The Great Filter Hypothesis

Phazael

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Couple things:

People do indeed not even begin to grasp how massive space is. Radio signals take a half hour just to get to Mars and that's when its closer to us. We have gotten really good at looking for specific things that might signify advanced life at amazing distances, but its still largely confined to just our local Orion Spur galactic sub arm. And even if you find something, there are a lot of alternative explanations for what it could be. The upside is usually a lot of these false positives lead us to new discoveries in astronomy (Pulsars being one example), so its not a waste to try. But the scope and scale of distances, the constant interferences (Space if far from empty, especially in terms of radiation and EM), and the limits of our own technology mean we can only look in our "local" corner of this one galaxy.

Ostensibly, if FTL is impossible then everyone dies on their little ball of rock because any sort of large scale colonization without it, at least in terms of communications, is ridiculously difficult. Maintaining a human presence on another moon in our own solar system, say something like Io or Europa, would be near impossible from a logistical standpoint. It took armies of people with the best computers of the day just to manage three dudes in a tin can in high earth orbit. And that part has not changed much. You arguably need FTL communication more than genetic engineering to have manned flight work out beyond one or two AUs, otherwise Mars is probably as far as we are getting.

But even without FTL being possible, there is the possibility of other worlds with life existing along with advanced life that might send out radio waves. But so much of this is based on assumptions that life will be like it is on earth. We have no reason to expect that life elsewhere would resemble it here, chemically or physically. Its entirely possible there are living worlds that we can observe that we simply do not recognize them as such.

But the Fermi Paradox is a larger topic, which the Great Filter is one aspect of. I do think that the Great Filter applies to us, specifically. But thinking that any sort of alien civilization would have similar cultural aspects to our own is a very big and self serving assumption. Again separate discussion. I think the OP wants to specifically talk about the Filter and how it applies to the human condition.
 
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Cukernaut

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Couple things:

People do indeed not even begin to grasp how massive space is. Radio signals take a half hour just to get to Mars and that's when its closer to us. We have gotten really good at looking for specific things that might signify advanced life at amazing distances, but its still largely confined to just our local Orion Spur galactic sub arm. And even if you find something, there are a lot of alternative explanations for what it could be. The upside is usually a lot of these false positives lead us to new discoveries in astronomy (Pulsars being one example), so its not a waste to try. But the scope and scale of distances, the constant interferences (Space if far from empty, especially in terms of radiation and EM), and the limits of our own technology mean we can only look in our "local" corner of this one galaxy.

Ostensibly, if FTL is impossible then everyone dies on their little ball of rock because any sort of large scale colonization without it, at least in terms of communications, is ridiculously difficult. Maintaining a human presence on another moon in our own solar system, say something like Io or Europa, would be near impossible from a logistical standpoint. It took armies of people with the best computers of the day just to manage three dudes in a tin can in high earth orbit. And that part has not changed much. You arguably need FTL communication more than genetic engineering to have manned flight work out beyond one or two AUs, otherwise Mars is probably as far as we are getting.

But even without FTL being possible, there is the possibility of other worlds with life existing along with advanced life that might send out radio waves. But so much of this is based on assumptions that life will be like it is on earth. We have no reason to expect that life elsewhere would resemble it here, chemically or physically. Its entirely possible there are living worlds that we can observe that we simply do not recognize them as such.

But the Fermi Paradox is a larger topic, which the Great Filter is one aspect of. I do think that the Great Filter applies to us, specifically. But thinking that any sort of alien civilization would have similar cultural aspects to our own is a very big and self serving assumption. Again separate discussion. I think the OP wants to specifically talk about the Filter and how it applies to the human condition.


Speaking frankly I don't really care much about alien life -- I care about human life. I don't think we need FTL to survive and propagate, although it would be great. Quantum entanglement provides promise in that area however.

There are a lot of hurdles that do have to happen though the largest of which have less to do with technology and more to do with human will.

Climate change for example is a false flag -- Humans will adjust as the climate adjusts and we will survive. Humans arent conditioned to plan and bring their will to long term projects.
 

Phazael

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Some humans will survive. A major issue is our economic construct is based on the unsustainable model of endless growth. So either we make it off this rock and consume more worlds, or we kill a lot of us off. Honestly, eugenics and population control are the best method, objectively. But good luck finding someone unbiased and competent enough to do that fairly, as well as getting the masses of mouth breathers to accept that they are not going to be able to crank out a dozen more retards per family anymore.
 
