[ExI] Meat v. Machine

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Thu Dec 30 11:49:35 UTC 2010

On Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 02:31:03PM -0400, Darren Greer wrote:
> >Which is why we cannot compute the probability for the emergence
> of life as long as we don't have access to causally unentangled
> data points<
> Of course that makes sense. And of course we can't know. But whenever I
> truly think about or hear being listed potential outcomes in
> singularity-type discussions, like cosmic engineering and interstellar
> travel and immortality and other large-scale events that would make any
> sapient being sit up and take notice that something really seems to be
> happening in that section of the galaxy, I start to consider John's first

Any darwinian system would be expansive. Any darwinian system with
started with interstellar travel capability will select for fastest
expansion over kiloyears, kilolightyears, megayears and megalightyears
of cosmic substrate.

As each such emergence will be out of control, it will be almost
impossible to recall. Not only would you have to outrace quite 
relativistic travelers already departed, you would not know where 
exactly every single one of the travelers are headed. You could 
attempt to blanket out everything in as large radius as possible
by sending out subsequent waves of ever-improving relativistic 
interceptors (as a small fraction of c will tend to add up over 
large distances, especially if you're not limited to single-star 
hops due to advances in propulsion (=braking very light highly 
relativistic craft).

Pretty soon, each expansive culture would expand riding hard
just behind its lightcone, reckoned from when expansion started. This means
that observability (just before one half of the sky turns FIR-dark)
and the first pioneers land is very short. As such expansion
wavefronts will be observer-emergence-preventing (because
observers need suitable planets), and likely 
sub-expansive-observer-extinguishing (no harsh feelings, 
I hope), they would be very difficult to observe due the 
anthropic principle. The best way to observe one would 
be to be the nucleus.

> possibility. In the broad strokes. Why isn't there some evidence elsewhere
> -- Von Neumann probes, as Avante said, or radio signals? If a singularity is

von Neumann probes are people, or at least hardy pioneers. You don't
have much time to observe them, before the sun goes out and the blue
rain starts.

As to radio signals, why sending them? It's an old-fashioned way
to communicate (you'd use photons, or relativistic pellet
streams, literal information packets, with each stellar
system intercepting them being the router). It would be also
easier to drop by in person. 

> inevitable, and even if it isn't and just desirable for some
> technologically-inclined species, shouldn't such goings on be apparent to us
> if it has happened elsewhere? Especially if it has happened frequently?
> I mentioned Robert Charles Wilson's novel Spin the other day in a post. Have
> you read that? In it, Von Neumann machines sent out from advancing
> civilizations all over the universe have "teamed up" and formed a vast cloud
> AI that then begin to interfere in the affairs of their makers. In Isamov's

The pioneers are not selected for smarts, just expansiveness. I do
not think these can be recalled, each time, every time, for above reasons.
There will be successor wave species, just as there are biological
species successors which colonize new volcanic islands. However,
the pioneers would do sufficient turf transformation by virtue
of needing a fair fraction of stellar output to send out new

> Foundation Trilogy and Herbert's Dune, human beings are the progentitors of
> cosmic engineering and the first technologically-proficient species to

Science fiction is typically a poor predictor, given that its only
fitness function is saleability. Anything forecasting too far, and
comprehensibility would be lost. Imagine explaining 4chan /b/tards 
to Geofrey Chaucer. 

> emerge in the universe. What I was saying, I guess, as ridiculous as the
> last sounds, it seems more probable than the first to me. Because the only
> evidence we have seems to support that. Or at least supports that there
> seems to be no evidence of a large-scale singularity and superior
> machine-based civilization elsewhere that is suddenly messing around in the

It seems that a sufficiently low nucleation density and anthropic
principle unobservability would explain Fermi's paradox quite nicely.

> universe dramatically enough for others to notice. A third possibility is
> that other civilzations are advancing at roughly the same rate as we are,

Extremely unlikely, as metallicity varies widely over stellar system
population. And planets do seem common as dirt, so no delayed
synchronous hatching.

> and are on the verge of their own explosions into the universe around them
> but still struggling with biological imperatives and resultant limitations.
> A fourth is that even very advanced civilizations are limited by vast
> distances and lack of resources so that they barely make a dent in the
> universe around them, no matter how smart or powerfully they can engineer
> themselves.

As soon as you can self-replicate using sunlight and carbonaceous
chondrite, each patch of the universe looks exactly the same. 
Population pressure alone would cause you to colonize adjacent
patches, iterate. It's how the pioneer waves start.
> There may be a million other possibilities, none of which I am smart enough
> to come up with. Carl Sagan came up with a number of reasons in Contact why
> there could be advanced species capable of revealing itself to us via its
> technology but chose not to, but everyone of them was based on human ethical
> standards.

I've found most of Sagan's unreasonable. It's a nice yarn, and seem
to motivate people to look into the skies, which by itself is a major
> Surely we'd be able to recognize the technology of a post-singularity
> civilization before we'd recognize their ethical motivations?

Anything much above Kardashev I would be impossible to miss.
Anyone who proposes self-limitations of a darwinian system
should probably have a good mechanism how the system stops
being darwinian, and ceases to be out of control. Every time.
> I'm pretty new at this, and just trying to understand. So I may be covering
> very old ground here, but this thought has been troubling me for many years.
> Since I was a kid in fact.

It's been troubling Fermi and Hart in 1950, and I presume some
of the later cosmists must have also put two and two together.

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820 http://www.ativel.com http://postbiota.org
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