A musing on intelligent life and technological civilizations. 

5-may-2009
As touched on in the kurzweil futurism rant, we should not be at all surprised at the apparent absence of technological civilizations as we scan the cosmos seekeing evidence of them or communication with them. Typically, our search for technological civilizations is confused with a search for intelligent life (or just other evidence of life), because we as members of a technological civilization often can't really understand any other way intelligent life forms would exist. However, as we discussed, technological civilizations by their very nature are extremely short lived phenomena- it is hardly surprising that when we, over just a period of a century or two, scan the cosmos for evidence of other phenomea which also have a lifetime measured in mere centuries, should have a hard time findind one. Intelligent life probably abounds in the universe- and whenever intelligent life meets with a massive wealth of resources and the right spark of inspiration, the explosive power of technological civilization is likely to result- for a short while until it burns out its resources, exhausts its environment, and collapses. Sometimes it is likely that the intelligent life is extinguished by the collapse of the civilization it built. sometimes it likely survives it, but lives on in relative obscurity. Even if in some cases it got to the point of an interplanetary civilization, still the complexity and power observed would be short lived, and when it collapsed, the remaining complexity and power would be minimal in comparison. So would the likely observable evidence of intelligent life. If we happened ot blink while such a civilization flashes its brief moment of brilliance on the cosmic stage, we miss it. Given the distances involved, and assuming that the speed of light is really the limit (as far as we know it is), then even if we do see such a hint, it is destined to be a purely passive phenomenon- by the time we would ever be able to return any communication, the civilization on the other end would have been long extinct. Pondering the imminent disintegration of our own civilization, then, raises a question of how we might seek to spread at least some part of ourselves beyond the confines of our single planet while we still have the means. It is highly unlikely that a civilization can ever manage to get beyond its own planetary system in the first place, for similar reasons of distance, though it is possible that such a civilization, aware of its transient nature, might seek to disperse its genetic or even cultural inheritance as widely as possible through the universe. Considering this possibility, we might ask what form would this take. It could range from attempting to disperse robust specimens of earth DNA as widely as possible into deep space (perhaps aiming in thegeneral direction of suspected likely habitats) all the way up to science fiction deep space colonization. The science fiction is called fiction for a reason. Our present technological means do not allow such a thing, and the trajectory of our civilization precludes ever getting it. Beyond that, the ability of complex organisms to survive long deep space journeys is highly questionable. Such journeys would take thousands or even millions of years, and the environment is extremely unforgiving, to mechnical, chemical, and even nuclear structures (very intense radiation, dust and debris and gases encountered at extreme velocities, etc) However, something more like the former is indeed within our means. We have already gotten some suspicions that natural collisions of various space objects have been able to dislodge large samples of planetary surface material and eject it into space- we have studied suspected mars-originated material here on earth that resulted from such collisions as part of our long attempt to understand our neighboring planet more deeply. Why not construct a somewhat more protective enclosure, select the most robust and extreme-tolerant microorganisms, DNA, etc, from earth (which would still be more closely related to our own than anything found on a distant world) and, following the strength-in-numbers seed dispersal strategy, distribute thousands or even millions of such capsules into space, possibly in the general direction of more likely or closer targets? The chances of such a capsule landing on a remote world with its cargo intact is small but nonzero. If it were to, the chances that whatever lifeforms were delivered might manage to take hold in the remote environment are small but again nonzero. The knowledge that our planet will cease to host life in approximately 3-4 billion years, plus the knowledge that our civilization will cease to support such complexity , power, or technological capacity within even a single human lifetime, should be sufficient motivation to seek to spread whatever is practical of our heritage to any possible or likely world elsewhere. It is entirely possible that such a capsule could drift through space for millions or billions of years before making any contect- the planet it might land on might not have even formed when the capsule was launched- but it is also conceivable that in this universe even random natural collisions have been sufficient to seed worlds with life drifting for unknown ages through deep space from other worlds. Such a project is entirely feasible. It pays us no return for our efforts ourselves, nor would any life forms which evolved from such a colony likely ever discover the fact. However, it ought to be the highest expression of the instinct to survive and propagate, and ought to be pursued while we still have the means to do so. The labor begun with the launch of the Voyager probes should not be abandoned now- it is more important than our own short-lived civilization.