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astrobiological society

December 11, 2006 / June 12, 2013

December, 2006, Science had an article on use of DNA as computational mechanism, which I associate with developments toward nanorobotics. Soon, there also will be quantum computing that supplements molecular engineering.

These kinds of advents commonly cause me to project imaginatively the implications for intelligent life far in the future. If we’re doing what we’re doing at such an accelerating pace, what about intelligent life elsewhere that’s millions of years older?

Every year more strongly corroborates the conjecture that life starts easily; e.g., organic molecules are circulating among stars, and we’re an average solar system, but relatively young; life has been completely destroyed several times on Earth, but began again and again. Projecting from the DNA note above, is it likely that nanovehicles from elsewhere would be here (brought by vehicles traveling near the speed of light—no biggy for little robots—that dissolve after their mission?). They would be quite able to blend in with our insects, quite able to never be discovered, circulating like harmless bacteria through whatever living systems they want.

We can already identify whether planets at other star systems have life, due to the light waves they emit (though we haven’t found one yet). So, intelligent life millions of years beyond us would have sensed our life-evolving presence millions of years ago. But it’s likely that we’re being regarded as, so to speak, a wildlife preserve to be left alone (that likelihood is easy to argue scientifically).

No wonder, then, that S.E.T.I. finds nothing. We’ve had invisibility to radar for years. Just this year, we’ve learned to make a machine that circulates microwaves around itself such that the machine is invisible (i.e., transparent) to a microwave sensor (which registers no object where the machine really is). Presumably, we’ll have invisibility in other wavelengths soon, then miniaturization of the process. Project that into the future, and it’s credible that real probes from elsewhere won’t register as a U.F.O.

Is it plausible that whatever we can realistically imagine may be doable? To some scientists (same link as above), it’s realistically conceivable that civilizations can evolve to exist outside of a star system (stars always eventually self-destruct); so, no telescopic search for star systems would be relevant. Radio telescopy presumes either broadcasting (emitting from the source in all directions) or narrowcasting (e.g., laser beams) that accidently cross the path of our planet while we’re searching for signals. But broadcasting is energy-inefficient for communication, and narrowcasting causes non-relocatable signals. Some scientists project levels of civilization that learn to contain the energy of a star (a “Dyson Sphere”) for their own use, so the star’s wouldn’t be detectable as ordinary light (only via infrared from the sphere), and there could be sets of these, “Dyson bubbles.”

So, we’re left to our own imaginations. But a practical point to such speculations is that intelligent life (our kind on an ordinary planet in an ordinary solar system among millions of such stars in our galaxy) continues to evolve by self-determining designs. Our kind of intelligent life is future-oriented to a degree that is interstellarly relative, whether or not we’re the first in our neighborhood to get curious. The classical question of Being implies the questionability of intelligent life in a largely uniform galaxy ordered by a uniform physics that easily entails life.

The supernatural notion of “God” is at least a psychological bet that ultimacy has intelligibility that we should aspire to embody. “God” is also something more practical, of course, relating to cultural needs for cognitive integrity and integration across generations. But “God” was destined to face scientific reality, which faces (now rather ordinarily) questions of intelligence in our galaxy and the potential of our capacities for self-determination.

Religion will eventually dissolve into the cultural archaeology of human evolution, though developing regions of Earth have some while to go before secular humanism grows to prevail in their cultural ethos—and disappears as especially secular (which is a religion-relative notion) to become university humanism within, so to speak, astrobiological society. Religious studies won’t soon be primarily a subspecies of anthropology, but its future is in cultural archaeology.

Religious life that becomes scientifically literate faces the transformation of “God” into real prospects of post-Copernican gods who are not oriented by Earthly events, contrary to the classical gods of paleo-politics, aspirational psychology, and the cognitive protoscience of cultural mythology that led to Greek “science,” which of course led to modernity.

Already, in the U.S. at least, a projective extraterrestrial point of view—an evolutionary conversation about extraterrestriality—has been institutionalized through popular culture and the scientific community. Where “God” that we created in our image is archeaological (thus, in that sense, never to be dead), the probable gods of the galaxy are thriving, as mirrors of scientific inspiration, but also as credibly silent and incomprehensibly elderly neighbors.

The matter of scientific literacy is one of realism about our place in the galactic crowd of stars, if not civilizations—the last “Copernican” revolution, now about intelligence in the galaxy—thriving necessarily Alone in our planet-relative challenge of evolving to appreciate where we are. For that long-ongoing trek, we have each other!, which is enough after all: We’re here for gardening our heavenly play.

To know that the gods are there will be because they’ve let themselves be known—because we have evolved to not strive to capture them, but let them continue their way, somewhat as children grow to appreciate that original elders do go some great way of their own, though where is beyond their appreciation. The originals (I suppose) have no special interest in youth’s so-recognizable, self-serving pretense of understanding the dimensionality that originality (perpendicular to young horizonality, I suppose) can be, though the originals are happy to be idealized. Of course, youth currently has the advantage of mathematical precocity (if only this could be genetically engineered...). But, inasmuch as “the Singularity is near,” so much for that advantage over the elders, too. The future always did belong to elders’ capability for educing idealization, thus generativity.

Anyway, we will increasingly determine by design our “evolution” (which was always basically about the progressivity of change), as intelligent selection continues to increasingly displace natural selection in human affairs. “Elders” will normally thrive for hundreds of years. Population growth will be something for historical studies. Births will be always planned (universally in vitro?) and parenting a beautiful project done any number of times over one’s centuries.

Not that childhood ends. It becomes endless for intelligent life. Literally: Love of learning never ends.