The final phase of The Millennial Project is it’s most ambitious and speculative. The ultimate human adventure; the settlement of the stars and the cultivation of a galactic civilization. So great a task is this that we anticipate it to require the concerted efforts of the whole solar-system-spanning Solarian civilization just to begin it, enlisting organic human and transhuman intellect alike.
Why settle the stars? What do we hope to gain reaching out across such vast distances? The costs will be great. Starships will represent the greatest technical achievement of the civilization and require much from the collective infrastructure to produce. Years worth of energy for the collective civilization may be used to fuel each journey. Decades of development go into the construction of vessels, communications systems, and supporting infrastructure. Yet, clearly, there will be no material gain from such an endeavor, no exploiting other solar systems for resources and ‘profit’ at home. The span of distance and time are too great, the payload fractions of likely interstellar spacecraft far too small, the value of raw materials in an era of such advanced technology so little. What is our return on investment as a society?
The most obvious practical purpose of interstellar settlement is the simple perpetuation of our civilization. Our Sun is a finite resource. In its eventual death throws, it will destroy most, if not all, life in the solar system and most that we ultimately create around it before blowing away most of its mass and shrinking to a white dwarf. This eventuality may be billions of years in the future, but it is nonetheless inevitable. For terrestrial life to persist in the universe, it must move on.
But there is a much more immediate point to this. A certain vital commodity which we take for granted in our contemporary culture but which, in the future, will be a significant measure of quality of life and the central obsession of the culture; novelty. The society that builds starships will be a very different one from that which we know today. A Post-Industrial society in full bloom that, with the aid of technology and the cultural evolution compelled by that technology, the demand for environmental sustainability, and the cultural imperative to reach beyond Earth, has largely moved beyond the primitive economic motivations of the past. Beyond the brutish struggle for survival, beyond jobs, wealth, money, business, markets, states, bureaucracies, class and race conflict, even beyond the limits of the organic human body and lifespan. We will be a species that no longer identifies itself as Homo Sapiens but rather as early 20th century Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga characterized us; Homo Ludens. Man the player. We will be a society that lives for experience, pursuing it through the partnership of science and art, exploration and creative expression. We will be a culture revolving around the congression into novelty and the settlement and development of space as an act of creative expression and experimentation. Thus novelty will become the essential currency of the culture with everyone as ‘prosumers’.
As we’ve noted repeatedly in TMP2, the true settlers of space will not regard themselves as ‘conquers’ of space but rather as gardeners of the universe -because the essential process of space settlement is the cultivation of garden habitats in these extreme environments as comfortable places to live. Even the eventual artilects -beings existing only as software- will likely fashion their virtual habitats -much as we already often do in games- in imitation of the natural landscapes and biomes of Earth, regarding, and revering, nature and organic evolution as the foundations of a cosmic engine of novelty culminating in our culture. A garden is at once a work of art, engineering, and science. A creative collaboration and symbiosis between nature and artifice. Thus this future spacefaring society may come to regard itself as nature’s partner in the ‘enlivening’ and ultimate sentient awakening of the universe. We are the ultimate mechanism of panspermia, drawn inexorably out of nature and biological evolution in order to do what nature must do but cannot within itself. We are intended to be as bees to a garden of stellar flowers. Wandering artistic demiurges in a galactic arboretum. Carl Sagan once said that we are a way for the cosmos to know itself. But there’s more to that. We discover, observe, and create! We are here not just to passively experience the cosmos but to interact with it. To make love to it as an artist working his creative mediums, and thereby imprinting our consciousness upon it.
Contemporary scientists sometimes speak of a six-staged quantum or jumping universe. Six ‘quantum leaps’ that characterize the history of the cosmos and a progression of increasing complexity within it. It began with the Big Bang and the formation of the first free particles in an expanding sea of energy. Then came the first light atoms which, in turn, coalesced into galaxies and formed into stars that synthesized the heavier elements in their nuclear furnaces. This, in turn, formed planets around stars, and around one one very providential mass, the chemistry of simple organic life and its processes of biological evolution. And, at last, from that biological evolution complex animal life culminating in sentient beings producing civilizations, moving beyond the genetic to epigenetic evolution. The Millennial Project is, ultimately, the story of a seventh quantum leap in this cosmic history; the expansion of life and civilization into the universe and its subsequent awakening as a self-aware organism.
In this final section of TMP2’s development plan we consider the basic proposition of interstellar colonization, the technology of interstellar transportation and communication, and the various strategies that may emerge for pursuing this grand undertaking.