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Cukernaut

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Some humans will survive. A major issue is our economic construct is based on the unsustainable model of endless growth. So either we make it off this rock and consume more worlds, or we kill a lot of us off. Honestly, eugenics and population control are the best method, objectively. But good luck finding someone unbiased and competent enough to do that fairly, as well as getting the masses of mouth breathers to accept that they are not going to be able to crank out a dozen more retards per family anymore.


I view this type of passive resignation and leaning on non-realistic academic solutions as a non-starter. For one the world is a random number generator -- each human born creates a chance for incremental innovation -- reducing the population would slow this. I actually wonder if the pace of innovation has actually grown with the # of humans. Would be interesting to see what the normalized pace of innovation is when accounted for population growth.

It may indeed be that the best way to accelerate society is to continue to add humans across multiple planets and add a logarithmic effect to our innovation.

As someone who believes in the great filter I can think of no greater purpose than to spend the rest of my life making my best attempt at passing it.
 
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Phazael

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I view this type of passive resignation and leaning on non-realistic academic solutions as a non-starter. For one the world is a random number generator -- each human born creates a chance for incremental innovation -- reducing the population would slow this. I actually wonder if the pace of innovation has actually grown with the # of humans. Would be interesting to see what the normalized pace of innovation is when accounted for population growth.
I admire your optimistic view of humanity, though I disagree with it in some ways. But I wanted to address this paragraph in particular.

The pace of innovation has been essentially exponential since the use of electricity became widespread and the industrial revolution. We went from steam locomotives to gasoline powered mass produced automobiles in the span of one lifetime, which is at least as amazing a jump as comparing our punch card computers to the present microchip age we live in. The population explosion is unrelated. And its simple to see this just by considering both the Middle East and Africa, which have both had the greatest explosion in numbers of people in the last half century with rates that dwarf any in recorded human history.

In the case of the Middle East, it is because a valuable resource the entire world needs is there and the region is in a constant state of warfare where genocide and demographic domination are the only long term solutions. Further, the state of advancement has arguably slowed to a crawl in the Middle East, despite war usually being a great driver of innovation, because of the social shifts towards Islam dominating their society. Prior to Islam taking it over, the middle east was one of the fastest progressing societies in the areas of math, physics, and astronomy. Most of the names of the stars we observe in the sky were (or still are) named in Persian or Arabic, in fact.

Africa, well, we colonized and then we left (talking about Europeans) and then we felt bad so we started dumping food and other things on them. They bred out of control on that continent as a result of our empathy removing the normal resource limitations. When AIDS first became a thing, they decided banging virgins was the cure and the problem got worse. We then accelerated the aid we send there. Africa is outpacing the entire world by ridiculous amounts when it comes to population growth. Needless to say, they are not contributing to innovation at any level. We could have been to Mars by now if we had not gotten involved with propping that ticking population time bomb up, but here we are.

So no, not all humans are equally valuable and the minute one realizes that there are A) too many of us and B) some of us are better than others, eugenics starts making a lot more sense. China is already halfway there, with there ridiculous low value we place on life and population control. We need to consider doing the same, at least gradually, while making sure its not just the dumb dumbs cranking out all the kids.

The need for more people used to stem from the need to not get crushed in war by opposing civilizations. Modern warfare and nukes makes that mindset pointless, mostly. But what having more mouth breathers does is give you more clout in democratic societies and expanding tax bases (when they are productive). In addition a lot of our economic sustenance is built around an ever growing population. So we get this false idea that we have to keep making more of us, when the opposite is likely true. Get rid of all but 20% of the population, focusing on the more productive ones with some diversity for genetic health, and most of the worlds problems go away. I am not saying to kill off 80% of the people overnight, but a gradual drawdown using targetted population control over a few decades would accomplish it and do wonders for us long term as a species.
 

Cukernaut

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I admire your optimistic view of humanity, though I disagree with it in some ways. But I wanted to address this paragraph in particular.

The pace of innovation has been essentially exponential since the use of electricity became widespread and the industrial revolution. We went from steam locomotives to gasoline powered mass produced automobiles in the span of one lifetime, which is at least as amazing a jump as comparing our punch card computers to the present microchip age we live in. The population explosion is unrelated. And its simple to see this just by considering both the Middle East and Africa, which have both had the greatest explosion in numbers of people in the last half century with rates that dwarf any in recorded human history.

In the case of the Middle East, it is because a valuable resource the entire world needs is there and the region is in a constant state of warfare where genocide and demographic domination are the only long term solutions. Further, the state of advancement has arguably slowed to a crawl in the Middle East, despite war usually being a great driver of innovation, because of the social shifts towards Islam dominating their society. Prior to Islam taking it over, the middle east was one of the fastest progressing societies in the areas of math, physics, and astronomy. Most of the names of the stars we observe in the sky were (or still are) named in Persian or Arabic, in fact.

