On Technological "Progress"

"Nature is filled with affirmations about the cycles of time. The seasons wax and wane throughout the year. Birth, growth, death, and rebirth occur in unending cycles. Likewise, long-range chapters in human development give way, during brief periods of intense change, to a new "era" or "age" in which different aspects of human nature are emphasized. These are concepts intrinsic to Maya as well as Buddhist and Hindu religion. In comparison, the Judeo-Christian worldview espouses a doctrine of linear time, with a distinct beginning and a distinct, apocalyptic end. What is amazing about the basic tenets of the Maya worldview is that they are shared by religions currently followed by over half the planet."

John Major Jenkins
Maya Cosmogenesis 2012

To which I might add, the "Post-Judeo-Christian" myth (i.e., the modern scientific myth of Man's Place in the Cosmos, roughly equivalent to The SCAM) deletes the apocalypse as a certainty, but sort of expects it anyway, and is conducting all of us headlong into it.

If you are a SETI scientist, to which myth do you subscribe?

How does this relate to the concept of "ETI a million years ahead of us"?

"Technological progress is caused by a process of Darwinian natural selection that works on the whole society. Technology allows a society to survive natural disasters, defeat enemies in war, and develop the natural resources available to it more fully. All these give it an advantage over any society that doesn't do these things. Cultures that encourage their members to work for technological progress survive better than those that don't.

"This particular cycle contains the seeds of its own destruction: technological advancement on a primitive planet like Earth invariably causes the human population to increase to the point where exploitation of natural resources seriously upsets the planet's ecological balances. Most people on Earth are now aware that a population bomb is ticking toward explosion.

"Scientists are predicting that this rape of the planet's resources will destroy the Earth's biosphere and cause the extinction of the human species, or, at the least, destroy technological civilization. Others are more optimistic. They predict that almost everyone in the underdeveloped countries will die of plagues and famines, but that the advanced nations will survive the crisis with most of their population and technology intact.

"Biologists on Earth already know that population explosions in a particular species followed by massive die-offs are quite common, and usually are not a sign that the species is headed for extinction. Overpopulation/die-off cycles are commonest in successful species that are trying to extend their range but are blocked by environmental barriers. The process often creates new variants of the species that can survive in a wider variety of environments."

War in Heaven (Griffith, 1988)
See notes on the chapter "Elementals".

SETI scientists without exception hold the idea that societies undergo a monotonic technological development (i.e., always onward and upward). This concept is built into the Drake Equation39 and is intrinsic to every SETI discussion, speculation, and publication. It is based on our own society's experience as prototype, which itself would make for a questionable rationale, even if our own history exhibited monotonic development, which it does not. We all know of ancient civilizations that arose, developed to a certain point, and then collapsed. Archeological anomalies reveal a deeper picture of far more ancient societies that are excluded from conventional histories.

A corollary assumption, implicit in much of SETI literature, is that the rate of technological development is commensurate with that of our own over some arbitary time period - one or two hundred years or since the beginning of the industrial revolution, or whatever. This gives rise to speculations about "how far ahead of us" "they" are, as though the timetable is set by the initial moment that the ET species "developed intelligence" or maybe by the moment of the first spark of life (you know, the lightning strike in the organic soup).

SETI also assumes that the milestones along everyone's path are the very ones that we have encountered on ours. Each society has to develop the use of electricity, nuclear energy (with its possibility of destruction of the society), radio astronomy, warfare... these being the technologies of most interest to SETI. Never mind that we do not know how the pyramids were built, and that we could not build them today. Never mind how the continent of Antarctica under the ice cap was mapped. Never mind that remote viewing has been used successfully by our intelligence services but ignored by the science establishment.

The Age of DuctsTechnological progress is seen as a path, one-dimensional, with milestones on it, that everyone traverses if they have the intellectual equipment to do so. But is this an accurate description? Consider a flat plane, two-dimensional, with not milestones but notable points of achievement scattered all over it. Overlaid on this plane is a branching tree structure - a specific instance of a culture's progress. The culture starts out at some point representing its initial conditions. As it moves, it touches some of the possibilities on the plane but not all of them. Thus there could be a Boeing 707, but the 706 is missed - apparently not needed.

Missed Milestone

Another culture could start at the very same point as the first one but launch off in a different direction, painting a tree path that never crosses the other's path.

Cultures can deplete their life energy, stagnate in a tangle, rot, or go retrograde. They can suffer calamities or simply run into impassable obstacles.48 Obstacles... ah, there is terrain! Let's make that an undulating surface, not a plane, and consider the vertical dimension as well.

What would be in the vertical dimension? How about other surfaces, for other civilizations, with completely different possibilities for achievement based on the kinds of resources, internal to the beings as well as external, available to them. Perhaps in their undulations these surfaces may contact one another at particular places.

