Greetings From Planet Earth

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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109 Responses

  1. Avatar Murali says:

    Correction: The weather is nice in some places. Other places are either uncomfortably hot or cold during some parts of the yearReport

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

      Correction: The weather is nice in some places.

      Correcting the correction: “The weather is nice in some places right now, but is radically changing for the worse. So come quick!”Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    It’s a cute conceit but somewhat off the point. An alien race advanced enough to bridge the yawning mind aching vastness of space to come visit us would most likely have nothing they would want from us. Earth is habitable by human standards; sure; but with that level of tech aliens wouldn’t probably find that important. In terms of physical resources the Earth is a piggy bank and the universe is the treasure cave of wonders from Aladdin.

    That said, caution is prudent. An alien race advanced enough to bridge that mind blowing vastness could likely redirect a world killing asteroid with only modest effort.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to North says:

      You’re assuming that this alien race doesn’t have aesthetes and gourmands for whom humans might make interesting meals and pets, to help stave off the soul-crushing ennui their near-godlike tech brings them.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North says:

      Have you even seen Avatar? We’re the blue guys, man. WE’RE THE BLUE GUYS!!!11!!1!

      More seriously, even in the most technologically advanced culture, the one thing I expect to be remain valuable is land. Or, in this case, planets of the immediately inhabitable sort that require minimal (compared to a world-dome planet) maintenance. Real estate. We think of valuable real estate being near things, but if they’re in a cluster the value can be in being far away. Either in the sense of “our race will survive no matter what happens in this ridiculous sector” or some unpopular faction somewhere that’s stuck on some moon somewhere and could use some space far, far away.

      I don’t believe in intergallactic empires of the Asimov sort. But I can think of a lot of reasons that we’d make an attractive promised land for somebody. Once the vermin are dealt with, anyway…(And once they know where we are. So let’s just go ahead and shoot them a line to say “Hello!”)Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman says:

        Maybe, but we’d need an unobtanium McGuffin under our sacred tree (and man o man that was some dumb shit).

        I’m not so convinced about the value of land though, if you have the tech to sling a ship through the omg- it’s-so-huge void of space and sustain a comfortable environment within it then artificial habitats would have a lot to recommend themselves over living at the bottom of a significant gravity well with weather and all that alien biology stuff.

        Admittedly I also lean towards the Sagan optimism that a race that technologically advanced would also be equally morally and ethically advanced and would view exterminations and colonization’s of those sorts as horrible barbarism. I do grant that just waving the cosmic handkerchief and hollering halooo has some risks. Then again considering how cynically pessimistic I am at the prospect of interstellar travel those risks seem extremely small.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to North says:

          I also lean towards the Sagan optimism that a race that technologically advanced would also be equally morally and ethically advanced and would view exterminations and colonization’s of those sorts as horrible barbarism

          Maybe; but oftentimes the species that are most successful, are the mindlessly-aggressive ones, and intelligence perhaps need not be linked with sentience (see, Blindsight).

          How long have crocodilians and sharks stuck around now?Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Glyph says:

            Ah yes but how successful have the crocodilians and the sharks been at the intensly collaborative and cerebral task of developing the technological capacity for advanced space flight?Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to North says:

              Again, see Blindsight. We have one (1) example of sentience being associated with great-enough intelligence to achieve these things. But there’s no reason to think that linkage is not an evolutionary accident, and perhaps even a dead-end.

              We should be careful of generalizing. The idea that aliens might look (or think) anything like us, at all, is highly-speculative.

              Whereas predator/prey is a well-understood dynamic across many, many species, and I doubt we’d be “predator”.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Glyph says:

            If intelligence be not linked to sentience, surely the sentient will perish.
            For all forms of sentient life, both manmade and not, are slower than mud.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

          The Europeans were more technically advanced than most Native American societies they dealt with after Columbus. They had no problem robbing and killing them.Report

          • Avatar Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

            Even if they are so much more advanced that we have absolutely nothing that they want, they might be able to kill us via their simple presence, if they are brought here by idle curiosity; they might be no more concerned about our expiration than we would some microbial colonies dying out – we are that insignificant and primitive from their POV.

