Commentary: Stephen Hawking on Interstellar Space Colonization

AKA The Human Future or SciFi Fantasy?
AKA Charlie Stross Eats Own Foot

Original Article by a Staff Writer for the Daily Galaxy – Commentary by FHE

Steven Hawking, believing as do we here at FHE, that the earth has a good likelihood of soon (within 1,000 years) being wiped out by global warming, a genetically engineered virus, nuclear war, a rogue comet or Black Hole or the like, has warned and advised that heading to colonize interstellar space ASAP represents the human race’s best hope for survival – e.g. the future of human evolution continued.

NASA historian Steven Dick and Robotics pundit Hans Moravec also subscribe to our primary human survival risk mitigation strategy of getting the hell off the planet – albeit with a homogenous twist that we present as only one of several options. They believe that human evolution will lead solely to future humans to becoming greatly evolved machines that can self-replicate and spread earth life.

Terrific. We’re all agreed. Woo Hoo.

Oh wait, here comes a Scottish, old-enough-to-know-better, science-fiction author named Charlie Stross who has apparently written multiple, off-world, and even alien pieces, showing his what? Senility? Incredible lack of vision? Unimaginative disposition?. He actually wrote (in real words) on his (yes public) blog that he thinks it’s impossible we will colonize space except by use of ‘….a magic wand’. He calls the risk mitigation driver “sentimentality” and our concern for the well-being of our descendants irrelevant (as we will be dead and human extinction should not matter to us).

interstellar-colonization-stephen-hawking-vs-charlie-stross

The best part of the article, and if there is a god may he forgive me for releasing this sentiment out into the universe lest it encourage others to continue the practice, is in the comments to his blog. Good fun and a great lashing for advertising his complete idiocy.

Some comments castigated him for not taking into account the abilities of future civilization types and basing his arguments on today’s technology- worse, given that he is (supposed to be) a transhumanist and a fiction writer of some repute they argue that he would do well to consider the likelihood of a post-singularity civilization and its achievements and not to consider biological humans as having the only part to play in space but that it may be the work of robots and cyborgs.

Besides the fact that I am terribly fascinated by the dichotomy of how a man can earn a living writing off-world science
fiction and not believe we can make it off-world, I absolutely loved this following chastisement the BEST:

“He [Stross] should be taking into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we’re talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial super intelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system.”

Say Whaaaat?  How and When did I miss the invitation to the convention during which we all got together to scientifically classify and create famous-name/techno-buzzword combination nomenclature for imaginary future civilizations. I want on that mailing list. I hope next year’s is in Las Vegas!

Final Words: Dear Chuck, you are hereby officially notified that your editor must read everything you post from now on. You’re ruining Imagination’s reputation.

*Original in http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2010/08/space-colonization-the-human-future-or-scifi-fantasy.html

The End

Before we get started on this rather esoteric exploratory exercise you should know that there were alternative titles for this article. Here’s a few that’ll give you a flavor of what’s going to be discussed:

  • The Ultimate End of Evolution
  • The Pinnacle of Human Evolution
  • The Final Destination of Man
  • The Purpose of Life

Or less optimistically-phrased but as accurately represented:

  • The End of the World
  • The End of Humanity
  • The End of the Universe
  • We’ve arrived. Now What?

Lastly and perhaps more accurately than the title you see at the top of the page (but much less poignant you must admit):

The End is Just the Beginning

It’s come to my attention recently and with increasing dismay that there is actually a possibility (however small) that we humans, or any other sentient being for that matter, may never be able to answer the question “How do you get something from nothing?”

This speculative short, hopefully fun piece paints a scenario in which we can eventually know everything… except that.

expansion of the universe and what came before the big bang

Who among us hasn’t noted with some consternation that left to its own devices the Universe is just going to let itself peter out; just keep expanding till all energy dies, matter decays, and time (perhaps) ceases to exist.

