Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Matter of Space, Time and Provincialism

Confronting the (even eventual) truth of extra terrestrial societies in this galaxy.
An essay on our own extra-terrestrial activities and new data pointing towards a day when we allow for such achievements to have originated on other worlds perhaps from other races as well.

Do extra-terrestrial civilizations exist ? Yep. Us for one.

Do they exist today ? Maybe, it depends on how you look at it, if you mean Aliens, maybe. It is soon to be determined with some scientific proof either way, not just speculation any longer.

Do we have any real, public proof of them ? A little. Our own artifacts on other worlds is a good start when we take into consideration the number of 'new' other worlds we've discovered in the past couple of years.

I'm sure right now there are a few readers out there tsk tsk-ing me and contemplating how serious their derision (or ignoring) of my basic premise (and maybe this entire post) will be, but please let me delve into this a little before you label me 'nut bar' (I'll let you know when – and yes, sorry about all the parenthesis here).

So, do they exist? I might have been better to phrase it 'will' they exist (since I do intend to touch a little on possibilities of alien civilization too), but I believe that time is somewhat transient in these larger considerations; if they will or have, then they generally can or do. Let me explain that one a little for you as well.
Once upon a time, man believed that the earth was flat – but was it round? Yes. Did that little fact matter at the time ? No. So was the earth flat ? For all practical purposes and as far as the pinnacle of our technology and philosophy were able to deduce; YES, the Earth WAS flat for all practical purposes. Was it really though ? Only so far as our limited perceptions at the time would allow it to be - to us (and who else matters when we are the only observers and recorders of thought and fact) yes, the Earth was flat. At that time you could ask; will the Earth one day be round ? Curiously we know that answer would be a yes; in actuality the earth is flat from our perspective, but it is/was also round from another unseen perspective - it depends on how you look(ed) at the question... and the Earth. There is a good scene in one of my favorite movies, based in about the 1400s that puts it aptly; " currently debate whether the Earth is flat or round... if it is proclaimed by the Pope to be flat and is revealed to be round, will the Pope's decree flatten it ?..." (paraphrasing ~ A Man For All Seasons 1966). Basically all I am trying to state here is that I am being liberal with the term 'do' in some respects - hinting that even if we don't (or can't) acknowledge it right now, it is still possibly true that extra-terrestrial civilizations, even ALIEN ones do or will exist for us. Just to dissuade the haters though, I would like them to consider our own accomplishments on the Moon and Mars. Apparently, various human and robotic exploration teams have ventured to extra-terrestrial bodies already, so that makes - at least - us an extra-terrestrial civilization. So I would appreciate it if all the people that wanted to jump down my throat a few minutes ago, at the mention of a possibility of “aliens” (which I am sure they would not appreciate to be called, especially how we mean it) would desist until I have made the points I would like to pose.

So, do extra-terrestrial civilizations exist - YES. There can be little doubt that at the very least WE qualify as such a civilization. I know that's a little hard to swallow; at best though, our provincial attitudes might allow us to accept us being E.T's without allowing for any considerations of species from other stars and other worlds, but at least we are now on some common ground, ET's can exist. Since WE are in fact an extra-terrestrial species, and we are today, I would like to examine the spiteful prejudice many in the space profession seem to have against any other species being capable of similar or greater feats - much less their being allowed to exist at all in our present paradigm. To my mind, saying that only humans can be space faring peoples makes as much sense as someone 200 years ago saying that only white men could be the president of the USA. We have truly made such great strides so quickly in the pat 50 years in these social concerns that we would shudder to confront the provincial and bigoted attitudes of some of our most revered historical figures. Go back in time and tell Thomas Jefferson that the decendants of his slaves would have equal rights in America and eventually their people would attain the highest office in the land and he would be likely to look at you like you just said his milk-cow could be elected to the house of representatives that he and his peers just fought and risked their lives to create. I am not trying to be fecescious or rude to Mr. Jefferson here, it was a symptom of the times. Nor do I desire to here appear biggoted myself, but we need to consider things in a larger historical context when we are looking into such large concepts.

