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Rethinking Galactic Empire

How much would an extraterrestrial civilization resemble our own? The question resonates because on the one hand, the signature of our activities is what we tend to translate into the SETI search. We look, for example, for the signs of civilizations that are like us but more advanced technologically, which means we apply human thinking and motivations to cultures that are by definition not human. This is natural enough, because we’re the only technological civilization we know about, but it leads to results that may mislead us and obscure the actual situation.

Fermi’s Great Silence bothers us because we assume that what Milan Ćirković calls advanced technological civilizations (ATCs) will necessarily move out into the galaxy to colonize it. Yet we see no signs of this, no presence of an expansive power, no characteristic emissions telling us of any intelligence operating around nearby stars. This observation becomes a paradox only if we think in specifically human terms, relating what advanced cultures might do to our own history. If ATCs behave differently, then there may be no paradox — the galaxy may be rife with civilizations that simply operate according to a different set of principles.

Milan Cirkovic

Ćirković (Astronomical Observatory, Belgrade) continues to be one of our most innovative SETI thinkers, pushing well outside the conventional paradigm to ask what truly alien intelligence might do. And in an upcoming paper to be published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, the astronomer also questions our own understanding of human history, asking whether expansive colonization is necessarily emblematic of our species. If it is not, we should not be so quick to rule out alternative scenarios for alien action. We might re-think an expansive colonial model in favor of one Ćirković calls the ‘city-state.’

Moving Beyond Biology

Imagine for a moment that as humanity and technology continue to intertwine, we move into a period when human capacities become extended so far beyond those of present day people that what is widely called a ‘posthuman’ civilization emerges. Would such a culture still be bound by biological motivations that characterize us today? Ćirković sees a contradiction in the thinking of many technological optimists, who support evolutionary explanations for mankind’s origin but seem unprepared to abandon the biological paradigm when considering what future civilizations might do when they move beyond it.

The situation seems to be as follows: if we agree that specific biological motivations have been a determining factor in the biological (human) phase of the history of our species, it would be only reasonable to argue that, with the transition to the postbiological (posthuman) phase, the old biological impetuses and motivations will become largely irrelevant. Paradoxically, it is rare to encounter such attitude in tech-optimists/transhumanist circles; in general, the predominant view is that the posthumanity will enable faster, better, larger, etc. steps toward achieving the same old, biological, Darwinian aims and goals. In other words, just new means toward old ends. I hereby argue that such view is old-fashioned, illogical and ultimately untenable. Rejecting it could throw some new light on issues in both future studies, as well as the discussions of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations and ongoing SETI projects.

That ‘new light’ considers the possibility that, as Sir Julian Huxley surmised in an essay written as far back as 1957, natural selection will have little to do with a true posthuman future. Instead, we have to look to other modes of evolution encompassing technological and cultural change. We may consider advanced technological civilizations as outcomes of such evolution that have now become immune to existential risks, societies that can manipulate the surrounding universe to a high level of precision, reaching what Nikolai Kardashev called a Type II level, able to use all the energy resources of their own planetary systems.

The Expanding Empire vs. the City-State

And because Ćirković questions what the expansive colonial model implies, he is drawn to ask what a Type II civilization would do with its power. The ‘city-state’ model is one focused on optimizing its activities, heeding the problems of further expansion and drawing heavily on its computational abilities. Rather than looking for signs of outward-reaching super-civilizations (much less Kardashev Type III societies, which Ćirković sees as unlikely to arise), we should ponder cultures that have a keen eye on their own limitations and an ability to use resources close at hand.

We’re in the area of postbiological evolution, as outlined here:

As an example, the imperative for filling the complete ecological niche in order to maximize one’s survival chances and decrease the amount of biotic competition is an essentially biological part of motivation for any species, including present-day humans… It would be hard to deny that this circumstance has played a significant role in colonization of the surface of the Earth. But expanding and filling the ecological niches are not the intrinsic property of life or intelligence – they are just consequences of the predominant evolutionary mechanism, i.e. natural selection. It seems logically possible to imagine a situation in which some other mechanism of evolutionary change, like the Lamarckian inheritance or genetic drift, could dominate and prompt different types of behaviour. The same applies for the desire to procreate, leave many children and enable more competitive transmission of one’s genes to future generation is linked with the very basics of the Darwinian evolution. Postbiological civilization is quite unlikely to retain anything like the genetic lottery when the creation of new generations is concerned.

