The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Fermi paradox

Return to Earth

Black Hole We remain silent for long minutes, as Gabrielle’s words continue their journey through our minds. Sarah’s holding my hand: suddenly I am aware that we have a very physical presence here: is it the power of illusion, or have we in some way “borrowed” bodies? And what do Gabrielle and Elga look like in their native forms? I decide to ignore that latter thought.

Elga speaks: “In our coven, there are some who believe you humans do not deserve to be protected, and that, at best, you should be quarantined and ignored. We cannot be sure that this view may not become a majority. So we wish to prove them wrong. It is our belief that if you do not receive any help from outside, which means from us, your civilisation’s chances of survival may be slim. Even assuming you see reason and stop destroying your planet, asteroids or other galactic incidents will finish you off, in due time. We are convinced you will need some help, and probably sooner than we thought a few centuries back. The four of you – Julian, Sarah, Jane and of course Melissa – can do a lot to strengthen our case.”

We are stunned. It is Sarah who finally replies for us: “I can say for at least three of us, and I am sure Melissa agrees, that we are willing. But what can we do?” There is another pause then Gabrielle speaks. “It is a long-haul project. Remember that we have been observing you for millennia. We rely on Melissa to explain to you – and she has started with you Sarah – how you can communicate with us more easily. We have invited you here, not to show off, but to facilitate your understanding of what we have undertaken. For us your main task will be to communicate back to your people, through your writing, your friends, whatever influence you may already have or develop in the future, and slowly begin to suggest that you are not alone. This will be difficult. It will take time. We decided to work with individuals like yourselves rather than institutions, because we do not want to panic you: our experience elsewhere has taught us to be patient. You will have to be cautious too, since a healthy skepticism will meet any affirmation that we – “beings from Andromeda” – are close to your world.  In fact we believe that this may not be the most helpful starting point. It will be up to you. Our own experience is that an appreciation of the possibility – a finite probability – of close-by intelligent life and friendly civilisations maybe the way to prime consciousness. Many of your mainstream scientists will deny the practicality of communication – the Fermi paradox. Others may be more questioning of the received wisdom.” We are now silent, reflecting, as we retrace our steps along the beach. The moons are bright in the dark sky.

Elga wishes us well and promises to be in touch. We thank her for talking to us, and assure her of our willingness to help her to help us. The little sphere is back, and Gabrielle says that she will accompany us back to the cloister. The return journey appears to take a little longer but when we stand, close to the medieval column and the statue of the saint, Jane says that we have been away only for fifteen minutes at most. We agree with Gabrielle and Melissa to meet at their house in a week time. The three of us then walk back through the sleepy streets to our car, parked near the library. Sarah and Jane are chatting amiably. I am deep in thoughts, Sarah will drive. We, the space and time travellers, will need seven hours to go back home…

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Fermi’s Paradox

Singularity In the silence of the old house Gabrielle spoke.

I have grown very fond of you Julian, of your enthusiasms, your doubts, your aptitude to love the way you humans do, which is far superior – and how much more intriguing – to our intellectualised feelings. I wish those of my species, and we are legions, could see you, or Melissa, or Sarah, the way I see you now: creatures of infinite weakness, and yet so full of warmth and intelligence.

It was around 1950, at Los Alamos, that a group of your brightest physicists discussed the question of “us” – the “extraterrestrials”. Edward Teller, just fresh from working out the Hydrogen bomb, and Enrico Fermi, expressed the paradox in those terms: “they” should be everywhere by now – meaning intelligent space-faring civilisations – but, if so, where are they? Later Frank Drake expressed the question mathematically, the “Drake equation”.

Of course there are good reasons why space-faring is not all that simple. For a start actual distances, even merely within your galaxy, are immense. Then not all civilisations wish to colonise anyone: we were for a long time, and are still, determined not to disrupt any other intelligent life form, for their sake and ours. Yet the paradox is only a paradox for short-lived intelligent species. For us, who collectively live for millennia and are therefore near immortal, in your terms, the question is one of ethics, not physics. Of course as soon as one accepts the feasibility of inter-galactical travel the paradox itself disappears: among the billions of billions of star systems life abounds, and so does intelligence.

Once I explained all this to Melissa, who was still a child. I have shown you “pictures”, or rather, I invited you to take a glimpse, all the way to my “place”. There is no violation of physical laws, just a better formulation of them, what your most advanced scientists call quantum cosmogony. So now, I invite you to look around you. You are still on the edge of our galaxy, the one you call Andromeda, a neighbour of yours. You call yours the Milky Way, a name that puzzled us for a long time. Of course we had to see it as you do, for us to understand, at last. Your star is very much on the edge, at the periphery of your galaxy. At the centre of all spiral galaxies, the ones that are most welcoming to planets and life-spawning stars, like yours and ours, is the singularity you describe as “black-hole”.

They are the solution to the paradox. The singularities are, if you like, like teleports, just a little more difficult to “handle” than in your fiction. They are the gates to space travel, long distance. All space faring civilisations had to attain that knowledge, and the technology to use it, before considering their own solution to the “paradox”.

I see you are beginning to understand. The singularities are short cuts through the intimate structure of space-time. Mastering the mathematics necessary to exploit their properties took us hundreds of human millennia.