Africa, well, we colonized and then we left (talking about Europeans) and then we felt bad so we started dumping food and other things on them. They bred out of control on that continent as a result of our empathy removing the normal resource limitations. When AIDS first became a thing, they decided banging virgins was the cure and the problem got worse. We then accelerated the aid we send there. Africa is outpacing the entire world by ridiculous amounts when it comes to population growth. Needless to say, they are not contributing to innovation at any level. We could have been to Mars by now if we had not gotten involved with propping that ticking population time bomb up, but here we are.

So no, not all humans are equally valuable and the minute one realizes that there are A) too many of us and B) some of us are better than others, eugenics starts making a lot more sense. China is already halfway there, with there ridiculous low value we place on life and population control. We need to consider doing the same, at least gradually, while making sure its not just the dumb dumbs cranking out all the kids.

The need for more people used to stem from the need to not get crushed in war by opposing civilizations. Modern warfare and nukes makes that mindset pointless, mostly. But what having more mouth breathers does is give you more clout in democratic societies and expanding tax bases (when they are productive). In addition a lot of our economic sustenance is built around an ever growing population. So we get this false idea that we have to keep making more of us, when the opposite is likely true. Get rid of all but 20% of the population, focusing on the more productive ones with some diversity for genetic health, and most of the worlds problems go away. I am not saying to kill off 80% of the people overnight, but a gradual drawdown using targetted population control over a few decades would accomplish it and do wonders for us long term as a species.


So society is a liability to itself, I agree. Maybe what a lot of people want is purpose. In humanity scale infrastructure projects you need a lot of people to build stuff. Maybe those are just resources waiting to be activated towards a better purpose.

Think of all the existential crisis humans live in and the various dogmas they cling to.

I hear what you are saying but I try to find cross sections of outcome based results that can map to reality. When doing so we have to consider 3 elements:

Will: is it realistic to convince people to do something at this point? If not, what do we need to do to get there?
Means: Can we realistically even accomplish what we are claiming to do at this point? If not, what needs to be done to get there (money, technology, etc).
Relevance: How important is this to the mission of passing the great filter?

You could arguably pass any decision through that scorecard and figure out what the outcome is.
 

Aldarion

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I admire your optimistic view of humanity, though I disagree with it in some ways. But I wanted to address this paragraph in particular.

The pace of innovation has been essentially exponential since the use of electricity became widespread and the industrial revolution. We went from steam locomotives to gasoline powered mass produced automobiles in the span of one lifetime, which is at least as amazing a jump as comparing our punch card computers to the present microchip age we live in. The population explosion is unrelated. And its simple to see this just by considering both the Middle East and Africa, which have both had the greatest explosion in numbers of people in the last half century with rates that dwarf any in recorded human history.

In the case of the Middle East, it is because a valuable resource the entire world needs is there and the region is in a constant state of warfare where genocide and demographic domination are the only long term solutions. Further, the state of advancement has arguably slowed to a crawl in the Middle East, despite war usually being a great driver of innovation, because of the social shifts towards Islam dominating their society. Prior to Islam taking it over, the middle east was one of the fastest progressing societies in the areas of math, physics, and astronomy. Most of the names of the stars we observe in the sky were (or still are) named in Persian or Arabic, in fact.

Africa, well, we colonized and then we left (talking about Europeans) and then we felt bad so we started dumping food and other things on them. They bred out of control on that continent as a result of our empathy removing the normal resource limitations. When AIDS first became a thing, they decided banging virgins was the cure and the problem got worse. We then accelerated the aid we send there. Africa is outpacing the entire world by ridiculous amounts when it comes to population growth. Needless to say, they are not contributing to innovation at any level. We could have been to Mars by now if we had not gotten involved with propping that ticking population time bomb up, but here we are.

So no, not all humans are equally valuable and the minute one realizes that there are A) too many of us and B) some of us are better than others, eugenics starts making a lot more sense. China is already halfway there, with there ridiculous low value we place on life and population control. We need to consider doing the same, at least gradually, while making sure its not just the dumb dumbs cranking out all the kids.

The need for more people used to stem from the need to not get crushed in war by opposing civilizations. Modern warfare and nukes makes that mindset pointless, mostly. But what having more mouth breathers does is give you more clout in democratic societies and expanding tax bases (when they are productive). In addition a lot of our economic sustenance is built around an ever growing population. So we get this false idea that we have to keep making more of us, when the opposite is likely true. Get rid of all but 20% of the population, focusing on the more productive ones with some diversity for genetic health, and most of the worlds problems go away. I am not saying to kill off 80% of the people overnight, but a gradual drawdown using targetted population control over a few decades would accomplish it and do wonders for us long term as a species.
This is a machine's view of humanity, not a human's.