            The Lovecraftian Old Ones problem – less mystical/evil, and more just simple vast differential in power/awareness.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq says:

            I grant there’s a level of Pollyannaishness to it. It appeals to me intuitively though. Our ethical and moral selves have advanced as our technological selves have advanced. In many cases technology and prosperity have allowed for greater morality simply because we can afford it. It doesn’t seem preposterous to posit that an even more advanced and even more prosperous space faring race would be even more ethical and moral. The material cost of doing so for them would be quite low.

            Also a less moral and ethical race would be more likely to self immolate than to span the cosmos and whipe us out.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

              The historian in me doesn’t share your optimism. Europeans arguably grew worse in the middle of the 19th century when it came time to exploit Africs and Asia even though the Industrial Revolution arguably made them wealthier.*

              *Although nobody on the pro-capitalist side adequately explained the height decrease that the British working class went through during the 19th century. Most British men were fit for service during the Napoleonic Wars. Many hundreds of thousands were disqualified from serving in the Boer Wars even though the Unitef Kingdom was much wealthier and more populous.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq says:

                They had bobs and bobbles along the way, obviously, and there’s certainly been points where the industrial development outpaced the moral one: World War I where noone had grasped the killing potential of industrial war machinery or World War II where a midevil ideology got its hands on organized industrial means of killing.

                But levels of racism, misogyny, classism and the like have plumetted from where they once were.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to North says:

              This is what happens when you let someone grow up on the naive optimism of Star Trek, instead of the documentary-like realism of Alien.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to North says:

          @north

          Admittedly I also lean towards the Sagan optimism that a race that technologically advanced would also be equally morally and ethically advanced and would view exterminations and colonization’s of those sorts as horrible barbarism.

          The problem with this idea is that it doesn’t deal with the ingroup-outgroup dynamic, which is a fundamental part of how human morality works. Humans beings are very good at cooperating closely with one group of people, while committing the most horrible of acts on other groups of people.

          You don’t have to be able to cooperate with everyone to build a technological civilisation.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

        Oh we’re AWFUL real estate. Earth is absolutely infested with all sorts of pink goo that’ll interact with other biologies in unpredictable ways. Massive headache.

        Much easier to find some mostly sterile planet in roughly the right zone, finish the job of sterilizing it (a nice engineered beastie that’ll kill the various lichen-alternatives and microbes) or at least co-opt the much simpler organisms, and put down a useful biosphere.

        I mean probably our biosphere and their’s can’t interact, but ours is full of stuff already. And why take the chance of some lucky local critter adapting to your food crops or whatnot?

        Or better yet, build a few orbitals. If you’re crossing the stars, you can probably do megastructures.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Will Truman says:

        This assumes our real estate is even remotely attractive to them. We evolved here and we still have issues with certain parts of our real estate getting aggressive until we burn it down and build anew.

        Unless their biology is amazingly similar to ours, the most attractive real estate is that with a very minimal amount of biodiversity, preferably in the way of very, very low order plants & animals, such that with a bit of terraforming it can be a nice place.Report

        • I think that fumigating Earth is going to be a lot more efficient than terraforming Mars. I’m putting my thumb on the scale a bit with that example, but even if the technology exists I suspect that the terraforming process would be extremely time-consuming.

          I also think people living on space ships, even spacious ones, is probably overrated. And probably still more costly than fumigating Earth.Report

          • Avatar Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

            Has anyone written a story yet where scientists realize that global atmospheric carbon levels are actually outpacing human-made pollution, which tips humanity off to the fact that the fumigation has already begun in secret?Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman says:

            Steralizing the planet to kill all the life on it? With interstellar travel and life support tech I’d say you could build an awful lot of artificial habitat perfectly styled to your needs for that kind of effort and resources.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North says:

              Killing is easier than building, I think.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

                “Playing with LEGO gets heated in the Truman household.”Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman says:

                Well if you’re your an alien and you’re are organic in a manner that makes Earth appealing to you then you want to kill everything right down to the microscopic lifeforms on Earth so you can import your native planets biosphere. You do not, however, want to damage the Earth so badly that you need to terraform it to make it livable again (because Mars and Venus are right next door).
                Thing is life on Earth is really resiliant, there are bacteria and microbes that can endure all kinds of extremes so you may be able to wipe the slate of higher lifeforms but the stuff that probably would give your alien biologists nightmares, those squirmy opportunistic earth bacteria, are really tought to exterminate and you are trying to do that on a global scale.

