Thursday, February 28, 2008

Finally!

Finally! Grading is over, and our short quarter break is about to begin. I will be attending to the backlog of science articles and press releases during this time, and will thus be posting in earnest shortly.

Oh, and if you are in school, or have a child who is, thank your teacher for all the work they put in. Making syllabi, tests, quizzes, assignments and grading them, plus finishing administrative paperwork, as well as advising students and, finally, attending committees and meetings, makes for long, and too often thankless, days! OK, so maybe I am feeling a big melodramatic, but I feel I earned it today!

OK, diversion/digression is over. Next post will be on an Alien Realities' topic.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Digital Blasphemy

For those who are curious, most of the images used for illustrative purposes in this blog come from Digital Blashpemy (used with permission). His planetary landscapes are beautifully done. And no, I do not get any commissions for promoting his work - just a fan spreading the word.


"Circumpolar" (triple screen) © DigitalBlasphemy.com

For links to other great space art, visit the "Art, Graphics, & Wallpaper" section of the side menu.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Update: Bad Link Removed - Blog Back Up

This morning I discovered I could not access my blog - a widget I had added from Galaxiki.org some time back was suddenly asking for a password instead of just showing the solar system I "adopted." This had the unfortunate effect of making it very difficult to load my blog.

I removed the offending widget.

I have no doubt many others, who have a Galaxiki widget installed, are having the same problem. Their entire website is asking for a password - it may be that it has been hacked by someone who is enjoying the temporary power they have exerted over their fellow beings. Seems there are better ways to get attention, there is power in doing good works with one's talents, and attention - but that's a topic for other blogs, not this one.

My apologies for any inconvenience this caused.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hypervelocity Stars (updated)


© Ruth Bazinet/Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astrophysics
Hypervelocity stars are stars that are moving, on average, around 7x than the average for, well, your average star. OK, in other words the average velocity for most stars is around 223,694 mph, which seems plenty fast but your average hypervelocity star moves at 1,615,068 mph (1.6 million mph)!

What causes these stars to become dragsters? A binary star system tangling with a black hole. If the conditions are right, one of the binary will be captured by the black hole, while the other star gets flung away at great velocity.

Not many of these hypervelocity stars have been found so far. One recent discovery, HE 0437-5439, has not been ejected from the Milky Way, but from the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small neighbor galaxy. This star is strong indirect proof of a black hole somewhere in the LMC.

What would that mean for any life on a habitable planet around such a star? They would see constellations change about 7 times faster than we do and they would experience a slight relativistic time dilation (1.5 minutes per year).

But most importantly, they would either pass by other stars several times more often than our own Sun, or be flung out into intergalactic space - far from any other star. The latter would be lonely civilizations indeed, unless they could somehow develop faster than light speeds, as it may take a few billion years for sentient life to arise on such a planet; after a few billion years they would be thousands of light years out into intergalactic space by the time they developed a technological civilization. They would be even further out if they had the unfortunate luck of being ejected from the galaxy, or the LMC, in the opposite direction of the galaxy's trajectory (the Local Group of galaxies, of which the Milky Way and the LMC are members of, is moving at 1.34 million miles per hour in the direction of the constellation Hydra) 1.

There is an additional effect of being flung out into intergalactic space: being so far from other stars would mean the chances of being effected by a nearby supernova would be nearly zero. As mentioned in a previous post, for the Earth, a supernova 30 light years or closer would be quite devastating for life - for other planets, the distance could be greater, depending upon how thick their protective atmospheres are (to show you how protective our atmosphere is, for astronauts outside the Earth's atmosphere, a supernova 3,000 light years away could be deadly). Some scientist conjecture that maybe a supernova was involved in past extinction events on Earth.

In addition, the solar system would not be affected by galactic disturbances (compression waves, for instance). Thus, the system might be more "boring" than our own, and thus allow sentient life to form more rapidly. HE 0437-5439 is a young star, only 35 million years old, so if there are any planets around it (and it is a big if), and if one of those planets is habitable and in the habitable zone, most likely hasn't arisen yet. But if it does, and it evolves into a sentient race, it will be a very isolated race.

Would they feel themselves blessed by being alone in the universe? Will it appear, to them, that the entire universe revolves around them - even the galaxies? Though if their parent galaxy is racing away from them, what would the make of it? Would they instead feel abandoned? Any thing they create would be lost when their star dies - there would be no one else to ever come along to explore their world. Would this affect how they lived? And if so, how?

Of course, if faster than light travel is somehow possible, by some "trick" (like worm holes), maybe they would be more pressured to discover it than would other, galactic, civilizations; and solve their isolation that way.

Another example of counsel given by Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167). Speculating on on possible extrasolar (alien) biological, psychological, societal, technological, and theological realities stretches the dreams of any of our philosophies here on Earth!