Only 4 years ago this terrible blight of racism was finally overcome. A Black American won the preidential office. This is a great achievement that should never be deminished. We in this generation (thankfully) can not usually even fathom how far we have come in this regard. Mohammad Ali is someone who has made many statements about how far we have come in the black americans struggle against racism – even though it is not completely gone, to be sure. Even when he was an olympic gold medal winner, Ali could still not eat at some establishments. Since that time we have come around nearly 180 degrees. While racism still exists in some forms and in some people, as public policy and social norm it is heavily frowned upon and some of our strongest laws deal with the inducement of hatred towards people based on ethnicity or creed. We have come so far in a few score generations that our present way of life would be totally foreign to the founders and fathers of our nations. This blog entry is not about racism though, much more it is about making an examination of provincial attitudes and asking about how our tendancy to embrace such things is affecting our view of space exploration, life beyond the ozone and of ourselves today in a larger context. In exploring the phenomenon of the first black president and also the un-flattening of the earth I only mean to draw attention to how much things change. No one in the year 1200 would have taken the ideas of air planes or computers very seriously (even the 16 or 1700s for that matter) and indeed it would have had no relevance to their way of life. Similarly our mono-special mind frame is an extension of xenophobia that has lived with us since the destruction of the neandrathal clans at least. Humans are the best and only of Gods special creatures, right?. Just like the Earth is the center of the universe, right?. Ohhhh, riiiight, it turns out that the Earth might not actually be that center of the universe. We know now that it probably isn't the center of the solar system and certainly not of the galaxy... uh oh! Still we hold on dearly and sincerely to what little of these traditional, ignorant notions remain in the undiscovered country.

We accept these first few things (not the center of the solar system/galaxy) with little resistance now because they are so obvious and so scientifically substancial. I think also we embrace them because whether the Earth goes round the Sun or Sun round the Earth affects little in our lives. We forget quickly however that it was only the 1800s that we developed a system of standard time based on the notion of a round world spinning and circling the Sun. Even well into that age of technical super-advancement some doubted with all their hearts against the irreligious truths of the new 'science'. Sure educated people have known for centuries that the earth was very likely round (Columbus did make a go of it, after all). Some accounts go back all the way to ancient Greece and Rome (well, Egypt if you want to be technical) where people figured out the earth was round using sticks and foot steps to measure changing shadows over a few days worth of noon hour sun. Today, recently, we are about making similar claims and footprints on our way to entering a galactic community of scientific truth. Indeed, leading us in this direction, science fiction has existed and been robust for nearly 200 years now itself. Ever since mechanics and science have entered the sphere of the common man he has dreamed of achievements beyond his present means. Many of the most inspiring speeches of JFK also touch on this forward looking attitude. The 'choosing to do things not because they are easy' speech gave the nation - indeed the world - purpose and a hope in a greater tomorrow, in new horizons and in new dreams that they could not then truly fathom. New industry, new education, new technology and new sciences would all spring out of this spirit of the time, eventually leading us to where we are nearing today; A globally integrated information society already wading out into the depths of the cosmos beyond, but still not yet sure, not yet synchronous amongst itself. We are not yet ready for the task, but we are well on the way. With optimism I consider that it was ever thus in great endeavours.

Given the rapid advances in technology over the last 50 years (to say nothing of the last 10) I do not think it is far out for us to make some considerations about our closest interstellar neighbours. In the movie AVATAR we have reached a point in technology where we can travel to our nearest stellar counterpart in a few years travel time (it is about 2150 in the film – 200 years from the lives of those who saw Elvis live or heard the sound barrier be broken – for some perspective). Humans in the film can be safely hibernated for the journey and resources can be sent to and fro with obvious economic incentives to do so. That film is set several dozen decades in the future; besides the look of the people, (who it turns out have not evolved much physically) we really would be able to identify with very little in that time but nevertheless we are drawn to sympathy with the characters (yes, even the aliens) and can understand the story because it is written now, not then - but again, I digress.
I believe it will be within our technical ability to indeed visit other stars within even 100 years though the journey may be lengthy indeed. Light speed travel is a consideration on the edge of fringe-theory today, but even today we are creating methods of propulsion and have had others on the drawing board (see Project Orion, nearly 10% of light speed propusion using 1950s technology) that would allow us to travel at a significant percentage of that coveted speed. As much as people once thought the sound barrier could not be broken, today it is the light speed barrier that is absolute. I am however confident that one day we will best all such demons in the sky and associated fears from our past.

