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An Alternative To Spaceships

Discussion in 'Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy Talk' started by Anorlunda, Mar 21, 2013.

  1. Anorlunda

    Anorlunda Scout

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    Mar 21, 2013
    I often think of the many SF stories that assume FTL starships. How
    sad it would be for our future if the light speed barrier cannot be
    broken. To reach the nearest stars at sub-light speeds would take
    many years, and we would likely have to travel much further than the
    nearest stars to find a habitable planet. To take advantage of time
    dilation, ships need to expend prodigious amounts of energy to
    accelerate to high fractions of c. What society would bother to build
    interstellar ships? Isn’t there a way to spread through the galaxy at
    near-light speed, and without building space ships? The solution, I
    think, is to avoid sending people or any object with mass through space.
    Send only information. Send information about our DNA.

    We need only to establish contact with a near neighbor species, learn
    how to communicate, and then transmit instructions for how to grow a
    human in a test tube. Presumably, the other species would
    reciprocate, so that we could grow specimens of their species here on
    Earth. To be sure, the specimens would have no memory or culture from
    their native worlds, but they would have interesting properties. I’m sure the
    aliens would be very interested in studying these specimens. We could
    also send some “I Love Lucy” episodes to teach our expatriate
    relatives what it is like to be human.

    Hopefully, the neighbor species would eventually find other near
    neighbors, and transmit their DNA instructions plus our DNA
    instructions to them. In that manner, hop by hop, our DNA would
    spread across the galaxy. How fast might it propagate? C/2 is a
    believable number. Figure 100,000 years transmit time, plus 100,000
    years of those instructions sitting on a shelf waiting for someone to
    dare execute them. To be sure, creating alien DNA would have risks,
    and many would deem those risks unacceptable. Yet, given the passage
    of thousands of years, it is a virtual certainty that someone will be
    curious enough (or foolish enough) to do it.

    It might be difficult and expensive for aliens to reproduce the
    environmental conditions needed for specimens of our species to
    survive. Therefore, it would be convenient for them to modify our
    genes to create specimens that aren’t 100% human, but which can
    survive in the unmodified alien environment. As the DNA instructions
    get transmitted and retransmitted to more and more places, the genetic
    engineering would become tedious. Therefore, it would be easier for
    everybody to use genes capable of surviving in nearly any environment.
    In other words, they could settle on a galactic standard gene set.
    I imagine something like the genes of a water bear (Tardigrade),
    grafted onto the genes that give us intelligence. The result would
    not quite be a pan-galactic-species but perhaps a pan-galactic-phylum
    of intelligent species, with each world populated by a mixture of all
    those species.

    The whole concept could be viewed as the next phase of evolution. How
    long might it take to evolve a galactic phylum? Just plucking a
    number out of the air, let us say 100 galactic transversals at and
    average speed of c/2, or twenty million years. That is damn fast on
    the evolutionary scale.

    The sad part would be the havoc it rains on the heads of science
    fiction writers. How constraining, if no individual is ever
    transported to an alien world. How unsatisfying it would be to never
    having culture clash with culture. Instead having them all
    semi-independently evolving into a monoculture while never once
    meeting face to face, and never once launching an interstellar space
    ship.

    Considering how hard it is to have a truly new idea in this world, I'm
    expecting to hear that this subject has been explored before.
     
  2. Birdman

    Birdman Birdman

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    It has been explored before to a certain degree. The movie Contact comes to mind. The plans for a machine were sent and we recieved them, built the machine and contacted the creators. The creators had made contact with a lot of species. The plot stopped and the movie ended with that.

    I still cling to a shred of hope tha tphysical travel is possible, otherwise I really don't care much for 20,000 year scenarios unless we develop an infinite life span within the next 40 or so years.....
     
  3. Kevin

    Kevin Code Monkey Staff Abductee

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    Some other works that come to mind is Mission to Mars and, more recently, Prometheus. The two movies have vastly different outcomes, so I am not trying to make a direct comparison between them, but they both shared a common starting premise that, to borrow the phrase from BSG, "life here began out there." From Anorlunda's post I suspect that he might be interested in Mission to Mars.