Notes:

1. A light year is the distance light travels in mph: 186,000 miles/second * 60 seconds/minute * 60 minutes/hour = 669,600,000 mph.

The distance light travels in a year: 186,000 miles/second * 60 seconds/minute * 60 minutes/hour * 24 hours/day * 365 days/year = 5,865,696,000,000 miles/year.

A hypervelocity star traveling at 1,615,000 mph would be traveling at 0.04145 light years per year: 1,615,000 mph/669,600,000 mph = 0.0024119 or 0.24119 % the speed of light.

Thus, the hypervelocity star would cover 0.24119% of
5,865,696,000,000 miles/year; it would take the star 414.611 years to cover a light year.

For a hypervelocity star leaving a galaxy, in 4 billion years it could be (depending upon relative velocity of it with its parent galaxy) 9,647,597.386 light years away from its parent galaxy! If sentient life takes as long to develop on a planet around such a star as it did on Earth (4.5 billion years), it would be 10,853,547.06 light years away.



References:

Kraan-Korteweg, Renée C. & Ofer Lahav. "Galaxies Behind The Milky Way."
Scientific America. October 1998.

Przybilla, N. et al. "LMC origin of the hyper-velocity star HE 0437-5439. Beyond the supermassive black hole paradigm." Astrophysical Journal Letters. Submitted on 29 Jan 2008. 17 Feb 2008. <http://arxiv.org/abs/0801.4456>.


"What is a Light Year?"
How Stuff Works. 17 February 2008. < http://www.howstuffworks.com/question94.htm>.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Life on large planets (Are Earth sized planets not the best size for life? II)


© David A. Aguilar (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)
What would a larger planet mean for the evolution of its life forms? One of the first considerations would be the effect of the heavier gravitational field have. And that effect? Size. No matter what skeletal structure is used, weight (gravity) affects how big a creature can become.

Let's examine insects first. One reason insects are so small (OK, if you have a fear or phobia for a particular insect, it doesn't look all that small!) is that their exoskeleton structure is not effective for supporting great weight (crayfish also have exoskeletal structure, but they live in water, which helps support added weight).

So then why do insects have exoskeletons? It may have something to do with surface to volume ratios. As surface area doubles, volume triples. Smaller creatures have a greater surface area to volume ratio, but as creatures increase in size, the ratio quickly decreases. What this means for small creatures is that they have greater water loss, as well as heat loss. This is why children can dehydrate and become hypothermic much easier than adults (of course this works in "reverse" as well: larger, heavier people overheat easier than thinner people).

An insect's exoskeletal structure helps insulate and "waterproof"it; this is how it overcomes the surface to volume ratio problem. However the exoskeleton helps reinforce upper size limitations on insects - to grow in size, an insect must molt or shed its exoskeleton in order to secrete a new one. Since the insect needs the exoskeleton for structure, and any growth must occur within it - thus it can not be very large when it sheds the exoskeleton. Of course, if the insect undergoes metamorphosis - the transformation of a larvae into a mature adult - major changes can occur.

Even for vertebrate creatures, there are limits to what biology can support in terms of the musculature needed to hold up great body weight. There is also a need to be able to rid the body of heat, since the surface to volume ratio decreases dramatically as creatures attain very large sizes - it is difficult to radiate out inner heat rapidly. This is why various dinosaurs grew large plates on their backs: they essentially operated as radiator fins. Of course, creatures living in water can more easily obtain larger sizes since the water aids in supporting the weight (buoyancy).

In addition, a large terrestrial planet may also affect the development of avian creatures. I think, though, this question is more difficult to answer. A heavier gravitational field would be harder to work against, requiring more muscles, more energy. The lighter the creature, the less weight it has to try to get airborne. Since we've seen how volume triples when area doubles, we can quickly see that if you double the size of an avian creature, it will triple in mass. However, birds have evolved ways around this. Having larger wingspans help develop more lift, but also having air spaces in their bones helps reduce their mass. This however weakens their bones to a degree, and since muscles need to be connected to the skeleton (kinesiology - mechanics, physics, of biological movement), weaker bones mean a lower limit to muscle strength. A lower limit to muscle strength means a lower limit to the weight that can be lifted into flight.

However, a thicker atmosphere might make up for some of that heavier gravitational pull by making it easier to acquire lift. Also, creatures that glide more than they actually fly, may be able to attain larger size since what they need is a large wingspan to float on the air or to catch updrafts with. Such creatures may tend to climb up large trees or cliffs and leap off to glide, reducing the need to power themselves into flight. Once launched, it would require less energy to stay aloft. They may have large thin membranes for wings since such structures would be very lightweight. It may even be feasible that some could develop bladders where they produce and store helium like the swim bladders in a fish, which are gas or air filled bladders which controls the fish's buoyancy (and for some even helps them hear) .

