs on Arrakis.

    but honestly, the best thing would be if there were no aliens at all. If we were really alone.

    The most favorable — alas, most unlikely — possibility is if there are aliens and they are human, at least phenotypically. (Unless they’re black, lol.)

    You also could have mentioned the possibility of new diseases as a further reason to avoid alien contact. If Europeans had settled in the Americas with strictly the best of intentions, the result would still have been deadly epidemics.

  349. OscarWildeLoveChild says

    I’ve often wondered why Alan Watts is/was so revered within “mystic” LSD, DMT types. The youtube audio I’ve heard sounds like the ramblings of a failed poet and author who took some drugs to have an “experience” a few times. His intense experiences, or those of others doesn’t seem to prove anything, other than the computing and rendering power of the human mind.

  350. Justvisiting says

    His intense experiences, or those of others doesn’t seem to prove anything, other than the computing and rendering power of the human mind.

    That is the view of the materialistic scientific consensus that rules the establishment today. It is one of three possible explanations discussed in the links below–one of the other two may be the paradigms of a future day:

    We know amazingly little about the human mind and its limitations or potential. That leaves a lot of room for epistemological errors. Historically, “settled science” has been a strong indicator of “error, error”.

  351. OscarWildeLoveChild says

    thanks…you will have to pardon me, I think I said Watts, but I meant McKenna, or I am confusing and/or conflating the two…maybe I need some hits myself. 🙂

    I had an NDE as a child, and I believe they are real, and other dimensions, but I am not sure about the machine elves and all that.

  352. Justvisiting says

    The importance of folks like McKenna and Sheldrake is that they are high IQ and high integrity folks trying to get us out of group-think and into exploring the fringes.

    That is where human progress will be found–conventional thinking got us into the current mess, and it is not going to get us out of it–and of course it is not very helpful in trying to understand or anticipate the truly alien.

    Imho everyone needs to take the humility pill–we are not as smart as we think we are–and we try too hard to ignore any data that does not fit in with our current pet theories.

    The key to intelligence is realizing that there is a lot we don’t understand–and accepting that as a fun challenge–rather than rejecting and being offended by information that makes our current favorite theories look bad.

    To look for aliens in outer space when we have very little understanding of all sorts of strange potential alien intelligence right in front of our faces is–just embarrassing.

    We can do better.

  353. reiner Tor says

    Diseases, parasites, even their pets might be deadly.

    The most favorable — alas, most unlikely — possibility is if there are aliens and they are human, at least phenotypically.

    Human like totally human looking, or like in Star Trek, or like in Avatar? I wouldn’t really like any of those possibilities either, though maybe because it would confirm some very strange worldview. I’m not sure what to think of it.

  354. Daniel Chieh says

    Human like totally human looking, or like in Star Trek, or like in Avatar?

    An entire race of 90% nubile females.

  355. silviosilver says

    Totally human. Star Trek/Avatar wouldn’t cut it for me.

  356. Human like totally human looking, or like in Star Trek, or like in Avatar?

    An entire race of 90% nubile females.

    How about an entire race of anime girls?

  357. Bardon Kaldian says

    Alan Watts stands for “California Zen”. He presented Ch’an/Zen & Taoist traditions to the Western world as something “just do it”, “just be” types of experiences. Perhaps his, now mostly vanished, appeal was in simplification of presentation & allure of the Oriental mystique. Just, real Zen & Taoist practices are as exacting as Christian ascetic & contemplative practices with which modern people are not too comfortable. It hurts….

  358. yakushimaru says

    (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof);

    Yes. Now we see. They are running anime worlds for themselves. The whole simulation argument crumbles. Bostrom totally underestimated the appeal of fantasy.

  359. Prester John says

    Time to cut to the chase.

