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Belmont Club

Hours Before Impact

December 20th, 2012 - 9:59 pm

With only scant hours until the collision with Nibiru we must face the fact that this may be the Belmont Club’s last post. Reluctantly I must turn to the subject of composing a final missive. It’s an extraordinarily difficult problem, not with regards with what to say but who to send it to.  Wild Bill Hickok probably said all there was to say in a poignant last letter to his wife written shortly before drawing that fatal card hand in the Deadwood saloon.

“Agnes Darling, if such should be we never meet again, while firing my last shot, I will gently breathe the name of my wife — Agnes — and with wishes even for my enemies I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore.”

But since Nibiru is guaranteed to smash the earth to smithereens there’s no one left to write to, which is a pity. No Agnes, no Library of Congress. No archives.  It’s a stunning thought, because while most people have become individually reconciled to their personal deaths there is altogether something different about facing the end of earth and the human race.

The human race may not really amount to much on the galactic scale of things. Or so we were told. Still it would be a shame if it were to vanish without a trace. Without a trace did you say, how could that be?

For years humanity has taken comfort in the thought that our radio and TV signals which have been leaking out into the cosmos since the middle of the last century would provide it with a measure of posterity. Whatever befall somewhere someplace beings would still watch MASH or the Flintstones. Yabba dabba doo! However the redoubtable Enrico Fermi cast doubt on this proposition. He argued that while signals have been going out since the middle of the last century, all we’ve gotten back was the Big Silence. And there is still no sign of an alien race coming to get the complete episodes in a boxed Blu-Ray set of Bonanza.

The story goes that, one day back on the 1940′s, a group of atomic scientists, including the famous Enrico Fermi, were sitting around talking, when the subject turned to extraterrestrial life. Fermi is supposed to have then asked, “So? Where is everybody?” What he meant was: If there are all these billions of planets in the universe that are capable of supporting life, and millions of intelligent species out there, then how come none has visited earth? This has come to be known as The Fermi Paradox.

One possible answer to Fermi’s objection is that most aliens have left their TVs and radios in the basement together with their Ataris and Commodore 64s because “civilizations outgrow radio through technological advance”. They can’t receive our signals because their devices only play in in 5D.

There are other answers to Fermi’s problem of why nobody has said hello. Perhaps the most depressing — now that Nibiru is lighting up the horizon — is the possibility that human beings are — or perhaps were I should say were — the sole intelligent life in the universe. One variation of this idea, which comes to almost the same thing,  was the serious argument that the physics of things is such that intelligent life is exceedingly rare. The major proponent of this idea is Alan Guth whose work on the inflationary universe suggests that the processes necessary to create the structures we observe in the universe would also imply that civilization is a fluke.

Basically he argues that because of inflation — which is a major idea necessary to explain how things got going  — old universes like ours are incredibly rare. So rare it boggles the imagination. Therefore since the vast majority of the other universes are very young we are probably all there is. Guth writes:

If one chooses a regularization in the most naive way, one is led to a set of very peculiar results which I call the youngness paradox.

The youngness paradox is caused by the fact that the volume of false vacuum is growing exponentially with time with an extraordinarily short time constant, in the vicinity of 10^-37 sec. Since the rate at which pocket universes form is proportional to the volume of false vacuum, this rate is increasing exponentially with the same time constant. That means that in each second the number of pocket universes that exist is multiplied by a factor of exp{10^37}

At any given time, therefore, almost all of the pocket universes that exist are universes that formed very very recently, within the last several time constants. The population of pocket universes is therefore an incredibly youth-dominated society, in which the mature universes are vastly outnumbered by universes that have just barely begun to evolve. Although a mature universe has a larger volume then a young one, this multiplicative factor is of little importance, since in synchronous coordinates the volume no longer grows exponentially once the pocket universe forms.

Here I would like to discuss a less physical but simpler question, just to illustrate the paradoxes associated with synchronous gauge probabilities. Specifically, I will consider the question: “Are there any other civilizations in the visible universe that are more advanced than ours?”. Intuitively I would not expect inflation to make any predictions about this question, but I will argue that the synchronous gauge probability distribution strongly implies that there is no civilization in the visible universe more advanced than we are.

Suppose that we have reached some level of advancement, and suppose that t min represents the minimum amount of time needed for a civilization as advanced as we are to evolve, starting from the moment of the decay of the false vacuum—the start of the big bang. The reader might object on the grounds that there are many possible measures of advancement, but I would respond by inviting the reader to pick any measure she chooses; the argument that I am about to give should apply to all of them.

If so there’s no one out there to watch the Bonanza reruns. Nobody’s coming to buy the boxed Blu-Ray sets. And while I suppose it is a little too late for regrets, as Nibiru hurtles ever closer, one can’t help but wish that we’d taken ourselves a little more seriously. Maybe we could have spent more on space travel in the last century. Perhaps started some small colony on Mars.

But we didn’t take ourselves seriously enough. Somehow we adopted the attitude in the last century that mankind was merely dispensable protoplasm — a fungus on the planet earth. Now with the end so near, we are closing the door not only on our era, but perhaps upon the only chance our universe had of something that thought; built and loved.

We never knew how precious we were. And now we’ve got to go.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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