Interstellar travel

I was rereading the Wikipedia page “Interstellar Travel” earlier today and was very frustrated about their discussion of impossibility. I guess this could be a recurring theme in my life. The only thing that is impossible is that something could be impossible. Everything instead can be discussed in the range of probabilities. It is possible for me to walk through a wall. Seriously I can do it, it just is highly improbable. But the writers of this article talk about interstellar travel as if it should be relegated to science fiction. Why then are hundreds if not thousands of physicists and engineers around the world searching for better methods to accomplish such travel? Someone has hope and at the expense of increasing my rank of nerd, I am one of them. I almost wish Wikipedia was not ever changing so that we could reflect like a textbook on the progression from impossible to reality. Impossible has become a word that is illogical to use. Everything is a theory. At one point in time there was a theory that it was impossible for a human to pass the sound barrier. Since that belief we have created a commercial airliner that could travel faster than that. And now there are physicists (who may truly be insane) that believe that the “light barrier” is only fictional.

The reality is, taking is a stance on one side or the other is only a weighing of probabilities. It is silly to stand boldly with utter close minded confidence. Instead, to continuously doubt and continuously weigh evidence is the only way to get close to getting things right.

Galileo at one time proposed that the Earth was not the center of the universe and that it was just another cosmic body floating around in an immense pool. He was condemned by people who failed to observe evidence and instead clung to scripture as fact rather than literature. Now there is hardly an educated soul who disagrees with his claims.

In the mid-19th century we had a similar struggle. Darwin published a theory on the origin of humanity that rattled pretty much everyone. There honestly was no surprise that his theories were going to be met with difficulty. Hiding his real estimate of billions of years, he proposed that the earth was several hundred millions of years old. He feared people’s reaction, for good reason. He low balled the estimate by a huge factor because the accepted estimate at the time was only 1/100th of a percent of his low ball. But he knew roughly how old the earth truly was. However, at the time, the only evidence for his estimate was his own theory that also had very little evidence. But over the next decade and a half, scientists sought to disprove his theories and every single one of them failed. Thousands and thousands of the world’s most brilliant people failed to disprove Darwin and all they could find was evidence to support his theory.

I can never prove that I am human. I can only compile evidence to support that notion. But we trust it with almost all our confidence because there is such a ridiculously large body of evidence as support and nil evidence to the contrary. That is the same boat Darwin’s theories are in. I am white. I am male. I am sitting in front of my computer. I am on planet Earth. I evolved from other species. These are all similarly supported.

And yet, despite all the evidence, there is still a fraction of the human population who disagrees with Darwin (and an even smaller fraction who disagree with Galileo). Whether out of sheer lack of knowledge or clinging on to an outdated piece of scripture, I am unsure. It saddens me either way. For the former, I wish our educational system was stronger to produce a generation who can at least attempt to comprehend such difficult concepts. I think knowledge would help end senseless violence. If everyone knew how beautiful the world is from an intellectual standpoint, I think war would only be something we read about in history books.

I think abandonment of the latter would produce a similar result. If we used logic to analyze evidence, I think the whole world would be a lot more peaceful and we would have progressed a lot further as a species. I think poverty would be completely gone and we would see ourselves as a united species among another united group of earth dwelling beings. It would be a very large community instead of separate battling communities. There is so much division within the human race and religion is another one of those divisions. I am not pointing fingers at any one religion. Instead, I think that religion itself is the largest contributor to war and poverty in the world today.

This concept of uniting the human race to end all war has been proposed in many science fiction stories. It is the theme of the “War of the Worlds” to unite humanity against a common enemy. I do believe that would be effective. To see humans as small and recognize our fragility and insignificance creates a humility that unites us all. However, with this cause uniting us, we will still be lacking an empathy for other animals and every earth being and the beings of the rest of the universe.

The reason I am so interested in interstellar travel may have become evident by now. Not only do I believe that there is other life in the galaxy and the universe, I believe it is silly to argue that there isn’t. There is a huge possibility that within my lifetime, scientists will discover other life within our tiny solar system. In fact, there are biologists who believe there may have been multiple geneses on earth itself. Life originated on earth many, many times before it came to be the DNA based beings we see today. Only once it developed the ability to reproduce did it actually succeed. And it may have made it to that stage only to be killed by the harsh early earth environment several times. It took less than a billion years after the formation of the earth for life to originate in the form it is in today. It happened very quickly. If it happened so quickly on earth and is likely to have originated several times within our solar system, the chances of it developing other times in our galaxy alone is near 100%. And when I say near 100%, I don’t mean 90%, I mean 99.999999999997%. That is how confident I am. I have about the same amount of confidence in that probability I am a human.

Most people don’t care too much about microbial life though so how about intelligent life? I am 99.99981% certain (yes I calculated that) of there being intelligent life within the Milky Way Galaxy. Darwin would have stopped a long time ago to keep from scaring his audience. But I imagine I have already done that. So I will say that my confidence in there being spacefaring civilizations within the universe is a similar number. There are 300 billion stars in our galaxy and a similar number of galaxies in our universe. The possibilities of what life could have achieved elsewhere are almost literally endless.

I imagined what that would do to creationism. I imagine people stepping back when we do find life on other planets within my lifetime. I imagined evidence present instead of statistics. Certainly many people would cite the genesis that happened on earth must have happened there as well from the hands of the same god. I imagine, as religion is a simple product of natural selection just like any other fitness, that religion may have happened in these civilizations as well. It would be an incredible realization to both civilizations. My friend proposed to me, what if it was one of our religions that was believed by their entire race? What if we went over there and they had the bible. I thought at that moment I would probably drop my head and walk away quietly. How funny would that be? I doubt many people could logically believe that is a strong probability. I would have obviously been wrong if it did happen though. I laughed at that possibility but the enormous lack of probability. Instead, I imagine the religion(s) would be completely different. If there isn’t much better evidence against a single religion than that, I don’t know what would be. The fact that several religions have originated on one planet is evidence to me that it is fictional but also suggests that it was beneficial for survival at one time. But to imagine that two planets could have developed completely different religions, you get the idea.

This doesn’t negate the idea of a god. I do believe, because of the inability of anyone to express to me what god is in a logical manner, that humanity will eventually abandon god. I do struggle to simplify the universe accordingly but it is the overwhelming probability. God is a downright logical thing to conclude in ignorance despite the difficulty of explaining it. I have never been critical of such an idea. But all the details past that are superficial and blinding. To believe in a god is comforting and in this immense world and universe, I empathize with the desire for something unexplainable to establish some sense of significance, no matter how fictional it may be. To relate back to the beginning, it is impossible to prove a god just as it is impossible to prove that I am in a human. But we can establish probabilities. And that way of thinking seems the most logical to me. I will base my life off probabilities and will eternally doubt and follow logic. I will teach based on those principles and see any other way of instruction as illogical and unfair.

2 thoughts on “Interstellar travel”

  1. gcobb, good article! I disagree about humanity united in our current evolution, but I have a feeling that we won’t be quite the same humans in 300 years. As for interstellar travel, assuming we don’t kill ourselves first, people forget that it’s not all about Star Trek. We’ll soon be extending human livespans, creating biodomes in space, encoding DNA and then inseminating a human once the trip is nearly over, or playing with entangled quarks which in turn holds the promise of teleportation. And yes, maybe building cool spaceships that can harness the energy of stars to rip open wormholes…well, I’m pretty skeptical about that one. Probably none of it in my lifetime though. I just want a pair of gogo gadget legs.

    1. I’d be excited if we show progress away from killing each other in my lifetime. Then these dreams would take a huge leap towards becoming reality.

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