The trick from the SETI perspective is to identify such a civilization, one without a pressing need for outward expansion beyond, perhaps, a few neighboring stellar systems. In fact, molecular nanotechnology might create such an efficient utilization of resources that an extraterrestrial culture would have little reason to look elsewhere, although Ćirković assumes that ATCs will, for reasons of research and prudence, become quite adept at monitoring the rest of the galaxy through a variety of observatories and nanotechnology-based interstellar probes. That model has a precedent in ancient Greek city-states that deployed networks of agents operating outside their own territories.

47 Tucanae

It’s a compelling argument, and you’ll find a rich science fiction treatment of some of its themes in Greg Egan’s Diaspora (1997), where a society of uploaded minds deals with the consequences of its freedom from biological motivations. Egan’s characters need not worry about their genetic heritage, their ecological boundaries, the pressures of population or any need for expansion through the colonial model. With access to information without the need of physical presence, the driving factors of the empire-state begin to dissipate. Even a dying star may not force expansion onto a culture like this, as Ćirković notes:

It has been claimed in the classical SETI literature that the interstellar migrations will be forced by the natural course of stellar evolution. However, even this “attenuated” expansionism – delayed by on the order of 109 years – is actually unnecessary, since naturally occurring thermonuclear fusion in stars is extremely inefficient energy source, converting less than 1% of the total stellar mass into potentially useable energy. Much deeper (by at least an order of magnitude) reservoir of useful energy is contained in the gravitational field of a stellar remnant (white dwarf, neutron star or black hole), even without already envisaged stellar engineering. Highly optimized civilization will be able to prolong utilization of its astrophysically local resources to truly cosmological timescales.

Image: The globular cluster 47 Tucanae, about 15,000 light years from Earth, and 120 light years across. The stars in 47 Tuc are about 10-12 billion years old, making them among the oldest stars in the galaxy (more than twice the age of our own sun). Could some of these stars be the home of non-expansive, ‘city-state’ civilizations? Credit: Southern African Large Telescope.

To Observe the Unobservable?

Ćirković goes on to make the case against galactic empire in terms of both feasibility and cost, probing as well both political and ethical reasons for the city-state model to prevail. But back to the SETI question: Just how observable would a civilization following the city-state model actually be? We may find that our current technology is unable to make such detections, these being cultures whose very efficiency and adaptability to local resources renders them all but invisible to us. We do, however, get at least some relief from the otherwise inexplicable paradox of Fermi.

The paper is Ćirković, “Against the Empire,” slated for publication in JBIS and now available online. This paper is a comprehensive distillation of transhumanist ideas looked at in provocative new ways, its application to SETI one that challenges the basic assumptions of our radio and laser surveys. You’ll find much to mull over and much to argue with here. I wonder, for example, whether the lack of observed Type III civilizations in our cosmological neighborhood is truly a sign that galactic empires cannot form. Perhaps a Type III culture, able to harness the resources of its entire galaxy, would be even more difficult to detect than a nearby Type II, operating as it would be under assumptions that are even more alien to us than Ćirković’s city-states.

But opening up SETI to inquiries like these is heartening in many respects, and will be even more so if we continue to find no sign of intelligent life after another few decades. The astrobiological evidence thus far points in the direction of widespread life. If intelligence does arise on a modestly frequent basis, we may be living in a galaxy filled with thought whose pooled knowledge is simply unobservable, at least at this juncture of our own development. The thought that we are not alone, even if we are in the presence of moderate and sustainable societies much unlike our own, offers a satisfactory resolution to Fermi and a provocative picture of a possible (post)human future.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Danlo May 19, 2008, 2:04

    Absolutely great article and discussion! Thank you!

    So, the conclusion is that either are we alone, or the aliens do not want any contact with us?
    I´ve mentioned this before, but what about “Inhibitor machinery” like the ones in Alastair Reynolds space Opera -Relevation Space..?
    Machines created to search/listen for civilasation and destroy it when they find it? Can that maybe a scenario?
    What if it is somehow impossible for an intelligent species to grow outside it´s own solarsystem?

    Maybe all high intelligence reaches the point where they no longer need their physical bodies/lifes to do what they want to to.. (expand, contract, whatever ;))

    Hope I didnt go to far off topic..

