The Great Filter, Part Three

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth

As promised, here is my third essay on the great filter; lets talk about whether civilizations lose their desire to colonize the galaxy.

As a refresher, in order for something to be a filter, it needs to have the following characteristics.

1: It must prevent the colonization of the galaxy.

2: It needs to be stable (or long-lasting), if it effects a civilization in time period x, it must still do so in period x+1.

3: It needs to be universal, and effect (nearly) all civilizations, regardless of biology or culture.

So will we all lose not our ability to colonize the stars, but our desire to do so? What could cause this? The simplest answer is that we will create virtual worlds, and then lose ourselves within those worlds; at such a point, we simply wouldn’t want to colonize anything anymore; dead planets hold no interest compared to the imaginative worlds we can create for ourselves.

The problem with this is that while a human in some sort of computer induced dream state may use orders of magnitude less resources than normal humans, we would still need some energy. And if we still have some sort of desire to multiply ourselves, then we should expect us to use as much of the universe’s energy as we can.

In fact, I think its a fairly easy step to say that creating a virtual world would lead to MORE reason to colonize the stars, not less. After all, we wouldn’t have to care about habitability of planets, computers are shown to work quite well in space and other hostile environments (Mars, etc).

Another reason we might not want to colonize the visible universe is because we find something better; maybe all the cool alien species are hanging out in hyper-space right now. While this may be the case, but we have no evidence of this hyper-space yet, so this is firmly in the realm of speculation.

One final idea, put simply is that, as civilizations advance, their preferences become similar. That is, there is some sort of universal truth which, every civilization, as it becomes more advances, begins to believe in and adhere to.

This truth would have to have something to say about the virtues of reproducing indefinitely, either because its not utility maximizing, or because its not morally correct (or both).

These ideas seem very weird, the first more so. It seems quite odd that all civilizations, regardless of the starting point of their culture, biology, genetics, etc, will, on a long enough time scale, become very similar with regards to their desires on a civilization scale. While it’s always possible that there’s some mechanism which would cause this, I think that it is bizarre enough that we can dismiss it.

The alternative to this is that all intelligent civilizations are basically the exact same in terms of utility; that if we were to suddenly find another alien species, they would basically be us, the same fights over religion, the same consumerism, the same concept of ascetics, etc. This also seems very unlikely to me, because on the first part there is enough diversity in behavior between human cultures here on earth, and because even if this were true based on what we know about human ideas it increase, not decrease, the desire to colonize the stars.

The other option is that we lose the desire to go among the stars not because we don’t gain utility from doing so, but because its somehow not morally right. To put it simply, all civilizations, as they become more and more advanced technologically, also become more advanced philosophically, and they begin to reach the same conclusions as all other civilizations at the same level of advancement, regardless of starting point.

Lets use an example, imagine an insectoid like species; it has a queen which lays thousands or millions of eggs; the vast majority of which grow to be things which themselves don’t reproduce; instead they somehow serve the colony. Some, perhaps all of them, become sentient conscious beings (basically, think of a termite or ant colony if termites or ants were intelligent). This species not only has “worker” drones, but “thinker” drones as well, who’s job is to consciously design things, philosophize, advance the bug civilization, etc. We can probably assume that the moral framework of this civilization would be radically different from our own.

Yet, if we observed such a civilization, and over time it became more and more like ours in a moral dimension (or we became more and more like theirs), well then what would our conclusion be? Furthermore, lets assume that all civilizations everywhere become more like each other, from civilizations populated by telepaths to those populated by intelligent asexual slime molds, as they get more advanced they become more alike morally.

Lets pose another question. Lets say that they all develop hyper-speed spaceships independently, and they are all diverse. Yet over time, their spaceships become more and more alike, even though the civilizations have made contact with one another. What this tells us is simple, that, due to the laws of physics, there is one type of hyper-speed drive which is better than all the others, and that regardless of the original design of the drive, by constantly improving the drive it will become more and more like the “ideal” hyper-speed drive. Of course, the reason this happens is that there is a single law of physics (or set of laws of physics) universal to the entire cosmos.

Returning now to our speculation regarding the alien bugs; if all civilizations become more and more like each other morally (despite no contact between civilizations), then by far the most likely conclusion is that there is a single law of morality (or set of laws of morality), universal to the entire cosmos.

So, to relate this to the question of the great filter, we get the following: There is a universal observable law of morality, to which all civilizations sufficiently advanced to colonize the galaxy will have discovered and will adhere to, which proscribes against the colonization of the galaxy.

I’m proposing this as an explanation for the Fermi Paradox. Of course this is a stretch, what I’m basically saying is that when we look to the stars, we don’t see stars with a certain level of infra-red radiation, and therefore we can conclude there is objective moral truth. Now, it’s entirely possible that I’m making some mistakes on some of the possibilities; maybe I’m underestimating the possibility of nuclear war, or that I’m misunderstanding some argument, or perhaps there is no great filter, the universe is teeming with intelligent life that we just can’t see or recognize, or that there is another filter which I just haven’t considered. However, I do believe if nothing else, the existence of the Fermi Paradox should increase (if perhaps slightly), our belief in the existence of universal moral law.

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