Monday, November 4, 2013

Contact Competence with Absolute Others

The fact that there are probably many Earth-like planets in our galaxy is mind boggling.

We’ve been searching for planets merely a few decades. We’ve only had electronic technology for little over a century. What about intelligent life that’s millions of years beyond us? You think they don’t know we’re here?

As a long-time member of S.E.T.I., I’m familiar with the realism of the issue and also the serious speculations about why The Search has only found silence.

In a phrase—cute, but serious—my view is like talking about great sex: 5 year-olds wouldn’t understand, and it would be abusive of an adult to bring up the subject. The Absolute Others (A.O.s, let’s say) are keeping silent until we’ve evolved further.

The plausibility of this is compelling, the more that one thinks about it: Here on Earth, enlightened people tend to want to give other forms of life here their space. There’s a correlation, I think, between educated intelligence and wanting to respect other forms of life. I don’t buy into the silly fantasy that Earth is a wildlife preserve for A.O.s, but think of the care that some organizations have taken to ensure that we don’t cause species extinction (and think of the mentality of those who don’t care). The tendency of intelligent life is to respect other abodes, after satisfying curiosity. (And then, there are the Darwin Awards, “God” love ’em.)

The wonder we may hold toward the intelligence of bee colonies doesn’t cause us to try to communicate with them. Conversely, think of a Neanderthal seeing Andy Warhol talking on a computer screen. Think of us a million years from now, after bionic interfaces are so pervasive that speaking of the Intelligence of Earth—Our planetary Singularity—facing The Cloud Archive of the galaxy won’t be incredible. (How many “Earth”s have disappeared, making their Archive part of the galactic One?)

But They aren’t waiting around for us to evolve. Carl Sagan’s Contact scenario (robotic) seems very plausible to me: For the A.O.s, a difference between life and robotics waned eons ago. They may have been here, automatonously, for eons, in little forms that we’d associate with insects, but which are never found. Think about it: We’re already close to molecular engineering of computational devices and quantum computing, just a few decades after discovering the science that makes this feasibly conceivable. We already have radar-invisible technologies, so what makes us think that our radio telescopes would locate robotic monitors at Lagrangian points?

When we’re evolved enough to find Them, they will let us know.

Fantasy aside, we know that life begins easily under the right conditions. Life on Earth has been completely destroyed at least 3 times, and organic molecules circulate between the stars.

We will learn the lessons of planet management (sustainability, asteroid avoidance), yet also: terraforming Mars (Imagine Mars terraformed!—all greenish with blue sky), mining outer planet moons, etc.—and making planets? Of course, not all life-forming planets evolve technological intelligence. But, given millions, if not billions, of chances, it’s highly probable that we are not Alone, and They have known of us for a very long time.

So, our incomprehensible destiny is probably to discover The Community, which will forever transform our sense of being, to be inconceivably beyond an analogy of human tribes permanently transformed by colonial modernity.

—which brings to mind: I believe that colonization by A.O.s is silly. We’re outgrowing imperialism in just a few millennia. The A.O.s will have become intersolar-systemically non-colonial long ago. While we’re not far from discovering fusion power, which provides unlimited resource for energy, the A.O.s fabricate self-sustaining little planets that travel over millennia to whatever star They choose. So far, our legacy has been to strive to actualize what we can imagine. We’re doing pretty well. Why not They, too?

We will become like gods when we’ve earned deserved recognition, like not knowing that the MacArthur “genius awards” judges were watching, until a deserving exemplar is notified.

But we’ll never get to the promised land—we’ll never know what Is—unless we pretend that we can enown everything, thus aspiring with ceaseless bearing to be granted disclosure of All.