Galactic Humanity and the Fermi Paradox Part II

This is part 2 of another collaboration with
Isaac Arthur. To see part 1 of this collaboration, and links
to our previous collaboration about the concept of uplifting , check out the end screen of
this video or in the description below. In Part 1 Isaac covered the idea of the Fermi
Paradox, and how it may come to an eventual end not because of alien civilizations, but
our own colonization of the galaxy and what might result from that. In essence, as Isaac covered, our colonies
would rapidly diverge until they no longer recognized each other as having once been
the same species. Perhaps in time they might even forget they
were ever related and explosion of intelligence may be the end result for the Milky Way, all
of it unaware that it began with one species on Earth. But there is another option, say everyone
chose to remain human? Or at least desired to maintain some form
of a cohesive galactic human civilization? One of the fundamental problems facing a galactic
humanity are the distances involved. The Milky Way is incomprehensibly huge, it
takes light over 100,000 light-years to cross it. Given the science that we know right now,
there doesn’t seem to be a way to travel faster than light, and anything that might
circumvent that speed limit usually requires some form of exotic matter that we’re uncertain
is even possible to create. Assuming faster than light travel is not possible
the limits of the speed of light don’t just constrain travel, it also constrains communications
times. In this universe, information does not appear
to be transmissible faster than light. If that proves to be the absolute case, then
any galaxy-spanning civilization would have seemingly impossible issues to deal with when
communicating. If you are 50,000 light-years away from another
group of humans you wish to talk to, and you used radio for communications, you would need
to send out your message and then wait for them to receive it 50,000 years later, and
then you’ll get a message back after about 100,000 years. Not a brisk conversation at all. And, barring any sort of advances such as
uploading ourselves into machines, or extending human life spans to thousands of years or
more, this is probably a deal killer as far as meaningful communications go. Without advanced technologies that can change
the very basis of who we are, our nature as biological beings, communications would be
arduous. With advanced technologies this equation changes,
but time is still a factor. Human cultures can change very dramatically
over the course of 100,000 years. Look at our own civilization, that long ago
we were hunter gatherers with very little in the way of technology. In the intervening time, we have learned to
construct telephones, selectively breed plants in order to turn a wild plant into something
that can be grown in large scale agriculture, or, ultimately launch a rocket, all of which
have dramatically changed the cultures that adopted them. But imagine if we took one of those early
humans from 100,000 years ago and showed them a cornfield. It would look like nothing they’ve ever
seen. Rows of plants that they probably wouldn’t
recognize from the forms they might have known them as back in ancient times, had they lived
in the right part of the world where they were indigenous. Something so simple as tomato would be unrecognizable
to a person in central America that knew its predecessor, a jungle plant with berry sized
fruits, much less someone born thousands of miles away and wholly unfamiliar with the
plant. As Isaac and I mentioned in our previous collaboration
on Uplifting, there are currently primitive humans on earth that have no contact with
the rest of the world. We used the example of the inhabitants of
North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean, who have rebuffed all attempts at contact,
and reasonably so, they have had a bad history with the outside world’s attempts at contacting
them. But the truth is, in a sense, they do have
one form of contact. Our flotsam and shipwrecks do show up on their
shores, and they are thought to fashion arrowheads and tools from them. Perhaps they know more about us, then we do
them? But imagine showing them a rocket launch,
something far removed from anything they’ve ever seen. It would be utterly incomprehensible to them. Or take our antibiotic drugs that cure illnesses
that they might have considered absolutely fatal? Would they consider them magic? We simply would not be able to communicate
to that person just what the rocket or an antibiotic is because we are so culturally
divergent. And that’s assuming you can even understand
their language. Language tends to diverge when contact between
peoples that speak it become isolated from one another. As example here would be the Roman Empire. While that empire was never completely culturally
homogenous, they had ethnic groups and local languages, in fact huge portions of it spoke
Greek, in the west large parts of it spoke latin. But by the time of the end of the Western