We humans are not about to let that happen, as I’m sure you’ll agree, not if we can help it. And it doesn’t take too much imagination to put a few pieces together in order to paint a scenario in which we do just that: save the Universe.  Somewhere on this website I’ve got an article I wrote a few years back that talks about the diverging paths of our descendants from carbon to energy. Put link <here>  In any case it is relevant to this discussion as it points out that on one end of the evolutionary spectrum, some humans will choose silicone over carbon enabling potential immortality.  Some of those future humans with vastly superior information-gathering and processing power will begin to unlock the secrets beyond our view today- understanding the “fabric” of the universe and gaining the ability to transform into energy-based beings.

[Note: Before you snort at such speculation may I kindly point out what a huge disappointment the confirmation of the discovery of the Higgs Boson was for mankind. God particle? We still don’t have any idea what 95% of the universe is made of.  For all we know it’s partly the ephemeral energy of late Great Aunt Suzy or dear departed Grandpa Abdulhady.]

Before the end of the universe however, regardless of whether we examine the biological humans of that time, the silicone based entities, or the ghosts of energy able to manipulate matter at it’s currently unrealized constituent parts, the common goal of survival, existent in all life will prevail and these sentient beings could cooperate on a cosmic scale to stabilize the physical universe enabling life to go on literally forever.

Is that really the end?  Hardly. If we extrapolate, or rather expand our view of the ethereal intelligence (already assumed to be able to occupy parts of the fabric of the universe in our scenario), to include a scenario in which they (or it) occupies all of the fabric of the universe, we hit a bit of a dead end.

Now I don’t know about you but after I explored every nook, cranny, and dimension of this universe and there’s nothing new, just for entertainment I’d crunch it all up and start a new universe – take matter and energy to a compression point just above self-annihilation and start over. When stasis set in again, I’d start over.  Run every possible scenario time and time again of every moving quark and lepton in every possible position at every instance of time from the beginning till I’d seen every possible outcome the universe could possibly have under every possible condition.  At that point the intelligence would literally “know” everything (omniscient), be everywhere (omnipresent), and be able to do anything (omnipotent).

For good measure I’d check around for an extra millennia or two to make sure I didn’t miss the odd dimension or two before I decided that the end of the line just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. One would be left with two choices:

  1. Assuming energy is necessary for survival in any form including our own ethereal selves, intentionally let the expansion of the universe continue until all energy is extinguished and existence ceases. Not a likely choice especially in the face of one last great experiment…
  2. Marshal all matter and energy and ball it up into an infinitesimally “small” (for lack of a better concept), past the point of self-preservation-safety, again and again, smaller each time trying and discover something new, ultimately too small for the intelligence to survive – crushing the reality fabric and all knowable existence.  The ultimate experiment the results of which the intelligence would never see.

In this speculative scenario once the orchestrating and compressing force of the intelligence is extinguished, the ball of time, matter, and energy would likely explode with a tremendous force.

Enter the big bang and the beginning…

Epilogue

This scenario skirts around two rather important issues, time and god – primarily because it’s intended to be a romp through a plausible universe rather than an intense treatise on the nature of reality.  On the latter I personally find god to be an excellent stand in for the unknowable and would be delighted if he constituted the 95% percent of the universe we can’t explain while one day explaining to me from where he came!

Regarding time and omniscience, in the scenario above omniscience is portrayed serially as in the movie Ground Hog day in which Bill Murray’s character muses that god may not be that smart, it’s just that he may have been around a looong time.  Naturally, and just as (if not more) plausible is the multidimensionality of parallel universes, each representing only one subatomic particle difference per instant from the next.

On time itself, you may be thinking that an interesting scenario our imagined omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent intelligence in the scenario above might wanted to have experimented with would have been a condition of existence without time. For one thing, from a story telling perspective it didn’t seem very interesting- events only occur in time. The whole premise of the scenario is the continual and repeated unfolding of events. For another, and for the philosophical musings of this piece, time is treated as something that the eventual cooling of the universe might be able to destroy while leaving its genesis in the arena of the unknowable.

That may be cheating on my part, but I’ll save Time for another day :-)