Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

I Saw Enrico Fermi, Riding on a Pale Horse

December 16th, 2013 by Adam G.

John_Martin_-_Sodom_and_Gomorrah

 

This post is about how one physicist’s casual question over a lunch table may be the first faint note of the last trump, for those who have ears to hear.

The casual question is “where are they?”  Enrico Fermi was the physicist.  He was talking about aliens.  What occurred to him was that there are an unimaginably huge number of stars out there.  They have been around for an unimaginably huge time.  Any civilization that ever existed out there at all, if it spreads at all, no matter how slowly, should long ago have expanded to fill the whole galaxy and beyond.  Instead, there’s just us.

This very puzzling contrast between the age and size of the universe, the undeniable possibility of intelligent life in it (because here we are), and the noticeable absence of other intelligent life, is called Fermi’s Paradox.

There have been a number of solutions proposed, some of them pretty silly.  The non-silly explanations tend to pick different steps somewhere on the development path from the beginning of life to the spread of intelligent life throughout the galaxy, and suggest that its incredibly unlikely for something to get past that point.  You could argue, for instance, that life arising at all anywhere is extremely unlikely, so that the initial Earth evolutionary event some billions of years ago was probably literally a miracle.  Or you could argue that becoming a spacefaring civilization–getting off the planet into the solar system–is just too hard technically and economically.  Or you could argue that as we become more technically advanced we’ll spend our days eating lotuses in incredibly realistic and satisfying virtual reality simulations and that it would be incredibly difficult for sufficient people to have the moral character to resist to sustain an expanding civilization.

Nick Bostrom calls that incredibly unlikely step the Great Filter.

He points out that the further down the path that step is, the more likely it is that we have some big catastrophe ahead of us.  If the mere existence of life at all is the Great Filter, then we’ve already passed through it and the universe is our oyster.  But if intelligent life is common, whatever it is that prevents intelligent life from expanding around the universe is something that probably still have to happen for us.  His argument is quite interesting and worth your while.

God has created peopled worlds without number.  We don’t know if they are in this universe or not, though the scriptures read as if they are.  If they are, that makes Fermi’s Paradox acute.  We would have to assume that the Almighty either deliberately squashed any people that was in danger of communicating with other peopled worlds, or we would have to assume that there are intrinsic factors that prevent a rising civilization from rising too far.  As with the various cyclical theories of human progress that we mentioned recently, the notion would be that everything we do to draw us upward also creates balancing factors that draws us back down.  In Book of Mormon terms, you might say that the more prosperous a group becomes, the more wicked they become, and the harder they fall.

The gospel as preached in nearly every age has prophesied a final collapse in which the world will end.  Whatever the timing of that event, I see no way of spiritualizing it.  The end of days and the second coming of Christ in wrath is not a lovely metaphor for individual death and for the eventual end of each individual human institution or culture, though it is also that.  The scriptural teaching is meant to be taken as real.

That being so, it is unlikely that the end is arbitrary.  God doesn’t get bored and move on to new toys.  It’s possible that the end comes when it does for liturgical and dramatic reasons.  By analogy, think of a concert hall where a symphony is being played.  The music stops not because of an external necessity, such as the lights being cut off.  Nor does it stop when the orchestra gets tired playing.  It stops when the symphony is finished.  It’s possible that there are poetic and metaphorical meanings behind the different dispensations of mankind and the end comes when it does because that is when the beauty and internal logic of the creation drama demands it.

But I judge that to be unlikely.  The scriptures teach pretty uniformly that the end comes when wickedness has risen to such a pitch that the end has to come.   All the scriptural models we have suggest the same, like Sodom and Gomorrah for example, or the Nephite civilization before the appearance of the resurrected Christ.

If the literal Second Coming and end of the world happens because we decay so far that it has to, then the only question is whether moral decay is inevitable once civilization reaches a certain level of “progress,” or whether that decay is something that inevitably sets in once something contingent has happened.  Human nature and probability being what it is, you would expect the contingency to happen eventually, but in theory and even in practice it could be postponed indefinitely.

I am a space settlement enthusiast.  I want the Saints to sing psalms under Alpha Centauri, and beyond.

But the scriptures offer a frighteningly realistic possibility that the numerous worlds God has made are in this universe and this galaxy without the possibility of impinging on each other before their ends comes, because a certain level of development makes a wickedness singularity inevitable, and then the end comes quickly.

Scripture offers us the image of an angel flying in the heavens announcing the coming of the end.  But it may actually be the absence of beings and the silence of the heavens that is the sign of the times.

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

 

 

 

Comments (12)
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December 16th, 2013 13:25:20
12 comments

Bruce Charlton
December 16, 2013

Interesting line of speculation – although I am not sure enough about the accuracy and completeness of reasoning to take it wholly seriously.

