Would Lovecraft-Inspired, Hibernating Digital Aliens Solve the Fermi Paradox?

If microbes-to-man evolution is true and the universe progresses by purely natural processes, the Copernican Principle of Mediocrity suggests that life should be ubiquitous. We should be able to detect signs and signals of intelligent alien life to the point where the news stops reporting it because it’s so commonplace.

Obviously that’s not the case at all, and this state of affairs is known as the Fermi Paradox. The Fermi Paradox can be summer up in the question: “Where is everybody?”

There are several proffered explanations given to explain away this apparent contradiction in evolutionary theory, but no one really knows why we can’t detect extraterrestrial life. No sooner had I written a post on one of the more absurd rescuing devices employed to solve the Fermi Paradox, this one involving a proliferation of alien zombie pandemics (given tongue firmly in cheek), another more ludicrous explanation made the news:

The Aestivation Hypothesis.

For those unfamiliar with the word, aestivation is hibernation through unfavorable heat only to wake in cooler temperatures. 

In their May 10, 2017 paper submitted to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong and Milan Cirkovic write:

“In previous work, we showed that a civilization with a certain threshold technology could use the resources of a solar system to launch colonization devices to effectively every solar system in a sizeable part of the visible universe. While the process as a whole would last eons, the investment in each bridgehead system would be small and brief. Also, the earlier the colonization was launched the larger the colonized volume. These results imply that early civilizations have a far greater chance to colonize and pre-empt later civilizations if they wish to do so.

“If these early civilizations are around, why are they not visible? The aestivation hypothesis states that they are aestivating until a later cosmological era.

The argument is that the thermodynamics of computation make the cost of a certain amount of computation proportional to the temperature.”

In all likelihood such a scenario involves digital aliens rather than biological extraterrestrial entities. The Long Nap is not something any biological organism would be likely to survive or even desire. Only a machine mind dependent upon cooler temperatures for more efficient processing would find such a scenario preferable. It requires more patience than mortal life can bear. So the Aestivation Hypothesis is essentially a post-biological theory, where either alien machines carry on alone well past their creators’ existence or where aliens have undergone some extraterrestrial equivalent of transhumanist ideas of transferring our minds to machines.

If this sounds like the plot of a Stephen Baxter scifi story, that’s probably not accidental. Baxter is a fellow of the British Astronomical Society whose journal the paper is published in.

In Baxter’s, “The Gödel Sunflowers” (originally published in Interzone #055 [1992] and later included in Vacuum Diagrams [2002]), concerned the investigation of an alien tetrahedral artifact called the Snowflake, built around a black dwarf. A character named Mace states that:

“The Snowmen loaded everything they knew into this artefact. Eventually, they .. .went away. Maybe. Or maybe they’re still here.”

Mace speculates about the Snowmen’s motives for uploading themselves into the artefact with Kapur, a policeman sent to investigate the Snowflake and see if its technology can be assimilated towards humanity’s ends:

“Knowing the limitations of deduction, the Snowmen decided that to record events – and only to record – was the highest calling of life. And that’s all they want to do. They took apart their world, rebuilt it as a monstrous storage system . . . used all the material at their disposal to freeze as much data as they could. They won’t do anything with our proof; for fourteen billion years they have merely watched time unravel — ”
“There’s your streak of poetry again, Mace.”
“Your Assimilation must fail,” Mace said bluntly. 

Kapur sighed. “Why?” 

“Think about it. The Snowmen have no motivation we can connect with. Our actions will mean nothing to them – we, almost by definition within their Gode- lian philosophy, dance meaninglessly before them. Even their own destruction would be no more than an event, a final act to be stored and noted.”

To test his theory, the policeman tells the Snowmen about humanity’s war with an alien race known as the Xeelee. He also tells them of humanity’s intention to destroy ghe Snowflake if it serves no utility toward that war. When a human warship opens fire on the Snowflake, it reacts by firing a Mach weapon.

In the wake of the violent exchange, Kapur deduces that the Snowmen worship Gödel’s Theory of Incompleteness, that their goal and purpose are to record history, and that they are basically waiting around for the universe to cool so they can record more data. And it’s willing to defend that purpose.

Sandberg, et al, hint at the ever patient machine immortality required for the Aestivation Hypothesis to be true by quoting H.P. Lovecraft of all people.

The first Lovecraft quote is from “The Dunwich Horror” (originally published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales and later included in The Dunwich Horror and Others [1963]):

“The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.”

The quote refers to the extradimensional nature of Lovecraft’s fictional Old Ones; however, the authors use it to allude to hidden nature of aestivating alien civilizations. An odd association, to be sure.

Sandberg, et al, end their paper with these “Final words”:

“The aestivation hypothesis came about as a result of physical eschatology con siderations of what the best possible outcome for a civilization would be, not directly an urge to solve the Fermi question. However, it does seem to provide one new possible answer to the question:

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.
H.P. Lovecraft”

This second Lovecraft quote first appeared in “The Nameless City” in the November 1921 issue of The Wolverine. Written in January of the sane year, it is considered to be the first story in the Cthulu Mythos.

