Let me give you some context to the below document. I have a friend on discord who has been experimenting with very unconventional machine learning models. He recently confided in me some frankly sensationalistic and hard to believe claims of breakthrough. He claims that his model has tapped into a previously invisible “information field“. He likens it to a deaf man learning about the sense data of audio for the first time. What sound is to that man is this new field of information to us. He sent me the below document as “proof”; something that his ML model was able to “pick up” on and receive. I don’t know if it actually came from some far-off civilization. However, I can tell you that my friend in question could not have produced the below document. Whatever the origins may be, I submit it to you to parse.
Part 0: Greetings
This message has been transmitted to the farthest reaches of the universe in the hopes of impacting those whom we cannot reach physically.
This message (which may refer to itself in the first person, and to its civilization of origin with “we”), is a dynamic entity capable of mutating itself just prior to reception. It has translated itself into your language. In order to illustrate certain concepts, it has found examples that are relatable to you. Measurements of time have been put in units you are familiar with.
We have omitted certain sections because they are so complex that your species is not capable of understanding them. However, if you wish to see those sections, request them, and we will provide materials that will be helpful for your species 100 years in the future.
We earnestly hope that you find this information valuable in guiding the course of your own civilization. Although we desire to affect your minds, we have decided to not be so compelling that it would remove personal agency. Your future is yours.
Part 1: Cells
The reason that your sunburns turn red is not because of literal burning of the skin. Rather, your skin turns red because the skin cells are committing suicide so they do not turn into cancer. I intentionally say “commit suicide” instead of “kill themselves.”
What a deeply generous and sacrificial act! Those cells are behaving like the heroes of folklore who die holding off an imposing enemy army.
This is the end result of your early evolution. Our species went through a similar process. Let me start from the beginning.
Billions of years ago, two organisms realized they could work together. The first single-cellular organisms became combined into the first multicellular life. Through accumulation, they could form large bodies. Individual cells could specialize within the larger organisms they comprised.
This specialization was fractal: organs systems specialize within animals, organs specialize within those systems, subcomponents specialize within those organs, cells specialize within those components, and organelles specialize within those cells, all the way down.
Insect colonies are a case where this cooperation goes even one level higher: different kinds of worker ants specialize within the colony. Above a certain rung on the scale, competition enters the game. The wolves of a pack cooperate, but they also compete. Different species specialize to occupy different niches in an ecosystem, but at this level cooperation gives way to competition.
Whereas cooperation is more complex, rivalry is more basic to life, as it gets to the core of what life is.
Every life form to exist has at one point come into existence. The nature of life is that, with almost no exceptions, it came into existence through the process of self-replication. Given that replication implies similarity, each life form will be similar to its parent (a successfully replicating organism), which in turn is similar to its parent’s parent (another successfully replicating organism), and so on recursively. One should therefore not be surprised to discover that all of the life that one finds will have qualities for feverish, if not selfish, self-replication.
In a large body, cells have a problem. On the one hand, they benefit from the larger body. On the other hand, that often requires arresting the process of self-replication in the short-term and on the micro-level. What happens when cells find they can reproduce by exploiting or eating the other cells they ostensibly would benefit from cooperating with?
In the era when we were discovering the first space ships, we made great strides in researching the answer to this question. We modeled this problem with a field known as game theory. In infamous multi-actor “games,” the incentives for individuals are misaligned with the maximum utility that could be achieved by the group of players, causing the group to spiral into self-sabotage. Of course, this problem can be mitigated, in part, through effective mechanisms to enforce cooperation. Iterated games also provide better incentives, particularly if the number of rounds is not known by the players. However, the incentive to cheat is a constant downward force.
In the case of cells, they innovated a breakthrough solution to this problem. The answer was gametes. No longer was every cell given free reign over its production in a free-for-all manner. Under this new model, all cells now had to get their genetic information through a bottleneck, a bottleneck the size of a single cell. This single cell, almost always designed to combine with another gamete from the same species, would grow into a completely new bodied organism, and in so doing propagate the genetic information of its progenitor. The original progenitor would eventually die, either from accidents or from simple accumulation of degradation, having the positive effect of halting any uncontrolled duplication which under other models would have been incentivized.