                Compare that to simply asteroid mining metals, harvesting the abundant gasses in the Solar system for the necessary gasses and building, say, a moon sized ring in a stable solar orbit and then putting your native biosphere onto the inner surface of it under a couple layers of transparent aluminum or whatever… that’s just a large engineering project; that’s simple stuff. That’s the same kinds of problems you solved to get here in the first place.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to North says:

                Gerrold did the classic “Biosphere Takeover” Plot. Of course, he still hasn’t finished the series. But it’s a really,really good series. Very dark, part of it involves (no spoilers!) dealing with 90% of earth’s humans being dead, and how that affects people psychologically.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Will Truman says:

            But why? With our telescopes, we’ve already found other planets in the Goldilocks zone, but that zone only exists because it’s good for things that need liquid water.

            What if you need liquid methane or ammonia, then Neptune is much, much more attractive?

            The whole question of real estate (see Scalzi & Old Man’s War) assumes life is very similar to us, has similar gas & environmental needs, etc. and that unoccupied real estate is in short supply, which assumes a lot.

            One of the best reasons I’ve seen a sci-fi author come up with for an Alien Invasion is the aliens were art thieves who were hitting undeveloped planets for their art, and wiping out the populations because the fact that no further art would be coming from that civilization would cause the value to skyrocket.Report

            • Avatar El Muneco in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Also Greg Costikyan’s “First Contract” in which the space travelers have no interest in killing anyone off because they realized that an intelligent life form on the planet they evolved is uniquely specialized to do – whatever it is they do – and that’s something you can’t get anywhere else. So if you’re interested in – whatever it is – you can trade for it. The problem is figuring out something that other species who might have nothing in common with yours (except intelligence) might be interested in.

              Of course it’s an allegory underneath it all, but that’s only a problem if it’s badly done. Or written by John C. Wright, which is pretty much the same thing.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to North says:

      North: An alien race advanced enough to bridge the yawning mind aching vastness of space to come visit us would most likely have nothing they would want from us.

      How could we know that? If I were sitting back in Ancient Egypt and heard about a civilization so advanced that it could fly, I’d probably assume that they couldn’t see any signficant value in gold. Yet here we are.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Know? We can’t know, but we can reason. What could aliens desire from us and more importantly what could they desire from us that the COULDN’T get more easily from a non-Earth source?
        -Eliminate the common Sci-fi tropes. Water, Metals, Minerals, if E.T. wants those things they can harvest them from our solar system without any ethical concerns AND without having to hoist them out of Earth’s gravity well.
        -Eliminate the second most common Sci-fi tropes, they aren’t going to want human slaves. What the fish good would E.T. want with a passle of resentful indentured apes?
        -Eliminate the living space: As I explained above in detail it’d be far easier to build habitates for themselves in space or terraform a neighboring world than it’d be to fumigate all life off Earth and then move in.

        So with those things knocked out what is left?
        -Organic compounds: You can’t find oil or the like on rocks in space, granted, but if you can span the gulf of space you probably don’t need plant compounds or if you do you can surely fabricate them yourself.
        -Cultural Artifacts: Oscar above noted a hypothesis of aliens robbing us of our art then whiping us out to increase it’s value. It’s rather out there and the market for art would have to be pretty huge to justify bothering.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North says:

          Re: roomy habitats – see Dyson sphere or ring world

          Wouldn’t be easy, but it isn’t impossible.

          Re: unique biologicals – anyone ever heard of a little something called “trade”?Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Yeah I was hoping you’d lend your big brains support to the idea that building orbitals would be easier than globally steralizing earth (without rendering it permanently uninhabitable).

            I did see Jupiter Ascending, I enjoyed it though I recognize clearly why it bombed with the masses. I will give them this, their economic Mcguffin passed the initial sniff test pretty well (while being apalling of course).Report

          • Wouldn’t be easy, but it isn’t impossible.

            IIRC, the estimates for Ringworld — let alone a Dyson sphere — was roughly the mass of all the planets in our solar system. The vast majority of which is hydrogen. So, given some miracle technology…

            Seriously. Give me an estimate of the cost in energy to construct habitat for, say, just a billion people. Then convince me that it’s not possible to sterilize the planet with less energy than that.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

              Versus the energy to simply find a primordial planet?Report

            • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Michael Cain says:

              Ringworlds are rather massive investments. Although the energy isn’t that bad, as long as you’re willing to take time. Stuff’s easy to move in space, if you can do basic math and have some time on your hands.