Roman Empire, that latin had begun to diverge locally and become what is now modern French,
Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. It was only a matter of centuries before separation
caused distinct, stand alone languages to form out of latin. In an age of technology, this does not happen
so rapidly because of how interconnected everything becomes. But when one introduces the levels of separation
you would have on a galactic scale, this all may become a problem again and languages between
colonies may begin to diverge quickly. At some point, they will no longer be mutually
intelligible, and with enough time could become indecipherable. So how do cultures separated by tens of thousands
of years in time understand each other at all? The only way would be some form of intentional
social cohesion built in from the start. But worse off than language is any hope of
galactic governance over a distance. You can’t wait 10,000 years for a legal
ruling or political directive from Earth. Or worse, you can’t wait for funding from
earth to arrive to cover your emergency asteroid deflection project. As a result, it’s hard to envision any kind
of empire that could ever span a galaxy, but rather a rule where all governance must necessarily
be local. But with that comes varied laws, where chewing
gum might be illegal on one world, or may be compulsory on a another world that manufactures
chewing gum. We see this here on earth, where every country
has different laws, some of them very different from one another. But there have in the past been attempts to
create law codes that cover multiple lands, such as English Common law, or the various
imperial legal codes of the past. This could hypothetically be applied to a
galactic humanity, where certain situations such as uplifting animals to be more intelligent
is banned galaxy wide for ethical reasons. Or the creation of dangerous machine superintelligence
which might then threaten the entire galaxy should anyone create it. Perhaps there are technologies so dangerous
that such a system to control them must be put into place, making some form of contact
an imperative. Perhaps this could be accomplished through
a network of von Neumann probes that wander the galaxy performing inspections for some
central authority. Perhaps they sit in all human systems from
the moment the colony is established in order to EMP that civilization back to the stone
age should they try to pursue certain banned technologies. Such a probe could also serve as a kind of
galactic law code, along with preserving an official language. Or it could be beamed out via a radio beacon
just to keep a unifying galactic reference point going for the cultures within it, even
though those cultures may no longer be in direct contact with each other. You might position many such beacons at strategic
intervals so that the entire galaxy is covered to act as a sort of galactic constitution
that’s set during the period of initial colonization, and then adhered to indefinitely
once the colonies have matured. That might help prevent dangerous technologies
from arising. But what of wars between the human colonies? We’re humans after all, and whenever humans
from different groups came into contact for the first time, wars have tended to break
out. By creating a standard on how to moderate
disputes between neighboring star systems, a kind of galactic United Nations could be
set up that can locally moderate disputes without the need to consult planets thousands
of light-years away. Or perhaps even a standardized law code kept
on artificially intelligent computers that cannot be altered, and always issues sound
judgments. But would humans even still go to war in space? As I said earlier, the Milky Way is enormous,
and that may change the equation for conquest and warfare. In past wars, conquest was usually over a
border dispute or a desire to expand. This may not be the case for space, especially
when one factors in the problem of population and colonizing the Milky Way. Predicting what population will do in the
future is tricky. It can go up, and currently is, but it can
also go down. If it goes down for us at some point over
the next century or two, and the rates of growth are indeed showing a decline, then
we cannot physically colonize the galaxy at all because, frankly, we don’t have enough
humans. The current population of earth, about 7.4
billion people, is utterly insufficient to colonize a galaxy made up of 100 billion stars. When you have so much real estate, far more
than anyone can use, would there be a need for warfare? One would hope not. The idea of things like arms races involving
superintelligent machines, Nicoll-Dyson beams and self-replicating berserkers are unsettling
at best. Entire colonies destroyed by grey goo nanotechnology
by another colony that they’ve been in slow-motion conflict with for thousands of years. Whether possible or not, those kinds of scenarios
do not constitute a positive human future. But that brings up another thing that we humans
certainly like to do. Trade. What would trade look like should we colonize