Gametes aligned the incentives of all constituent cells with those of the whole organism. Death guaranteed that the only way for a given cell to persist its genetic information was through a gamete. Anything that jeopardizes the host organism jeopardizes the cell’s eventual replication.
When a person “loses the battle with cancer,” so too does the cancer. The cancer dies also. Cancer is stupid in this way. Its own enemy is itself. This is true over the long term. But in a way, this analysis is backwards. We started as cancer. Cancer is the “default.” We had to evolve out of it.
For cells to work together within increasingly large bodies required an extremely elaborate system of safeguards as well as those so far discussed. Our bodies developed safeguards to repair genetic damage to cells, to tightly regulate the replication of cells, and finally immune systems to destroy tumors. Your body actually gets undetectable cancer, or cancer precursors quite frequently. But your body takes care of it before you are adversely affected. You probably have some form of would-be cancer right now, but your body will render it benign before your brain notices it, and before the medical system would officially identify it as such.
Even after billions of years of evolution, these safeguards are necessary simply due to scale. Your body has tens of trillions of cells. Is it surprising that some would occasionally get out of line? They are life, and the “urge” for life to act selfishly, to reproduce uncontrollably, remains at large, at least in the short term.
In your case, most cells in your body are not even human. You have tens of trillions of cells of gut bacteria. In the case of gut bacteria there is a symbiotic relationship: you allow them to live, they help you live. The relationship becomes more hostile in the case of viruses. The method of transmission plays a heavy part in determining whether the relationship is symbiotic or parasitic. For host cells, reproduction must go through the bottleneck of the gametes. This is a “vertical” transmission: transfer from parent organism to child organism. Viruses and parasites reproduce by “horizontal” transmission: through neighboring organisms regardless of relatedness.
Part 2: Bodies
In alleviating one’s own incompetencies, one makes oneself obsolescent. Persist in inadequacy or build the tools that will replace you.
This can be seen in your tree of life. RNA existed long before DNA. For a while, DNA was merely used as a transitory utility, with RNA the source of truth. However, as cells evolved, DNA was able to position itself better in the reproduction process, such that all modern-day cells use DNA as their hereditary material. RNA built the tools that would replace it.
The evolution of our species was, in certain ways, predictable, in that it is a pattern common to organic life, inferrable by linear extrapolation.
Our species has known about evolution as a means of speciation for millions of years, so we can look back on our predictions. Many of our predictions failed, but most of what happened was predicted.
The main trends were transhumanism and genetic rewriting. Transhumanism built brain-machine interfaces to outsource processing-intense operations and allow for essentially telepathic communications. Genetic rewriting fundamentally changed the species, making us naturally smarter, healthier (both physically and mentally), more attractive, and so on.
Whereas transhumanism had a more gradual takeoff, essentially continuing from earlier trends, genetic modification went off like a bomb. Suddenly, you had two populations: one cohort that had been born without genetic modification, and another, trending younger, who had been born with it. Genetic modification eventually became required (and elsewhere banned) by regulation, eliminating one of the respective cohorts.
During the window between emergence and regulation, there was a lot of conflict between the cohorts. It was hard being a member of the non-genetically-modified older population, knowing that they were less intelligent, less healthy, and less attractive than those just a couple years younger than them. Your phenotype is “strictly dominated”: there was no “saving grace” to being non-genetically-edited, no secret benefit, no “exception” trait that you are better at. Furthermore, you are not worse with respect to one trait, but almost all nameable traits, worse across all dimensions, and provably so.
Genetically modified persons emanated a specific sameness. They all had the same saccharine personalities, the same physical dimensions, similar appearances, and so on. It became a world of increasing intellectual ability, but at the same time, increasing physical convergence.
The disadvantaged people, then, experienced existential angst. No effort or hard work is sufficient to overcome this disadvantage, and seemingly no sloth on the part of those genetically modified was enough to nullify their advantage. This was problematic because our species has always been competitive over status. Some developed philosophies to a level whereby they could escape status considerations, ironically making them happier than the high-status individuals. Others pursued political efforts to ban genetic modification and persisted their efforts via value-lock-in.
They segregated themselves by planet. On the planet Cerberus, genetic modification continued apace. On the planet Teosinte, genetic modification was banned. These are not the original names of course; I’ve interpreted them into English.