  • Robin Hanson May 19, 2008, 7:13

    I comment on Ćirković’s paper over at http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/05/biting-evolutio.html

  • Administrator May 19, 2008, 12:23

    Robin, thanks for the link. This is must reading for anyone following this topic — I’ll add some further thoughts on what you have to say in a few days.

  • Administrator May 19, 2008, 12:27

    Danlo, you’re certainly right that there are numerous scenarios that could explain the Fermi paradox, including the idea that some sort of ‘berserker’ devices exist whose mission is to destroy biological or other kinds of intelligence. Stephen Webb’s book Where Is Everybody (Springer, 2002) goes through many of these scenarios, almost all of which are fascinating.

  • Danlo May 19, 2008, 14:16

    Administrator, thankyou! I´ll take a look at Stephen Webbs book.

  • James M. Essig May 20, 2008, 3:14

    Hi Folks;

    I can see that this thread is turning into one of Tau Zero’s most popular.

    Regarding my discussion of so-called energy bodies or spiritual bodies above on May 16th, 2008 at 23:44, it occurred to me whether or not a third or fourth level of body might somehow manifest itself just as the proposed concept of an energy body being formed out of super cooled electrically, electronic-like, or electro-weakly bound neutrinos or so-called photo-neutrinos would be formed from the electromagnetic force based activity within the human or ETI bodies in the form of chemical reactions, electrical currents, and other electro-thermodynamic activity and the like.

    Perhaps such frenetic interaction among any super cooled neutrinos or photo-neutrinos within any existent human or ETI energy bodies could produce a third level of body. Perhaps analogous reactions within the third body’s particle makeup could thermodynamically produce a fourth level of body and so on. Perhaps the same material that would make up such third, fourth, and so on levels of bodies could be produced in raw bulk inanimate form and fashioned into technological artifacts such a space craft, living quarters, etc. The manmade artificially produced versions of such material might be far stronger mechanically and otherwise than any naturally occurring bodily tissues made out of such materials just as our modern day high tech materials are much much stronger than animal or human flesh on Earth.

    I am not advocating any form of new age spiritualism here or any Faith based creed, but am only trying to provide a possible explanation for certain reported phenomenon which might be sheer nonsense. But heck, since we here at Tau Zero are all pioneers at the forefront of thinking about manned interstellar travel which was widely regarded by the scientific community a few decades ago as sheer science fiction nonsense, I feel compelled to mention the above stated ideas.

    Thanks;

    Jim

  • James M. Essig May 21, 2008, 0:52

    Hi Folks;

    Now what if there is a mental, emotional, feeling, or consciousness analogue to any existent higher energy body types within the human and ETI makeup. Perhaps the activity in our minds from a purely psychic stand point produces a higher more ephemeral type of mind, psyche, personality, consciousness or what ever one desires to call it.

    Perhaps the unconscious human mind, sub-conscious human mind, and/or superego of Freudian Psychodynamic Personality Theory, although generally held to be an out-moded paradigm might in fact just be such a higher level of mind. If we can speculate thus far, perhaps we can speculate even further and conjecture the existence of a second higher level of human mind, psyche, personality, or consciousness and yet another higher level yet and perhaps so-on as analogues to the conjecture of the higher series of body types proposed above.

    Since we in the Western tradition within the psychological sciences have tended to categorize the human mind into compartmentalized concepts of emotions, feelings, drives, thoughts, volitional powers, and conscious identity, it might be the case that any existent higher or more ephemeral levels of psyche can likewise be broken up into such compartmentalized sub-entities or sub-components. In other words, according to my proposed conjecture, there would exist higher types of emotions, feelings, drives, thoughts, volitional capabilities, and conscious identities that are inherent aspects of our makeup and perhaps ETIs psychic make-up as well. Such higher levels of definable psychic properties might also include successively higher levels of human and ETI sexuality from a psychological perspective.

    If we are bold enough to imagine the possibility of life after death, perhaps human and ETI beings are not aware of these higher psychological levels until the pass on to any existent after life. I am not trying to convert anyone here to spiritualism, but rather explore the possibility of hidden higher human nature, and by collorary, the possibility of higher ETI natures.

    Thanks;

    Jim

  • Benjamin August 14, 2008, 22:10

    Just browsing the archives when I came across this, interesting enough to warrant a reply though probably nobody will read it.