So a sentient alien from a very large planet may tend to be small in size, especially if they come from a warm planet with heavy gravity. I would doubt they would be insectile creatures, as insectile creatures on a very heavy planet (especially a warm and/or dry one) would have a harder time with large sizes than those on Earth. Not to say such sentient alien creatures as the insectile Xendi creatures from Star Trek: Enterprise are impossible, just that they are highly unlikely (maybe a very humid Earth sized planet could somehow produce one). Thus, I think heavy planets would tend to favor vertebrates of some sort, whether terrestrial or aquatic.

Hmm, maybe one reason why many UFO accounts have aliens as being small, just a few feet in height, is that they come from terrestrial planets that are several times larger than the Earth, and thus with much greater gravity.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Are Earth sized planets not the best size for life?


© David A. Aguilar (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)
An interesting study claims that if Earth was any smaller than it is now, it may not have been conducive for the formation of life - larger terrestrial planets are better. If so, then that may mean that maybe alien sentient life will arise, on average, on larger planets than Earth, up to 10 times as large.

Of course, what we need to know is what is more common, habitable terrestrial planets that are around the size of the Earth, or ones that are larger. At present we are finding large planets because our detection methods are not sensitive enough -yet- to discover smaller ones. But that is rapidly changing. But even Earth sized and larger sized terrestrial planets are both just as common, the fact that life may be more likely to arise and/or survive on the larger ones than the smaller ones may still indicate that alien life will tend to come more from the larger terrestrial planets.

The main reason why larger terrestrial planets would be more conducive for creating life is that they would be more geographically active:
Plate tectonics are crucial to a planet's habitability because they enable complex chemistry and recycle substances like carbon dioxide, which acts as a thermostat and keeps Earth balmy.
A larger planet is more likely to have the complex chemistry necessary for life to begin and would have a more active recycling of substances like carbon dioxide, among others, which helps to keep the climate more stable (overall). In addition, a larger planet would have, probably, a thicker atmosphere, which would offer more protection from meteor impacts. If a larger active terrestrial planet also has a stronger magnetic field, then it would have increased protection from cosmic radiation. Such a planet would be a safer, for a longer period, environment for life to begin, evolve, and thrive on.

The next question, to be addressed later (I have papers to grade at the moment), is how would a larger planet affect the development of alien sentient beings?

Reference:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Earth: A Borderline Planet For Life?."
ScienceDaily. 14 January 2008. 11 February 2008. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080112151809.htm>.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Anthropocentric Religion

In discussing speculations on alien religion, one thing needs to be kept in mind: while looking to our own planet for some insight is a good place to start (after all, here are examples of what can exist), we need to beware of the temptation to slide into anthropocentricity.

I came across today an old entry on the Speculist entitled "Alien Religion." His article brought up some good food for thought, and I will definitely try to track down a copy of Intelligent Life in the Universe? Catholic Belief and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life, by the Jesuit Astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno. However, there is a passage that I must respectfully disagree with:
From reading their history, we will discover that they count certain religious leaders among the most influential members of their species and contributors to their civilization. Religion itself will have had a long and spotty history: nurturing the loftiest of ideals in one place and time and sanctioning atrocities in another. One day a tool of oppression plied by tyrants and scoundrels, the next day a tool of liberation used to smash the oppressors' chains. Here the friend of learning, there it's enemy.
In other words, meeting aliens will teach us exactly nothing about religion or about ourselves; nothing, that is, that we shouldn't already know.
He claims that "mono-cultural alien races" don't exist. It is true that humans are not mono-cultural. However, while mono-cultures may be rare in the universe, I doubt they are impossible. For instance, an alien sentient race that operates in a hive social structure will probably be essentially mono-culture. There may be some slight difference due to geographical variations on their planet, but overall, what the would essentially have is a mono-culture. Just because we do not see something existing on our planet does not mean that it can not exist on other worlds - "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167).

Take, for another example, a long lived race who has, over the long millennia, somehow managed to have only one religion left standing - yes, it would probably be an extraordinary long process, but once it has been achieved, and all children brought up in it, and in a world that knows of no other religion (all references to past ones long erased), it would essentially be a mono-culture. It may not last as one, but for a while it would be a mono-culture. And yes, some may outwardly act as if they believed, while inwardly be agnostic or even atheistic, that happens quite a bit on our own planet, but essentially, in practical purposes, they would be a mono-culture.

We must keep in mind that while there probably is a universal biology, it will still allow for a great diversity of biologies and there may be creatures out there that have no inherent need for religion (as blasphemous as that may sound to our own ears). They may not understand our need for it - and it does seem we have a need for it.

Think about our own little silly superstitions - those actions taken before a game, or before watching your favorite team, or before going on stage, or before going on a date, and so forth. While these actions are not the religious rituals of an organized religion, they are still religious acts - rituals to appease "something" so that we will be blessed in some way. Even some atheists will admit to missing the rituals of church. We humans, generally speaking, love ritual. And this love for ritual is connected, to a degree, to our need for religion.