Regardless of the precise shape of the population size vs innovation curve, the additional humans contribute in so many other ways that this relationship hardly matters.

Each individual can look at their own network of loved ones and recognize that if you remove one person from the network - a breakup, a lost friend, the death of a family member - the qualitative value of their own life is diminished. Expand the same concept from the individual out to society, and you see that the net value of the universe is proportional to the number of human connections. Which leads inevitably to the conclusion that the more people, the better.

The problem isnt more people, the problem is finite planetary resources. This is the entire reason to expand off our rock in the first place! This entire drive is rooted in a recognition of the value of humanity. The more humans in the universe, the greater the net value of the universe.

While it may make sense in some short term sense to limit human population relative to local resources, during the time when we are still limited to local resources. But we cannot lose sight of the end goal in the process. Fill the galaxy with humans as far as we possibly can.
 
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Sadre Spinegnawer

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one could speculate China is actually performing long term hegemony planning for passing the great filter.

I am a simple man with few requests in this modest life.
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Sadre Spinegnawer

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Even demonstrably obsolete old knowledge and views are useful, because you want to know how you got from point A to B to C when updating your worldview.
History. It turns every fact in the present day into a 3 dimensional object. That was part of what I meant by "literacy." It is very valuable.

Without a grasp of history, the present becomes two dimensional: there is now, and then there is what will happen because of now. (present and future) A knowledge of the past, apparently useless, greatly increases the detail and understanding you have of the object in question, which is a unity.

So the Fleetwood Mac song is incorrect. Yesterday, due to the nature of the existence of today and tomorrow, cannot be gone.

The past is the third dimension, man. We jump around a lot, but just like when the ape tosses a bone in the air and it turns into a rotating space station in the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, in many ways we are doing the same things over and over. Iteration ----> evolution/progress.

----------

And it seems we are focusing on how not to self-annihilate. I think this kind of stemmed from a political angle -- that is typical, after all, just a few decades political nuclear stand off was just this thing that could, really, wipe us out. We are trained to think problems are political. I do not think they are. They are primarily technological. Technology creates the political dimension. Alter the technological parameters, you alter how "politics" works.

That's my stance though. It is a "structural" outlook, because I think politics is a giant evolutionary "red herring." The real action is, that humans will "grow into" whatever technological regime they create for themselves. Freud said this was the "problem" of "the modern world" -- we are both trapped and empowered by our inventions.

----------------

Freud, 1931: "Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent..." By auxilery organs he means, technology. (by the way, that Freud quote is from Civilization and Its Discontents which Freud wrote -- swear to God -- as a response to Einstein asking him if the human species could survive the soon-to-come atomic discoveries.

So, that book also is about the "filter" of species self-annihilation. Freud gives us a 50/50 chance. But he is a pessimist, I think. Given when he was writing, I get it.
 

spronk

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another interesting aspect to consider is if a society falls down, it may become literally impossible to rise again. We collapsed during the dark ages due to black plague, religious fervor, etc but it was no big deal going into darkness for 400 years since we had really, really basic grasps of materials science.

If we collapsed today, there are questions of whether fundamental minerals have been so mined up that it may be impossible to "restart" technological development. Going from copper->bronze->iron->steel->silicon->advanced materials required discoveries and massive quantities of rare earth minerals at every step.

For example there was a mineral called cryolite that was only found in Greenland, and it was mined to extinction in the 1980s. It was just one step along a chain of material sciences, but it was an important step. If human civilization ever "reset" back to 1800s tech, it is quite possible that it may be impossible to advance to whatever fancy shit we build linear accelerators out of today. It is a bit of a reach, but our science and tech is stepwise progression, uninterrupted over hundreds of years, and losing it for a few decades could mean we never are able to recover.

It would be a weird thing, humanity flourishes for thousands of years but we are stuck at the steam age or electricity, never being able to achieve fusion and fission and beyond.
 

Ukerric

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another interesting aspect to consider is if a society falls down, it may become literally impossible to rise again. We collapsed during the dark ages due to black plague, religious fervor, etc but it was no big deal going into darkness for 400 years since we had really, really basic grasps of materials science.

If we collapsed today, there are questions of whether fundamental minerals have been so mined up that it may be impossible to "restart" technological development. Going from copper->bronze->iron->steel->silicon->advanced materials required discoveries and massive quantities of rare earth minerals at every step.