    Short term I think we all wish for major advances within our lifetimes but really I think that what Anorlunda is describing may be how mankind will be able to send traces of itself out beyond our own immediate solar system. If, for whatever reason, mankind is not able to break out of our system then at least it'll be able to have its vestiges out there.
     
  4. Jetshroom

    Jetshroom Rocket Ranger

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    For me, I don't consider just dropping blobs of DNA all over the place to be an achievement.

    I watched a documentary some time ago about ways mankind could spread throughout the universe and genetic modification was one of them. Genetically modify humans to live on methane planets, high temperature planets, low temperature planets, asteroids etc. Each new environment using a different set of genes to succeed. But to me, if you have to genetically modify a species to make them adaptable to a radically different environment, are you still dealing with the same species?
    At the same time though, it would open the doors to cosmetic genetics as used in Blue Mars, where an immortality serum allows them to make alteration to their DNA. This gets taken up by the youth of mars, getting cosmetic treatments to make themselves able to purr etc.
    Then, a batch of genetically altered humans decide to move to Alpha Centauri. Is that a triumph of the human race, or is it no longer the human race?

    I don't imagine mankind will ever give up on trying to travel between the stars. The desire to explore is just too strong.
     
  5. Mirelly

    Mirelly Mouthy Cow

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    Nor do I.

    Meh. The question is moot. As Robert Heinlein was oft wont to say: your genes are not your own; meaning that, both as individuals as well as a species, we do not have an inalienable right to dictate to our genes and to control their behaviour. On a more pragmatic note, it is well to remember that evolution has not stopped and no species has ever had a free pass guaranteeing immunity from extinction. Since we are part of Nature, I stipulate that anything we do is natural, and that includes genetic engineering. However genetics is so vastly complex we'd be much more likely to ruin ourselves than if we just let good old natural selection do what it's been doing pretty darn well for the last 3 or 4 billion years.

    If humans spread across the galaxy they will undoubtedly evolve into separate new species. How far that divergence might go would depend, to a greater or lesser extent, on whether or or not FTL travel exists. If the universe really is subject forever to Einsteinian relativity, then evolution will separate humans into as many new and potentially vastly different and incompatible species as there are colonised star systems. This is an inevitable consequence of the large travel times and relativistic time-dilation problems of "commuting" between stars in Einstein's universe. Fanciful technologies, like a Stargate for example, have no such problems.

    I personally have no view regarding the potential to overturn -- or add to -- the current broad understanding of the Einsteinian model. Of course it is possible that new understandings might emerge, but that possibility looks extremely remote and unlikely at present. Our current understanding, however, holds no substantial barriers to interstellar colonisation. (By substantial I mean that no obvious laws of phsyics exist to make it impossible ... just difficult and beyond our current technology, but not beyond our scientific understanding.

    If one accelerates to 99% light speed, a ship's crew can travel 100 light years and age less than 10 years while more than century passes on Earth. Clearly this would be enormously difficult but -- crucially -- it isn't impossible ... it just requires a huge, but finite, amount of energy. What would be impossible is large scale socio-economic activity between the start and end points of any such journey. Einstein traps us in a universe where interstellar travel is always one way. Sure one can fictionalise the notion of nomadic traders. Sure we can expect to extend human life-spans; perhaps even to immortality. Sure, too, we can postulate ideas around cybernetics (human consciousness residing in an immortal machine ... but that really does raise the uncomfortable question about whether that is even "life" ...).

    Yup ... the "king of the swingers" has come a long way -- ooh-be-doo! -- and there's no prospect we're going to run out of monkey curiosity any time soon.:cool:

    Postscript. Just out of interest you could reach the Andromeda galaxy in 37 years ship's time thanks to Einstein ... well, actually you probably couldn't ... apparently the energy requirement is infinite. :(
     
  6. Birdman

    Birdman Birdman

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    What a coincidence...so is energy.
     
  7. Mirelly

    Mirelly Mouthy Cow

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    Is it? Has anyone told my electricity supplier?

    Seriously, energy is a function of mass ( e equals mc squared). Space might be infinite and, too, it is not inconceivable that the massy component of the universe is also infinite. But infinity is a dangerously slippery customer. Infinity divided by infinity is one; while an infinitesimally small fraction of infinity is still infinity. Dealing with the infinite is mind-boggling, and always confusing.
     
