We know that you are familiar with all the main features of this system and its remarkable population, including the general aspects of its physical and biological development and its conscious history. You are also aware of the general features of the current economic, environmental and security issues and of our overall prognosis.
Our concern, as you would expect, is with the present situation there, the prospects for the immediate future and the manner in which actions over this period will impact on the next millennia and beyond. We will want to argue for a particular course of action and hope you will not mind if we remind you once again of those core aspects of this system's history that will assist you with that decision.
Our proposal is not entirely novel but results have been mixed, and we recognise that we need strong arguments to convince you that it is worth making a further attempt by applying such an action to this system.
A dynamic history
In broad terms, and in common with most systems, World 87 is the product of physical and chemical evolution over billions of years, leading to the quite early development of, in this case, carbon-based reproducing organisms. Subsequent evolution to complex forms of life stretched over many hundreds of millions of years but was a dynamic process with many periods of regression, often due to rapid climatic change but occasionally due to external factors such as celestial impacts.
A point that is worth making here is that their understanding of the evolution of life and of climatic evolution has been undergoing a significant transition over the past forty years. Prior to that, the prevailing evolutionary paradigm was of a belief in a slow but steady progress of biological evolution, an absence of significant external impacts, and little understanding of the sheer dynamism of the processes involved.
Three things have tended to change this. The first is the recognition of some of the relatively sudden changes indicated by their fossil record; the second has been their interest in climate history stimulated by a concern over climate change; the third has been the recognition of the complexity and variability of genetic processes, leading to an acceptance of the possibilities of very rapid evolutionary change.
Put simply, what we would recognise as outside observers as a dynamic history, albeit measured in billions of years for life as a whole, and millions of years for hominids, is now being so recognised by them. This is certainly all to the good as it makes it a little more likely that they will be able to acquire the wisdom to see themselves through their current predicament.
A critical moment
To return to our main theme, the evolutionary period immediately preceding hominid development lasted about 20 million years until around 5 million years ago. In that entire period, the evolution in intelligence was reasonably linear and was on a timescale broadly similar to most systems we have studied, as well as our own. Even so, individual lifespans here were exceptionally short compared to virtually all other systems so far examined.
There was some acceleration in development after tool-making skills were acquired but what is exceptional is that there was an extraordinary increase in levels of capability and ecological impact in a very short space of time, several millions years after this. They actually learned to farm and then urbanised only 10,000 years ago (within our own lifetimes) in a manner that resulted in an astonishing increase in the rate of their social and technical evolution.
We do not understand the reasons for this and know of no parallel elsewhere. Moreover, the pace of their technological innovation in the very recent past, barely 250 years, has been even more rapid. We and our predecessors have never had to cope with a system demonstrating this range of change, and it has strained our analytical abilities in trying to cope.
As you will recall, of the millions of potential systems in our galaxy we have only been able to identify and examine eighty-five others in the past few hundred thousand years in which intelligence has been, or rarely still is, in evidence. The great majority of these have confirmed our belief that the norm is for the pace of evolution of destructive capacities to substantially exceed the pace of evolution of wisdom. This occasionally does no more than set matters back a few thousand generations, but more usually leads to tens of millions of years of regression. Only in a handful of cases has this been avoided, including those very few systems with which it has been appropriate for us to make contact.
We now believe that we are close to a full exploration of our galaxy, and while our capabilities do not yet allow us to extend our search beyond, we doubt that circumstances and experience will differ greatly elsewhere.
With World 87 we are therefore in a predicament:
- These organisms are very short-lived and evolve their technologies very rapidly
- They have already come close to destroying themselves through one technology, and another phase of destruction is imminent
- But if they survive their own destructiveness, they could further evolve their understanding very much faster than is the norm, and in a manner that could well benefit themselves and others, including even us.
Do we therefore merely watch and wait?
A serious condition
A brief review of their current circumstance may be helpful at this point.
In terms of self-destruction they developed the capability for system-wide impacts with fission and fusion weapons sixty-five years ago, survived a bipolar arms race more by luck than judgement and, having scaled down their arsenals, are now facing the prospect of a proliferating world. While recognising the risks that stem from this, the main possessors of nuclear systems cannot come to terms with the idea that they should denuclearise. Based on our knowledge of other much slower-moving systems we anticipate that they will not survive the first nuclear century without a major calamity.
