06 November 2015

Yet another comment on the implications of faster than light travel, or the impossibility thereof.

A friend sent me a link to this youtube presentation hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. With the suggestion that there is new research indicating that the commonly held belief that no massive particles travel faster than light may not be correct. And that somehow this has implications for the future possibility of Star Trek/Star Wars style faster than light space travel. I won't get into the arcane reasons why FTL violates causality and is almost certainly impossible, as I have blathered on about all that before. See gyromantic.com and search for FTL if you are interested. 


Here is my characteristically grumpy response (Warning: of no interest to people who don't think long term and have an interest in the future of humanity at the longest time scales).

This was fairly interesting, although in terms of giving any real indication that it will ever be possible to move ordinary matter (such as human beings) at superluminal speeds, I'd say, pretty much: zippo. Glashow was the most conservative, but there's really nothing any of them said that indicates there's any reason to believe physics will ever open that door.

I'm not troubled by that. It is apparent to me, speaking quasi-teleologically, that the universe is organized in such a way that the great leap, on the scale of the bodies of, and in terms of distances accessible to, naturally evolved beings and their artificial civilizations, is the relatively great distances between stars. The inferrable fact that these distances are bridgeable at all only with difficulty, and that they will never be bridgeable casually, in spans of time short in comparison to the "attention span" of such natural beings, has two major implications: there is a strong natural incentive to achieve long term sustainability, balance and efficient resource utilization within star systems, and the universe is not likely to be overrun by extremely advanced civilizations that plow through the field and destroy the opportunities for unique evolution in many disparate locales. Essentially, physics, and therefore economics, favors staying home and cultivating one's own star-system garden, and maybe colonizing slowly nearby stars. Galaxy-spanning empires are just too expensive and impractical to be worth pursuing. In general.

Another possible implication is that either in the future, or elsewhere already, it is probably transcendent organisms, possibly of artificial origin, that have the capacity to exist for extremely long periods of time, that will or already have the ability to practically travel among the stars. That this is not apparent indicates to me that it happens either rarely, or that, in this comparatively young universe, it has not yet become common.

Note that that doesn't refer to slow colonization of other stars, and slow spread of civilization, which I believe is possible for our kind, or beings much like us, without much enhancement or modification through intentional artificial evolution. The evidence (peace to theories to the contrary) that visitation to the Earth by other life has either not occurred (my view), or, at minimum, has been exceedingly rare (no more than which I believe the evidence allows), suggests that even this does not commonly occur in the wider universe, since, for reasons we've discussed several times before, if civilizations were common that 1) were able to sustainably begin a program of even subluminal speed colonization, and 2) were able to survive and prosecute such a program for at least hundreds of thousands of years or more, we would almost certainly already know about them, because any such civilization could colonize an entire galaxy in a period of time short in relation to the period of time that habitable worlds, and thus, probably, life, have existed in any given galaxy. And as far as we can see, and that's actually rather a lot (I cite Kepler and the "absence of evidence" from SETI), this has not happened in our Galaxy and probably not in any nearby galaxy (since even a civilization of that level of advancement would probably leave evidence of mega-engineering that would be detectable at prodigious distances).

I admit I have very definite views on this subject, which I find endlessly fascinating. I am a little intolerant of speculation that doesn't address the issues. That's one of the things I dislike about a lot of science fiction. Somehow if it just drops all pretense and posits magic (hyperspace drive or whatever), that's preferable to when it pretends to address the implications of the actual limits of physical reality, but then just ignores the objections. Most "wormhole" stuff in science fiction, for example, is just nonsense, because it completely ignores well-known effects of General Relativity.

Now, I can't help but wonder if anyone actually read this post all the way to the end. If you did, please comment.

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