Is this love for ritual, or is this greater need for religion an inescapable result of developing abstract thought, of developing high order sentience, of being pattern seekers? Is it the inevitable result of sentient beings being able to detect, to see, and to create abstract patterns? Is it the ineluctable result of sentient beings being able to ponder abstract questions?

If the answer is yes, then all sentient aliens will have, at least at some point in their histories, an inherent desire and need for religion.

If the answer is no, then there will be sentient aliens who will not understand the need for religion.

However, even this is too simple. If the answer is yes to the above question, it is still anthropocentric to assume that their religious history will reflect the "long and spotty" religious history of Earthlings (a short history compared to some aliens). Aliens will be part of the grand biological diversity in the universe. And they will be at the mercy (at least at first) of the randomness that is inherent in the evolutionary process. They will also have originated on planets with a wide range of diverse environmental conditions. And so, they may have different emotional characteristics and needs (which will definitely affect how they interpret and apply religion), including a possible lack (at least by our standards) of emotions. That doesn't necessarily mean they will all be Spock like in logic, just that they may seem emotionally limited.

I said "at least at first" above as it is not inconceivable that some, or many, alien races could at some point take over control of their own evolutionary process. Depending upon a number of social, political, and biological factors, if an alien race who is at this point technologically is being ruled by a dictator, it is possible that some dictators in that position would take advantage of the technology to create a people who will be controlled by the few ruling elite - and thus essentially a mono-culture. Yes, so far no dictator on Earth has been able to take over the entire planet, but that does not automatically mean it is impossible here or on other worlds. As we have so far thankfully seen on Earth, dictators do have a hard time keeping their power - thus it would seem logical that if a dictator had access to biological technology that could alter his people to make them easier to control, that he would be very tempted to use it.

It is also a form of anthropocentric thinking to judge an alien's history by our short history - theirs may be millions of years longer, even a billion years longer. Much can happen in that time i the way of physical, mental, emotional, and cultural evolution. Their religious history may only be spotty in the beginning (the first few dozen millennia, for example), and settle down as the aliens evolve. At some point their cultures could become unified. Just because it hasn't happened in our short history does not automatically mean it can not happen in an alien race's history, especially one with a much longer history and thus more chances for it to finally develop a mono-culture (not saying that a mono-culture is necessarily a good thing, mind you).

Finally, technological advances on our own planet have begun to make the planet a truly smaller place. There is much talk about the Earth being "Flat" (connected) of late (see the book The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman), where global communication and business can occur almost instantaneously - we are becoming increasingly connected at an accelerating rate, and, in some ways, more and more like a hive, or, for the more pessimistic, like the Borg.

Ah, the Borg - there is a model to be considered. Is it impossible for a sentient race to go down that path, whether intentionally (good or bad intentions) or by accident or by force? Such a society would very well be a mono-culture.

I will close by revisiting Mr. Bowermaster's words above: "In other words, meeting aliens will teach us exactly nothing about religion or about ourselves; nothing, that is, that we shouldn't already know." I disagree. Going to other planets. like Venus and Mars, to study their weather patterns, for instance, teaches us about our own weather. It is not so much the similarities that teach us, but the differences. And the more another system is like our own, the more any differences will help us learn how our system works. Weather is a complex system. I think this applies to complex theological systems as well. If there are many similarities with alien religions, with all having long and spotty records, there will still be differences, and those differences can be very telling, very instructive. Sometimes it is the smallest of variances that can give great results.

I think that the probability is high that meeting aliens will teach us something about ourselves, including religion.

Reference:

Bowermaster, Phil. "Alien Religion." The Speculist. 2 December 2005. 6 February 2008. <http://www.blog.speculist.com/archives/000530.html>

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Habitable Moons - Are They Common?

image credit: digitalblasphemy.com
"Thetis Moon" © DigitalBlasphemy.com
Earlier posts discussed the possibility of habitable moons, including how they may increase the habitable zone of a solar system, which would then affect the Drake Equation, giving it a larger number for N (the number of civilizations we can communicate with at this time in the galaxy).

Recent work by Caleb Scharf, Columbia University's Director of Astrobiology, points to the possibility that habitable moons may not be rare - they may even be as common as habitable planets.

Take a look at our own solar system as an example. Our solar system has several moons that, if orbited the sun instead of a planet, would be large enough to be considered planets themselves. Several of them have atmospheres, and at least one, Europa, is almost certain to have liquid water - though recent articles, which will be discussed in later posts, suggest that life can exist in ice, and that, thus, liquid water may not be necessary for life to exist (though it may be necessary for sentient life to evolve).

If our system is not unusual, then it should be common for extrasolar systems to have many moons as well, some of them large enough to have atmospheres and to retain water. As we've seen in previous posts, water is found to be rather common in planetary discs and systems (1).

