October 2004


I am The Cyberwolfe and these are my ramblings. All original content is protected under a Creative Commons license - always ask first.
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Sometimes TV is good for you

If you haven’t had a chance to catch it yet, you need to tune in to PBS for Nova’s “Beginnings” mini-series. Gone are the days of scratchy documentaries – this is a four-star production with some spectacular graphics, and the script is incredibly well-written. I’m no science slouch myself, but this series is written so that someone with a less scientific background can get just as thoroughly sucked in.

The series deals with the appearance of life in our solar system, and the possibility of life elsewhere, both within and outside of our Sol system. More specifically, the chances of finding intelligent, technological life outside our system.

Intelligent life is actually pretty common here on Earth – many aquatic species have very advanced brains, and many have said for years that dolphins have their own language. The thing is, with over 30k species alive today and hundreds of thousands of extinct species, humans are the only tool-using technological intelligence on the planet. While there may be other life forms out there, the chances of finding an intelligent species for us to talk to look pretty grim. We’re damn lucky to be here, and that luck may not have been spread out evenly.

Now, this got me thinking down another line. Many sci-fi books have had the idea of a race of ancient peoples who travelled throughout the galaxy seeding planets with life or tampering with existing life forms in order to induce intelligence. These stories always posit that the Ancients are long gone, usually for millenia before we find any trace of their existence.

Here’s the thought that crept into my head: What if we are the Ancients? Who’s to say that we won’t eventually devise some method of travelling netween the stars in search of intelligent life and come up with nothing? Faced with the enormity of knowing that we are completely alone out here, we could decide to spread the seed ourselves on every planet we come across in the hopes of eventually duplicating the results of Earth’s happy accident.

So, here’s my question to you: take the role of an Ancient for a moment and think about what kind of message you would leave behind for your ‘children’ to discover, and how you would place it. You know the maturation process is going to take millenia, so what do you leave behind to let them know that they are not alone, that at least one other has gone this way before?

Me, I’d be leaving stuff all over the place, but I’d start with something big. I figure if I can cross the gulf of space, chances are I can do pretty much anything I want to the local solar system, like screw with the rotation or orbit of a planet. I’d do something on a pretty grand scale to make the curious wonder “what’s up with that?” Take Pluto, for instance. Pluto’s eccentric orbit takes it from all the way out at the edge of the system back into the 5th orbit, leading us to believe that it just wandered into the system and got stuck. Right there, we have the possibility of a message that says interstellar travel is possible.

I wouldn’t stop there, though. I’d set it up so that the oddity would always have one side facing the planet I seeded, so there’s the “what’s on the other side?” question as well. That’s where I’d leave the important stuff, the huge obelisk of some unfathomable material laser-carved with runes and heiroglyphs depicting a star chart with “You are here!” arrows pointing at the home system’s star and another pointing to my star of origin.

Careful study (and alot of poking and prodding) would reveal the hidden cubbyhole where I left the keys to the Buick Starlark parked in the gravitational eddy located halfway between this star and the black hole that keeps Pluto in it’s odd orbit :)


2 replies to “Sometimes TV is good for you”

  1. BtFR Says:

    Don’t make me get all cosmologicly significant on you Dan. Mike and I will gang up on you and have some good fun.
    Come to think of it, you do have a valid point in one aspect. You DO leave stuff all over the place (and sometimes, though less often than I), can’t find it again. THAT, however, is not an indication of being an “ancient”, it just means that you are getting old :-)


  2. The One True b!X Says:

    Too bad they kept stealing things from Carl Sagan’s COSMOS series.