But Bostrom made a passing remark about evolutionary theory implying that every living thing tends to expand, to fill up the world, and presumably beyond it…

I’m pretty sure that is true (I could give systems theory reasons for it). That’s what seems to happen – things expand until they can’t anymore.

Self-restraint seems un-natural (un-biological).

What this made me think was – again – that something changed when people turned back from space exploration, indeed turned back from all sorts of colonization (I always assumed – when I was a kid – that humans would colonize Antarctica and the sea).

The funny thing is that in another way I don’t want this to happen – I want people to be restrained, not fill up and mess up the world, I am appalled by the violence of invasion, colonization and so on – and so on.

But, but, but…maybe this is not *really* a sign of a higher morality or aestheticism; but simply a collapse of vitality; becoming overwhelmed by a death wish. Maybe this is part of what Nietzsche perceived had happened (and which he mostly blamed on Christianity).

It could be that we cannot truly restrain this aspect of biology, but we can only reverse it, turn life against itself – which is of course a disaster in multiple levels – and perhaps this accounts for many of the strangest and most insane aspects of modern life.

In trying to take a global (universal) view, respecting other cultures, trying to treat all Men as our family, trying to tread lightly on the planet, and so on – we are actually self-inflicting a profound psychological wound.

The question is, can (or how can) he ‘natural’ expansionism of biology be done with Christian Love – as it must be, if it is true and necessary?


Bruce Charlton
December 16, 2013

BTW – John Martin, who did the S & G painting you use to illustrate this piece – was born near here; and there was a superb, indeed incredible exhibition of his work in our city gallery (the Laing Art Gallery) a couple of years ago; including the above S & G – although this is anyway wned by the Laing and on permanent display.

http://www.thejournal.co.uk/culture/arts/laing-gallery-host-john-martin-4441273

Had circumstances been different, Martin would have have been extremely well-suited to illustrating some of the more epic scenes from the Book of Mormon, wouldn’t he?


Adam G.
December 16, 2013

**Interesting line of speculation – although I am not sure enough about the accuracy and completeness of reasoning to take it wholly seriously.**

Quite right. Though I’m a little more sure about the religious argument from the Second Coming than I am of the secular argument from galactic silence. It seems to me that if you accept that God has peopled many worlds and that God will end the world (probably because of an excess of sin)– and the Church does accept this, so perforce I do too–then the conclusion that apocalypse is a self-catalyzing and inherent stage in mortal human development becomes pretty likely. I hope not, though, being a space nut.

**But, but, but…maybe this is not *really* a sign of a higher morality or aestheticism; but simply a collapse of vitality; becoming overwhelmed by a death wish. Maybe this is part of what Nietzsche perceived had happened (and which he mostly blamed on Christianity).

It could be that we cannot truly restrain this aspect of biology, but we can only reverse it, turn life against itself – which is of course a disaster in multiple levels – and perhaps this accounts for many of the strangest and most insane aspects of modern life.

In trying to take a global (universal) view, respecting other cultures, trying to treat all Men as our family, trying to tread lightly on the planet, and so on – we are actually self-inflicting a profound psychological wound.

The question is, can (or how can) he ‘natural’ expansionism of biology be done with Christian Love – as it must be, if it is true and necessary?**

I’m with you. I believe pretty strongly that a real frontier is a necessity for Western civilization to function. It’s parts just don’t work otherwise.

But can it be done in a Christian way? Theoretically, of course. The problem, that you and I both recognize, is that in human affairs the excluded middle usually practically doesn’t exist. In practice you don’t have to be atheist if you don’t have official or quasi-official state recognition of a religion, but in practice that’s what it comes down to. So is it possible to expand without chauvinism and beastliness? I hope so, but I’m not sure. At least there are no Amerindians on Mars.

On the other hand, contrary to, e.g., C.S. Lewis, its probably better to go on expanding, which is to say, to go on living, even in a fallen state.


Bookslinger
December 16, 2013

If our Earth is typical of planets that Elohim (the Father) and Jehovah (the Son, our elder brother) have created for Elohim’s spirit-children, and if the subset of Elohim’s children who are assigned to experience their mortal lives on this Earth is typical of all of Elohim’s children, then the duration of the “School of Mortality” for a child of Elohim would seem to be 7,000 years, the period from the fall of Adam to the end of Millennium.

I would further assume that our Plan of Salvation (a Fall, a Savior, an Atonement, a resurrection to an immortal body, an assignment to a degree of glory, etc) is typical of whatever Plan of Salvation is in effect for the peoples of those other planets.

