Re: [unrev-II] It could have happened...

From: Paul Fernhout (
Date: Thu Nov 09 2000 - 19:53:29 PST

  • Next message: Eric Armstrong: "Re: [unrev-II] It could have happened..."

    Eric Armstrong wrote:
    > I've continued to ask myself, how could we
    > reseed civilization after a meteorite impact?

    Interesting thinking. It inspired this essay. It's a little rambling and
    over the top philosophically... I really need to catch up on my sleep
    after staying up for this cliffhanger election...

    Starting with something I've posted before on Slashdot:


    Some people at NASA from a generation raised on planetary sci-fi just
    doesn't get it. Colonizing the surface of the Moon would create a
    habitable area equal to Africa. Colonizing Mars would produce a
    habitable area with a surface area equal to Earth's land masses (not
    including ocean surface). Sure, do it someday for fun, but not first.

    NASA should instead invest the bulk of its R&D in creating one
    self-replicating space habitat that could duplicate itself using only
    sunlight and asteroidal ore. If duplicating once per year in a hundred
    years such a habitat and its offspring would produce thousands of times
    the habitable surface of the Earth, enough to support trillions of
    humans and large populations of other species.

    Remember: a planet is a very wasteful way to use mass. It is much more
    efficient to use shells to contain atmosphere. If you want gravity, just
    spin it. If you don't want gravity, live in bubbles.

    Related links (the first has great pictures)


    Space station? For a hundred billion (estimated total cost over the life
    of the ISS) we should have had a space habitat; look for cost
    calculations by my Physics professor at Princeton (the late Gerry
    O'Neill) based on using a lunar mass driver (although I am not a big fan
    of solar space satellites which was his plan to fund the habitats).

    Gerry O'Neill started teaching his students about space habitats by
    having them answer the questions: is the surface of a planet the best
    place for an expanding industrial civilization? The answer is that it
    makes more sense to have industry/civilization in space -- cheap energy,
    little worry about pollution, variable gravity, plenty of raw materials,
    lots of room for expansion, no endangered species (we know of), less
    zoning laws.

    I think the habitats will be self-funding as places to live and sources
    of vast computational power (produced using the cheap power) and
    creative product designs (from the inhabitants) much like many city
    cores are today. The greatest value to Europe of the colonization of
    America wasn't in raw materials but in resulting new ideas and wartime
    aid centuries later and the value of having a place to ship dissidents
    and malcontents and the poor.

    It is unfortunate the best qualities and values of many of the native
    Americans were overlooked and violated during the subsequent genocide
    over land possession -- those qualities and ways of living might have
    helped prevent those disastrous Eurpoean wars if they had been America's
    prime export instead of cotton and other goods. One might hope they
    still can -- see for example the values in "The Walking People".
    From the first link:
    > "The Walking People" is a transcription of the oral history of
    > part of the Iroquois people.
    > [snip]
    > Above all, this is a book about organizational learning.
    > The Walking People make a conscious choice to
    > be open to the changing world around them, never making assumptions,
    > always willing to learn, ever appreciative of the subtlety and majesty
    > of the world. They choose adaptation over arrogance, listening
    > over ego. They have a profoundly spiritual view of Nature.
    > They encounter many people who have made other choices-- those who try to
    > enslave weaker tribes, or those who create jealous gods in the face of
    > countervailing physical evidence-- and they charitably characterize these
    > people as "not a learning people." In their journey, they encounter
    > wildly varying climates, terrain, and food sources. If they weren't
    > open and humble, they wouldn't have survived.

    Hopefully, expansion into space will not destroy or overlook something
    of equal value. Likely though (rightly or wrongly) the trillions of
    people living in space habitats will look (literally) down on Earth
    residents as a sort of uncultured poor ancestry who should be sent
    economic and technical aid because they aren't smart enough to move
    off-planet. It is likely the ideas of these trillions of people will
    produce a sort of cultural imperialism over the next millennia, just
    like American TV shows produce a sort of cultural imperialism back in
    Europe. How will a few billion (poor) people on Earth match the
    creativity of trillions of (wealthy) people in space?

    Of course, self-replicating space habitats might still be destroyed by a
    plague of destructive self-replicating robots, similar to how a species
    could go extinct from a disease, but the odds are probably lower than a
    planetary civilization getting wiped out.

    I strongly believe self-replicating space habitats will be the future
    homes of the bulk of the human race if we survive to bring it about in
    the face of intelligent machines and dropping birth rates in
    industrialized nations. That doesn't mean most people on Earth will move
    to them -- it would only takes a few million émigrés and a few centuries
    exponential population growth to produce billions of space habitat
    residents who never have set foot on Earth. It might be ironic if
    someday typically conservative organizations like the Catholic Church
    became the major proponents of self-replicating space habitats as a way
    to accommodate their values related to procreation.

    One (admittedly bizarre) question I've been musing on lately is: is it
    morally wrong to pursue a course of action that will ultimately lead to
    the deaths and related suffering (after perhaps long, rich lives) of
    trillions of people (and their engineered derivatives) in the next
    thousand years or so? If we just let the human race go extinct in this
    century (via war, pestilence, meteorites, apathy, etc.), then these
    trillions of deaths (with their preceding lives and related suffering)
    will have been avoided. This is a somewhat related argument to saying
    people shouldn't eat meat because it causes animals that might not have
    otherwise lived to be born and suffer miserable lives and then be
    slaughtered. It's a complex argument -- the obvious retort is if the
    lives are worthwhile (not typical for food animals) then the dying part
    is more than balanced out by the value of the living part. Still, once
    one starts making massive shifts to the course of human destiny via
    augmenting technology these sorts of questions pop up.