For example there was a mineral called cryolite that was only found in Greenland, and it was mined to extinction in the 1980s. It was just one step along a chain of material sciences, but it was an important step. If human civilization ever "reset" back to 1800s tech, it is quite possible that it may be impossible to advance to whatever fancy shit we build linear accelerators out of today. It is a bit of a reach, but our science and tech is stepwise progression, uninterrupted over hundreds of years, and losing it for a few decades could mean we never are able to recover.

It would be a weird thing, humanity flourishes for thousands of years but we are stuck at the steam age or electricity, never being able to achieve fusion and fission and beyond.
There's a good argument for fossil fuels end. The use of cheap, easily mined, plentiful fossil fuels propelled our economy to today's heights, and it is allowing us to transition slowly to the much harder, probably more durable, post-fossil use (if we're not prevented, for political reasons to use nuclear, which is basically the only reasonable post-fossil main energy source).

Collapse all of the modern economy for a hundred years, so that most of what's built today is hard to use or unuseable, and we can't rebuild the powered economy. There are no more surface oil to be had. There is very little easy-to-dig oil available with a simple cheap drill. A new economy rebuilt from the ashes of a previous civilization will have to do with charcoal and animal oils (assuming the whale population has surged back enough) as its main energy storage, and go from there straight to fission for electricity if we want an industrial-type economy running.

And fission plants for electricity are a difficult economic proposition. You essentially have a low population density (because modern farming is dead), you have no widespread electrical consumption (because you can't make significant powerplants running on fossil fuel if that no longer exists), and the fission plants (a steam generator with fissionables as a heat source) require large demand to be economically viable to build. It's a chicken and egg situation.
 

Sadre Spinegnawer

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another interesting aspect to consider is if a society falls down, it may become literally impossible to rise again. We collapsed during the dark ages due to black plague, religious fervor, etc but it was no big deal going into darkness for 400 years since we had really, really basic grasps of materials science.

If we collapsed today, there are questions of whether fundamental minerals have been so mined up that it may be impossible to "restart" technological development. Going from copper->bronze->iron->steel->silicon->advanced materials required discoveries and massive quantities of rare earth minerals at every step.

For example there was a mineral called cryolite that was only found in Greenland, and it was mined to extinction in the 1980s. It was just one step along a chain of material sciences, but it was an important step. If human civilization ever "reset" back to 1800s tech, it is quite possible that it may be impossible to advance to whatever fancy shit we build linear accelerators out of today. It is a bit of a reach, but our science and tech is stepwise progression, uninterrupted over hundreds of years, and losing it for a few decades could mean we never are able to recover.

It would be a weird thing, humanity flourishes for thousands of years but we are stuck at the steam age or electricity, never being able to achieve fusion and fission and beyond.

Isn't this kind of similar to (potential) antibiotic resistance? We discovered the idea, used it, developed it, but then (allegedly) we will exhaust that line of drugs, and bacteria will eventually develop immunity to all of them.

That is a different "wall" tho. But one could put it into the same framework: like, "we have ~30 years to develop a post-antiobiotic treatment technology."

And if we were to ever get knocked back a few centuries, we could never repeat the anibiotic era, unless bacteria lose the immunity.

Just spitbaling.

Lots of potential walls! In a philosophical conversation like this, we can entertain a lot of what ifs. For example, if the climate science is right, within 30 years we are going to start hitting a climate change wall. I do not think it is anything close to species-level, but we might be looking at massive dislocations of human populations, right around when global population is dancing toward 10 billion.

Our issues are logistical mainly? We could manage climate change, I do not see at all why not, but given it will be the gravely impoverished driven from their already precarious existences, I do not see much in the way of swiss-watch-like precision on the horizon on this matter. We will likely just let it wreck, then see what needs to be salvaged.
 

Ukerric

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Isn't this kind of similar to (potential) antibiotic resistance? We discovered the idea, used it, developed it, but then (allegedly) we will exhaust that line of drugs, and bacteria will eventually develop immunity to all of them.
Bacterial resistance isn't a world-ending threat.

Just like COVID. If we did exactly nothing regarding COVID, we'd quickly settle to a "new normal" where a tiny additional percentage of our population dies every year. Up until the 20th century, we had zero antibiotics, and civilization progressed every decade. Sure, average life expectancy might take a large dip. But that's all.

Unless you have a civilization-wrecking bacterial infection on the order of the Black Plague (which worked its miracles partly because we had no idea how microbial infections worked out), antiobiotic resistance has no bearing on civilization capabilities or longevity.
 

Phazael

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Actually he is talking about the general overuse of anitbiotics causing immune systems to be compromised on a large scale and the antibiotics themselves losing their benefit. This is actually a thing in modern medicine.
 
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