Re: Review of Vinge's Deepness in the Sky

Robin Hanson (
Wed, 14 Apr 1999 09:04:25 -0700

On 4/13/99, Wei Dai wrote:
>>Perhaps most puzzling is the failure to use any significant
>>fraction of the resources at each solar system. Human populations
>>around a star are never more than "billions", and we see nothing
>>like wholesale conversion of asteroids and comets. "Sooner or later
>>[each system] ossified and politics carried it into a fall."
>I think the central assumption Vinge used here is that no stable forms of
>social organization are possible in the Slow Zone, ... Even the most
>stable organizational forms become increasingly unstable as a civilization
>develops technologically and economically, eventually suffering a
>catastrophic collapse. The Slow Zone governments must try to delay this
>collapse by restricting economic growth and research ...

This theory needs to be augmented to explain why the "no organization" organization fails. Across the thousands of stars there is a weak organization via trade that doesn't seem to threaten the total human region. So why couldn't the same weak ties work within a star's system? Why couldn't a solar system fragment into thousands of places each of which was organized internally, but where ties between places were weak?

>>These falls are very severe, often requiring re colonization from
>>the outside, and otherwise seem to require rebuilding from
>>scratch. This is much more severe than the fall of the Roman
>>Empire, for example. ...
>We also see biological weapons, which should be sufficient.

I'm not yet persuaded of that. If bio weapons can kill all the humans in a star system, why doesn't it spread to other star systems via the trading ships? If trading ships can block the spread, why can't places within a star's system use the same approach?

Robin Hanson   
RWJF Health Policy Scholar             FAX: 510-643-8614 
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 510-643-1884 after 8/99: Assist. Prof. Economics, George Mason Univ.