    A related brief excerpt from an essay on Buddhism found at:
    > Buddhism and the problem of suffering
    > by D. Amarasiri Weeraratne
    > The problem of suffering is universally recognised.
    > No other problem of theology or
    > the philosophy of religion has drawn and sustained the attention
    > of so many thinkers in all climes and ages.
    > In the words of the Hebrew prophet, "Man is born to trouble as
    > the sparks fly upward". It was the celebrated Greek poet Homer who said,
    > "For men on earth it is better not to be born at all,
    > or being born to pass through the gates of Hades with all speed".
    > Socrates the sage of Greece declared that if the troubles of
    > men were to be reshuffled and distributed, each man would be content with
    > his quota and would not like to share that of another.
    > Anatole France summed up in seven words the history of mankind when he said,
    > "Man is born he suffers and dies", Tennyson in his ‘In Memoriam’ depicts
    > the universality of suffering when he said in two poignant
    > lines "But never morning wore to evening, but some heart did break".
    > Instances can be multiplied from the world’s literature to show that
    > the keynote that underlies existence is suffering. It is on this central
    > theme that the Buddha built up his doctrine". "One
    > thing do I teach suffering and the cessation of suffering" said the Buddha.
    > He was not concerned with speculative problems like the existence of God,
    > creation of the world etc. He started from known facts, the burning
    > question that grappled the attention of thinkers who formed the elite
    > among the world’s philosophers. Not only human life,
    > but life in the ocean depths, forests, and among the birds of the air
    > is dominated by suffering. The inexorable law of eating and avoiding
    > been eaten is at work among the animals. They too are subject to
    > disease, decay, and death, and suffer in consequence.

    So, based on that, it is a legitimate question to ask if one does want
    to go to extreme lengths to ensure continued existence of the human
    race. This is irrespective of one's personal philosophy given the fact
    that the reader is already alive through being born by no fault of his
    or her own. We need to distinguish between the issue of a personal life
    lead according to conventions and the decision to push existence and
    those conventions of living on to future generations.

    Proceeding on the presumption that it is morally acceptable (if not also
    moraaly justified and/or perhaps even morally required) to inflict
    suffering/living/dying on trillions of as yet unborn humans (or in other
    words, affirming the classical survival value model of evolved
    contemplative life, i.e. love&life as a celebration&comedy outweighs the
    tragedy), then self-replicating space habitats are the way to go, and
    may be be humankind's ultimate technological innovation.

    Here is the latest cataclysmic hobgoblin I am musing over which the ISS
    or space habitats not protect us from (the Galactic Superwave):
    The last I couldn't reach directly and is cached at:

    Also see:
    Cached at:

    From the first cached page:
    > Dr. Paul LaViolette is a very quiet, modest. soft-spoken, humble and
    > unassuming, scientist. . . but like the boy with his finger in the dike,
    > he could be forgiven if he were loud, bombastic, insistent, rude and
    > intemperate -- because his message most emphatically means life and death,
    > survival versus oblivion, opportunity grasped over against an accelerating
    > nightmare of the elements of Nature periodically gone wild. The Galactic
    > disaster he alone has discovered and documented, recurs once every 13,000
    > years. Concatenating astronomy, physics, geology, meteorology and archeology,
    > he finds a ubiquitous, grim and irrefutable true story of stark terror told
    > by astrology, myth and legend: The Core of the Galaxy routinely explodes,
    > leading to circumstances that in the past have resulted
    > in mass extinctions - and we're presently somewhat overdue.

    The basic notion is that just because the night sky looks constant to
    casual observation doesn't mean really terrifying things don't happen in
    the night sky every ten thousand years or so.

    I've also heard of a prediction that if a star within a hundred light
    years went super nova all life on Earth would be killed by the massive
    neutrino (not neutron) flux [i.e. really massive so the normally
    negligible interaction probability of neutrinos might do serious
    biological damage]. Good thing we live in an unfashionable* sparsely
    populated section of our Galaxy -- something space habitats also will
    not protect from.

    Perhaps planning to survive a galactic Superwave disaster or nearby
    supernova is the kind of activity which would take a trillion humans
    commanding the resources of the solar system and the increased
    likelihood one of those (augmented) trillions would have the creative
    idea to handle that challenge. Here is a technobabble solution to the
    Superwave problem: perhaps a solar system wide quantum bubble generated
    by billions of habitats could divert the Superwave energy inside that
    bubble into harmless vibration of particles along one of the other 19
    dimensions hypothesized for our space-time continuum?

    Of course, for a more certain disaster, a Scientific American article
    from 10 years ago (vaguely remembered) said all life on the planet is
    doomed in 100 million years because the Sun has been getting hotter at a
    rate oddly (think Gaia hypothesis) compensated by the loss of
    atmospheric greenhouse CO2 which has kept the Earth's heat balance
    relatively stable over the past couple billion years. In 100 million
    years the CO2 will be all gone (global warming a minor blip in this) and
    the Earth's surface will be too hot to support life. You can't add more
    CO2 back to solve the problem as this would just make the surface even

    100 Million years is about last 3% of Gaia's life (of a few billion
    years). If Gaia is in the last 3% of her life, it would make sense for
    her to change her life strategy and risk mass extinctions through
    spawning an intelligent species capable of acting as a geological force,
    to gain a chance to perhaps give birth to other Gaias (as
    self-replicating space habitats). [However some big mylar mirrors in
    space orbiting the planet might reduce the incident solar radiation, so
    this particular disaster is perhaps easily handled by planet bound

    -Paul Fernhout
    Kurtz-Fernhout Software
    Developers of custom software and educational simulations
    Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator

    *["unfashionable" concept from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas

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    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Nov 09 2000 - 20:18:17 PST