However, a heat source is needed. And to the rescue comes tidal forces: tidal forces caused by the moon's parent planet which will create internal heat for the moon. This is due to the fact that gravity decreases with distance and the gravitational pull on the near side of the moon is greater than the gravitational pull on the far side. For a moon in a circular orbit, the moon will adjust its shape to adapt to this gravitational differential, and no tidal heating will occur. But for a moon in an eccentric orbit, the gravitational differential will change rhythmically, and the moon will be kneaded like a lump of bread dough (OK, a bit of an exaggeration). This will heat a moon even if it is outside of the solar system's main habitable zone. This increases the areas in a solar system where life can form.

So when we are looking for extrasolar life, we need to look at large moons as well as planets. Right now our technology allows us to detect only large gas giants. However, rapid advances will (possibly as early as this year) allow the ability to detect terrestrial planets. The ability to detect water planets is on the horizon as well. I can not say if the ability to detect habitable moons will exist in the near future, but I would not rule it out.

Notes:

1. Many chemicals are found in space, including interstellar gas clouds of sugar and of beer!


References:

Browne, Malcom W. "Alcohol-Laden Cloud Holds the Story of a Star." New York Times. 30 May 1995. 5 February 2008. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE7D81531F933A05756C0A963958260>.

Scharf, Caleb A. “The potential for tidally heated icy and temperate moons around exoplanets.” Astrophysical Journal. 648 (2006) 1196-1205.

Clash of faiths

One question that needs to be addressed is if (or when) we contact an alien race, what would that mean to the Earth, theologically speaking?

Some Earth religions do not have a problem, or much of one, with the concept of the existence of alien sentient beings. Some feel that Jesus has visited them as well, others think that the lost tribe of Israel is on some other planet. Others mention creatures on other planets, but it is not clear if by creatures they mean intelligent creatures. Maybe the universe is teeming with life, but only Earth has high order sentient life.

And so I return to the opening question: if we contact an alien race, how will that affect us, theologically speaking? I feel there would be several possible responses, in three categories especially once we discover they have their own religion: A.it isn't anything like ours on Earth, B. at least one of their religions somehow resembles one of Earth's, C. they are all atheist.