  8. Birdman

    Birdman Birdman

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    I know it's controversial...I was mostly just stirring the pot.;)
    I say it's infinite because it only changes forms....but to use an infinite amout, technically speaking, one would have to have a way to collect and convert it at a greater rate than that of usage.
     
  9. Kevin

    Kevin Code Monkey Staff Abductee

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  10. Ken Jeavus

    Ken Jeavus Scout

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    Hmm sounds like you're repeating what was just on TV...Aliens: The Definitive Guide, Science channel I think it was, with the Japanese guy who's made a name for himself. He explained your exact idea, and even mentioned "I Love Lucy". Regardless, it's an interesting idea to spread information via DNA. It's really a variation on the Voyager missions with the gold record. Somehow though that's not the same as what we mean by using spaceships to travel for the purposes of discovery.
     
  11. Anorlunda

    Anorlunda Scout

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    Wow, thank you Ken. Even the I Love Lucy Part?!? Remarkable coincidence. I have no TV, so I have never seen Science Cannel. But I'll search for it online. Like I said, even if one has an original idea, it is very hard to be the first with that idea.

    The part of the idea that fascinated me was not so much the spae exploration angle, but rather the view that could be considered as part of evolution. The idea that separately evolved intelligent species might come together and co-evolve into a common future species is jolting. It demolishes our concept of "we" and it suggests that loss of our identity as a distinct species could be a consequence of exploration.


    It puts us in the position of prehistoric (but prescient) fish, bacteria, and reptiles contemplating the future evolution of humans,what could they mean by "we" evolve?
     
  12. Ken Jeavus

    Ken Jeavus Scout

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    No TV! How dare you! :) Actually co-evolution like you mention is only jolting if you start with the premise that instances of life in the universe are separate. I personally don't subscribe to that belief. I'm more a pantheist or panentheist (whatever the label is) - or to put it like Carl Sagan did - we're one of the ways the universe thinks about itself.
     
  13. Anorlunda

    Anorlunda Scout

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    I found one episode of Aliens A Definitive Guide on YouTube.

    What they discussed there was not sending DNA instructions by radio signal, but rather sending a spaceship with DNA as the payload. DNA as payload has a very high information content per kilogram of mass. Think what we might do with a spaceship weighing only one nanogram?
     
  14. Mirelly

    Mirelly Mouthy Cow

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    I've been thinking about this issue since my last post.

    Summarising my current thinking. The speed of light appears to be an impossible target -- infinite mass -- according to all current thinking. Therefore FTL appears to be beyond difficult because to get there one has to pass the infinitely high barrier of light speed. Hyperspace likewise looks a bit improbable because it demands the existence of a suitably large dimension so far invisible to us and there is no evidence that such a dimension could even exist. Of course all these limitations apply to spaceships.

    "Exploring" the universe without spaceships (which I take to mean crewed by meat and bone) is of course easy. We're doing that already and there is no limit to how far we can go, beyond cash ... and the survivability of our society so that we can endure long enough to evaluate the results.

    Colonising the universe without spaceships is another matter. Sure, we can shoot DNA, more or less blindly, into the primordial ocean of outer space. But whatever life arises would be neither terrestrial nor human. In such a case that reduces -- or elevates? -- us to mere agents of Nature; and specifically agents of our genes, following the remorseless programming which began when the first cells began to function as "life" several billion years ago in Earth's oceans. I am not happy with that as idea. I feel sure that there are a great many planets already bearing life which will be different in comparison with terrestrial life; in that sense it would be an ecological crime to contaminate such a valuable, pristine resource with our own DNA.

    All other nanotech solutions to colonisation carry the same blind outcomes and therefore fail to meet my criteria for advancing human exploration, expansion and survival.

    So the answer to the question comes back to the laws of physics, and the question has to be considered pedantically. I choose to examine the word: spaceship. An alternative to a conventional spaceship perhaps? That's easier to work with. I admit the possibility of esoteric future technologies: Doug Adam's infinite improbability drive? That would be great, wouldn't it? What else? Mastery of quantum physics might give us that teleport device; instantaneous transmission of a copy over any distance ... perhaps there would be no need to <ahem> "delete" the original. Warp drive would be good. Theory suggests it is not impossible, and it could give us a means of travel that is unaffected by relativistic time dilation which would be useful to contact between widely separated systems.

