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Interview with Seth Shostak —Reported 2001-12-21 19:42 by Siduri

Family Values

"You just put a thousand people on board and make sure they're all friendly. Both sexes, and lots of videotapes."

Mark Territory

NOW Mark wants to talk about Klingons

Mark: I have a question then. Do you think then that perhaps the answer to travel through the universe isn't to go faster than the speed of light, but rather being able to take long enough that you don't care how slow you're going?

Seth: Well, I mean, if you can go faster than the speed of light, great. But that's really haaaard. You know, physics doesn't really allow that. There are tricks, you can...

Siduri: You can start off faster than the speed of light.

Seth: You must have seen K-PAX. If you believe that...

Siduri: No, it's tachyons, it's from Star Trek!

Seth: Tachyons. But no one's ever found a tachyon, and people have looked. And also, how do you start off faster than the speed of light?

Siduri: Dunno.

Seth: It is tough. Mind you, there are ways to cheat the geometry of space and all that. You just hang a big black hole in front of your spacecraft, have it warp space in front of you so you can shorten the distances. But, you know, that's hard. You've got this big black hole, you've got to hang it in front of the ship, and you've got to take it along with you too. So all that's really hard.

Siduri: We can do that organically too. We can build colony ships.

Seth: Yeah. Now that's the other approach, and [to Mark] I think that's what you were getting at. To do any of that—the energy involved in creating the black hole is, again, enormous amounts of energy, so you might as well just have a giant matter/antimatter spacecraft and do it that way. Because if you get the thing up to high enough speed, then it doesn't take any time to go anywhere, because of special relativity. Of course you do have the radiation problem of everything hitting your craft, which you might not get with the black hole solution, but I don't know.

Anyhow, I'm not sure that's the way to go. It just seems no matter what you do there, you're paying all this energy cost. But if you go slowly, you obviate the danger and the energy cost, and maybe the thing to do is either: re-engineer ourselves so that everybody lives to be a hundred thousand years old, in which case you don't mind that the trip takes fifty thousand years; or two, put everybody to sleep, and have them wake up at the other end. I don't know how to do that. These cryonics people freeze people, but when they defrost them, they don't move around very much.

And the third possibility is that you have these colonies, you have big arks. You just put a thousand people on board and make sure they're all friendly. Both sexes, and lots of videotapes to entertain them. And you just send them all out there. Maybe that would work. It probably wouldn't work.

TCS: It's kind of appealing to the family values.

Seth: It would work for the first generation, but after that it's going to be the values of any mutinous group of people on a ship.

Siduri: Well no, because the kids will have grown up there, they'll be fine.

Seth: They may not be. That's not the experience, apparently. The experience is that it breaks up into factions, sort of warring clans.

Siduri: Mm.

Seth: Pretty soon, nobody remembers why they're on this thing anymore. The original inspiration is long gone, and probably they've lost all the skill sets. You start out with all these engineers, and scientists, and who knows what, but now they've all turned into—they're all designing websites for one another onboard ship. Who knows. The expertise is gone, and then they're getting into fights, and you know, the ship arrives and everybody onboard is dead. They're dead, Jim.

I don't know, but that's what the sociologists have had to say. I think it's a pretty uncertain enterprise. Just look at what happened to Captain Bly. He wasn't gone for fifty thousand years either. People get a little feisty on these ships.

Mark: So, you mentioned Klingons. Certainly Klingons and Vulcans and things, we all know what they look like, from the television shows and movies. Have you got a pet theory on what alien races might look like?

Seth: I do get asked that quite often. And obviously I have no answer—well of course I have some opinions, but they're not based on very much except the most elementary things. Clearly, you've heard from me that I'm not convinced they're going to be biological. So if they're not biological, they could have just about any shape, really. If you look at the machines we've got, the shape is determined mostly by packaging considerations, or what's convenient—in the case of computers you don't want to make them too big because it slows them down, but other than that you don't really care much what they look like. So machine intelligence might look like anything.

But biological intelligence—you would expect some sort of good engineering because they've got to function as an organism. So they're going to have senses, like eyes, ears, maybe magnetic field detectors. Who knows what. But the sorts of sensors we have make sense. Eyes are great because they can give you a lot of information, and any planet that's going to produce biology is going to have quite a bit of light. Ears are useful when sightlines are short, for example in a forest: you can't always see everything but you can hear stuff. Smell is good for some critters: doesn't seem to be so good for us. Having limbs that you can wield a soldering iron with is important if you're going to be a technological civilization, so if you don't have any arms or legs—if you're like a seal—you're not going to build radio transmitters.

So there's all these things you could say, but nonetheless, it isn't to say that the aliens look like the Greys that you see all the time on TV—they look like us, they just look like us with less hair. No skin blemishes, and usually no clothes. But they really do look like us. I don't think the aliens are gonna really look much like us. There'll be some recognizable things, if they're biological.

TCS: Wait a minute. Looks like us, no skin blemishes, no clothes. This sounds like paradise.

Seth: Sounds like babies. Most of these are projections of what we're expecting to become. If you look at them, they're guys with big heads, small bodies, right, because in the future you won't have a physically demanding job: all that sort of stuff. So that's what it is. It's saying "yeah, this is the way we figure we'll be, so that must be what these advanced aliens are like." That's all it is. But the real aliens, if they're biological, maybe they've reengineered themselves. Maybe they have six-cylinder engines inside.

Siduri: I can't wait. I think we'll be cyborgs, because that would be the best.

Seth: You think what? Cyborgs?

Siduri: I think we'll be cyborgs.

Seth: Cyborgs don't seem to have a lot of fun to me. I mean, I've only seen them in movies, but they don't have any pets. Do they have any hobbies?

Siduri: Your pets would be cyborgs.

Mark: They destroy small civilizations like ours, though.

TCS: And blow up police stations. Yeah, that sounds fun.

Seth: They do have fun wreaking havoc and destruction.

TCS: From the look of their faces, I guess it doesn't look like they're really having fun.

Seth: No, I don't get the impression that they're having fun either. They go around and they take out some primitive civilization like ours just to wreak havoc and destruction. How much of your day do you spend out in the garden tearing up the ant farms? I mean you might have done that occasionally.

Siduri: You do it at one point.

Seth: You do it a couple times. Maybe that's all it takes. Maybe that's what these aliens are. They're just kids.

Mark: If you look at our Earth history—

Seth: That's a good idea. That would be a good story.

Siduri: It's been done. I think—

Seth: Has it?

Siduri: Oh, just that they're just tearing up anthills?

Seth: Just that the aliens, that's right, the ones that are trashing our planet are just kids.

Siduri: I'm sure it has. I can't think of it offhand.

TCS: I can think of a couple of Star Trek episodes that orbit around that theme.

Siduri: Yeah.

TCS: Tremain—

Siduri: Yeah. No.

TCS: No. [The name is actually Trelane, from "The Squire of Gothos."]

Siduri: There was the one with the kid who had been raised by aliens. And they had to come take him back. They'd given him superpowers...

TCS: Oh, Charlie X.

Siduri: Yeah, Charlie X, that's right.

Mark: And then there was the one where Spock was...

TCS: God!

Mark: ...a teenager going through puberty...

Seth: Spock?

TCS: God help us

.

Next page: Spock

 

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

vwbugger@pigdog.org


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