A. Alien religions not like anything on Earth.

  • Some humans would not be able to accept that fact - some because of the challenge that represents to their own faith view, and some because they cannot accept the existence of aliens for any reason - and would claim a conspiracy by atheists of faking contact with an alien race in order to destroy all religion.
  • Some would want to convert the aliens to the One True Faith. However, there would be arguments between the various faiths on Earth, as each would deny the other the opportunity to convert the aliens. Prophets would suddenly appear, each claiming that God has chosen them to lead the way to the conversion of God's "other sheep."
  • Some would state that freedom of religious expression should not only be for humans, but for all sentient beings and thus every religion has a right to proselytize to the aliens
  • Some would claim the aliens as Satan or his followers, coming to deceive us.
  • Some atheists would claim this as evidence that religion is arbitrary while some agnostics as well as some religious would claim this as evidence that there are more than one path to heaven, and others that this shows the universal importance of religion.
  • Some would study the alien religion(s) and try to interpret them as being mentioned in the Bible or other scriptures (beyond the "and other sheep have I" Biblical passage), or that echoes of this or that Earth religion are to be found in the alien religion(s), thus minimizing to some degree the "otherness" of the alien religions - making them more of apostate or misinterpretations of the true religions on Earth.
  • Some religions wouldn't care - they don't actively proselytize.
  • Of course some people would leave their churches and embrace the alien religions, as many people are dissatisfied with religion - many go to church but are essentially agnostic or atheist in their hearts since they do not really follow their faith, and/or have major problems with it, but go out of habit or because there is nothing better or because of social pressure. Those looking for a church and have become disillusioned in their search may be drawn to this new religion, even if the aliens do not actively proselytize. And others would do so just to be rebellious, or to get attention, which may be the largest group, at least at first, since a religion that is totally alien would be difficult for many to accept (at least at first). Once people start joining it, and of course start "humanizing it," others would join as well.
  • Humans embracing the alien religion would cause some (or many) churches to attack or deny the alien religions, or fight to restrict knowledge of them. Some would go as far as work to pass laws making joining alien religions illegal on Earth. Others would work harder to force people (humans) to be religious (to a particular religion, or a group of religions) by passing more and more religious dogma into secular laws.
  • Although many people, while at first being fascinated, even if just mildly or momentarily, by the alien religions, wouldn't care or be bothered by them much after that - especially for religions that just didn't make any sense from an Earth perspective because of the totally alien environment that the alien religion came out of. Some of them would belong to the "don't bother me, I won't bother you" camp of thought.
  • However, there will be those that will seize upon this as an opportunity to stir people up in order to control or direct them and gain power in the process. Many would be world leaders and tyrants have used this concept - take some "other" and demonize them, using them as scapegoats. With this, they are often able to conquer and gain power - at least for a time. If one after another tyrant and dictator or would-be tyrants have used this against "other" humans successfully to gain control over the people of a nation or region, then how much more successful could they be using a true "other" to gain control over people.
B. At least one of their religions somehow resembles one of Earth's.
  • Some of those in the Earth religion that the alien religion resembles in some way would claim that as evidence that their Earth religion was The One True Faith.
  • However, like in A above, some humans would not be able to accept that fact, especially if their religion was not the religion that the alien's resembled in some way as it would seem, by some, as to be evidence against them. And as above, some may even claim a conspiracy by those on Earth that are against their faith of faking contact with an alien race in order to destroy their religion.
  • Some would want to convert the aliens to the fullness of the One True Faith - looking upon the alien religion as a corruption, or an apostatized, or an immature, or a misinterpreted version of the correct Earth version.
  • Some would say the resemblances are accidental, or overblown, and of no concern.
  • However, some would claim the aliens as Satan or his followers, coming to deceive us by presenting a corrupted version of an Earth religion to confuse us, or to better draw us to this false alien religion - and maybe the aliens are lying and made up the resemblance to trick us, to put us off guard.
  • As above, some atheists would still claim this as evidence that religion is arbitrary, though it would be harder for them to convincingly argue that when an alien race has a religion resembling in some ways an Earth religion. They would have to argue for coincidence (which is statistically possible, though doubtful it would be probable). It would also be more difficult for some agnostics as well as some religious would claim this as evidence that there are more than one path to heaven, especially if the alien religion would be resembling just one path.
  • Also, as above, some would study the alien religion(s) and try to interpret them as being mentioned in the Bible or other scriptures (beyond the "and other sheep have I" Biblical passage), or others would study the alien religions, fascinated by what comparisons there are. Some would even be trying to show how the alien scriptures mention Earth. For some, this would show all sentient species are truly "brothers" and "sisters" in a spiritual sense, as there would seem to be some common ground between ours and the alien's religion.
  • Others would explain the differences as divinely inspired - adapted to the alien's non-human needs and abilities and their own particular spiritual challenges, and thus we should not be frightened or feel challenged by their religion - it's not for humans, only for the aliens.
  • Of course some people would leave their churches and embrace the alien religions, as many people are dissatisfied with religion - many go to church but are essentially agnostic or atheist in their hearts since they do not really follow their faith, and/or have major problems with it, but go out of habit or because there is nothing better or because of social pressure. Those looking for a church and have become disillusioned in their search may be drawn to this new religion, some because it does resemble in some ways an Earth religion, and may come to feel it was the Earth's religions that had apostatized, and that the alien one was the pure one even if the aliens do not actively proselytize (though it is most likely that the Earth branch of the church would change as it would have to face pragmatic reality and adapt to humans - some aspects of the alien ritual may just not be doable by humans, for instance). Others would welcome the chance to try out another religion in their continuing search. And others would do so just to be rebellious, or to get attention.
  • Possibly even more so than in category A, humans embracing the alien religion would cause some (or many) churches to attack or deny the alien religions, or fight to restrict knowledge of them. And as above, some would go as far as work to pass laws making joining alien religions illegal on Earth. Others would work harder to force people (humans) to be religious (to a particular religion, or a group of religions) by passing more and more religious dogma into secular laws.
  • Though many people, while at first being fascinated, even if just mildly or momentarily, by the alien religions, wouldn't care or be bothered by them much after that. Even some of those at first scared would calm down with time, especially if the aliens didn't proselytize.
  • However, as with category A, there will be those that will seize upon this as an opportunity to stir people up in order to control or direct them and gain power in the process. Many would be world leaders and tyrants have used this concept - take some "other" and demonize them, using them as scapegoats. With this, they are often able to conquer and gain power - at least for a time. If one after another tyrant and dictator or would-be tyrants have used this against "other" humans successfully to gain control over the people of a nation or region, then how much more successful could they be using a true "other" to gain control over people.
C. The aliens are atheists.
  • Many humans would not be able to accept that fact - because of the challenge that represents to all human faiths - some, especially those wanting to deny aliens exist in the first place, would certainly claim a conspiracy by atheists of faking contact with an alien race in order to destroy all religion.
  • Some would definitely want to convert the lost aliens to religion. Though which one? As with both categories above, there would be arguments between the various faiths on Earth, as each would deny the other the opportunity to convert the aliens. Prophets would suddenly appear, each claiming that God has chosen them to lead the way to the conversion of God's "other sheep."
  • Some would state that freedom of religious expression should not only be for humans, but for all sentient beings and thus every religion has a right to proselytize to the aliens. Others would say "to each their own" and make it illegal for humans to proselytize to the aliens, especially if the aliens find it offensive. At first this would be easy as governments would control communication with the aliens. But as contact increased, and more readily achieved by the public, this would become a concern. However, the aliens being atheists would be less of a scary threat than category B - their religion having some resemblance to an Earth religion.
  • Some would claim the aliens are deceived by Satan who is trying to deceive us through the spiritual ignorance of the aliens.
  • Some atheists would claim this as evidence that religion is not only arbitrary, but false, and non-universal.
  • Some religions wouldn't care - they don't actively proselytize.
  • Of course some people would leave their churches and embrace the alien religions, as many people are dissatisfied with religion - many go to church but are essentially agnostic or atheist in their hearts since they do not really follow their faith, and/or have major problems with it, but go out of habit or because there is nothing better or because of social pressure. Some of these would see the atheist aliens as a sign or as evidence to leave religion and become atheists themselves even if the aliens do not actively proselytize. Though I doubt it would be a majority as humans seem to have evolved a need, on average, to have some kind of spirituality. And, of course, some would do so just to be rebellious, or to get attention.
  • Some would work harder to force people (humans) to be religious (to a particular religion, or a group of religions) by passing more and more religious dogma into secular laws.
  • Again, there will be those that will seize upon this as an opportunity to stir people up in order to control or direct them and gain power in the process. Many would be world leaders and tyrants have used this concept - take some "other" and demonize them, using them as scapegoats. With this, they are often able to conquer and gain power - at least for a time. If one after another tyrant and dictator or would-be tyrants have used this against "other" humans successfully to gain control over the people of a nation or region, then how much more successful could they be using a true "other" to gain control over people.
One result, though, could be that some churches may work harder to be more relevant to their members, or to address more actively their disillusionments.