    I think the arguments based on evolution are correct here in that while a civilisation may become free of biological evolution and mature technologically and ethically, you’re still giong to face the problem that not all of them will. For example. in our species, there are a huge number of people – millions, maybe tens of millions or more – who have a scientific world view, or an otherwise rationally humanist one, and they tend to be the ones interested in SETI. I might count myself one of them. We have to be careful not to let our own biases cloud our judgement – I consider it perfectly possible, even likely, that while humanity will almost cetainly colonise the rest of our Solar System, and a more remote possibility but nevertheless a real one that we will eventually travel to nearby stars and futher in the future still, to more distant ones, perhaps. It is however something I fully believe that there will always be some portion of our species which will never advance ethically, however technical we may become. Much of technology is emplyed today for corporations and especially the military – to a Martian, it would seem that the United States Army is some barbarian institution farming intelligent research for the most unethical of purposes.

    Now to characterise the possibilities let’s look at science fiction. I’m referring to Iain Banks’ Culture, Alastair Reynolds’ Demarchists, Conjoiners et al, and Egan’s Polises, Amalgam et cetera.

    Egan has it that everyone becomes uniformly intelligent, typically artificial intelligences of some sort. It is a wonderful vision. People send mathematical theorems as gifts to their lovers, as rational beings except for the most pleasant of the biological inheritance. Thanks to self-replicating constructors they have an arbitrarily high access to material resources and energy, and they simply process information – without taking the galaxy apart to do it, because there’s nothing they need all that much power for: as a character says in Schild’s Ladder, and my quotation might be somewhat garbled, “Saying AI would turn the galaxy into processors is like an AI saying biological intelligence would turn the galaxy into chocolate.” Egan’s future civilisations are therefore something on the sort of what is described in this paper, sticking in the one solar system or travelling to other stars out of curiosity, without any real need for expansion or any concept of empire.

    Iain Banks’ Culture is another sort of future utopia, more plausible to me despite the science fiction being less hard edged than Egan. Trillions of biological intelligences exist, genetically altered to be able to live without the nastier imperatives of evolutionary inheritance, essentially as a sideshow to the AIs who tolerate them and shepherd them along. The Culture has an ethical imperative to make sure all life in the galaxy is emancipated and able to live as it chooses without fear of suffering deliberate harm or natural disaster – but most life in the galaxy is not part of the Culture. It’s a dark future where there are trillions more intelligences, evolving all the time in millions of systems, which almost all practice various forms of creative barbarity, where they develop technically but remain the slaves of their biology and institutionalised kleptocracies. The Culture is therefore the exception, rather than the rule, and this is how I think it will be.

    Similarly Reynolds has the Demarchists, more or less mainstream humans practising high technology, expanding into the galaxy, with the Conjoiners, who alter their own intelligence to essentially be AIs, acting like hermits and not colonising planets or stars, but simply constructing ultra-efficient habitats out of asteroids and the like. A variety of less-advanced humans travel along in their wake, colonising planets like Sky’s Edge, which is riven by a perpetual war with twenty-second century technologies, which is all they can afford to manufacture. It’s Banks, essentially, but taking account of Fermi’s Paradox, with all the other civilisations being wiped out by the remnants of the earliest galactic meta-civilisation, or developing to such a state as they are essentially invulnerable and unrecognisable to us, living as computation in neutron stars or inside bubbles of space time cut off from the rest of the universe.

    I think the latter two are more plausible in terms of society, while Egan’s technology is about right. We’re going to have these posthuman civilisations, or at least I hope we will; if we can get to the stage where we have the expertise and the resources, there are plenty of people who want such a thing. I’d be the first to sign up. But not everyone can afford that, and not everyone wants that – think of the die-hard Catholic populations of South America, the evangelical theocons of the USA, isolationist communists like North Korea and of course the Islamist states – I mean politically Islamist, not just Islamic – not to mention the multitudes of the poor in Africa and South-East Asia. Basically only the West, Japan, China and India, I expect, will have substantial populations with both the inclination and the resources to develop to a posthuman state.

