30 November 2018

Stephan Schwartz's The Awakening

 I just finished reading Stephan Schwartz's The Awakening. He's a neuroscientist and sort of latter day Alvin Toffleresqe futurist, who obviously believes, as many of us now do, that human civilization is at a major crossroads as a result of the Climate Catastrophe. Many roads lead to very dire outcomes; a few may lead to a more sustainable world. 

Anyway, there are certain points of congruence in this novel with the science fiction ideas I've been thinking about, although his theories about universal consciousness being eternal and separate from matter and energy are, I think, either a fictional device or (more likely) systematic new agey wishful thinking on his part. As is the mostly tacit assumption that the Saganian view of the prevalence of extraterrestrial intelligence (and even humanoid form) is correct. I am about as sure, speculatively speaking, that this is not the way the world really is, as I am about anything. In my view, complex life is pretty rare, maybe even extremely rare, in the universe (so far; its prevalence has great potential to grow exponentially in the future); contemporaneously existing intelligent civilizations are at least two orders of magnitude rarer still; really long range space travel is essentially impossible; and even long range communication is hobbled by the speed of light, which means that civilizations' intercommunication, when it is even practical at all, is so slow that it can only amount to exchange of histories and broad perspectives. Science, apart from esoterica, is likely to be more a shared background than a frontier. And consciousness arises from, and is limited by, matter and energy, it does not exist apart from and without reference to the limitations of, matter, energy, or, for that matter, spacetime. I know, puritanism in space, not fun at all, etc. But I'm pretty sure these broad points are accurate.

Schwartz's novel is readable, but it's not great literature. One thing that is similar to what I've been thinking about is that it's more or less utopian, a type of literature that has been out of fashion for quite a while. 

Apropos, although you cannot rule out absolutely the possibility that extraterrestrials at some point in the 4,000 million year history of life on Earth have physically visited this planet, Sagan's dictum that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" at some point has to be squared with Occam's razor. I believe that if anything even remotely like the idea were true that there were some thousands of spacefaring civilizations in our galaxy, and they were for whatever zoo hypothesis/prime directive/Galactic primitives non-interference protocol or whatever essentially quarantining our planet, it would amount to the greatest conspiracy theory ever. And thing about conspiracies, is that they are only ever real when they're small scale. Think about it. Large scale secret cabals to keep the truth from the masses are always paranoid fantasies. I can think of no single exception. The fact is that it just isn't possible to keep those kinds of secrets. People tell tales. Things get out. And even on the scale of the cosmic, it's just not believable to me that stealth technology and unity of purpose among the ETs could keep the presence of ET technology perfectly secret for years or centuries. By the same token, if spacefaring cultures really were prevalent, even within my postulated constraints of slower-than-light travel only, within less than a very few million years, it would have been quite feasible for them to have visited and cataloged every single living planet in the galaxy and be working on the Clouds of Magellan and thinking about nearby galaxies M31 and M33. So my conclusion is that, so far, in our still relatively young universe, such technology remains really quite rare.  (In fact, we have no actual evidence that it exists at all, anywhere). Because I just don't see any reason to believe that our planet has been or is being visited by ETs, and I think we've already reached the point in the various SETI strategies that the absence of any evidence has set some quite real constraints on just how common, and how advanced, the technologies of any contemporaneous denizens of our galaxy may be. Notnecessarily none, but few; and none of them have had real spacefaring technology for really long periods of time. Yet

I rest my case, I believe it to be what the evidence (including lack thereof) shows. And while Schwartz's book is interesting for its perspective on our current global predicament, if it is intended to be a plausible scenario for something that could actually happen, well, not so much. 

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