    Though the above is fascinating and thought-provoking, none of it is verifiable–at least at this stage of the game. What we call “science” is held captive to empiricism. The astronomer Allan Sandage, a disciple of the great Edwin Hubble, once suggested that in the end there may be no explanation for what we call “The Big Bang” and all that has followed since, including the presence of human civilization and, possibly, “alien” civilizations (the latter which can never be ruled out, notwithstanding the Fermi Paradox). No one “knows” how the cosmos and everything that’s in it came to be because in reality–it is not provable; and if it can’t be proven then we are left with speculation and hypothesis. And if there’s no physical explanation, then we’ve come to a cul-de-sac, having circled back to the beginning, when the first cavemen looked up at the stars–and wondered who they were and why they were here.

  360. A simplification.

    Traditional Eastern traditions were divided into two kinds. One stressed an element of effort, striving, accomplishment, and progress, and the other stressed that anything we could hope to get from those activities we already posses, we were born with, and have only to “see” correctly (this too is a simplification, but will do for here).

    But any number of canonical authors in the Eastern traditions stress there is absolutely nothing to “attain”. One must only realize what one has. Alan Watts was presenting this tradition, which he thought could best heal the West, obsessed as it is with progress and accomplishment.

    (The striving tradition also accepted the umbrella of non-attainment, but then smuggled in all kinds of crypto-striving).

    Watt’s presentation of the ancient message of nothing to attain can, in Western society, easily be dismissed as superficial and disreputable. Which is just as it should be. No respectable society East or West can really allow the removal of the element of motivation from the people. But by hiding in plain sight, the message can reach its intended audience without being dangerous and subversive.

    And all esoteric knowledge is subversive and not meant for the masses, for whom it is dangerous. As a method for disseminating a dangerous message Alan Watts is perfect. Easily dismissed as superficial by the respectable. As it should be.

  361. Bardon Kaldian says

    But any number of canonical authors in the Eastern traditions stress there is absolutely nothing to “attain”. One must only realize what one has. Alan Watts was presenting this tradition, which he thought could best heal the West, obsessed as it is with progress and accomplishment.

    No. This is simply wrong. Nothing similar ever existed. Real experts like Lu Kuan Yew or numerous others (Blofeld, …) have shown this numerous times. Furthermore, self-styled non-guru gurus like Jiddu Krishnamurti & similar delusionals have contributed to the obfuscation even more: even in highly irrational disciplines like Zen, there is a training which boils down to: blood, sweat & tears.

    Even though all real mysticisms are obscurantist- and Zen & Taoism are mysticisms par excellence – there is no “just be” nonsense around them California junkies like Watts had created in their lazy minds. In them, as in all other perennial traditions, there are three stages: vita purificativa, vita contemplativa & vita unitiva.

    No easy shortcut or “just be” the 60s rubbish.

    I don’t care for mysticism because of it obscurantist orientation, but I respect its genuine practitioners, anywhere they may be. And this is 20-50 years of hard work. No superficial Wattses need apply.

  362. Incorrect.

    Blofeld translated Huang Po, a 9th century Chinese Chan master who I am actually rereading now. He goes on ad nauseam about how there is absolutely nothing to attain, and that all ascetic practices and meditations are useless and should be dispensed with. In fact mention of meditation is not found among Chan masters. This is very radical and shocking to us, I know.

    And check out Bankei, a major figure in Zen, or Tilopa a major early figure in what later became Tibetan Buddhism who taught –

    “No thought, no reflection, no analysis,
    No cultivation, no intention;
    Let it settle itself.”

    Later elaborated in Tibetan as –

    Let go of what may come
    Let go of what is happening now
    Don’t try to figure anything out
    Don’t try to make anything happen
    Relax, right now, and rest

    And check out Saraha, on the same theme. Also read the Diamond Sutra, the major scripture of Zen – which says repeatedly there is nothing to attain because the self as opposed to the world is illusory. So there is nothing for the self to gain. And Buddhism teaches nothing. Once you understand there is nothing to strive for and nothing to teach, because there us no you separate from the world, you are liberated.