So, if we could travel to another star in a few years, only some 100 years from now; then we had better hope we are the only or most advanced species in the neighbourhood or else we might find we are only a small, provincial and imbecilic player in a much large game. My personal views and the information presently available make it impossible for me to reach any definite conclusion on the matter of ET aliens, but given the rapid advances in our awareness of exo-planetary bodies, I agree with Sagan; '...if its just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.' Kepler has uncovered dozens upon dozens of planets in the sliver of space it has had its eye on these past few years. Soon (I expect within 5-10 years) it will be revealed that we have discovered another world showing artificial light patterns on its dark side. Then we will have left the venue of province and become a global species... I hope. National borders will matter much less when we are confronted with the notion that we are not alone (not a threat from beyond is required, as Regan suggested, but just in general). It will be similar to how racial lines have faded in the last 50 years I project. Even if our own religious texts are to be believed, it is the case that aliens exist. Apparently it is fine to believe in creatures beyond the clouds as long as they are not corporeal, don't think or behave as we do and they are never seen anymore anywhere. Then it is fine to believe in 'aliens', just call them angels or demons (if they have underground bases) for what else could you possibly call a creature with superior intellect, technology and morals that floats around on a chair among the stars now-a-days ?? You see, even our lexicon is pushing us towards a greater acceptance of living beings beyond what we would have previously considered normal.
We find strange new creatures under the water that contain luciferns (yes a play on lucifer, the light bringer – I am not the only one who thinks that new and old are points along the same circle it would seem ;p ) meaning that they self illuminate, or are bio-luminescent if you prefer - even though they are largely blind and the environment is largely pitch black. We also find creatures that live in the thin regions between hot underwater thermal vents and the near freezing ocean depths; creatures that contain blood some say is even more complex than ours... if life can survive and thrive there, why not on another world which is similar to ours ? One which is much more hospitable than these strange locales and perhaps even older than our Earth... why not ?

While it is unclear whether life as we know it is a random chemical (re)action or it is intentionally seeded to produce humanoids with intellect and language ability and large cranial lobes; the jury is still out. But given that we are now discovering SCORES of new worlds in similar 'sweet spots' as ours it seems a little more than ridiculous to me to think that we are the only planet capable of, or indeed today supporting, life.

Now here is a consideration where it gets really tricky (and also where the confines of time as we appreciate them today break down). If we observe a planet 600 light years away (as with Kepler), we are really observing that planet 600 years ago, not as it appears today. Which means that if there are more advanced species than us out there they could be looking at the earth today as it appeared some 600 years ago. That means they would be looking at us as we appeared in the 1400s when we were still debating whether or not our own world was ever going to be capable of sustaining intelligent life (I jest, hopefully you can keep up). Really what this means is that other worlds may be the guardians of a constant record of one side of our planets development for over 600 years. Mostly they would just be able to monitor the changes that occoured in the day through surveys at night (assuming they could only see our dark side, as will be the case for us when we first observe these phenomena) but there could be others too and an interplanetary historical exchange could be the way we answer the questions of our history once we make it to a certain point in our destiny - again though, I digress.

So what on Earth does this have to do with the moon ? Well, its about paradigms and acceptance. Today all of us here on this site are hopeful of and appreciate the technology and the dangers involved in going to the moon. Most of us here would be willing to risk our meager lives in a heartbeat for the opportunity to be a pioneer on that new celestial body. Likewise with Mars too. I was totally inspired by the Mars500 and its tremendous success. We little appreciate how new this all is for us as a people. Personally I am on the fence about the veracity of the moon landings in the 60s and 70s (yes you can call me a nut now if you havn't yet ;p ) but either way it was about inspiration, about us choosing one of two options. Given the certainty that we will one day overpopulate the Earth we must embark on great wars and conquests between nations, ethnicities or religions at home (to slaughter and thus controll the population numbers) - or break free of that cycle and venture farther out. The UK was saved from intense famine and pestilence by the opening up of the New World in the 1690-1890 period, but many of the people were not the noble adventurers we'd like to imagine. Many were forced out, many were fleeing persecution and wanted little more than an expanse to run away to. As they worked away and developed the region, the old 'mother lands' became nearly entirely dependant on the spoils of this new frontier for their own opulent ways of living. Eventually the colonies grew tired of this exploitation and overthrew their former masters as they proclaimed their independance.

