Re: The Great Filter

Robin Hanson (
Sat, 24 Aug 96 14:02:53 PDT writes:
> 1.7 billions years does not seem a remarkably short time to
> me, even is this context. But this speed argument, as you
> recognise, is much stronger against a position that would
> place the filter somewhere later in development, say between
> primitive mammals and us.

Right. My views have changed greatly since that version of the paper.

> >First, large-scale engineering such as Dyson spheres and
> >stellar disassembling, might be
> >effectively impossible, explaining why nearby stars look so
> >natural
> That does not sound extremely unlikely.

How about (from the current paper version):
>For example, colonists might convert some star's asteroids into enough
>orbiting solar-energy collectors to collect a substantial fraction of
>this star's output, thereby substantially changing the star's
>spectral, temporal, and spatial appearances.

> One must be careful, though, not too neglect the possibility
> that new technologies might make a social structure
> incomparably more stable than any we have seen in history;
> and in a certain societies colonisation tendencies would b e
> systematically suppressed.

The problem with this scenario is that even if only one in a thousand
civilizations don't meet this fate, that still leaves an enourmous
filter to be explained.

> I don't directly disagree with this, but it seems to me that
> you might have slightly too much confidence in the ability
> of the social sciences to tell us what would happen under
> conditions radically different from anything that has
> occurred so far. With >AI and direct access to our
> motivation centres, the psychological mechanisms behind
> sociological phenomena would be totally novel; and we should
> not simply assume that a social theory that appears unlikely
> under present conditions could not be a plausible candidate
> for describing a posthuman society

Of course we must admit there may be things we don't understand. But
none of these specific considerations you mention seem to point to
anything but the standard conclusion. As Clark points out, more ways
of varying people just makes the expectation stronger that someone
somewhere will try colonization. You could have said the same thing
about "the theory of energy conservation" instead of "social

Robin Hanson