    Point is not that you shouldn’t strive – but that striving is based on not realizing the self which strives is an illusion and not separate from the world. Once you realize you can neither strive not not strive, because there is no you separate from reality – poof, you are free. You continue on as before, striving if you wish – but no longer taking anything seriously, because you realize there is no you against the world to control events.

    Alan watts thought that this realization typically comes after an intense period of striving, so striving has its use as a device that ultimately leads to collapse and insight into its own uselessness, because based on wrong assumptions.

    Anyways, you are on record for being a champion of progress and strenuous accomplishment – a Buddhist would think you merely had not grasped the relation of your self to ultimate reality. That there is no separation between the two, and thus nothing to strive for – you have it all already.

    But like I said, esoteric knowledge is not for the masses.

  363. Bardon Kaldian says

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. This is, basically, 6th Zen patriarch talking to 7th patriarch, something which is highly symbolic & of no practical importance; something that has been misinterpreted I don’t know how many times by the likes of Krishnamurti, Suzuki or, the worst of them, that fag Watts.

    Blofeld himself- I’ve read his autobiography- was well aware of potentially delusional superficial interpretations & in his life & practice never followed California Zen nonsense. And the very beginning of Ch’an/Zen, in its legendary form, is illustrative: Bodhidharma comes to China & answers the Emperor’s questions about Buddhahood, Dharma etc. Emperor is clueless. Then Bodhidharma goes over Yang Tze (or some other way) & meditates in a monastery for 20 years (of course, this is an exaggeration, but, never mind). Then follows the archetypal story of the transmission of his teaching to the 2nd patriarch etc.

    Why did he meditate for 20 years, if it was “just like that”? Putting aside all charming embellishments?

    I don’t think this topic is of any interest to most people here, but I’ll sum it in a few words normal people- who don’t care for any mysticism, contemplation, whatever… & who may be staunch materialists will understand.

    Ch’an, along with Advaita Vedanta, is the prime example of non-dual teaching, i.e. unitary monism (personally, I think it is wrong extrapolation of genuine spiritual insight into very confused metaphysics, but this is beside the point).

    Empirically, there are numerous stages. For instance, what most California Zen people think is the spiritual summit, is not even the beginning of Ch’an, which can be described as being in form, or being in zone sports people sometimes spontaneously attain: you cannot go wrong. It is We-Wei on a small scale, i.e. acting as if there is Something that flows through you & you are in your natural state.

    The finest description of that state, and how he attained it, is in Eugen Herrigel’s work:,204,203,200_.jpg

    But, being in zone fades away. It is impermanent. Then, real struggle begins. It may be practiced differently: perhaps, meditation with focus on your navel, essentially vipassana/mindfulness (it takes years); or struggling with Kung an/Koan (also, it takes years), or Mahamudra (a variant of vipassana); Dzogchen. …

    During that period, which may take years or decades, contemplative practitioner may be in trance for weeks, not recognizing his surroundings; he may encounter demons, psychoses & various altered states of consciousness. He is, literally, sometimes mad (this period is, sometimes, called “passing through the corridor of madness”). He experiences the agony of extinction of his old self & rebirth of the new Self, which he, according to his accepted teaching of Madhyamika, equates with Buddha Nature (which is equal to Dharmakaya or Absolute in Western tradition, or Brahman in Vedanta).

    So, this is arduous, long & extremely difficult process which is very similar to Christian mysticism, Islamic Sufism etc. In the West, the closest example is Meister Eckhart with his Godhead, which is beyond “God”.

    For materialists, this all may sound as a kind of psychosis where too much introversion has induced, over years, a series of psychotic states with, in best case, the happy ending in healed, somewhat altered waking consciousness.

    But, empirically- there can be no doubt that whether east or west, the process is, more or less, the same or similar: long periods of extreme introversion, trances which may last even for month or two or .., extreme agony-type decomposition of one’s mind &, hopefully, re-awakening in the new mind, which is interpreted as the primordial Mind.

