(This post co-authored by Robin Hanson and Katja Grace.) In the Battlestar Galactica TV series, religious rituals often repeated the phrase, “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.” It was apparently comforting to imagine being part of a grand cycle of time. It seems less comforting to say “Similar conflicts happen out there now in distant galaxies.” Why?
Personally, I'd need to know a bit more about the mechanisms of:
a) Cultural replication
b) The extinction event.
With regard to the time-extension civilization--I think that a lot of people need to pay more attention to what goes into making such civilizations "sustainable." On earth, as Jared Diamond notes, the island nation of Tikopia was sustainably run for like a thousand years with virtually the same population. However, this sustainability wasn't just all hippy rainbows and unicorns. In reality, it practiced very strict population control that involved serious instances of infanticide on a regular basis--as well as instances when any accumulation of "excess population" was told to build some boats and row off into the ocean with the hope that they might find some land to settle on.
In other words--it was sustainable because it accepted the orderly elimination of what was an "unsustainable" population.
Now.. if you add that into the mix--which seems rather necessary given our biology and cultural habits--then I'm not sure the time extension civilization seems quite so appealing as before. Yes, it lasts a long time--but it does so in a rather brutal manner.
Of course--you can argue that this 100k civilization is not like that at all and it has perfect technology and social habits and the like--and it is just living in eden for a billion years--but then it seems like the deck is being stacked...
My reaction is similar (I left a similar comment on Katya's blog):
I seem to value a story-like life. Extension in space feels less like telling a bigger story, because a lot of people will be doing pretty much the same thing, independently, so after a point (probably about 500 people, if you ignore economies of scale) my utility scales much less than linearly with number of persons alive concurrently.
It is also easier to affect and be affected by a lot of future and past people than a lot of present people.
On the other hand, if concurrent lives allow for parallel, qualitatively different types of civilization or personality, that would also make the universe more interesting in a similar way, especially if there are still few enough to interact meaningfully. ( I can only be in 1 city at a time, but life is more interesting with more than 1 city available.)
While a trillion people would be more comfortable (at least I think so) spread out over the solar system, it would be quite possible for that population to survive on Earth alone. It is less than 170 times the current population - with better management of resources, especially agricultural and energy, and reasonable advances, it shouldn't even be too difficult.
I think the numbers used in this question are a bit too big. As is, it reads: Time civilization: 100,000 people, a billion generations; and Space civilization: a trillion people, 1000 generations. But a trillion people would need to colonize distant worlds, so in what sense would it be 'a' civilization? As for the Time civilization, a billion generations exceeds geological time; also, 100000 people is a small town, a hick backwater with a tiny college, two theaters, and a business district, and it all shuts down at 11 p.m.
I say we scale it back to:Time civilization: a million people, a million generations. That is, a respectable sized city, lasting for tens of megayears; a longish species lifetime. Space civilization: a billion people, a thousand generations. That is, a world, lasting for tens of kiloyears; about the length of history.
So here's the choice. A city lasting species lifetime, or a world civilization lasting historical time. It's an even tradeoff; the city is to the world as history is to species lifetime.
You're right. The Caspari thing isn't that strong an argument.
I am highly suspicious of my preferences here.
I started out prefering the time-stretched civilization, rationalizing from a preference for complexity, progress, and a belief in the importance of encoding complexity (intelligence) in the universe.
But the Rivendell / Trantor analogy, as well as the point that the space stretched civilization would have two thousand years has moved me to believe my reasons would be better served by the space stretched civilization.
Overall, it all feels too much like an aesthetic judgement.
FOARP: I second your motion. The Space civilization is an achiever; the Time civilization is a slacker.
I nickname the Time civilization "Rivendell", after the elf town in Tolkien's "Ring" trilogy. How slackful is Rivendell? Well, what's a billion generations? Twenty, thirty billion years? Do they plan to relocate when the sun leaves the main sequence? On the gigayear time scale, suns flicker, continents roil, mountains rise and fall like waves. If Rivendell doesn't change during that time, then it is literally dumber than the rocks.
I nickname the Space civilization "Trantor", after the galactic capital world-city in Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy. Trantor will last only a hundred generations; or in other worlds, two or three millennia. That's a typical run for a civilization; not bad at all, especially with a trillion citizens. And during those hundred generations, Trantor will make more technical, scientific, cultural and spiritual progress than backwater Rivendell will make in a billion generations.
