Burning the Cosmic Commons

Robin Hanson (hanson@econ.Berkeley.EDU)
Tue, 17 Mar 1998 11:38:38 -0800

This paper is at: http://hanson.berkeley.edu/filluniv.pdf

Burning the Cosmic Commons:
Evolutionary Strategies for Interstellar Colonization

by Robin Hanson


Consider an expanding wave of interstellar colonization, where
"seeds" grow "colonies" at the "oases" surrounding stars, and
then launch a new generation of seeds toward more distant oases.
Without enforceable property rights in virgin oases, frontier
colonization behavior should eventually be given by a selection
effect: only leading edge colonists whose strategies implemented
the maximum sustainable average speed would tend to stay near
the leading edge.

Even with such maximal strategies, however, random factors would
cause some seeds to fall behind the leading edge. Since
eventually most of the colonized universe would be far behind
the leading edge, the strategies and values of such fallen-behind
colonists are of interest.

We assume that oases are uniformly-distributed, that risk-neutral
colonists with identical values and constant technology travel
much farther than the oasis spacing, and that seeds receive noisy
signals about which oases ahead are already occupied. We then
treat colonization as a game played out along a traveling wave of
colonization, and consider how colonists choices change as they
fall further behind.

At the very leading edge, great growth at oases is matched by
great death between them, and an incredible premium is placed on
seed hardness. As congestion increases behind the leading edge,
colonists stay longer at oases, grow more slowly there, launch and
deliver more slower-traveling seeds, land at a wider range of
oasis types, and spend more to see which oases are occupied.

There are limits, however, to how slow seeds fly, to how slow
colonies grow, and to the fraction of good oases that get
colonized. And any colonists left behind after a seed launching
try to leave as soon as possible. Thus this model allows for lone
oases like ours among large almost lifeless regions, though it
also predicts large numbers of used-up oases and crashed seeds

Robin Hanson
hanson@econ.berkeley.edu http://hanson.berkeley.edu/
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614