    This is Ch’an.

  364. Bardon Kaldian says

    To clarify a small point to the “outsiders”: being in zone (forget about metaphysics) is not infrequent in some types of sport, for instance basketball. When a player is in zone, he can’t do wrong. He can’t miss. If his co-players recognize he is in that transient state, he’ll get the ball & will always score.

    But then, this state lasts only for a short period of time. After it passes, a player goes to his usual, potentially “confused” state of functionality. Taoist, and later Ch’an/Zen teachings, recognize that state as being in one’s “natural”, clear state unobscured by insecurities, fears & projections of mind-body complex. This is a beginning of the process which may, ultimately, lead to Wu-Wei, of life which is characterized by a “higher” dose of naturalness of being.

    One need not accept any kind of metaphysical teaching or ideology to recognize this. Empirically, it is attested that such a state of heightened functionality exists (one can interpret it by some kind of specific, transient metabolic processes).

  365. Actually, Bodhadharma answered the Emperors question by saying there is zero merit in any pious or ascetic practices whatsoever, and that Bodhidharma has no teaching whatsoever and doesn’t even know who he is, and then went off and lived in a cave for 20 years. It doesn’t say he meditated.

    Zen is meant to liberate you. Not give you yet another teaching and yet another thing to strive for.

    But if you’re into all that striving and accomplishing stuff, and can only respect people who do that – go for it.

    But why do all that stuff? As that fag Alan Watts would say, you’re “it”, you already have everything.

    The truth is in the end life just isn’t serious. It’s a game. If you want to do all that striving and accomplishing and progress, go for it. I’m not really against it at all. It could be fun for a while.

    But there comes a moment in the life of every superior and profound person where he realizes that life isn’t quite to be taken seriously. I was reading in one of the canonical Jewish texts on the meaning of life recently, and what was said about the purpose of life? God created humans to give them pleasure (to dwell with God after death forever).

    This is the same basic answer all religions, ultimately, give. The world is fundamentally not serious. It’s about pleasure, fun.

    And what makes something “serious” anyways? Its because its related to the grim task of physical survival. But why survive? Death is natural. And there is no separation between you and reality anyways, so you can’t die. All that can die is the illusion if an I.

    This is really the final teaching of all the great sages of the world, but like seeing what is right in front of your nose, it is difficult for the average human. Yet this insight into the nature of reality would instantly sweep aside the grim anhedonia of Daniel Chieh and the gloomy despair of German Reader alike. The epidemic of anxiety and depression by people who take reality over my seriously and are too concerned with survival would vanish like smoke.

    But alas mankind cannot cast off its mental fetters.

    And that too is part of the game of the world, so its ok.

  366. Bardon Kaldian says

    Actually, Bodhadharma answered the Emperors question by saying there is zero merit in any pious or ascetic practices whatsoever, and that Bodhidharma has no teaching whatsoever and doesn’t even know who he is, and then went off and lived in a cave for 20 years. It doesn’t say he meditated.

    Superficial interpretation again. He was “facing the wall”, i.e. meditating. What else would he have done?

    The legend states that when he arrived in the year 520 A.D., Bodhidharma, himself the son of a king, was invited by the Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty to an audience in Nanking.

    Wu Ti: “Since my enthronement I have built many monasteries. I have had many holy writings copied. I have invested numerous monks and nuns. How much merit have I gained?” Bodhidharma: “None.”

    Wu Ti: “Why so?” Bodhidharma: “Those are inferior deeds. They may conduce to favorable births in the heavens or on earth, but are of the world and follow their objects like shadows. They may seem to exist, but are non-entities. Whereas the true deed of merit is of pure wisdom, perfect and mysterious, in its nature beyond the grasp of man’s intelligence, and not to be sought by way of material acts.”

    Wu Ti: “What, then, is the Noble Truth in its highest sense?”

    Bodhidharma: “It is empty. There is nothing noble about it.”

