Academic Robes
links for 2008-05-15

Theodicy and the Rapture for Nerds

Charlie Stross provides us with a short course in modern theology:

Charlie's Diary: The Fermi Paradox revisited; random despatches from the front line: The Fermi Paradox.... We exist, therefore intelligent life in this universe is possible. The universe is big.... So where is everybody? Why can't we hear their radio transmissions or see gross physical evidence of all the galactic empires out there?... [I]t's a fascinating philosophical conundrum — and an important one: because it raises questions such as "how common are technological civilizations" and "how long do they survive", and that latter one strikes too close to home for comfort.... Anyway, here are a couple of interesting papers... the 21st century rationalist version of those old-time mediaeval arguments about angels, pin-heads, and the fire limit for the dance hall built thereon:

First off the block is Nick Bostrom.... "The Great Filter must therefore be sufficiently powerful--which is to say, passing the critical points must be sufficiently improbable--that even with many billions of rolls of the dice, one ends up with nothing: no aliens, no spacecraft, no signals. At least, none that we can detect in our neck of the woods." The nature of the Great Filter is somewhat important. If it exists at all, there are two possibilities; it could lie in our past, or in our future. If it's in our past, if it's something like (for example) the evolution of multicellular life — that is, if unicellular organisms are ubiquitous but the leap to multicellularity is vanishingly rare — then we're past it.... But if the Great Filter lies between the development of language and tool using creatures and the development of interstellar communication technology, then... we're going to run into it, and then ... we won't be around to worry any more.

But the Great Filter argument isn't the only answer.... Milan M. Ćirković... criticizes the empire-state model of posthuman civilization that is implicit in many Fermi Paradox treatments... for a civilization to be visible at interstellar distances it needs to be expanding and utilizing resources in certain ways.... Ćirković explores... non-empire advanced civilizations... such localized civilizations would actually be very difficult to detect....

Finally... here's John Smart pinning a singularitarian twist on the donkey's tail... our posthuman descendants bootstrapping themselves all the way into "'intelligent' cosmological developmental singularities, highly compressed structures, censored from universal observation, which are very likely distantly related to the quasars and black holes."... [I]t's down the rabbit hole that we're heading, which fits neatly with the city-state model that Ćirković explores....

Finally... John Baez on the end of the universe... Boltzmann brains...