at least part of the Milky Way. The answer could possibly be not much. Crossing great distances, light-years, just
to trade scrap iron between star systems with no shortage of iron of their own makes no
sense. It’s simply too energy costly to trade in
the sense of goods like that. One exception to this however might be cultural
goods. If someone were wealthy enough and wanted
a certain painting or object from another human colony, and was willing to pay tremendously
for it, it can hypothetically be done of course. But real trade would likely remain confined
to the transmission of information, perhaps newly developed technologies or the schematics
for the latest asteroid blaster from a colony a few tens of light-years away. Future trade could be more about what an object
means, rather than what it’s made of. But what facilitates that trade? Would information flow freely, or would you
have to maintain an electronic currency system so people can obtain the latest galactic best
sellers and be sure the author is paid? What would back that currency, or would it
simply be fiat currency backed by the governments of the colonies? Or, should population end up being an issue,
do we ultimately choose to be a stay at home civilization, colonizing only the solar system
itself, either because there is no need to do more, such as if our population were low,
or that it’s simply too daunting of a task to colonize much past a few close star systems. In that sense, the solution to the Fermi Paradox
is simply that alien civilizations never need to become Kardashev Type III civilizations
that are easily visible. Rather they may be more compact, and much
harder to spot. So far, we’ve taken this from the perspective
that we are alone in the Milky Way. But a further question to ask would be what
if we aren’t, and we begin to run across other intelligent civilizations looking into
ways to integrate into our expanding galactic civilization? Perhaps we find them stranded on an ocean
planet that they can’t escape, and we uplift them from bad physiology? How would we interact with them? Would they wish to obtain cultural artifacts
of us? Would obtaining alien artifacts be worth the
energy to bring them back to earth? In other words, maybe we will solve someone
else’s Fermi Paradox as we fill the galaxy with our civilization. The human race might be the great lawgivers
of the galaxy, expanding and uplifting more primitive civilizations than ourselves. If the solution to the Fermi Paradox for example
is that intelligence is not rare, simply that intelligence that can escape its own planet
is rare, then this might come to be the be the case. Or maybe this exists already, and we are like
the Sentinelese of the Milky Way. The aliens may not communicate with us simply
because they don’t know how. Perhaps contact is futile and expensive, and
perhaps dangerous for us, as contact with us is dangerous for primitive uncontacted
tribes on earth due to a lack of immunity to our diseases. Perhaps other civilizations in the Milky Way
simply stay at home, and only initiate contact if it’s necessary to do so. The solution to the Fermi Paradox here being
that we simply aren’t valuable or interesting enough yet. What do we offer an advanced alien civilization? If they’re more advanced it’s hard to
imagine that we offer much of anything, especially if we’re dealing with a machine civilization
rather than a biological one. But once we do offer something, or we run
into such a civilization as we colonize, we may get blindsided by communications. And therein is a question, what happens if
the first communication we receive from an alien civilization is a code of rules and
laws and the word conform. Figuring out the basics of what would be needed
to explore and colonize the galaxy is challenging. While we haven’t yet seen first hand what
the logistics of colonizing the galaxy would be, as we covered in this video, this was
but a taste of what we do know. For a more in-depth look at the realities
of exploring and eventually colonizing suitable exoplanets, I’d recommend the course Astronomy
– Worlds Beyond Earth over at where you will learn in-depth through exercises
how to calculate and determine the habitability zones around stars where earth-like planets
suitable for human colonization might lie, and exercise and improve your math skills
in the process. You’ll also learn how astronomers discover
exoplanets in the first place by exploring the transit method and looking for the gravitational
wobbles planets produce on their parent stars. And finally, a segment covering the basics
of interstellar travel to help you get a better feel for the realities of exploring and colonizing
the Milky Way. Check that out over at Thanks for listening! I am John Michael Godier. And I’m Isaac Arthur and we hope you enjoyed
this collaboration. And be sure to like, share and subscribe to
our channels for more futurism, science and whatever may await us in this amazing universe
in which we live.


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