    Me? I like spaceships. My favourite esoteric technology is still with FTL travel. But wait! I hear y'all scream. You don't believe in FTL Mirelly, I saw you say so many times; it goes agin t' laws of fizzix!!!

    Meh. FTL is not against the laws of physics. Lightspeed itself is unattainable due to that bugger infinity. But FTL is not excluded. The trick lies in getting from sub-light to FTL. I can imagine a way that can be done ....

    FTL contains another wonder and that presents the meat and bone crew -- and its hardware -- with another problem. At FTL speeds time goes backwards! How would that affect the crew? Would they get younger? What would happen to them if they reached the point of their birth? Probably neither of these, but backwards time throws up another problem: causality ... how the hell is the crew to control the ship? Probably the solution is a lot less theoretically difficult than finding the "tweak" that would snap a ship from 50% light speed to --

    What? How would the maths work there? Would it twang to 150% or 150,000%? The crucial fact here is that FTL offers us time travel into the past, just as relativistic sub-light travel offers us unlimited time travel into the future. Perhaps the method could be used in a leap-frog way: one day jumps which end automatically with a twang back to sublight before jumping again after spending a day at sub-light eating the same food, breathing the same air they used the last time they at sub-light. The crew lives the same day over and over until the trip is completed. However far they go they arrive only one day older. I'm afraid I don't have the maths to work out "when" they might arrive if they turned around and came home again ... perhaps they'd arrive back in time to see the Pyramids being built .... :confused:

    Wow! An alternative to spaceships? Time travel. It's obvious I must have been born on Gallifrey. I haven't regenerated yet, so if'all can wait a few hundred years while my brain matures .... :sneaky:
     
  15. Anorlunda

    Anorlunda Scout

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    Now this thread is getting interesting. I used the word jolting in regard to the idea that humans could lose their identity as a distinct species and culture. On the same point Mirelly said that it "fails to meet my criteria". OK, let's use Mirelly's approach. The subject is exploration *AND* colonization of the galaxy. We are making a list of criteria needed for us to support the idea.

    1: It must be possible, given the laws of physics. FTL is the most obvious barrier, but not the only one. Radiation exposure during space travel is another big problem. Even beaming radio or light signals across space has limits. Power dispersion and signal to noise ratios eventually reduce the effective bit rate to zero. Even if we postulate FTL, Mirelly points out that FTL implies time travel also. If that were possible, where are the visitors from the future or from the stars to tell us how to do things? That is a self-refuting postulate.

    2: It must be worthwhile. Ventures need political and financial support. I can not imagine any project winning support that would not be able to report back it's success/failure within a single human lifespan. Generation starships would never get the political or financial support needed to launch them, Even if the Earth was about to be fried as the Sun goes red giant, I believe that humans would spend all their resources attempting to colonize Europa or Titan rather than blindly sending ships to the stars that never report back.

    3: The human race must not lose its identity in the process. This is where this thread started.


    What criteria would you add?


    Where would this lead? If our list of criteria gets long, we will only succeed in convincing ourselves it can't happen. That would depress all of us. Presumably the only reason we are on this site is that the idea of space travel fires our imaginations. Many of us love space exploration scifi, but reject fantasy. To be interesting, space exploration scifi must convince us that there is at least a small chance that it is possible.
     
  16. Mirelly

    Mirelly Mouthy Cow

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    Thanks for your interesting points. I'm not immediately sure of any additional criteria, but I do wish to query a couple of yours.

    I have no argument at all with #3. It's simple and obvious.

    #1. Is not really an issue. I agree that both science and (hard) SF need to remain rooted in the laws of physics. FTL does not actually violate them and you seemed prepared to agree with this. My conjecture about backwards time travel was lyrical fancy. I don't have the maths to create scenarios of any degree of believability. I read this fascinating article which opens several cans of worm, having followed it from this one (which had some interesting stuff on ion engine). I feel content that, improbable as backward time travel seems, the lack of visitors from the future is not in itself a proof of its possibility or impossibility. So I don't disagree with your criterion, I just think the whole time travel thing should be left out ... it might turn out to be so minimal as to show no meaningful effect.