    Yet eventually, when space technology is cheaper, I will not be surprised if piggybacking on the efforts of the posthumanists, plain old ordinary people will follow in their wake. Yet these plain old ordinary people are likely to expand to a far greater extent than the posthumans. In the future galaxy, people who aren’t vastly more advanced than us are likely to be the majority of the population and consume inefficiently the vast majority of the space and energy, simply by virtue of the fact that if you can reasonably terraform a world, people can live there and will want to, whereas AIs and other posthumans will only need a few stars and a lot of asteroids. I expect the same is going to be true of other civilisations: while those most directly involved in the space technology drive will develop into things beyond our present imaginations, perhaps requiring very little actual territory, those who follow in the wake technologically and socially will by virtue of numbers and persistence cause galactic civilisation to “evolve” towards a widespread population of planetary systems.

    Think of it in the terms of the complexity of life curve Gould is so fond of. In the beginning it was one big lump near the origin – prokaryotes. As time went on, things started appearing with greater and greater complexity – but now, and forever, there will be that big lump. As more complex things develop they find the niches appropriate to their complexity.

  • ljk April 12, 2009, 16:37

    Sulphur in the Globular Clusters 47 Tucanae and NGC 6752

    Authors: L. Sbordone, M. Limongi, A. Chieffi, E. Caffau, H.-G. Ludwig, P. Bonifacio

    (Submitted on 8 Apr 2009)

    Abstract: The light elements Li, O, Na, Al, and Mg are known to show star to star variations in the globular clusters 47 Tuc and NGC 6752. Such variations are interpreted as due to processing in a previous generation of stars.

    In this paper we investigate the abundances of the alpha-element sulphur, for which no previous measurements exist. In fact this element has not been investigated in any Galactic globular cluster so far. The only globular cluster for which such measurements are available is Terzan 7, which belongs to the Sgr dSph.

    We use high resolution spectra of the S I Mult. 1, acquired with the UVES spectrograph at the 8.2m VLT-Kueyen telescope, for turn-off and giant stars in the two globular clusters. The spectra are analyzed making use of ATLAS static plane parallel model atmospheres and SYNTHE spectrum synthesis. We also compute 3D corrections from CO5BOLD hydrodynamic models and apply corrections due to NLTE effects taken from the literature.

    In the cluster NGC 6752 sulphur has been measured only in four subgiant stars. We find no significant star to star scatter and a mean = +0.49 +- 0.15, consistent with what observed in field stars of the same metallicity.

    In the cluster 47 Tuc we measured S in 4 turn-off and 5 subgiant stars with a mean = +0.18 +- 0.14. While this result is compatible with no star to star scatter we notice a statistically significant correlation of the sulphur abundance with the sodium abundance and a tentative correlation with the silicon abundance.

    Comments: 8 pages, 4 figures, accepted for publication in A&A

    Subjects: Galaxy Astrophysics (astro-ph.GA); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR)

    Cite as: arXiv:0904.1417v1 [astro-ph.GA]

    Submission history

    From: Luca Sbordone [view email]

    [v1] Wed, 8 Apr 2009 20:00:07 GMT (186kb)

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0904.1417

  • ljk June 4, 2009, 14:45

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/23604/

    Sustainability: The Clue That Could Solve Fermi’s Paradox

    If civilizations can’t grow exponentially, that might explain why we don’t see any signs of ET.

    Thursday, June 04, 2009

    While lunching with colleagues at the Los Alamos National Labs in 1950, Enrico Fermi began a discussion about the likelihood of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe. The size and age of the universe makes it seem probable that many advanced societies ought to exist. But if they did, where are they? he asked.

    This problem has since become known as the Fermi Paradox, and many a canteen lunch has been spent discussing its resolution (we discussed one possible solution a few months back).

    Today, Jacob Haqq-Misra and Seth Baum at Pennsylvania State University put forward another idea. They point out that the Fermi Paradox assumes an exponential spread of civilizations across galaxies. Such an expansion must be closely linked with expansion in population, environmental impact, and the consumption of resources.

    The problem is that this kind of growth may not be possible, and they look at Earth as an example. For any expansion to be sustainable, the growth in resource consumption cannot exceed the growth in resource production. And since Earth’s resources are finite, and it has a finite mass and receives solar radiation at a constant rate, human civilization cannot sustain an indefinite, exponential growth.

    So we’ll have trouble colonizing the galaxy, if we ever decide that’s necessary. At the very least, the spread of our civilization will not be exponential, if it is possible at all.

    Haqq-Misra and Baum say that this argument means that any extraterrestrial civilization must be similarly constrained.