              Plus, you also have the long-term energy gains — a star puts out a truly ridiculous amount of energy, most of which just radiates uselessly into space.

              Now, Dyson swarms are a better idea than Dyson spheres (you put swarms of satellites around a star, harvesting energy — you don’t need unobtainable materials with ridiculous strength, you just needs to put out satellites into an orbit) but in terms of living space, you’d be better off with Banks style orbitals — assuming you have the materials science — placed inside the Goldilocks zone. (Although if you’re skilled enough to be travelling between stars and terraforming planets, you probably do. Kinda have to).

              If you get crazy material science, you can do Banks size — a few thousand k across, and about 10 million kilometers around, and you’ll have about 100 Earth’s worth of living space.

              With more realistic materials (carbon nano-tubes), you can build something like a Bishop Ring, which is 500k in width, with a 1000k radius. That’s only about the living space of India, but that’s…a lot of land, actually.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Morat20 says:

                I was thinking of Dyson sphere in the abstract (which includes rings and arrays), not just the big, closed sphere.

                And yeah, if you have time, the energy costs are manageable. If you don’t have an abundance of raw materials, in system, importing enough could be an issue, but again, only if time is important.

                And I think I know which Banks books you are talking about, which reminds me that I really need to read those.Report

              • There’s an interesting psychology question buried in here. Given a species that has solved its population and energy problems to the extent that they can realistically plan for thousands or tens of thousands of years to build a ring or something approximating a planet (or larger) in scope, are they expansionist enough to want to do so?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

                That is what makes sci-fi fun, isn’t it? All those delicious questions…Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North says:

          BTW anyone here ever see Jupiter Ascending?Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to North says:

          Whale songs. It’s all about the whale songs.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to North says:

          they aren’t going to want human slaves. What the fish good would E.T. want with a passle of resentful indentured apes?

          Again, godlike entities may seek new pets or exotic delicacies of the food, or…other varieties, to slake their ennui and curiosity.

          Or they may wish to take us apart to see how we tick, to help gain insights into their own biology, the way we are currently dissecting sharks to figure out why the heck they don’t get cancer.

          There was also a bit in Blindsight about how that tool-making may de facto be treated as evidence of aggressive tendencies and intentions.

          Ergo, when they witness our ability to use tools, at all, we may be deemed aggressive by them; and best preemptively wiped out, while we present little ability to respond.

          This goes double if sentience/anything resembling human ethics and intelligence need not be coupled; and we have scant reason to suppose they need be.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Glyph says:

            If you’re going to have godlike entities, why wouldn’t they simply make a universe themselves? Or at least a fascinating simulation of one?

            Electronic pets are people too! (well, when they’ve achieved sentience, which they have).Report

  3. Not too long ago, Charlie Stross posed a question on his blog (that drew, IIRC, something over two thousand comments) basically asking the question, “Since we believe von Neumann probes are possible, and it takes surprisingly little time for a wave of such probes to span the galaxy, where the hell are they?” Most of the speculation was along the lines that there’s something intrinsic in intelligence great enough to build von Neumann probes that inhibits doing so. My own thoughts along those lines are that the combination of sufficiently intelligent to build them and sufficiently aggressive to want to do so results in genetic weaponry that wipes out the species before they get around to building the probes.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Perhaps there’s some parallel to be drawn with extremely virulent/aggressive viruses like Ebola that jump from host to host quickly and efficiently, but consequently also seem to burn themselves out before the infection can spread too far through the population.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph says:

        I just assume they’ve already been here and found us thoroughly dull.

        “Hey, maybe we should go back to… what did they call it? ‘Earth?’ See what’s up; how things are going.”

        “Aaaaaawwww… Do we have to? Last time I could barely stay awake watching them scurry about in their primitive little wheeled vehicles. I’ve had more fun watching methane ice thaw.”

        Also, I assume that abduction with this little data always yields incorrect theory.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris says:

          Good point, could be why UFO sightings have dropped to near-nothing. “THAT place? It might be something interesting in another few thousand years. We’ll check back on it then.”Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Glyph says:

            As xkcd pointed out, reported sightings of UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, and Bigfoot have all fallen to almost zero in an inverse relationship to the penetration of cell phones with cameras.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to Michael Cain says:

              But with intelligent aliens, there could potentially be reasons other than the obvious cynical one for that. There are isolated Amazonian tribes that the outside world now leaves alone by government decree (more or less, a Prime Directive), because the tribes fear and hate contact with the outside world, and also are very susceptible to our diseases.