The above is by no means an exhaustive listing. This topic will be revisited from time to time, and expanded upon.

Alien Technology - 5. Outside Influence - Part II

image credit: DigitalBlasphemy.com
"Overseer" © DigitalBlasphemy.com
OK, actually this next post is a bit pessimistic. Another possible result of outside influence may be one alien race being in awe of another alien race and wanting to be like them, supplanting their own technology with that of the other race. We see some of that here on Earth - fads from time to time where we look to one country for the best in fashion, or watches, or electronics, or music, and so forth.

If this happened with one alien race vying to be like a second one, then the first would work to adapt their technology to match, or work with, the technology of the second; keep in mind, the Earth analogy involving beings from the same race, but different cultures, while with aliens there would most likely be not only different cultures, but different physiologies, and different environments. For instance, a race on a planet with strong gravity, and a much stronger magnetic field, would most probably have to make adaptations to technology from a planet with weaker gravity and a much weaker magnetic field in order for the technology to work.

Thus, if an import/export trade relationship developed between the two planets or star systems, each would have to make adjustments to their technologies, especially those technologies involved in communication, travel, and trade between the two races. But even other, not directly involved, technologies would be influenced from the likely ripple effect from the contact and trade.

But not only that, another alien race could bring in ideas never yet thought of. They could introduce each other to new concepts, new science discoveries, new data sets, new art forms, and so forth. They would bring in fresh set of eyes (or "eyes"), a fresh way of looking at things - all of which will alter and affect the development of an alien race, from their culture to their technologies.

Alien Technology - 5. Outside Influence

image credit: DigitalBlasphemy.com
"Overseer" © DigitalBlasphemy.com
Last, some preliminary thoughts about outside influence.

Again, as with most of these speculations, while there are some universalities to inscribe a boundary, there is still much room for a wide range of possibilities.

A fancy way of saying there is much that can be said about this. I can blog on this for years and not exhaust the subject.

For my first preliminary thoughts on this I am reminded about the discussions many scientists have about searching for alien life - we must first look to our own planet for clues. The discovery of extremophiles, life forms that live in extreme conditions (once thought to be inhospitable to life), has forced scientists to expand their search for extraterrestrial life to a wider range of environmental conditions. That is the jumping off point.

So, for outside influence on alien technology, we should first look to our own planet. And what we find is a bit disconcerting. It seems that mankind has evolved technology faster than it has matured to handle it responsibly. Too often we find under our civilized veneer there lies a savage beast. And a beast with access to technology is a terrible beast. And see how often a nation, a group, with higher technology treats another nation with much lower technology, even though both are just as advanced mentally.

Would this be true of most sentient races?

Maybe. Think on this: our planet is, in comparison to other planets, boring. By comparison to most, its axis isn't greatly tilted and doesn't wobble much, it circles its sun in a nearly circular orbit around a fairly consistent sun (compared to many other stars), and because of Jupiter cleaning out many asteroids, may not be as impacted as often as some, or many, extrasolar terrestrial planets. While tectonically active, it is not overly so. However, it has still experienced devastating meteor impacts, super volcanoes, and ice ages interspersed among very tropical ages - all of which puts evolutionary stress on evolving sentience to be a rather adaptive species, and part of that adaptation may mean a certain aggressiveness to explore, spread out, conquer. Only those that fought to survive, survived events and eras that nearly wiped out the rising sentient species of man.

