Do Foo Fighters Show Our Snafu Fubar Future?
Many of our institutions are prodigiously wasteful. Under the feel-good veneer of win-win cooperation— teaching kids, healing the sick, celebrating creativity—our institutions harbor giant, silent furnaces of intra-group competitive signaling, where trillions of dollars of wealth, resources, and human effort are being shoveled in and burned to ash every year, largely for the purpose of showing off. Now our institutions do end up achieving many of their official, stated goals, but they’re often rather inefficient because they’re simultaneously serving other purposes no one is eager to acknowledge. (More)
Antikythera mechanism, a remarkable and baffling astronomical calculator that survives from the ancient world. The hand-powered, 2,000-year-old device … Salvaged from a merchant ship … off the Greek island of Antikythera. … en route to Rome from Asia Minor. … unclear how the ancient Greeks would have manufactured such components. … If … capable of such mechanical devices, what else did they do with the knowledge? … odd that nothing remotely similar has been found or dug up. … If they had the tech to make the Antikythera mechanism, why did they not extend this tech to devising other machines, such as clocks?” (More)
Between 1405 and 1433, Ming China sent out seven gigantic naval expeditions … traveled along the Indian Ocean trade routes as far as Arabia and the coast of East Africa, but in 1433, the government suddenly called them off. … not engaged in a voyage of exploration, … Chinese already knew about the ports and countries [visited]. … not sailing out in search of trade. … merchants were considered to be among the lowliest members of society. … meant to display Chinese might … intended to shock and awe. … Why did the Ming halt these voyages in 1433, and either burn the great fleet in its moorings or allow it to rot (depending upon the source)? … Emperor, was much more conservative and Confucianist in his thought, so he ordered the voyages stopped. … In addition to political motivation, the new emperor had financial motivation. (more)
FUBAR (Fucked/Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition/Recovery/ Any Repair/All Reason), like SNAFU and SUSFU, dates from World War II. … “Fucked Up By Assholes in the Rear”. … FUBAR had a resurgence in the American lexicon after the term was used in two popular movies: Tango and Cash (1989); and Saving Private Ryan (1998). … survived WWII and for a time, mainly in the 1970s, found its way into the lexicon of management consultants. (More)
The first sightings occurred in November 1944, when pilots flying over Germany by night reported seeing fast-moving round glowing objects following their aircraft. The objects were variously described as fiery, and glowing red, white, or orange. Some pilots described them as resembling Christmas tree lights and reported that they seemed to toy with the aircraft, making wild turns before simply vanishing. Pilots and aircrew reported that the objects flew formation with their aircraft and behaved as if under intelligent control, but never displayed hostile behavior. However, they could not be outmaneuvered or shot down. The phenomenon was so widespread … for the most part called “foo-fighters”. The military took the sightings seriously, suspecting that the mysterious sightings might be secret German weapons, but further investigation revealed that German and Japanese pilots had reported similar sightings. … Their behavior did not appear to be threatening. (More)
With this title and these quotes, can you see where I’m going with this? If not, keep reading.
Over the last few months I’ve put much time into modeling “grabby” aliens, who expand far and fill up the universe. They must appear very rarely, but they still have enormous consequences when they do. Most people seem to think there are thousands of times more less-capable non-grabby civilizations out there, who only rarely birth grabby descendants. Big enough to call “advanced civilizations”, yet who somehow almost always instead die or permanently prevent their parts from expanding fast.
Yet its damn hard to permanently kill advanced life. Even if a supernova were to boil all Earth oceans, extremophiles would still survive in deeper rocks, and they could re-evolve multicellular life within the 1.1Gyr it still has left to exist on Earth. Triggering all the nukes on Earth, by comparison, probably wouldn’t even kill all humans, much less all big brain mammals. So how do 999 out of 1000 advanced civilizations never allow any parts that expand freely? I just honestly can’t see how self-destruction can account for most of these.
As I’ve gotten older one of the biggest things I’ve learned is just how inefficient and messed up our world often is. Sure, the younger me expected there was a lot of that, but it is so so much worse than I thought. Most of what we spend on education and medicine is wasted, and probably also in charity and finance. Most billion dollar projects are massive wastes. And government is worse, especially re over-regulation and lack of innovation. The military is consistently quite visibly “fucked up” and far from efficient even in wartime; imagine what it must be in peacetime without pressures to win. Via something close to a world government in highly coordinating regulatory elite cultures, the world has refused to release the vast potential of nuclear energy, or even to let a few hundred people do challenge trials to save millions of lives in a pandemic. Eliezer Y. is quite right; our world is chock full of “inadequate equilibria.”
Now consider the fact that one of the strongest trends over the last few centuries, and likely the driving trend behind all the others, is an increase in organization size and complexity, with more functions and decisions drifting up to higher levels. The obvious long term prediction from that is world government, for whom competitive pressures to innovate and be efficient get much weaker.
That is roughly what we saw in China when it saw few outside threats and was centrally run for centuries. Remember their famous turning back from outside contact, of which they were very technically capable, due in part to internal culture and politics. And recall the amazing Antikythera tech, apparently never used for so many obvious-to-us applications.
Finally, consider UFOs, also called “foo fighters” during WWII, and now often called UAPs. If they really do represent aliens more advanced than us, these aliens seem amazingly incompetent and to have squandered literally-astronomical potential. If common UFO reports are to be believed, their abilities don’t seem to change with time like ours do, they have sometimes crashed and died here, and they have retained fragile biological bodies.
If they are trying to hide from us, or trying to show themselves to us, either way they are failing badly. Electronics often stops functioning near them, at night they often shine brightly and shine lights on other things, and are not camouflaged. Their timing and locations are supposedly to be explained a lot by their wanting to observe our military and nukes, but why couldn’t they view that stuff from a much further hidden vantage point?
And the most dramatic fact about any aliens behind UFOs: they have not remade the universe, nor even anywhere near our little corner of it. Yet if they were everywhere in the universe as common as they are here, how could none of them ever do big stuff?
To put this all together: what if the natural future path of a civilization like ours is much larger organizations, including a strong world government with lots of strong regulation that stifles innovation and many useful applications of available tech. It prevents war, which has long been a big driver, perhaps the main driver, of efficiency and innovation. All of which greatly amps up the SNAFU and FUBAR trends that even today burn up most all resources in huge inefficiency furnaces. Some techs improve in some ways, but in big important tech categories progress just stops or reverses.
They get tech to move in space, but central powers wary and jealous of colonization rivals lock down and cut most innovation, especially re interstellar colonization. Which is so damn expensive at first that they hardly need to try, but by the time travel to stars becomes feasible the regulatory culture has had a very long time to lock in its policies deep. Yeah that seems crazy from a distance, but look at all our FUBAR stuff up close and tell me this can’t happen.
Yes, if aliens like this were near most stars, surely just a few of them would escape this fate, which would be far more of them than fit into our grabby aliens framework. So any aliens we see around us must be quite rare, and so their correlation in being here can’t be accidental. As I’ve suggested before, maybe they were born at a star also born in our sun’s stellar nursery, a nursery seeded via panspermia, and they reached star travel before we did and went out hunting for life at their star’s siblings, the only other advanced life for a million galaxies around. They then made sure no sibling civilizations defied their dominance and anti-expansion regulations.
This isn’t a pretty picture. Not remotely pretty. But in a world as fucked up as ours, might it be that these sort of dysfunctions just get a lot lot worse? Sure, eventually there should be a few competent aliens, grabby ones, who do take over the universe. Competence wins in the end. But might it not be just a bit arrogant to assume that we are almost ready to join that club?