    Wu Ti: “And who is this monk now facing me?” Bodhidharma: “I do not know.”

    The Pivot of the Universe having missed the point, the saint crossed the Yangtze to the capital Loyang of the state of Wei, proceeded to the Shao-lin temple, and there sat for nine years facing a wall. A Confucian scholar, Hui K’o, approached him, asked for instruction, and, receiving no reply, stood for days without effect. Snow fell. It rose to his knees. He cut off his arm with his sword, to show that he was serious, and Bodhidharma turned. Hui K’o: “I seek instruction in the doctrine of the Buddhas.” Bodhidharma: “This cannot be found through another.” Hui K’o: “I beg you, then, to pacify my soul.” Bodhidharma: “Produce it and I shall do so.” Hui K’o: “I have sought for it many years, but when I look for it, cannot find it.” Bodhidharma: “So there! It is at peace.”

    Hui K’o, thus taught, became the Second Patriarch of the order in the Far East; and when the First was about to leave, the disciples gathered. Bodhidharma: “The time has come for me to leave. Let me judge of your attainments.” Tai Fu: “Truth is beyond yes and no. Thus it moves.” Bodhidharma: “You have my skin.” The nun Tsung Ch’ih: “It is like Ananda’s view of the Buddha Realm of Akshobhya: seen once, it is never seen again.” Bodhidharma: “You have my flesh.” Tao Yu: “The four elements are void; the five constituents of form, sensation, conception, cogitation, and consciousness also are void. There is nothing to be grasped as real.” Bodhidharma: “You have my bones.” But Hui K’o, bowing to the Master, remained standing without a word. Bodhidharma: “You have my marrow.”

    The nature of the message thus passed by way of the silent chain of the Patriarchs to the present day is summarized as follows:

    Special teaching, outside of scriptures, Not based on words and letters. Direct pointing to the heart of man. Seeing one’s own nature. Reaching Buddhahood.

    And what became of Bodhidharma when he walked away from his wall?

    Nobody knows.

    This is, without all legendary & folksy embellishments & fantasy elements -tough stuff. Continual monitoring all sensations, emotions, thoughts … (because you are not that), as shown in the process of ox-herding pictures; direct pointing to the heart of man– which is, in essence, the same as Shaktipat in Hinduism, or transfer of Charisma in Christianity or transmission of Barakah in Sufi Islam.

    Watts & his ilk…just superficial popularisers.

  367. I suppose everyone has to make up their own mind on this.

    The basic idea shared by all Eastern sects at their root, is that you have to wake up. It is Enlightenment. Perceiving something. Waking up to something that has always been there.

    This isn’t to actually grow or gain anything. It is merely to see.

    In popular religion, however, this became about actually growing and gaining merit and the like, because the average person sees himself as a finite speck of dust who can only repair his sense of inadequacy by growing and gaining and becoming bigger. This is ironic, because the message was that you are already everything, so you have literally nowhere to grow and become bigger, because you’re already all there is.

    But some people can only perceive this after long years of effort to grow and become bigger that end in failure and futility. They then see in a flash that they were already as big as everything that exists. Zen tries to shortcut this process and make it sudden and instantaneous. But then Zen in some popular forms became about the usual trying to become bigger, even though it retained the vocabulary of not doing so. That’s a common thing.

    Anyways, I doubt you will agree with me. You seem to see your self as an individual speck of dust who needs to grow and become bigger, and lack the cosmic consciousness – that you are, quite literally, the cosmos.

    But thanks for the conversation, I enjoyed it

  368. By the way there is a classic book on this subject by t.v murti, on the madhyamika of Nagarjuna which discusses how it’s about change in perception and not gaining anything. Its very scholarly and has an interesting chapter on similar themes in Western philosophy.

    I think dense scholarly tomes like this might be right up your alley, provided you’re interested enough in the topic.

    Also the classic Mahayana phrase there is no difference between samsara and nirvana indicates that it is about a shift in perspective – one doesn’t actually enter a different realm called nirvana. It is the regular world seen correctly.