              For all we know, some of these tribes now say “see, helicopters never really existed”, because they are now in no-fly zones.

              Whereas to assume that Nessie or Sasquatch have suddenly gotten camera-shy is just ridiculous! Those two were like the original Kardashians!Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

          “Org, I know you’re bored but stop pacing in the cornfields. The circles freak the locals out!”Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

          “what did they call it? ‘Earth?’”

          Liberal aliens will call it “Earth”, Conservative aliens will call it “Houston.”Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

            Dear God, if they came to Houston and took it to be representative, they will never come back.

            “We found their ‘Houston,’ and they weren’t kidding when they said they had a problem. First, it is organized in the least efficient manner possible, with small buildings spread as far as the middle eyes can see, and twisted, seemingly randomly placed pathways connecting them. We got lost just trying to get downtown. For a while I was afraid we might be stuck there forever. And though we live hundreds of light years away, we’ve already received a notification that our failure to display a toll tag on our ship has resulted in a fine the size of some planet’s gross planetary product. This is an awful species, and they should be quarantined from the rest of the galaxy.”Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Chris says:

              They’d probably nuke it from orbit. It’d be the only way to be sure.Report

            • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

              Or worse, their first impression is central Florida, because that’s where one of the main spaceports is located, and think Epcot is the seat of global governance.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

                “The smaller ones, which are numerous in their capital city of Disney, seem to be in charge. They scream orders, or just scream — it is difficult to tell in such a primitive language — and their larger servants immediately respond by giving them whatever it is they want. An entire workforce is employed simply in keeping the small ones entertained by dressing in costumes and posing for image reproductions.”Report

        • Avatar El Muneco in reply to Chris says:

          I have a sneaking sympathy for what would basically be the position of Mother from “Sneakers”: “What do you mean they left? They’re still here, watching us!”. Basically that there’s some kind of hibernation mode if they pass an uninteresting planet, with a trigger condition in case the planet becomes interesting in the future.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

      I remember discussions like these, that races that are too overly aggressive, to eagerly warlike would be unable to stop fighting each other long enough for the cooperative effort needed to achieve interstellar travel, unless, like the Posleen, the were raised up and given the technology.Report

      • It’s an old SF trope, in various forms. Anderson’s Flandry stories include barbarian planets that were given spaceships and modern weapons. Or Brin’s Uplift novels, where evolution can only get so far on its own. Brin’s notion of leaving broad areas of the galaxy “fallow” to allow pre-sentient life to evolve also explains the lack of visiting aliens. Although Brin includes genocide as a not-unheard-of occurrence, even in a civilization that spans multiple galaxies and is billions of years old.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

      von Neumann probes, and other such, mean that we’ve got a serious problem with Drake’s Law — if there is intelligence out there (which, statistically speaking there ought to be, we have nearly infinite time and space).

      1) There isn’t any out there to speak of — we’re in the simulation, folks. I can cite some of the quantum physics, which really only suits Occam’s Law from one singular perspective. Now, the fun part comes if we send a probe past the edge of the “actual” universe…

      2) Some sort of interdiction, galactic plague, reason for not going to Earth-in-specific.

      3) Everyone has the good sense to hide from the big beasties that are out there.

      4) The big beasties are good hunters, and wipe out civilizations, and are about to hunt us.Report

  4. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    Humans and lettuce share 40% of our DNA, and our species have some degree of trouble communicating with each other despite our relative proximity.Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    It’s entirely possible that the aliens will have nothing to do with us because they think we’re gross.Report

  6. The globular cluster people are no threat to us; their minds have been turned into mush by the existence of interstellar Twitter.Report

  7. Avatar Patrick says:

    “If there were life thousands of light years away, it could’ve been around for millions or billions of years,” he told Mic. “If someone is alive out there, they would’ve long since developed as much as they can. If they didn’t spread out [to Earth], it means they’re stuck. And just being near other civilizations [in the globular cluster] doesn’t make them any less stuck, no matter how much they developed economically and socially.”

    Five untested assumptions in that quote.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    This post seems appropriate considering the death of Bowie. Star Man…,Report

  9. Avatar Damon says:

    I welcome our new alien overlords if they will only “frickin’ laser’ beam our dear leaders. Or make them all footstools.Report

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