So I vote Space civilization.
Am I the only one who instantly felt that "Space" was a far more admirable civilisation than "Time"? One appears to have challenged i fate, and faced great adversity and spread through the stars, the other seems to have sat still and done nothing. The achievements of one are far greater than the achievements of the other.
This isn't that complicated.
The time-stretched population: Obviously they recognize the value of their present lives is the gift from the past that can only be repaid by doing the same for the future.
The space-stretched population: Are about fulfilling their own needs without a care as to how the future will fulfill theirs.
A civilization of a trillion doesn't go 'extinct', any more than the Roman Empire did; it 'falls', which means that some of the people survive, but the way of life goes away, and there are successor civilizations, which inherit some of the founding civilization's ideas and values.
Whereas that billion-generation backwater sounds deadly dull; and it _will_ go extinct, all the way, its people and its ideas too. Why even bother living there? It was never alive in the first place!
I think the Space civilization will have a bigger positive cultural impact on the galaxy than the Time civilization... even after a billion generations!
So I personally prefer the Space civilization over the Time. Trantor rocks, Rivendell flops.
Time: A mere hundred thousand people live sustainably for a billion generations before finally going extinct. Space: A trillion people spread across a thousand planets live for only a hundred generations, then go extinct.Is itself contra-reality. While such a situation could conceivably happen as the result of chance occurrences, the more numerous and spread out species would have a much greater likelihood of surviving for any given time span than a smaller more localized one.
Look beyond your own species for an answer.
The "spread in space" species has massive acute impact on the evolutionary cycle of other species that might develop their own civilizations. It could displace so many as to cause multiple extinction events across the galaxy. How many hundreds of millions of years of evolution will it cut short in its own explosive, short timespan of existence?
The "spread in time" species has smaller but chronic effects. But if it manages to become self-regulating and contained, it may find that it allows itself to be replaced. Or it may not.
"For Robin’s purpose, it’s probably sensible to assume such an event in order to focus the intuition pump."
It's not sensible to assume something that cannot happen. The only way for a trillion-strong civilization over a hundred planets to go extinct is via either a massive interstellar war or via a galaxy-destroying event. The former is plausible, the latter cannot occur on the time-scale needed. So war it must be.
A fascinating thesis to ponder, but the premises of the comparison between the two putative civilizations are biased in how they are characterized. The time-stretched civilization is described as living "sustainably", which in current jargon is always a compliment, while the space-stretched civilization last "only" a hundred generations, with the implication that is a bad thing. Also, the second scenario is less plausible in an evolutionary sense simply because it omits all the build-up necessary to the moment the civilization is officially 'launched' -- the development of language, fire, the wheel and the lever, writing, buildings, law, agriculture, whatever you wish -- and then starts the generational countdown with no explanation of why Gen 100 should be the last. The first scenario is more plausible in its conclusion simply because it's more likely that during billions of years there could be an extinction event such as a comet strike, but by comparison the second scenario doesn't explain how that civilization spread across a thousand worlds when faster-than-light travel is considered scientifically implausible, nor what factor could simultaneously annihilate the species on all thousand planets. Interesting, but too many distracting holes to weigh in on the moral superiority of one over the other.
The larger number of generations presumably leads to more overall progress, with each generation building on the last. That can't happen in the "spatial" civilization, because they're all working at the same time. David Hume said that "A man acquainted with history may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century."
The "temporal" civilization would build on their achievements and systematically become more advanced than we can currently imagine, whereas the spatial one would simply explode and peter out, like a firecracker.
I thought the title was brilliant, was disappointed with the post, and then maybe sorta agreed at the end.
The thing I like about the concept is how often in fiction the good guys are the (spatially) few who take the *time* to think things through and beat the enemy by intelligence. And in video games, the player character has apparently a lot of time to battle through a large space of puzzles or enemies.
But like many other commenters I disagree with the supposed intuition in even the first paragraph. I think Battlestar Galactica is a bit rare in it's presentation of things, and many fictional characters take strength in there being "others like us" spatially distant. Consider the many masked heroes at the end of V for Vendetta. Being numerous didn't make them bad guys.
I don't know how accurate the statements about smart people are either.
Yet I do in the end think there's something clearly better about the temporally spread civilization: they have a chance to learn more about the Universe and develop a deeper culture.