How we will develop space - even the moon - is of pivotal importance and begs us to reconsider these themes and times of grand exploration. Many thousands of people lost their lives in wars between the english, spanish, french and dutch colonies before the last great continental wars were fought between a homogonised 'american' people. Will the moon be the same ? Will USA, Russia and China all meet up there with the best of intentions and then compete bitterly as terrestrial rivalries heat up ? Will the moon become a battle front until the people there realize that they can be an example for peace and are far enough away from home to perhaps get away with a little rebellion? Are we willing to subdue our poor qualities here on earth to concentrate on a more 'human' project in the stars above ?

Much depends on what we have learned in the interim 2 or 300 year period and what kind of leaders we are setting up. What sort of attitudes and tolerances we have developed, what we hope to achieve for our children and their children with the limited opportunity of time that we have in this dimension. Personally I am thankful and in awe of the time in which I live. I have been fortunate for much of my life to be at the forefront of education and technology because of my raw intellect and the ability and inclinations of others to vest their dreams and hopes into what I may achieve because of it. Though I have failed abysmally so far to live up to any of them, I figure most great people make their greatest strides after 30+++, not before so I am only now approaching an age where I should bear some fruit on these matters. The past has been prologue,but just as I approach such an age of maturity I see the world around me changing, opening up to new possibilities which I feel born to be a part of. Though most people in my age group have little appreciation for the achievements of the kepler telecope I am somewhat also uplifted by the stride in which they take it. After a lifetime being raised around movies, stories and songs that touch on what may await us in the cosmos, they are very willing to casually disregard the significance of these achievements. It is both the best of times and the worst of times in that regard. If a scientist in the 1960s had produced the sort of data that we are seeing today from kepler there would have been people walking down the main streets of cities with burning crosses, or something. People would have felt like their whole universe was being torn apart. A very superstitious and provincial people will always react like that to bad omens; Facts that deminish their supreme role in the affairs of all they know are never welcomed thoughtfully by unreasonable people. Today I take particular note that we are entering a sort of SpaceRace2.0. Our efforts to return to the moon in the next two decades will be common place occourances for the generation just being born now. The fact that many famous people will have been tourists in space will be common for the 20 year olds of 2032. For generations past it was only the best most elite military heros that could even be considered for this, but now because of the METRO race to space, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Biggelow, among others - this will not be the case. Soon anyone will technically be able to go. Many will be able to work on the moon or a captured asteriod and get rich risking their lives to live inside the final frontier ! While this would all be an unbelieveable manifestations of sorcery to the pre-WW2 generation, it is almost completely EXPECTED to happen by those under 30 today. Much money is being thrown around to promote space in media, in music and on happy-meals; kids today are growing up with a notion that the moon is getting closer all the time as far as their ability to ascend to it. That my children or theirs will one day live or work on the moon or another body is an absolute certainty for me... not a far off dream of mine... if we do not destroy ourselves and the world beforehand then it is a surety that they will colonize and live on other worlds. Yes they will still have problems I would assume, high taxes, some pollution, religious dilemmas and ethical concerns that even I cannot forsee,etc, but life will spread, it will consume, it will expand... my seed will surely defecate on the face of another world - it is what it is. Unless they are deliberately held down (or we all live of vitamins), it is a natural evolution of life from Earth that they should do so.

If we have learned nothing from our own history, in which case we are doomed to repeat it, then the common, free and prosperous man will never go to the moon. The middle class will be left out of the plan and there will be elites and a sub-caste working the mines. A formula that always leads to ruin after the decadence of that upper tier on the Earth and beyond falls victim to its own useles redundance. Here's hoping we use our drive to explore other worlds as a means to promote and also save an endangered species of sorts; the well-to-do, proud, free, hard working, decent, middle class American that we nearly all once aspired to be before we sold much of that dream off for spandex pants, cheap drinks and questionable morals foisted from a secular government downward. May our ability to become and embrace extra-terrestrial civilization be our saving grace soon and then far into the future... even if it turns out that we are not the only ones at the table. If it does turn out that we are the only ones at that table, the answer to the question of the existance of extra-terrestrial civilizations still seems clear; Yes. We have already gone to the moon and mars. Just imagine if we'd been able to keep that same enthusiasim from the Kennedy years pushing through the 70s 80s and beyond... how far might we have flung our delicate species into the hositlity of eternity ? Thankfully there's still time to get it back.

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