Did I say contact? Oh yes, isn't that what SETI is about?

Societies may interact in so many ways other than by transfer of RF (or light). And that means technologies will diffuse, which wreaks havoc with the classical SETI paradigm. In this diffusion we see a model in which everyone is forever playing catch-up with everyone else, except when they are destroying each other or making captives of each other.

Time Travel?

Time travel is the great wildcard. Is it possible, even theoretically?

Speaking in terms of general relativity theory, a physicist would pose the question this way: Under what circumstances can a closed timelike curve (CTC) exist?

The links provided above will define basic terms and set up the framework for this discussion. But note that the framework is based on relativity theory, and Open SETI Physics 101 suggests alternatives to relativity that would moot this discussion. So we cannot provide a simple or straightforward answer to the question about time travel, which should not surprise you.

However, given the framework, the question remains: can a CTC exist?

Arguments as to whether or not CTCs are possible are usually based on issues of causality: would a CTC violate causality? In a paper still under study by Open SETI, Davis (2004), outlines the present controversy over the effects on causality, acknowledging issues over causality violations on the macroscopic scale, but pointing out the possibility of "microscopic spacetime histories possessing time machines."

Referring to a paper by Li and Gott (1998), Davis cites their conclusion that CTCs "could exist at least at the level of semi-classical quantum gravity theory".

Li and Gott had addressed the objections to the existence of spacetimes with CTCs ("Misner spaces"): previous calculations had shown divergences (i.e., inconsistencies) in the "renormalized stress-energy tensor of the quantum vacuum polarization". This subject matter is abstruse for Open SETI, but suffice to say that based on this problem, Steven Hawking in 1992 proposed the "chronology protection conjecture" that claimed that the laws of physics do not allow the appearance of CTCs.

Li and Gott found a self-consistent vacuum for Misner space in which the renormalized stress-energy tensor is regular (in fact zero) everywhere.

Given that, they went on to propose that "the universe may be created from itself: tracing backward in time we may eventually encounter a region of closed timelike curves."

To which we add, better than the Big Bang... but that's another story.

In another framework, a suggested basis for time travel may be found on this website in the article by Don Hotson (see the Open SETI home page). For more speculations, see the companion website for a 1999 PBS program.

What about reports suggesting that time travel is happening? A nice collection can be found in Time Storms (Randles, 2002). But don't stop there. Recall from the Open SETI Introduction:

...I do not assume that the modern scientific myth of Man's Place in the Cosmos (elucidated throughout Open SETI as Society's Common Approved Myth: The SCAM54) necessarily provides the most accurate depiction. It is only one of many, and there is value in looking at the myths of other cultures - the living ones as well as the extinct. When we do, we find information at variance with the modern myths. We find that some cultures either left for us or have carried forward into our time, a knowledge or a cultural memory of an interface with something "other" - something that gave them information that we in the modern west lack or cannot accept.
So, while modern science picks its way through the fields of life and existence, what help can we find on this subject (time travel) from other sources? We do find a rich lore that suggests a principle of human awareness that lives outside the physical body and is a time traveler. Consider, for example, the Bardo Thodol - Tibetan Book of the Dead, the honored "Guide to the Recently Deceased". Its bardos, or planes of existence, can be thought of as the hyperdimensions of present-day physics. Important to our discussion is the element of the journey through the bardos that usually ends with the fall into yet another incarnation somewhere in space and time.

From our own culture, Robert A. Monroe's trilogy presents a virtual map of the planes and spaces through which disembodied consciousness can travel. Monroe was able to experience a wide range of time periods. The clarity, completeness, and coherence of his information is remarkable.

These two examples and much more not mentioned here provide strong hints of realms connected with our spacetime in ways that our culture does not understand very well, even though parts of ourselves can travel in them. We have cultural blocks in this area. Other cultures may not. It is tempting at this point to introduce data from the "UFO" field that rather strongly confirms that others not only are free of our blocks, but have technologies that extend to this zone - much to our disadvantage when dealing with them. However, not wishing to turn Open SETI into a UFO study, the existence of this type of technology will for our purposes be considered as simply hypothetical.

If, then, some ET civilizations had time travel capabilities, the possibilities for "contact" would ramify in bewildering ways, calling for a hyperdimensional model of technological progress. With this extension of the model, the "age of a society" becomes meaningless. Some societies are simply all over the universe's history or time sequence, and exist in a kind of "distributed now" that we can scarcely comprehend.

Even without time travel, but with simple diffusion and contact, or even without diffusion, but with appropriate nonlinear models of progress, it is clear that the rational basis for conventional SETI is overly simplistic, or frankly wrong.

the glass bead game

Open SETI SETI Cost Soul Technology