RE: The Point of No Return

Crosby_M (
Fri, 20 Dec 1996 14:21:35 -0500

In the context of "a spreading cloud of interstellar civilization",
with David Musick's (9 Dec 1996) goal of a "point of no return"
(civilization having passed any Great Filter, such that the
probability of extinction is very low, (short of "The Arrival Of The
Great Handkerchief", of course :)), on 20 Dec 1996 Anders Sandberg
<This could be just a slow expansion [of lingering colonists] ... or
it could be a blazing expansion of von Neumann probes. A disaster able
to wipe out the entire technosphere would have to overrun it. If the
technosphere spreads close to lightspeed, then any catastrophy moving
at lightspeed (like vacuum decay) will take a very long time to
devastate all of the technosphere.>

The challenge I see here is that there might have to be a 'speciation'
between any 'lingering colonists' and the probe 'wave-front'. I'm
assuming that the wave-front probes could only have 'one' goal if they
were to be able to expand at ~lightspeed: grab resources, replicate
(if necessary) while *always* on the move. That is, they would not
have time to stop and 'smell the flowers', analyze the environment, or
design anything new. They would have to leave behind non-probe
'seeds' that would grow to fullfill these more leisurely functions.
These lingering colonists would be the ones that would have time to
actually interact with their environment, create art and design new
technologies. Maybe the difference between the two groups would be
more like sexual genders than different species?

If this scenario is valid then perhaps *creative* intelligence might
only reside in the 'lingering' colonists, who would, of course, be
free to mount their own explorations as well, just not with the speed
and persistence of their probe ancestors.

Would there be any possibility for the always-moving-on probes to ever
learn from the environment (other than reflex reactions, such as
avoiding clouds of antimatter or blasts of lethal radiation)? Would
there be any way (or even need) for the probes and colonists to
communicate and adapt based on each other's knowledge?

I recall one 'race' of beings from Olaf Stapledon's _Star Maker_ where
there were two symbiotic 'species' (maybe they were just different
'larval' stages of the same species?): One part staying at home (sort
of like whales, if I recall), creating works of art and dreams, based
on the messages sent back by their more mobile counterparts. So, the
lingering colonists could learn (though not in real-time) from the
experiences of the wave-front; but, there might not be any way for the
learning lingerers to provide feed-back to the manically-expanding
probes if the latter were always pushing on at ~lightspeed.

Perhaps there are ways around my assumption that the expanding
wave-front would not have time to adapt and learn new things? I
assume that, even at lightspeed, the probes would still be subject to
evolutionary pressures and would be 'blindly' selected/adapted in that
way. Still, I can't see any way for the probes to learn anything from
those they left behind. Maybe they wouldn't need to as long as they
continued to carry on the seeds necessary to create more colonists?

Mark Crosby

P.S. Perhaps these considerations point towards something like a
'Shaper/Mechanist' bifurcation such as Bruce Sterling envisioned in
his 10-year old transhumanist/cyberpunk classic, _Schismatrix_, which,
BTW, has *just* been republished, with additional stories, as
_Schismatrix Plus_.