Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Erin's Problem

My lovely case manager has abandoned us and flown off to New Jersey, which just adds insult to injury.
She was last seen last Wednesday, the 21st, and not expected to return until May 3rd, next Monday morning. Thus I am forced to eat breakfast today with case manager Paul, and... Hardy, at our local Subway sandwich store, who is giving away breakfast sandwiches this morning for some reason, and 8 ounce cups of coffee.
8 ounces.
And here's a shout out for case manager Paul's dear mother, Kathy, who I've been told reads this blog from time to time. Hi Kathy! You have a fine son. A little spacy sometimes, but fine. He is very well thought of around these parts, dedicated to his profession, and an outstanding human being.
Paul I accept cashier's checks, money orders, and good old American greenbacks.
Kathy, I took it upon myself to teach your son all about Henry Fonda movies last week during Movie Day, where we saw "Mr. Roberts." This week we'll start on Peter Sellers with the first Pink Panther film, and continue on with a little "DR. Strangelove, (or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,"), and back to the Fondas with "The China Syndrome," after that. We keep pretty busy around here.
He and I will be singing a song a little latter today... he even brought his guitar.
Good of you to force him to learn how to play a musical instrument as a young child. My mother tried to get me to play the accordion, but I quickly became disinterested.
Now on to Stephen Hawking.
The British theoretical physicist debuted a new television series, "Hawking's Into the Universe," where he promoted the idea that aliens may not be as friendly as we would like, and when they come to Earth, they will come with advanced technology to subjugate our planet for its natural resources. He sites past human behavior and disparities in technology as the model, such as Columbus arriving in the New World, which didn't exactly turn out well for the Native Americans.
Well this relates to what we were examining yesterday, dear readers. Authorities make mistakes.
Dr. Hawking is a brilliant scientist... in his field, which deals with astrophysics, not exobiology. As far as guessing what an extraterrestrial civilization would do when it notices our presence in space, well, your guess is as good as his.
His theory is not knew. Hollywood has made millions with the idea of invading aliens, coming to eat us, or steal our water (such as in the television series "V" which is on this evening as a matter of fact), or just kill us for the pure sweet hell of it ("Independence Day" "War of the Worlds"), our take over our bodies ("The Thing," and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"), or any combination thereof. In only a few instances have the aliens coming to visit been benign ("The Day the Earth Stood Still" (the original, and my version, although we did threaten a bit), "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind").
But I disagree with Hollywood and Dr. Hawking.
I don't think we can really compare any advanced extraterrestrial civilization with ours. Evolving on two totally independent environments is undoubtedly going to bring about fundamental differences in both biological and technological evolution. However, considering that science and the laws it has discovered our the same throughout the universe, certain aspects, laws of nature, and thermodynamics and physics, for instance, will be the same for any evolving life form, which will need to face many of the same obstacles and fortuities.
It is my position that any advanced civilization that is capable of interstellar spaceflight will certainly be capable of mining raw natural resources throughout the billions of unoccupied solar systems that abound throughout the Milky Way. There is nothing special about our solar system except that intelligent (which is somewhat of a matter for debate) life has evolved here... we have evolved here. Life has evolved here. And life is certainly more rare and precious than raw materials or water. Aliens advanced to a point that they can travel to our solar system will also be advanced enough to synthesize their own food, negating the need to eat us. There is nothing on the Earth that can't be found in abundance in billions of other places, negating the need to steal our water and minerals.
So why would they come here? My guess is they won't. It's just too damn expensive.
Interstellar distances are so vast it would be prohibitively costly for any civilization to physically roam from system to system. It just takes too much energy and time (unless you wish to speculate, like Dr. Hawking did, that some civilizations are so advanced they are able to harness tremendous amounts of energy and in doing so create what are called a "wormhole," which would allow them to travel great distances throughout the universe virtually instantaneously. However the viability of this approach is far from certain, and may be impossible for any civilization).
The cheapest way to explore the galaxy, to send and receive messages, is by utilizing the electromagnetic spectrum, such as using radio or optical light waves, which travel at the speed of light, which Eienstien tells us is the cosmic speed limit, as fast as anything can go that was slower then it was to begin with. The time involved in having an interstellar conversation is still truly cumbersome to say the least. A simple, "Hi! How are you?" "I'm fine, thank you. How are you?" could wind up taking anywhere from 50 to 1,000 years or more. Still it's the fastest way we currently know of.
And if I were a civilization bent on colonizing the rest of the solar system, and perhaps other galaxies as well, I would have to agree with associate professor PZ Myers, of the University of Minnesota, who speculates such a society would send out robotic spacecraft that "would bombard atmospheres with bacteria, sow the planet with algae, fungi, and lichens, and work its way up to grasses and trees and rodents and birds. And then it would start unspooling the stored genetic information of millions of humans into infants that would be raised onboard, educated by machines, and eventually transported onto the now hospitable planet surface to build a new technological civilization. Communication between planets would be limited and slow, and all the planning would be long-term — thousands to tens of thousands of years — so this wouldn't be so much the growth of a human empire, but an organic expansion."
I believe sending out these robotic spacecraft are still to slow, but a viable option. A truly menacing civilization wishing to exploit other intelligent civilizations, might send out genetic instructions that would eventually end with the same result such as that above, similar as the alien in the film "Species." That's how I'd do it.
Something to think about.
Hey... this is important stuff!
Now what was the title of this post?

To be continued.

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