Journeying through space, an astronaut thinks about the fate of the world.
Video Journal transcript. Mission Day: Sol 150
The fermi paradox has never been a paradox; it’s been a prophecy. Our species has been headed for self destruction ever since the third world war; the only real question is when it will happen. In recent years, the political tension at home has become so intense that sometimes I fear that ten years from now, when I finally return to our beautiful blue planet, our beautiful blue planet won’t be so beautiful or so blue anymore, that instead I’ll return to a wasteland of red, so similar to the red planet I’m visiting that I’ll hardly be able to tell the difference.
[sighs] I’m worried about my husband and child. If anything happens, if war breaks out, there will be nothing I can do for them. I’ll just have to sit on my ass and watch the world burn.
Ah for a moment there I forgot I was filming. [laughs] It’s easy to get lost in thought with this beautiful view. Where was I?
When it comes to self annihilation, mathematics might be considered our only hope, mutually assured destruction being among the most universally relevant concepts in game theory. However, this is a flimsy principle to rely on by itself; after all, we are not a very rational species. And yet so far, mutually assured destruction has somehow held the destruction of the world at bay, the reason being that mutually assured destruction is an evolutionary phenomenon, even more than a mathematical one, a byproduct of the forces that shape the universe, and therefore shape our species. As a result, mutually assured destruction, the behavior of reacting to the threat of super-nuclear war with peace, does not arise from rationality; it arises from instinct. It is ingrained into our genetic code.
To illustrate this point, it is not only our species whose behavior is affected by mutually assured destruction. Many species of [snake], for example, have evolved clever means of preventing mutually fatal disputes. When a [snake] gets in a dispute with another, the dispute is resolved not by biting, but by wrestling, because biting puts a [snake] in a precarious position. Any [snake] which bites another will almost certainly get bitten back, and any such conflict will end with both [snake]s having envenomed the other. As a solution, the [snake] has evolved to resolve disputes via a dance that involves attempting to wrestle the other [snake]’s head to the ground, the first [snake] to do so being declared ‘winner’ and the other [snake] accepting the loss and respectfully slithering away. There isn’t a more perfect analogy for the way our nation has handled disputes between other nations than ‘wrestling their heads to the ground’. Comparing many of the major world leaders to [snake]s is, of course, hardly a stretch either. [laughs]
But it’s important to note that even [snake]s admit exceptions to the rule. [Snake]s, in rare cases, do bite other [snake]s, and one day we might bite too, unleashing super-nuclears on the world for the first time. I still can’t believe those things, a weapon so powerful that, out of sheer fear, the third world war ended immediately upon its invention, and without ever even being used. The super-nuclear is our venom, our bite, and if one ever detonated, it would be analogous to two [snake]s dying together intertwined in a loop, each biting the other’s tail, a symbol for the eternal cycle of evolution and extinction, which shapes not only the history of civilization but the history of our world as a whole. Perhaps I am seeing [the glass as half empty]. Perhaps self destruction won’t happen, but one thing is certain: the cycle will continue until it is decided once and for all which game theoretical strategy is dominant — war or peace.
I can’t help but be cynical about our mission in light of the seeming inevitability of war. The mission itself will likely be carried out without issue, but the ultimate goal of this mission is less likely to be successful. Our technology will use gene editing nano-bots to artificially accelerate the process of evolution, essentially running a genetic algorithm on the single celled organisms we are releasing onto the planet. After we set this process in motion, the red planet will take upwards of five thousand years to become habitable. This will likely be successful in and of itself, and perhaps we will even develop new technology by that time, technology that will speed up the process. However, even with future advances in technology, I don’t think it’s likely that our species will survive until the project is complete. But if we do survive, then we can safely say we’ve made it past the firewall of fermi’s paradox, because if there is anything that starts wars, it’s a lack of land.
Land has resources, and it brings with it opportunity for growth. It is a lack of land and it’s resources that generate the greatest problems for our overpopulated planet. So in a few thousand years, if our terraforming project plays its course, and if we survive, perhaps we won’t need war anymore, having unlocked the potential to transform any uninhabited land in the universe to a resource producing paradise.
Forgive me, I’ve been rambling. It is difficult to avoid thinking about the fate of our world as I watch it shrink away from our ship, becoming just another faint light among the infinite lights in the universe. It’s amazing, humbling. All of the things which seem so horrible, like war and genocide, and wonderful, like love and art, all of the things which seem so specific to us, all shrink into a single speck among the cosmos, shaped by the same force that shape the wind, and the waves, and the trees, and the stars.
And contrary to the belief that they are specific to us, they are, for the most part, universal among all the species in our biosphere. Even the most complex phenomena, like art and language, are to some degree seen in nature if only in more primitive forms. It is easy to attribute these similarities to a common ancestor, but I think it’s more likely that the similarities are a result of them being the product of dominant evolutionary strategies. Therefore, they might be universal among all intelligent species in the universe.
So if our terraforming project does play its course, and the red planet evolves life, it will become a world not unlike our own. It may be that we destroy ourselves, but the world we’ve created will live on, and it will probably develop the best and the worst parts of life, just like us. It will be the end of our phase of the cycle, but it will also be the beginning of a new phase, except this time, it will be on the third planet from the sun, instead of the fourth.
Hopefully they do better than us.
From the ‘Mission to Earth’ archives.
Translation by the Mars Archeological Society, June 30, 2901.