They are now also close to having the capability to develop biological agents with worldwide potential. Despite the efforts of a few of their kind, their leaderships are currently sleepwalking towards disaster. Neither do these leaderships have any understanding of the adverse impact of potential nanotechnologies.
Their economic system is primitive in the extreme, being rooted in largely uncontrolled competition that is scarcely responsive to changing environments. Nearly a century ago some of them began to experiment with a more cooperative system but that immediately decayed into autocracy. This was a tragedy of the first order as it negated any further attempts to seriously develop cooperative economies. The end result is a deeply divided society of massive inequalities.
Even so, their most substantive problem, as has so often been the case with other systems, is their accelerating impact on their own planetary ecosystem. They are, in short, on the way to rendering their climate unstable in a way that will likely become an existential threat. Many of them are beginning to recognise this but their political and economic systems do not currently have the responsiveness to allow action to be taken in sufficient time.
On their own, we rate their chances of evolving further over the next century as low, and we regard this as a tragedy not just for them, but quite possibly for other systems as well, including our own.
A time to act
We therefore would argue a case for a very modest intervention and hope that you are willing to countenance the action that we propose. We do recognise that you may still need persuading, but we would like to conclude with three points.
Firstly, we acknowledge that on the few occasions when this kind of action has been agreed, results have been poor, but we can at least say that there have been no indications of negative effects. In other words, it has not, elsewhere, made things worse.
The second point is that this system really is at a pivotal time in its development, and the prospects for a transition to a more stable, benign yet spatially and intellectually expansionist state are there. We hope you will not mind our repeating the emphasis on the remarkable rate of development, and the manner in which advances have been so extraordinarily compressed into a few hundred years. In that respect we regard it as exceptionally fortunate that we were able to begin observations at such an opportune time.
The third point is that we believe that they have much to offer, but that the very speed of development has dangers that could set them back thousands of years or even much more. This would be a tragedy for them, and, just possibly, for the rest of use.
Look at it this way. When we made those advances so long ago that enabled us to reach out and explore beyond our immediate system, we were genuinely hopeful that we would eventually be able to make contact with many others, and that there would be immense benefits, not least in developing our common understanding of existence. Although we accept that persistent, and possibly permanent, technical limitations mean that we are still only able to explore one tiny part of the whole universe, our searching has taken in some billions of possibilities.
Apart from ourselves, and prior to the present report, we had only found eighty-five systems in which intelligent beings existed or had existed, and in all but a handful of cases, their existence had been temporary or cyclic. Bear in mind that we have been able to observe, through a range of means, vast numbers of systems. Within these numbers, those that are, to the best of our knowledge, theoretically capable of encompassing intelligent evolution number a million or more. In all that number, the existence of intelligent entities appears to have been less than one hundred, and only in a very few cases have they achieved a reasonably permanent state of existence.
Put bluntly, there are only a few of us around in the greater part of an entire galaxy. We further suspect that our own galaxy may well be typical of others.
Because it has involved searching billions of possibilities, developing over billions of years, we have sadly reached the conclusion, which we know you accept with the rest of us, that the evolution and subsequent survival of intelligent organisms is an exception rather than the rule. For reasons that are not yet clear, the norm appears to be that intelligence is eventually self-destructive, especially when the rate of evolutionary change is relatively rapid.
Organismal systems that evolve and develop slowly, such as ourselves, appear to have more chance of making the transition through the various dangers such as fission, fusion, bioengineering, climate change, and many others. But we are very few and far between - just a handful of the systems examined, apart, of course, from ourselves and World 87.
This particular world, on which we are reporting here, is changing rapidly, yet it has organisms who show at least some signs of being able to cope with that change in a manner which is likely to be extremely rare. We think we have a perspective to offer them, but we suspect that they could have a great deal to offer us and our other friends.
We suppose that, in the final analysis, our many generations of searching, and our very rare contacts and even rarer friendships, means that we all know deep down that, in terms of the universe, there is much that we do not understand, and we are all rather lonely.
World 87 has a real chance of breaking through, and we think, for the reasons that we hope we have explained, that the next ten-to-fifty years are absolutely crucial. We hope and believe that they may be susceptible to our message, however we attempt to get it across, and that it might tip the balance slightly in their favour.
To conclude, we recommend the release of a summary of this report to them, perhaps by inserting it in one of their newer forms of communication, because we think they might just get by with a little help from their friends.
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