Friday, 11 February 2011

Deep thought Friday

Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.

This has a little of the idea 'you're either with us or against us'. What if there is a third option, or multiple extra options, and the concept 'alone' is too simplistic, too anthropic?


ArmChairGeneral said...

There is always a side and a choice. Choosing to do nothing is still a choice.

Paul´s Bods said...

The other one I suppose would be join them..and destroy from the inside... sneeze on them :-D

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

I think I grok what you mean here. This sort of thinking gets tossed around a lot in classic works of Forteana. "Creature x can't possibly be real in the same way that a cow is real, and yet it's difficult to deny the possibility that it must exist in some way." It's a fascinating, if troubling, bit of insight. Humans like to forget that they think inside a limited cultural architecture.

Porky said...

@ ArmChairGeneral - I meant 'with or against' in the sense of 'if you're not a concept we can describe, you're not there'. I'll bet there's a lot out there we can not only not describe with existing concepts, but not even recognise as an entity which can be described, or even be capable of recognising.

Re Orwell and the idea that we can't morally - or perhaps even practically - stay aloof, I did once agree strongly, and probably still accept the logic, at the very least as a last resort. Now though I feel there are many more options than only joining a side or doing nothing. For example, the best way to avoid losing a war is not to fight one, not least because the winner is likely to be only a different kind of loser. To avoid situations in which not to fight would be to appease, deep strategic thought is needed. In general, the best way to emerge successful might be not to let the enemy - if that's the right word - know the war was ever on.

@ Paul's Bods - I'm guessing that's a reference to the psychic powers / magic post, but it really could be another of those extra options, maybe not to destroy, but to remind a larger being of its own vulnerability, pretty much like the cold does to us this time of year.

This also reminds me for the second time in the past couple of days of an old Doctor Who story, The Curse of Fenric. Without spoiling the resolution, a chess game is won in a highly unorthodox way. I recommend it to any Who fans and anyone interested in the Second World War, vikings or vampires.

@ Greg Gorgonmilk - This is what I'm thinking. Our preoccupations and even our abilities are still quite possibly miniscule in the scheme of things. I haven't read Mr Fort's Times in many years. I might well get a lot more out of it now too.

Ray Rousell said...

Bloody hell, I read these post and the article twice, and I still don't know what's going on??LOL!
Yes there are aliens, but not as we know it!

GDMNW said...

You know I think this quote is the better:

Either humanity is the only intelligent life in existence or it is not. Which is less terrifying?

Clarke's quote is a little more ambiguous. A few trillion bacteria on Mars isn't quite as exciting as some intelligent things on their way here from Alpha Centauri C's solar system...

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

@GDMNW: This invites the same sort of problem. The notion of intelligence, of possessing intellect, is an abstract outgrowth of human culture. We use it as a ruler to compare ourselves to other animals. What if our closest neighbors are constituted in ways that are wholly unlike the fleshy sacks of us and our Earthy friends? The more unlike us, the more likely that their perspective (to borrow another anthropic ruler) and modalities are fundamentally outside our ability to grasp consciously.

NetherWerks said...

This is a very childish attitude, really. Essentially it is saying; 'If I can't see it, then it doesn't exist.'

Really, what we might consider is how we ought to look for whatever it is that we're looking for...and of course it would help if we could clearly define what it is that we're looking for as well...

What do we mean by 'intelligence,' and what sorts or types of intelligence are we interested in and capable of discerning or recognizing?

the problem is not with the aliens or whatever, it is with us and how we frame the questions we ask, and how we go about looking at things.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

I think it's foolish to believe that in the whole universe, we're the only "intelligent" life.

Definitely "intelligent" though is tricky. By whose standards? There could be supreme beings out there who don't consider us to be intelligent.

The Matrix copied the idea from 13th Floor, but technically we can't say for sure that we're not just an incredibly advanced series of "If this, then do this" living in a simulator. (It doesn't have to be a machine either.. who says biological programming can't exist?) We look at computers that can calculate far more than us as unintelligent because they still need instructions - triggers and reactions. It could be argued that's what the human brain does on a biological level, so maybe we aren't intelligent.

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

@Pork, NetherWerks & y'all: If I may make a recommendation, Stanislaw Lem's _His Master's Voice_ tackles some of the subjects we're talking about. Earth intercepts a broadcast from deep space. The 'message' is so staggering complex that several teams of top scientific minds from a whole array of disciplines are tasked with the problem of 'translating' it. The whole novel is a mirror on the anthropic world of men and scientists in particular. IMHO this is one of the most thought-provoking and insightful works of hard sci fi written to date.

Porky said...

@ Ray Rousell - We're all in essentially the same boat, and I think the final thought is a fair - and "logical" - conclusion..!

@ GDMNW - I think Greg has a good point, and one that is far too rarely made, but I do see yours too. There's naturally more excitement at the idea of interaction with a form of life more like us. Also, the existence of the bacteria leaves much of the burden of uncertainty in place, and adds a responsibility, while the existence of a comparable lifeform might bring a kind of relief, a sense that we're not alone in it all and that a great leap forward has or will been made.

@ NetherWerks - "Childish" seems strong, but when I put this together I realised that I too was questioning the subtlety of one of the great minds. I think we have to ask though, and it's clearly not an attack. Times change, knowledge grows, and it's quite possible that even the averagely interested party these days can know more in some areas than a visionary of the past. That's progress, that's the drive.

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - Have you heard of the Omega Point? I mentioned it earlier this week, re the psychics / magic. It's regarded as pseudoscience by many, but there's a cautious introduction at the 2001 post. I recommend looking into it to anyone interested in simulated reality and/or intelligence.

@ Greg Gorgonmilk - Good choice. I recently read a short story with a similar premise at Strange Horizons.