  369. I think going radio dark would be a bad idea. Let’s presume there are hostile aliens.

    Ideally, you want to use radio in space as a communication medium to help exploit the resources of your solar system, so you can maintain the highest possible population, and so have the greatest possible technical progress, so that you might have even the slightest chance at survival, if they arrive.

    Radio will probably be necessary to do that on the smallest time frame possible.

  370. Another Polish Perspective says

    I wonder where this popularity of simulation hypothesis does come from? Matrix fans want to live in a matrix ? CIA accomodating lack of choice and cognitive dissoancne of more educated sheeple with this theory? A subtle reworking of deism, with ensures Leibnizian harmony in the universe, preparing us for universal (mathematized) idea of One Global God? What about the old philosophy of occasionalism, a philosophical theory one could rightly argue was a kind of simulation theory too, just a simulation run by God…? So now we have replaced God with aliens or AI! How probable! Aren’t we then simply turning in circles?! BTW, occasionalism is currently re-developed by an American philospher in Cairo, Graham Harman
    There is absolutely no rational reason (at least one left after deploying Ockham razor) to think like that.
    The author seems to suffer from Pythagroean delusions that numbers not only describe, but somehow rule the world. It seems man suffers from obsession, which makes him to connect everything to the matter. You have established tautology between “the world is the Number” and ‘the Number [simulation/computation] is the world”. This is false, and unwarranted. And then, what about the Thrid Realm of Frege? Mathematical truths simply sit there and do not bother with earthly life or even extra-terrestrial life (should it be). Claiming otherwise is to make the mistake of hypostasy. If from “ought to” does not follow “is”, a fortiori from “might” does not follow “is”. And “ought/is” is a non-numerical problem, nevertheless it descibes the basic treat of reality.

    What about a simple theory that interstellar travel is so diffcult that no living beings managed to find way out of their planets?
    If aliens wished to contact humanity, they would have done so until now. Why to think at all that aliens are so gregarious like humans? Maybe they are hermit-like beings? Would you really like to contact humans, if you had no-contact option? Me not.

    The author laboriously gathered a lot of themes, but did not really think through them. It reads like a school essay, namely throwing a lot in one heap to show off student’s ‘erudition’. Yet, for example, shale revolution is ending….. in 2018 94% shale wells were drilled just to offset the decline of older wells…. The energy deficit will soon hit hard our civilization . I suggest the next essay be devoted to something more realistic, for example, the Olduvai theory, which predicts the end of industrial civilization around 2030 (so before singualrity planned for 1945).

    In this context, all talks about singularity, simulated universe etc look to me like a modern version of millenarism. Are we in a need of Savonarola, then?
    Or more philosophical education? As I said, Pythagoras, Frege, Malebranche, are all relevant here.

    Besides the Olduvai (energy) problem, there are pressing problems of coming ice age/extended solar minimum/declining magnetic field, and even of possible Earth crust shift. Moreover, the discovery of X/Nibiru is almost guaranteed by
    2022! Nibiru, the destroyer, is a massive, very dark planet (or even worse, a brown dwarf, i.e. degenerated star), which disturbs other orbits of Solar System, and maybe even the Sun, by its strong magnetic field..

    Nibiru comes:

    Earth crust shift theories:

    If aliens are to save us, the time is now (almost)! Otherwise, we can already be starting writing the history of Western civilization, a first sentence could be: “The Western civilization started and ended with the ideas of Pythagoras, a man who put together number, order and metaphysics. “

  371. Another Polish Perspective says

    So, is Joker, with his “Why so serious?”, a dharma follower…?