If that line of reasoning/speculation is correct, then no particular planetary civilization would exist for more than 7,000 years. For at the end of that time, all the people of that planet would no longer be mortals, and those resurrected beings would be divided roughly into two groups: those on a path that eventually leads to godhood, and those who are in a “saved” condition, but denied further progression.

Part of our “School of Mortality” is to have very limited access to resurrected beings. The conditions required for a human to interact with resurrected beings, an angel or even Christ himself, are extreme faith, humility and righteousness. It has been mainly the prophets and few others. The vast majority of us don’t meet the requirements as set forth in the scriptures.

So, in essence, 7,000 years is too short a time to develop intersteller travel, and resurrected beings, according to the rules of the game, just aren’t allowed to visit mortals.

Moreover, there is a scripture passage, I can’t put my finger on it at the moment, it’s in the D&C or PofGP, where it says that only angels who “pertain” to this planet can minister to it. And, as ‘angels’ are either pre-born spirits or post-mortal (either disembodied, or resurrected) folks, I take that passage to mean that only those who have lived, or will live on this planet get to minister to it as angels.


Adam G.
December 16, 2013

Books,
it doesn’t seem a foregone conclusion to me that the end of the world will happen 7,000 years after the fall of Adam. But if it does, the question arises *why* it would surely happen after 7,000 years. That’s part of what this post is about.


Zen
December 17, 2013

I am not even fully convinced that the Millennium is a thousand years long. And even if it is, the time after it is very indefinite.

Regardless, I find most responses to the Fermi Paradox to be lacking. Why would an intelligent species visit us? What do we have to offer?

It is like towns in Idaho. Most are small, uninteresting to anyone besides those who live there, and in the middle of nowhere. This is not a criticism of Idaho – just a recognition that most people have never heard of my hometown.

And not only do we have little to nothing to offer, but we are wicked, warlike and heavily militarized. And there are (probably) much more interesting places and planets to visit.

There has been much ink spilled discussing the Singularity, a point where technology changes so fast, we can’t predict the future with any confidence any more. This will be very exciting with a lot of advantages…. and probably problems. When has there ever been a technology that didn’t have both good and bad uses? I think the Gospel has been given us so that we can survive this Singularity. It is going to become increasingly necessary.

As our technological level increases, we are given greater and greater ways to destroy ourselves. That means we will either need to be governed with an iron fist, by government that would do credit to 1984, or we have the Spirit of Christ and we govern ourselves. Those are our options. What will life be like when any person could use their home 3-D printer to create a WMD, plague or even good-old fashioned firearm? The genies will be coming out of the bottle faster than we will be able to handle them, or even count them.

There will come a point, if not in our lives, our our children, then certainly our grandchildren, where righteousness will be literally necessary for survival. Our greatest safe level of tech will be a function of our righteousness. I expect that most worlds have handled this better than we have, considering Joseph Smith’s comment (I think it was him?) that this is the most wicked of all the worlds God has created, because only we would crucify our Savior. (An aside, I recall a comic where a little green alien is tell in a man, “Oh, yes, we had Jesus visit. We gave him a box of chocolates and now he comes by every other week. Why, what did you give him?”)

The thoughts of colonizing space are exciting, though Antarctica is far more practical. In any case, it virtually requires a positive net birthrate to so. We couldn’t maintain a colony on Mars not because of technology, but we because we ourselves do not have sufficient children to staff it without depopulating ourselves. Such cruel irony.


Adam G.
December 17, 2013

Bruce Charlton has expanded his comment in this thread:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2013/12/what-if-sensible-balanced-middle-ground.html

Recommended.


MC
December 18, 2013

We should at least finish settling Alaska before moving onto Antarctica, the moon, other planets, etc.


Ivan Wolfe
December 18, 2013

Good luck trying to settle Alaska. The federal goverment owns most of what’s left and keeps taking over more and more, in order to make sure it stays untouched.


Scott W. Clark
December 20, 2013

Here’s one that won’t be popular: The other worlds are in contact with each other but we are under quarantine because of the wickedness here (which makes for a particularly thorough test, by the way). That all ends when the heavens unroll like a scroll and what is actually out there stands revealed.
Nibley talked some about this. (I hesitate to say that he quoted from old christian apocryphal sources because these are only hints.) Even the PofGP suggests this if read from this perspective.
But again, not very popular.

Cheers.


Adam G.
December 20, 2013

I don’t know why that would be unpopular ( or popular either, for that matter), but its plausible and would fit with a lot of what the scriptures say about the earth being changed at the end into a new state.


Bookslinger
December 21, 2013

SWC, there is some logic to that. Perhaps those unseen worlds constitute what the astrophysicists call Dark Matter, they _deduce_ it’s there based on calculations, but can’t directly detect it.

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