> We don't know. I prefer to be optimistic and to hope that the hard steps
> lie behind us. That way I don't have to believe that most technological
> civilizations destroy themselves. But either view is more palatable than
> the belief that superintelligent aliens are all around us.
I don't think you can dismiss the "superintelligent aliens are all around us" argument out of hand. I certainly don't think that you can discount the possibility (and high probability according to some) of Super Smart Guys (SSGs, also Super Smart Gals) - messing aroung in our local vicinity. I am fairly strongly convinced of the possible dangers of overlooking this, eg: the possibility of activating alien artifacts hanging around our solar system, waiting for us to emerge... then they signal the SSGs...
Seriously of course, you cannot work on that basis. Occam's razor remains the only viable way to interpret measurements of our environment. So we need to progress on the assumption that no one is out there messing with the works.
I think you can combine the two approaches - keep to the Razor, push outwards, but maintain a healthy number of paranoics who are looking for the SSG signalling system. Personally, I love the image of the first (trans)human craft to "pass over the rim" sailing out into the blackness, only to begin picking up the presence of these large dark objects.
"What are those - some kinds of orphaned planets, or asteroids?"
"No sir, their composition is strange - the nanoprobes cannot penetrate the surface - neutrino scans show some kind of layering sir... highly ordered, an alien artifact is the most likely hypothesis... Sir, we are receiving a signal... OH MY GOD THE SYSTEM IS DEAD I CANNOT SEE SIR WE HAVE LOST ALL..."
--- But I am getting carried away. It does seem to me to be an excellent idea that different groups of people work under different assumptions. Most people can follow the conventional, We Are Alone hypothesis, with others following more radical lines (eg: singularity entities, SSGs, etc...). Homogenous thinking leads to tyrany - eliminating idiocy breeds new, stronger forms of stupidity (meme version of the antibiotics problem?) B5 fans - legions of SSGs orbiting the visible galaxy - does this sound like the "beyond the rim" where the old ones go? Spooky. I think JMS might just be an alien plant... I think I've mentioned this on the list before, but here goes again: Is anyone familiar with Larry Niven's short story "The Locusts"? This is a different peril of space colonisation story (I never seen anyone else do it). I'll ruin it by laying out the plot in the next paragraph, so don't read ahead if you want to read the story itself (which I highly recomment - it's short and excellent). ***Beginning of spoiler for The Locusts:*** In the story "The Locusts", a mars colony is established. Everything goes excellently to begin with (terraforming, farming, etc, all very smooth). The colonists get around to breeding. The first child born is kind of deformed. Looks a bit like a monkey. This is sad, but life moves on. Except every child born comes out the same. As they grow, it is obvious that they are mentally deficient, they develop too quickly, and look like throwbacks. Lots of drama happens, not important here. It turns out that the monkey-children breed true - their offspring are the same as them, it's like they are a new species. It turns out that they are an old species - homo-somethinkus (can't remember). The theory is that we are like locusts. Locusts have a normal form, and an enhanced, aggressive, destructive form which is temporary, and spreads the species (or so my poor brain believes, could be wrong). The throwback species above is our normal state, but as planetary overcrowding increases, a change is triggered. Intelligent, aggressive humans (homosapiens) emerge, develop technology, eventually develop space travel, start to colonise. When colonisation is successful, this is the trigger to revert back to the normal state, the pre-humans. Near the end of the story we find out that the one hope held by the colonists, that they could go back to earth and be OK, is dashed. Earth has signalled mars that all new children are these primitive throwbacks, that panic has broken out, and the Mars is the only hope for humanity... *** End of spoiler for The Locusts *** "Master, I detect a disturbance in the Force" Emlyn (Look out for The Land Canaan, coming soon to a free mp3 site near you)