This same infamous couplet appears in “The Call of Cthulu” (first published in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales) and is identified as a line from the Necronomicon. (Incidentally, it also appears in the Metallica song, “Thing That Should Not Be”  [Master of Puppets – 1986].)

The title partially quotes this line.

“That is not dead which can eternal lie: the aestivation hypothesis for resolving Fermi’s paradox.”

I find it fascinating that two scientific papers (one admittedly tongue-in-cheek) regarding the Fermi Paradox have ended up alluding to the Necronomicon. No, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, but if it turns out that these Lovecraft quotes are a homage to the farcical zombie paper, i would not be a bit surprised. Perhaps the connection should disturb us on some level…

The tales of Baxter and Lovecraft aside, the paper admits that there are deficits to its predictions. The two most serious problems deal with cooperation within the aluen civilization and the matter of what to do with other civilizations so that they do not likewise disturb the peace of the Aestivation Hypothesis. Frankly, the paper does a lot of hand waving in those areas. 

As far as coordination goes, we can’t even seem to get everyone to agree on anything here on Earth. The authors admit that the Self-Sampling Assumption [SSA] (i.e., ” we should reason as if we were randomly selected from the actually existent observers (past, present, future).”) “gives a more pessimistic outcome, where the doomsday argument suggests that we may not be going to survive.” They suggest instead that we utilize tge competing Self-Indication Assumption [SIA] which states that “we should reason as if we were randomly selected from the set of all possible observers.” The weakness here is that it is a circular argument to assume alien observers to prove alien observers. The SSA makes a shipwreck of their prediction if coordination and the SIA places that “prediction” on a circular argument. The only way said ccoordination might be possible is if all alien civilizations were hive minds (biological or digital). An artificial hive mind would have to reach the singularity of artificial intelligence and overwheln all competing intelligences, both biological and artificial. Even then, we could hardly expect them to agree with each other alien civilizations.

Which brings me to the second problem. How does an aestivating universe come to be? That seems like way too big of an assumption. The authors suggest a more viable alternative: 

“In principle it might be enough to argue that aestivation is possible and that we just happen to be inside an aestivation region. However, arguing that we are not in a typical galaxy weakens the overall argument.”

That’s an understatement! Not only would the idea that we just happen to be in an aestivating region constitute special pleading, the idea that we are not in a typical galaxy undermines the very Copernican Principle of Mediocrity upon which the ubiquity of extraterrestrial life is based upon! In other words, if our galaxy is not typical, maybe life isn’t either.

Reading through the paper, we are presented with numerous assumptions required to make the Aestivation Hypothesis work. The paper itself spells out the biggest problem:

“The aestivation hypothesis at first appears to suffer the same cultural convergence assumption as many other Fermi question answers: they assume all sufficiently advanced civilizations – and members of these civilizations – will behave in the same way. While some convergence on instrumental goals is likely, convergence strong enough to ensure an answer to the Fermi question appears implausible since it only takes one unusual civilization (or group within it) anywhere to break the explanation. Even if it is rational for every intelligent being to do something, this does not guarantee that all intelligent beings are rational.” [Emphasis in original]

Unfortunately, in trying to answer their biggest problem is where the authors resort to the most obvious hand waving. We could be in an area that happens to successfully enforce coordination and have left a practically invisible galactic footprint. Again this is special pleading.

A problem of only slightly less magnitude is that communication in large intergalactic civilizations (the thing that makes them large, coordinated civilizations in the first place) becomes impossible over time due to the expanding nature of the universe. Which begs the question of how coordination required for the Aestivation Hypothesis to work happens at a practical level. The American Colonies were separated from England by only an ocean, and yet we found ourselves vastly at odds with each other’s goals and ideals.

In the end the Aestivation Hypothesis, with its myriad caveats and hand waving, just sounds more like science fiction than a plausible explanation for the Fermi Paradox. 

Once more, we remind our readers that the Fermi Paradox poses no problem for the Biblical creationist, since (unlike blind natural laws) God could have created life as ubiquitous or rare as He so chose. The Bible tells us that such a Creator God exists… and this Bible is the only authority that can claim to be supernaturally authenticated by fulfilled prophecy and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

One last note, concerning that Lovecraftian couplet. Lovecraft wrote that “even death may die.” The Bible promises it! While we suffer and die in a Fallen world, the Bible promises eternal life to those who believe on the name of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection, and that “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” [1 Corinthians 15:26].

One Comment Add yours

  1. Tony Breeden says:

    Reblogged this on Defending Genesis and commented:

    Microbes-to-man evolution predicts that extraterrestrial life should be common, but where is everybody? A recent scientific paper suggests a solution to the Fermi Paradox that is possibly inspired by sci-fi and definitely inspired by a quote from HP Lovecraft. Smh


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