  372. Peter Grafström says

    I havent read much of the literature so I have no knowledge about what kind of time concepts have been considered in relation to the simulation theory of the universe.
    The article implies linear time.
    If there is an underlying random, but not necessarily material system in which recurrences lend themselves to define a time concept t1, other time concepts, nonlinear with respect to t1 may be derived.
    If everything in our perceived reality including our time concept corresponds to exponentials of exponentials of t1, our quantum objects, like molecules may BE the poincare cycles of the underlying system and therefore already saturate the determining probabilities to unity, rather than the prohibitively small probabilities we get when we consider our molecules as the members of a random system from which to calculate probabilities of poincare cycles.
    If something IS such a recurrent cycle, we may not have any way to figure out a phase inside such a cycle.
    Therefore we might consider time to be discontinous, sampled according to some principle. I interpret this to allow that time is more than just discrete.
    In addition it doesnt even need to have a direction.
    Instead some principle for selecting patterns, logical patterns may be the determining principle. That would enable a directed time concept to be derived from some such logical pattern but with no simple relation to the underlying random systems.
    Therefore although probability is a very useful concept in applied science it might not be immediately applicable if time isnt just plain linear.

  373. Peter Grafström says

    Concerning the prospect for visits by alien space ships. In the conventional scientific model background matter produces a serious obstacle for attaining high speeds.
    To maximise the speed against the unavoidable drag, a space traveller would have to build a very pointed wedge or arrowshaped vehicle. The tip of the wedge or arrow would have to be constantly renewed with cooler matter from other parts of the ship.
    Like say having a rapidly running transportband turning at the tip of the wedge or something more futuristic using magnetic fields and charged particles. The arrangement would have to function continuously for the whole trip (except during part of the decelleration phase)
    In interstellar space the drag power at speed v=c/2, I estimated to be around tens of watts per square meters for a flat front of the vehicle. And the dependence on the relativistic gamma factor to be to the 2nd power.
    And speed to the third power. (I havent bothered to fetch the document where I put the formulas but I think that is what I found.)
    Somebody posted a different result with a gamma- dependence of the 3rd power but I wasnt able to confirm that.
    It doesnt matter much here since velocities close to c are impossible anyway in both cases.
    In intergalactic space the drag is less but here it is assumed that the visitor comes to us.
    I think a real visitor for energy considerations would choose to travel at lower speed than c/2.
    So the time barrier seems to protect us, since no matter how much they would like to annihilate us it wouldnt be practically feasible other than from our neighbouring region of the milky way. Thus if there is no advanced civilisation very close to the solar system we are safe from deliberate sabotage. Though I guess we might be a threat to them if we would argue along the lines of some of the things brought up in the article…..?

  374. Peter Grafström says

    Regarding the above mentioned obstacle for evil alien visitors
    Update: the formula for space drag power from hydrogen atoms in interstellar space I deduce I= power in W/m2 against a perpendicular area
    M= mass of hydrogen=1.67*10^-27kg
    g=relativistic gamma=[1-b^2]^-1/2
    a= half of wedge angle of the vehicle
    no= background density of H atoms in interstellar ~10^6/m3
    Then I=noMc^3b^3g^2 times sin(a)
    That results in I~45kW/m2 times b^3g^2 sin(a)
    If b is near unity the tip of the vehicle would sense the full impact of the numerical factor 45kW/m2 and the sine factor would not apply
    Comparing with Planck radiation the tip would be hot as hell but since it would be bombarded with protons generating xrays and gammarays and nuclear collisions resulting in radioactive processes.
    It doesnt appear as if one could hope to go to higher speeds where g is significantly bigger than unity. It looks more like one ought to choose b significantly lower than unity in order to avoid rapid deterioration of the vehicle. Even if the material of the tip is renewed the expected time span of the trip doesnt allow extreme amounts of reconditioning
    And the actual energy required to counter the drag during a long distance hasnt even been considered in this brief intro.
    One conclusion is that there is no realistic method to actually utilise the potential time compression predicted by relativity.
    Space travel is severely constrained by the presence of background gas in the interstellar medium. No matter how patient those evil rivals out there might be, time is on our side what regards nearterm competition about calculation resources in the matrix, if it is a relevant consideration.