    The Fermi Paradox often leads to the conclusion that other advanced civilizations do not exist. Haqq-Misra and Baum say that this is unduly pessimistic. What the Fermi Paradox implies is that intelligent civilizations capable of exponential expansion do not exist.

    And that’s a very different proposition.

    Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/0906.0568: The Sustainability Solution to the Fermi Paradox

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/23604/

  • ljk October 6, 2009, 17:17

    People often compare modern America to ancient Rome, but maybe the USA is closer to ancient Athens, which according to this book might not be the best thing:

    http://philosophyofscienceportal.blogspot.com/2009/10/athens-and-current-historynew-book.html

    I wish these books would better serve as warnings from history, but the people who need to know this stuff never read it or realize what is going on until it is too late, then we all suffer and just keep going through the same rises and falls over and over for millennia.

    I wonder – are we unique when it comes to having continually cyclical societies, or is this the norm for any true civilization no matter where you go in the Cosmos? Is it perhaps even healthy overall for a society to grow and decline periodically, like hitting a refresh button on a video game, rather than allow a culture to stagnate over time due to age and complacency, leading to eventual extinction down the road?

    Or am I just being way to humanocentric?

  • ljk January 2, 2010, 23:49

    Galactic Punctuated Equilibrium: How to Undermine Carter’s Anthropic Argument in Astrobiology

    Authors: Milan M. Cirkovic, Branislav Vukotic, Ivana Dragicevic

    (Submitted on 30 Dec 2009)

    Abstract: We investigate a new strategy which can defeat the (in)famous Carter’s “anthropic” argument against extraterrestrial life and intelligence.

    In contrast to those already considered by Wilson, Livio, and others, the present approach is based on relaxing hidden uniformitarian assumptions, considering instead a dynamical succession of evolutionary regimes governed by both global (Galaxy-wide) and local (planet- or planetary system-limited) regulation mechanisms. This is in accordance with recent developments in both astrophysics and evolutionary biology.

    Notably, our increased understanding of the nature of supernovae and gamma-ray bursts, as well as of strong coupling between the Solar System and the Galaxy on one hand, and the theories of “punctuated equilibria” of Eldredge and Gould and “macroevolutionary regimes” of Jablonski, Valentine, et al. on the other, are in full accordance with the regulation- mechanism picture.

    The application of this particular strategy highlights the limits of application of Carter’s argument, and indicates that in the real universe its applicability conditions are not satisfied.

    We conclude that drawing far-reaching conclusions about the scarcity of extraterrestrial intelligence and the prospects of our efforts to detect it on the basis of this argument is unwarranted.

    Comments: 3 figures, 26 pages

    Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

    Journal reference: Published in Astrobiology, 2009, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp. 491-501

    DOI: 10.1089/ast.2007.0200

    Cite as: arXiv:0912.4980v1 [astro-ph.EP]

    Submission history

    From: Branislav Vukotić [view email]

    [v1] Wed, 30 Dec 2009 13:19:00 GMT (777kb)

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0912.4980

  • ljk September 9, 2010, 0:23
  • ljk March 27, 2011, 23:29

    The Course of Empire – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The Course of Empire is a five-part series of paintings created by Thomas Cole in the years 1833-36. It is notable in part for reflecting popular American sentiments of the times, when many saw pastoralism as the ideal phase of human civilization, fearing that empire would lead to gluttony and inevitable decay.

    The series was acquired by The New-York Historical Society in 1858 as a gift of the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts[1], and comprises the following works: The Course of Empire – The Savage State; The Course of Empire – The Arcadian or Pastoral State; The Course of Empire – The Consummation of Empire; The Course of Empire – Destruction; and The Course of Empire – Desolation.

    The series of paintings depicts the growth and fall of an imaginary city, situated on the lower end of a river valley, near its meeting with a bay of the sea. The valley is distinctly identifiable in each of the paintings, in part because of an unusual landmark: a large boulder is precariously situated atop a crag overlooking the valley.

    More here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Course_of_Empire

  • ljk August 23, 2012, 8:27

    Hugo de Garis has always been suspicious of the transhumanist movement and now he has broken away from them:

    http://hplusmagazine.com/2012/08/21/the-singhilarity-institute-my-falling-out-with-the-transhumanists/

    We will see how they respond, whether in a logical, rational fashion or as a cult. Are humans really ready to improve themselves on a large scale? That remains to be seen.