The Long View: The Fate of Noospheres

John was an accomplished essayist. His book reviews really are long form essays inspired by the book he was reading. Often I learned things from his book reviews that weren't contained in the book he reviewed. In my mind, John exemplified the ideal of a liberal education. He had his areas of expertise, but he was not unfamiliar with most of the major currents of thought in the Western world. Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

John wrote this essay in 1997. It exhibits many of the themes you can find in his later work. Interest in fundamental questions in science. An ability to integrate science with the liberal arts. A certain sense of humor founded in a partially cyclical view of history. A Thomistically informed sense that formal causes explain many of the interesting features of modern science.

As best I know, John was a fan of Jerry Pournelle. As as am I. Jerry Pournelle has admitted that he was influenced by cyclical theories of history, and that he is something of a Thomist. Pournelle has written books in which the survival of the human race depends upon us colonizing other worlds. You can see that kind of thinking in the Fate of Noospheres. Universal states that emerge cyclically. A narrow window in which we can spread ourselves to the stars. The propensity of man to ruin himself. John was heavily influenced by the apocalyptic [science] fiction of the 1970s.

You may notice that there is a note at the top of John's page that states that this item has been anthologized. I do not know whom John designated as the beneficiary of his estate. I think John's work should be widely read and appreciated. I think you should order the book, Apocaplyse & Future, which contains this essay and many others. I just don't know whom, if anyone, benefits from it's sale. Since John was a lawyer, I assume he took care of this. I just don't know the details.

Introduction

Fifty years ago, Enrico Fermi formulated what to many people still seems to be the definitive argument against the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life: "If they existed, they would be here." This essay argues that there is an explanation for the lack of apparent extraterrestrial intelligence other than nonexistence. I will also discuss some other explanations commonly put forward for why we would be unlikely to hear from alien civilizations, even if they did exist.

In essence, I am expanding on the hypothesis of the Jesuit paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), that the development of intelligence should be understood as a natural stage in the development of Earth's biosphere. Teilhard called this stage the development of the "noosphere," or region of mind. It is analogous to the biosphere, and so should also be understood as an ecology in which new emergent entities appear. The notion of the noosphere has undergone something of a revival in recent years, since the Internet has many of the characteristics Teilhard ascribed to this supposed theater of evolution. Though Teilhard's general theory of evolution has been criticized, perhaps rightly, for positing unnecessary vitalistic forces, nevertheless the basic outline of his model of history may tell us something important about the fate of our own noosphere, and by implication about the common fate of the noospheres of other planets.

 

Are there in fact any extraterrestrials?

Many other people, of course, have long claimed that not only are the extraterrestrials here, but that they have been personally assaulted by them. Putting aside the claims of UFO enthusiasts, however, the fact remains that Fermi's critique is acute. If species comparable to the human race occur at multiple times and places in the history of the universe, then they or their automata should have reached Earth a long time ago. This would be the case even if such species were very rare and interstellar travel were very difficult.

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