Friday, 22 April 2016

THE FERMI PARADOX or The Universe is not Euclidean!

The following is the edited version of an exposé currently featured in the 18th revised edition of The Moonshine Memorandum (see below): 

“Astronomers will eventually discover that much of what they currently believe concerning the behaviour and formation of galaxies, has to be modified to take account of intelligent control.”
Freddy Hoyle
 “It is a bitter thought, but you must face it. The planets you may one day possess. But the stars are not for Man.”
A.C. Clarke, Childhood’s End.

      When he spoke again, I  heard his voice as if from an interminable distance. “It is hard to designate a specific number,” he said, and I had no idea what he was talking about, “but if a hundred light years seemto you the very minimum that could account for extraterrestrial civilizations, it is difficult nevertheless to see how such intelligence could ever be verified by human observation. Unless, of course,  it involves the erroneous concept of space as a sort of ether at rest, with material bodies passing through it like goldfish passing through a bowl of water – a conceptual cul-de-sac.
Indeed, your current technological model is still firmly based on the classical Newtonian view of matter and energy, or of solid, nuclear-powered craft accelerating predictably through an empty ether. But the universe is not Euclidean. And to understand why this is so, my friend, you must first be able to grasp that time and space are indistinguishable from each other in anything but human understanding.

            I looked at him. “And how do you account for that?” 
            O’Brien waved a hand towards the stars.  “You’re on a fool’s errand, Malleus Maleficus,” and that statement really touched the heart of my difficulty. “Forget Starship Enterprise, think of The Matrix!” He eyed me coldly. “The conventional view of space travel, for the most part still accepted in your day, will never be viable. Regardless what Stephen Hawking tells you. The technological conquest of the solar system is hardly more than a preliminary hint of the shape of things to come. The enlightened elite of your day is still obsessed with space travel - an anachronistic resurgence at the very threshold of a New Scientific Age. I take a different view. If Enrico Fermi theorized that even with contemporary rocket technology it should have taken extraterrestrial life no more than ten million years to populate the Milky Way, his bequest was not to a nostalgic band of fantasists - known collectively as 'The Stargazers' - but to the mesmerizing likelihood of a unified theory of quantum mechanics and space time. A 'metaphysical' space, for want of a better term, to which we are still assigning Euclidean proportions. Indeed the priority given at this very moment to some considerable technological achievements readily  makes you overlook that paradigm shifts, not technology, hold the answer to the problem of the conquest of space. More to the point,” he said, and again I felt  his extraordinary, mesmeric magnetism, “spacetime is a virtual continuum and the nature of space travel is one that will be as far removed from the idea of the technological conquest of space as Bangladeshi village life is from the virtual reality of Silicon Valley. To say nothing of the breaching of those conceptual barriers which have yet to be defined. Defined that is, by conceptual shifts capable of mutating the very properties of space and time."  
            What could I say, except that here at last was the obituary for the classical ideas of space travel, from the brilliance of HG Wells, Ray Bradbury and Poul Anderson to the great Isaac Asimov. Nothing like this existed in science fiction. Except, perhaps, for Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. With our bodies hemmed in like dolls with defunct batteries, and every square foot on earth being spoken for by human occupation, every physical frontier long since closed, our minds have only one escape: The Cloud. And it is this cyber-cerebral Cloud that will become the collective receptacle for an all-inclusive mental preoccupation whose physical location could exist merely as code on the Internet. Mechanically, logistically, philosophically, this fifth conceptual element – a sibling to  the four-dimensional continuum of expanse and duration - was inherently irrelative and thus lay ‘outside of history’, fit only for virtual, not historical, examination.  And the rules surrounding it were as much an idea as a different universe, a conceptual paradigm for anthropoids about to render dimensions of time and space totally irrelevant.  Indeed, the idea was to conquer time itself by subordinating it to the conceptual. In truth, it seemed almost precursory that O’Brien should tower over ideas that without him might have remained buried under strata of compound mathematics. His discourse, indeed,  was a potent thing, the ultimate analysis of a true post-
mechanistic mind.
            He smiled inscrutably. “Cosmology for the theoretical physicist may appear to have become a study of spatial relations, but if the aptitude of the human mind to comprehend the universe has an effect on its reality, then consciousness is no longer an observational means external to that reality; it is a conceptual property of space-time itself. In many respects this is the most elusive aspect of the Fermi Paradox, yet one hitherto rarely appreciated. For the fact is this,” he said, and I thought there was a hint of sadness: “If the second millennium first articulated the concept of space-travel, it is one of the predestined conclusions of the third to abolish it. Believe me, Malleus, the conceptual environment created by future centuries of scientific evolution will be radically different from the localized geometry of spacetime it is going to replace.”

 Malleus Maleficus is an advocate of English liberal democracy, and the  anonymous author of an historical apology of the British Empire.

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