Sunday, April 24, 2016

北京麻雀 - New York - 7

The Next Morning

The words reverberated on his lips, waiting for the echo of his microphone to reach the corners of the lecture room. There were faces there, of course, but most of them were writing down what he said for the final, nothing more, nothing less. But there were a few phases which were staring at him and waiting for there after class lecture – where he would go over recent papers in the field. And what guiltless that? The name of the class was the planets, and he was most interested in the topic of life on other planets. So he would go through the motions, because he too would rather talk to a few eager learners then lecture to a large group of students. Think of it as the many paid for the few who would actually listen.

So at the end of the regurgitation of what was in the syllabus, there then came a view minutes asking about what was on the test, and whether this or that individual could have more time – meaning, this was not among their favorite classes, but a few enjoyed other classes – easier to show themselves to other professors. But then in the beige room that was slanted upwards so it seemed like a section of seats in a coliseum. At the students were broken up into small groups of friends or colleagues – glumly or merrily as the case might be – there were five who wanted more – enrichment, learning, speculating, and a chance to show them selves off. If you were walking down the steps you would hear him more and more clearly, until what he said gathered itself into a sentence.

“That is why The Great Oxyganation Event is the event in paleo-history the most people do not know about. Because before it took place, there were anaerobic living things, just barely able to form cells – or chains of cells – and afterwards there was a booming explosion of oxygen breathing life, first in the ocean, and then on land. And remember, oxygen produces much more energy than before.”

One student, in a blue sweater and white shirt asked: “So what do you think of Hawking's piece, saying that we should just listen? And not speak in radio waves? Doesn't that make sense?”

“First of all, let me remind you of two things. One is that Sir Hawking's is a genius, and not to be taken lightly. The second thing is that the geniuses are an amalgam of fact and fantasy when they grew up. He is talking about the science fiction of his past... not the science fact of the present.”

“Do you think he is wrong?”

“He is a physicist, not a psychologist.”

Another student, in a checkered skirt and functional shirt piped up: “And could you do better than that?” there was a curl of the lip which said that he would have to show it to her. Which made him turn around and pick up a manager marker and sketch out a proof on the whiteboard.

“If our alien intelligence wanted to crush any other beings, first of all, it would have a difficult time with its own ecosphere. Then assuming that they would really care to listen, we would hear them a great way along the path, because at first they would assume that there would be no life. Think about an intelligent hive of bees, or ants. It would not occur to them that their would be any other form of life, because they are so segmented.” He drew on the map a grid that represented a networked intelligence, where the cognition happened with a large number of intelligences making up a swarm intelligence. 

“There is no place for it to be able to think of such a thing, because each individual would largely be engaged in the task of survival, with only a small amount to be communicated to other individuals. This means that there is no place that could conceive of something like themselves, only a pattern which matches their own form of intelligence. The amount of intelligence, even if small, would certainly elude them.” He then drew markers which could communicate very simple bits of information to the other workers. “ the ' Queen' if you will, would not have very much to go on other than her own intelligence, because the hive would be running itself, even if the task were to build a rocket ship, it would be the work of billions if not trillions. In short, the alien intelligence would have a very limited set of options, and it simply would not occur to it that their would only be one kind of life, a hive mind. That is why we can with impunity broadcast ourselves, because we, as we discussed in a previous lecture, are the first or one of the first life forms – because we live on a mooned system. And remember we are also close to as hot as we can, the majority of stars will be cooler.” He had turned back to face his students, while thumbing with his other arm The Stars, by HJ Rey - a child's book which has a simple point that is lost on numerous astronomers – make these constellation work as pictures.

“Is this really the case? Are not there other options?” The female student queried.

“There are always options, but do we want to engage in 1,000,000 to 1, when the greater probability is that we will have plenty of time, and risk meeting other forms of intelligence quite earlier? Remember, he is really talking about ourselves, not real aliens, but what he sees around him. And also I will remind you, since I have seen him lecture, that he is a mind inside what amounts to a corpse. Space flight is expensive, but imagination, especially dark imagination, is very cheap. We should not give in to this. That is why as brilliant as he is, we must look up at the stars and communicate with them – because we already have done so.”

“I don't get your graph.” The male student made a furrowed brow, and used his hands to imitate the speakers fine motion.
“Think of it as a squeeze play.” Using a sports metaphor, which one of the girls was confused by. “Imagine there is a hive intelligence, it can only get very small amounts of information from its workers. This then is the defect in imagining – it is imagining, not ours – because it would have to visualize a different kind of life, and that takes in inordinately large intelligence for its size. It is possible, but not likely. We have only one species which could evolve like this – a mole rat from Africa.”

“But -”

“Let me finish, now compare this with the number of species. We did this last week, as a part of our reading of and showed that the sun is unusually large for a star which can sustain life. Remember that the largest star is trapped between being large enough to reach nucleosynthesis of iodine, and not burning out. Is there a chance? Well that gets on to a another topic, such a form of life would have radio waves before it emerged that it would be capable of reaching for the stars. Thus, we would have plenty of warning if some science fiction monstrosity were coming to get us. So either the intelligence would, as we are, the totally silent – or it would have noise before it came. And anyway we have already streamed noise out from the first moment, when the Nazi party broadcast its own propaganda. In fact, we should make more noise – so as to make it clear that we are not presenting a threat. You should read the paper of Sara Seager to find out how exact even we can fix a date.” There was nodding around the table, and at first one of the students had another question – but at the top of the room, there was someone who was not usually dressed. In fact one might even call her stylish, with a red dress of Chinese style, long boots, and a top which was also red but with large strands of gold, and streamers that were admixture of the two colors. She wore a bag that was neither large nor small, but very ornate in with braids about 10cm long. There lecturer immediately cleared his books and notebook and begin moving of towards her.

One of the girls stood and looked as if sizing up a competitor, noting that the woman on the top steps had lost a great deal of weight, but what was obvious was her mind, not her body – a point that she registered. The male student with the shirt – though he did not register as much as the female, stood in awe of any man that could command such devotion. The third male did not register what it was that created such obvious attraction between their lecture and the Chinese woman above – he was clueless about how such matters transpired. “Why her?” He asked. The shirted student turned to him and looked with pity.

“It is her mind.” Interjected the shirted male student. “Not everybody has a thing for unique projections.” His partner made a mock form of amazement – Because he knew that both of his friends knew about his obsession with breasts.

“There is going to be a very serious conversation, and it can be remains to be seen whether or not the relationship will survive the night.” she leaned up against the lecturer's platform.

“How do you know that?” Inquired the third male, with a brow like Chopin glowering over an imaginary keyboard.

“While her dress is seductive, her position is tight, as if she had something to say. And that means, it is not very good, she is with him – but may not be in the very near future.” Looking closely, he saw that now that it was pointed out to him. There was going to be a tete-a-tete, and no one knew how it was going to play out – not least the two participants. Because there was a good bit of emotions after 12 long years – the stuttering and stopping, the long beginnings in short abrupt ends. She knew she was the only person in his life, though she was convinced she was the most loyal. He knew that he had to make a choice, because while women tasted the marriage bug early, even men had to decide if they want to children. There was a great deal in common between the two, but was that enough? The pair of them left, with their hands intertwined – meaning love – but there faces were not looking at the other. This was clear what it was about, but the signs were that it needed working out, where things unsaid could not remain so indefinitely. As the doors opened up, the students saw stars, wrinkling in the background – as if a moment in time were closing behind them.