    #2. It's the second criterion I find most trouble with. Human lifespan is increasing quite rapidly. There are some who stipulate that the first person who will live 1,000 years is already alive. Furthermore there are more than ten million people worldwide with investable assets of more than US$1 million. Now imagine that 10% of those are philanthropic enough to pay $1,000 a year into a fund/lottery. Each shareholder enters a lottery to win one of 2,000 places on a colony ship. Additional shares could be sold lesser mortals for a much smaller chance of winning another 500-1,000 places. All told, over a century such a scheme could generate several trillion bucks for R&D, preliminary exploration with robotic probes, and culminating in the building of the final hardware prior to launching a colony ship. A similar scheme already exists (Mars One) and while less ambitious and differently funded it could prove -- I wish it success in proving -- a viable model for space exploration and colonisation.

    I believe we can solve hibernation problems. I believe we can develop ways to mitigate the radiation issues. Even if the trip takes a century -- to go 10 light years -- I believe that the people left behind will look forward to getting news, 110 years later, of the arrival of man's first extra-Solar expedition.

    OK. Since I began my reply I have a few extra criteria I'd like to toss into the fray.
    1. We should avoid exporting any sort of religion. In the unlikely event that the colonist encounter God let them meet Him as innocents.
    2. We should avoid exporting the idea of a monetary economy. Some of the R&D budget should go into developing an economic-societal-citizenship model which does not rely on the divisive nature of wealth.
    3. We should avoid exporting the jaded political models which we all now know do not work. R&D could and should produce a clean new model which might stand a better chance of working in a pure environment uncontaminated by incompatible systems in neighbouring states.
    4. We should avoid exporting any of our clumsy judicial systems. Law should be simple and just and rely upon duty, loyalty, and civic responsibility. Concepts of retribution, restitution, and punishment are provable to be utterly ineffective in deterring crime.
    That's four points, which can safely be merged into one simple one to add to your three.

    #4. We must NOT export any of the societal evils which made the Earth too often into a hell.
     
  17. Anorlunda

    Anorlunda Scout

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    Mirelly,

    There is no need for us to agree. After all we are talking about the future; no facts only speculation.

    I do believe that FTL travel is impossible. I consider the traveling back in time side effect one of the many reasons why we can't exceed light speed. However, I want to leave the door open to me being wrong. I would absolutely love being wrong about this one. Still, my thinking always begins with what can we do without FTL.

    We can disagree on the worthwhile thing too. Collecting trillions of dollars for a one-way mission with no accountability and no way to monitor mission success seems to me like an open invitation to steal trillions from gullible donors. So I'll continue to cling to the opinion that if we are talking about huge expenditures, and society can't monitor mission success or guarantee accountability, society will refuse to support it in the first place. Small cheap missions like SETI, can slip in under the radar and get sponsored with no accountability, but only because the money is trivial.

    Come to think of it, a really entertaining scifi story theme could be built on that. Envision preparations for a generation ship to take mankind to the nearest habitable planet. It is the biggest project in history and captures the imagination of everyone on Earth. But in reality, it is a scam conjured up by con artists. That would be as much fun as "The Sting"
     
  18. Ken Jeavus

    Ken Jeavus Scout

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    Couple comments. If we're talking real life, current day, IMHO we're doomed. In general the human race, or rather those in positions of power, seems to be a Me first greed/capitalism driven race. I don't see how any argument could ever be made to support long term adventures with limited promise of financial reward.

    If we're talking about distant future, or in a sci fi story, then I like the idea of trying not to export too much of ourselves. As for the 3 points from Anorlunda: #1 is kind of a "semantically null statement" :) I'm not sure what it would mean to be outside the laws of physics that are known at the time. #2 - Worthwhile means different things to different people. In our current society, it's hopeless. In a future society hopefully curiosity and pursuit of knowledge will be enough. As for #3, I disagree completely. Wanting to maintain human identity strikes me as a form of tribalism. Used to be people wanted to maintain the identity of their tribe, then city, then state, then country, then planet, etc. How about let's jump to the endpoint and be happy that we're all children of the universe (yes very sappy sounding, but true). I personally like the idea of being part of one big universal family as it were.
     
  19. Mirelly

    Mirelly Mouthy Cow

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