« on: September 18, 2014, 01:03:01 am »
OBVIOUS DISCLAIMER IS OBVIOUS: THE FOLLOWING BULLSHIT IS 100% CONJECTURE
It's a safe bet that the term "Great Filter" is already known to most of the people on this board, but because typing is fun, I'll give a brief explanation here anyway. Statistically speaking, based on a few safe assumptions dealing with the size and age of our galaxy, the prevalence of certain elements in the cosmos, and various things we know from the history of biological life on Earth, the universe should be teeming with alien life. Life should be more common than fat people at Wal-Mart. That there is life "out there" should be a safer bet than guessing that the neckbeard who lives across your street in his parents' basement listens to Rush and has at least one imitation Samurai sword. Our galaxy alone should be home to something like seventy quadrillion metric fuckshits of advanced civilizations. All the math that goes into this assumption is as sound as we can make it, and even Republican scientists are more or less certain of its truth.
The problem is, if our galaxy is so full of people, WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY? We have no evidence of alien life anywhere, unless you listen to that asshole Georgio Tsoukalos or various hillbillies who can't tell the difference between a girlfriend and a cousin. Even considering the vastness of space, the relatively slow speed of electromagnetic wave-based communication, and our recently developed ability to eavesdrop on said communication, we should be receiving so many god damn artificially generated signals that talking to our own satellites should be like trying to tell the guy in the fishnet turtleneck whether you want X or acid at a Skrillex gig. But space is silent. Why?
There are a number of competing theories as to why this might be the case, from "your math is just wrong" to "they are there, they're just using some kind of communication we don't understand." But the funnest theory is the Great Filter, which basically says that life is common -- even intelligent life similar to ourselves -- but that some Awful Thing prevents it from achieving interstellar travel or communication. So there could be billions of worlds like earth, each of them infested with horrible little worms like us, but they are all quarantined by the Great Filter. Usually it is assumed that they end up blowing themselves up with nuclear weapons or something before achieving anything like what we dream about in Star Trek.
While nuclear or biological or chemical warfare is a perfectly plausible explanation, I don't think it is the right one. Humans, for example, have had a good 75 years with access to nukes, and we haven't killed ourselves off yet. And, what's worse, all signs point to our collective lack of being serious about playing with our best toys continuing indefinitely. No, we will not be sterilizing the planet, at least not on purpose. I think the Great Filter is much more sinister than just an innocent collective autocidal incident.
It comes down to what makes a society a society. In order to achieve what we call civilization, our species relies both on collective intelligence and individual ingenuity. We must be able to function cognitively at a high level as distinct members of the whole, as well as to communicate with each other and our progeny efficiently in order to maintain the systems and infrastructure we construct. The problem is that at a certain point in every successful civilization, the relative comfort and convenience afforded individuals leads to a breakdown of the "social instinct." It becomes acceptable and even prudent to put oneself before one's community, because the individual loses sight of the fact that a society, like any kind of team, only works when it works together as a unit.
Such breakdowns are apparent throughout history as the causes of all kinds of social decay and collapse. But the real Great Filter comes in when we consider what kind of sacrifices would be required from individuals if their civilization attempted to colonize the stars. It is a task of such magnitude and scale, economically and temporally, that it holds no real interest for the individuals who would need to contribute to it. Those who began the process would have no hope of seeing it even halfway through. Biological life does not allow for lifespans that would make it worthwhile to travel from our star system to another one, for colonization or any other purpose. In order to accomplish that task, we would have to completely eliminate the entire concept of "I" and become a new sort of life form, multi-multicelled organism. Not in a figurative sense, but a real, literal sense. An actual colony organism where the individual cells are completely disposable and expendable, where intelligence resides in an organ or a process that cannot be comprehended by any of the individual units.
And we are unwilling to even take small steps in that direction. We are all about ME ME ME and MY MY MY. MY stuff. MY money. MY taxes. MY rights. Humanity is horrible at cooperating for anything other than fighting off an existential threat, and even then that threat must be immediate enough to directly threaten individuals (see: climate change). We just don't do things on a scale large enough to leap from our star system to any other. I think it is because everything we have achieved is because we are wired for individualism, and that wiring prevents us from achieving anything of any magnitude larger than maybe a planetary government (which will of course be a government of self-interested assholes that exists to facilitate the marginally interesting lives of other self-interested assholes).
So that is the Great Filter. That we are constitutionally prevented from shedding our egos to accomplish a task we can only dream of because we have egos.