There is genetic evidence that humans have narrowly escaped extinction on more than one occasion. One event, according to the Toba catastrophe theory, involves a super volcano on Sumatra 70,000 to 75,000 years ago which reduced the human population for the entire world down to 2,000 to 10,000 individuals.

So for an extrasolar planet with a more dramatic history caused by its having a more elliptical orbit, greater axial tilt, more tectonic activity, and/or being struck more regularly by meteors, sentient life forms may, out of necessity, be an even more aggressive about ensuring their survival.

Contact by an alien race with higher technology may mean the end of the contacted race - or that they would be subservient to the dominant race and no longer develop their own technology.

Or if such a contact was successfully initially repulsed (whether by luck or by sheer overwhelming numbers), the contacted race would throw all of their energies and will into developing technology to defend themselves from future attacks.

Of course, there are less pessimistic influences... which will be touched upon in posts to follow.

Reference:

Ambrose, Stanley H. "Late Pleistocene human population bottlenecks, volcanic winter, and differentiation of modern humans." Journal of Human Evolution. 34. 1998. 623 - 51.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Alien Technology - 1. Biology/Physiology - Part IV

Much of technology is driven by cultural needs, by physical needs (survival needs such as food, water, and protection from the elements) and, at least for humans, technology is also driven by the need for entertainment, and for exploration.

All of these are directly, or indirectly, connected to the biology and physiology of the alien race. Some additional examples include an alien species where mating is a difficult process, even more difficult than it can be here on Earth at times; for such a species there may be quite the pressure to concentrate energies on creating tools (technology) to help with the process. On a planet that is largely a desert, for a species that while physiologically efficient in the use of water, there will still likely be great pressures for developing tools (technology) to find and protect water as well as to get the most out of agriculture. Or for a species that is wholly herbivorous, technology to protect themselves from predators.

There are many other possibilities, which I will try to explore in the future, but this is more than enough to get us started, eh?

So, when contemplating on different kinds of aliens, and the technologies they may have, we need to keep in mind all the different biologies that could exist - do not ignore any biological need as an influence on the type and direction of technological development an alien species may undertake.

Alien Technology - 4. Physical Environment

image credit: DigitalBlasphemy.com
"Spire City" © DigitalBlasphemy.com
Section 4 of our preliminary speculations about the influence on Alien technology: the alien's physical environment (planetary as well as the space environment).

Seems are obvious, and have been mentioned earlier in the preliminary discussions regarding physiology. From Alien Technology - 1. Biology/Physiology - Part II, take as an example,
a water world where the intelligent species has developed wholly as an underwater organism. Smell, light, and radio waves are not the most effective or efficient means of communication in water, due to the properties of water. But sound is a different matter - sound is a very effective means, which is why whales and dolphins, among others, are able to communicate over long distances (sometimes thousands of miles) via sound alone. Using electricity would be difficult, and so development in that area could be very slow.
Other environments would have strong influences on the course and development of alien technology - a planet with much greater gravity, and thicker atmosphere, would struggle more than we to have a rocket escape the planet's gravity well, and to survive the longer and more fiery reentry. On such a planet would Zeppelin type crafts make more sense, or be viable much longer on such a planet compared to Earth?

Or if the alien race lives on a planet with a highly elliptical orbit, or a greatly tilted planetary axis, such that weather conditions vary extremely throughout their year, they may very well be motivated to create technology to help them deal with mitigating the results of the extreme weather patterns, especially if they are a species that wants to expand its territory to cover as much of their planet as possible (life tends to expand to fill its environment as much as possible - life that evolves otherwise would soon end, to be usurped and replaced by life that does strive to expand).

And for aliens that live in a solar system that is more populated by hazardous asteroids than our own system (maybe, for instance, it doesn't have a Jupiter sized planet to clean out many of the asteroids), such that they suffer many more meteor hits on a regular basis than the Earth - such beings would definitely have as one of their priorities technology tools to help them locate, track, and deal with hazardous asteroids.

Of course a large water planet would have some added natural protection - meteor impacts into an ocean are not quite as devastating as the same meteors impacting on the rocky surface of a more Earth-like terrestrial planet. Also, if the planet has a thicker atmosphere, that would give greater protection.

And what of a planet that, for whatever reason, does not have the coal and oil or other such natural energy sources as the Earth? They would be driven to find other means for power to power their technologies, developing solar power sooner, for instance. It would most likely have a strong impact on their transportation technologies as well.

So as with the other categories, we need to sit down and carefully think about the different kinds of physical environments an alien race could grow up in, and we need to include in our contemplations all aspects of the physical environment, even what may, at first, seem insignificant. I think we sometimes forget just how much our environment shapes us, since we are born and raised in it.