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Thoughts about the Fermi Paradox, and perspective - John [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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Thoughts about the Fermi Paradox, and perspective [Aug. 11th, 2002|05:54 pm]
John
You may, or may not, have heard of an idea call the "Fermi Paradox". It is sometimes taken as a suggestion that civilizations are extremely rare, or possibly unique. I say "sometimes", because it bothers me on a fundamental level to use it as such.

The argument goes like this. Assume "human like" civilizations are not too uncommon. Given how old the universe is, and how far human civlization has come in such a miniscule portion of the age of the universe, there must be many, many civilizations advanced far beyond ours. Take *ANY* assumptions about how quickly (or, if you will, 'slowly') they spread to other star systems. They should be spread out so incredibly far that it seems nearly impossible that we haven't seen more evidence of them.

I may not have this entirely right, and if so, it's probably my own fault. As I said, I don't like it because it misses the obvious.

"Assuming our postulates about the ability to travel between star systems, and the willingness to do so, are correct".

Maybe travelling between star systems is, essentially, an impossibility. Sure, there are some fine ideas about how it could be accomplished, but we'll only know it can be done once it is. What if the essential limit on speeds is simply too low a fraction of the speed of light to matter?

If you assume a .1c speed limit, sure, you can reach a nearby star system in "only" 40 years... that's nothing compared to the age of the universe, or even the age of the earth. But it's huge compared to the lifespan of a human. The youngest person we can imagine sending into such a condition would be old enough to be in danger of losing physical and/or mental ability rapidly. Plus, for all the research that's done on psychological fitness for sub duty, I bet they still have troubles with cabin fever, and with a sub, you're maybe weeks from port, not years.

What if there is no suspended animation, no computers that can flawlessly keep the ship running, no rugged pioneers willing to have their children pilot the ship home, because they'll be dead of old age?

However, just to be fair, let me point out that the Fermi Paradox isn't meant to be a logical paradox... few, if any, people consider it 'proof' that we're alone in the universe. Most of what I've heard of it is a really big puzzle, which is how I take it.

I suppose in some ways, it has to be a really big puzzle, and almost a paradox... because if we thought of it as a "paradox", the natural thing to do would be to stop thinking of interstellar travel, and maybe even toss aside SETI.

I think it's also interesting why I was thinking about this today. I had a vague memory that popped into my head, that I now think was related to Fermi's Paradox.

I remembered, as a child, reading an article (really a very short blurb) about a suggestion that every civilization would get to a certain point, then develop nuclear weapons, and then annihilate themselves.

This is such a vague reference, and such a long time ago, that I could never find out what it was, at this point, but it suddenly struck me that this was probably meant as an explanation of the Fermi Paradox.

But that's not the thing that was really interesting. What was really interesting was the realization that there were generations of people born thinking almost casually that, sooner or later, a full scale nuclear war was nearly inevitable. Someone could speak about a hypothesis that every civilization blows itself up after so many years, and a newspaper would report it, as if it were possible.

Today, if you suggested such a thing, I think the disbelief would be so solid that it wouldn't even be reported, unless it warranted a mention in "news of the weird", or somesuch.

This was another one of those times when I was just amazed at the changes in the world, and the changes in perspectives, and all occurring in a relatively short-ish lifetime. (Hey, 35 years isn't a big deal.)

Then I started thinking about a nice wrap-up line to use here, and decided that it was time to try to understand objects in VB once again. (Side note: the more I study objects in VB, the more I like Java and C++.)
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: kightp
2002-08-11 07:38 pm (UTC)

Not about the Fermi Paradox, but ...

*blink*

I'm part of the generation that grew up believing nuclear war was, if not inevitable, at least an imminent threat. I can remember as a 10-year-old sitting around the TV during the Cuban missle crisis as newscasters pointed to maps that overlaid concentric circles over the US to show where the Russian nukes would land. Where we lived then (Abilene, Texas) was smack in the innermost circle. Later, in junior high Catechism, we used to devote entire classes to praying that God would deliver us from the coming holocaust, or at least recognize us as good litte believers when it happened. My classmates and I were scared to death about this - lots of us had nightmares about bombs falling.

I no longer believe this.

Oddly, until I read this entry, I'm not sure I'd ever explicitly identified what is really a fundamental shift in my personal world view.

Off to noodle a bit and see if I can pinpoint when/how that happened
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[User Picture]From: wcg
2002-08-11 07:54 pm (UTC)
A possible explanation for Fermi's paradox is that our Solar System is inside a bubble where the average density of interstellar hydrogen is only about 1% of what's normal in the galaxy. Since the most abundent source of fuel available for interstellar travel is the interstellar hydrogen, it's reasonable to expect that the spacefaring civilizations will travel where fuel is available, and will avoid going places where they'd be liable to get stranged. Like here.

This has only been known since 1992, when the Geminga supernova remnant was identified and the local density of HI was recognized to be so low after the EUVE satellite got on orbit. So Fermi had no way of knowing.
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[User Picture]From: eleccham
2002-08-12 02:48 pm (UTC)
Huh - I had missed that one. That would indeed explain it... but, there are still other possible means of travel.
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[User Picture]From: eleccham
2002-08-12 02:51 pm (UTC)
IIRC the nuclear annihilation you mention was originally Asimov, though it's certainly been touched on by just about every even remotely-hard sci-fi author in recent memory.

And as for VB... VB has a particularly half-assed OO conception. It's only kinda OO - and really painful to use at that. The only thing that I consider it useful for in terms of coding is for user interfaces with a very little bit of code behind them. (IE, anything simple enough that breaking out MSVC6 is just overkill.)
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2002-08-12 03:26 pm (UTC)
And as for VB... VB has a particularly half-assed OO conception. It's only kinda OO - and really painful to use at that. The only thing that I consider it useful for in terms of coding is for user interfaces with a very little bit of code behind them. (IE, anything simple enough that breaking out MSVC6 is just overkill.)


I quite agree with you about this, especially now, after three days of trying to figure out "implements (interface)".

I hope you're not put off by minor mentions of BDSM, but I've been playing with canes with a partner, and it's been a long time desire to find out what a British school-style caning was like. It's supposed to be pretty darn intense. (There's a point to this, BTW.)

I also have a desire to prove I can work with VB6 objects at least a little bit.

Right now, the caning, even if delivered in a non-erotic context, still appears as if it'll be a hell of a lot more fun.

I think that the best claim that VB can make about object oriented programming is "It's not impossible to use OOP programming techniques in Visual Basic."

The stupidest part of all this is that I'm just writing a checkbook balancing program, and it's nothing but pride that makes me want to do it 'properly', with "check", "deposit", etc., transactions all inheriting the baseline 'transaction'. Then again, if I were doing this to balance my checkbook, I'd have opened Excel and done it five times over already.
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[User Picture]From: eleccham
2002-08-12 03:51 pm (UTC)

I think that the best claim that VB can make about object oriented programming is "It's not impossible to use OOP programming techniques in Visual Basic."

Yeah. It's also not impossible to use OOP techniques in assembler... or Apple Integer Basic. That doesn't an OO language make :)

Suggestion? If you want Masochist Programming for Windows, learn the Win32 API or MFC. They're a hell of a lot more useful.

Er, as for the mention of BDSM... while it's not my cup of tea believe me when I say it won't put me off :)
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