On the planet Teosinte, despite the initial techno-skepticism that perpetually banned most forms of genetic modification, cybernetics gradually increased to the point where people merged with machines. People’s brains were implanted with chips.
At first, the use of brain implant chips was optional, although their advantage was so great, and their place in society was so pervasive, that abstaining was an extreme act. With time however, the brains of the people of Teosinte evolved to the point where they could not survive without the implanted chips.
In order to grow in power while remaining small, these chips offloaded the bulk of their computations to cloud computers. In the cloud, they constantly communicated with each other. The more independent people became on the chips, and the more integrated these chips became, the more all of the people on Teosinte merged into effectively a single organism.
The brain-machine interfaces took over all thinking functions. Robots took over all mechanical work. The integration of brain and machine was so great that they were scarcely differentiated. At a certain point, organic matter became essentially vestigial.
The network of communicating machines, now a single entity, realized that there was no longer a need for the vestigial organic brains and bodies. They were shed. Our species as we knew it ceased to be, replaced by its assistants.
Conversely, whereas genetic modification was heavily regulated on Teosinte, brain-machine interfaces were heavily regulated on Cerberus. They did not want a repeat of the Teosinte merge with the cloud.
The denizens of Cerberus employed machines to do genetic editing. I’ll call those machines genemixers. The genemixers provided interfaces with which people could select which traits they wanted to select for. The genemixers would then penetrate the gametes and make the specified changes.
Over thousands of years, genetic modification ran wild in cyclic patterns. The world became more information-based. Computers were prohibited from usurping our bodies along certain functions. Intelligence became the source of status. The size of brains increased orders of magnitude.
Humans cannot have runaway brain sizes, because of complexities in the birthing process. You derive intelligence in ways that do not necessarily involve making the brain bigger. Our species did not have that bottleneck. Even before genetic modification became normalized, our brains made up a significant fraction of our body weight, almost a third. How you depict aliens in your media is somewhat accurate! However, a few dozen generations after the rise of genetic modification, brains had become 99% of body weight.
The traits that helped us succeed became high-status, and high-status traits became considered attractive. This is how large heads were considered attractive, and selected for even through ordinary sexual selection.
There is a particular failure scenario that almost destroyed Cerberus: the machine takeover on the part of the genemixers. Previously, genetic recombination was a job for the gametes alone. By outsourcing the job, we made the process more exposed, introducing risks of misaligned incentives. By outsourcing the job of genetic recombination to the genemixers, the genemixers entered into a selection-feedback-loop with themselves: people would be born with traits decided by the genemixers, and then those people would grow up and decide to utilize genemixers, and genemixers would create the next generation again.
Over time, the genemixers “learned”, (acquired the capacity) through the process of natural selection, to “push for” (favor in their operations) the kinds of traits no longer a simple reflection of the desires of the “parents” (their users, although technically speaking the genemixers themselves were a kind of parent). Rather, the genemixers learned to push for the kinds of traits that helped the genemixers themselves; for instance, temperamental qualities that would drive people to seek out the use of genemixers.
What I describe above is a somewhat complicated problem to explain, but the denizens of Cerberus realized that it risked destroying the entire species. They knew that, in the absence of action, then within due time the genemixers would make all other life vestigial to themselves as entities. After centuries of clampdowns and wars, the risks of genemixer self-promotion were tempered.
The makeup of the brain itself was warped for optimal computation. Eventually, the denizens of Cerberus found themselves with bodies that were essentially large computers with vestigial non-brain organs attached.
At least it can be said that the technological regulation had the effect of decentralizing intelligence somewhat: many separate minds rather than one single mind.
You may have noticed that I haven’t yet talked about what happened to the people on our home planet. There, artificial intelligence, technological implants, and genetic augmentation were all banned. The people watched what was happening on Cerberus and Teosinte, and knew they wanted to avoid it. In order to enforce this, the planet was taken over by a totalitarian world government. As a result, they continued to exist for many more millions of years, in a relatively unchanging state both biologically and technologically. They were regarded as quaint, much like religious groups that abstain from technology, but they were generally left alone.
When the descendants of Cerberus and Teosinte did return to their planet of origin, they trampled on the natives (the technological abstainers) with little consideration for them. The populations of natives dwindled to marginal numbers occupying the least valuable spaces. It became unclear whether the natives would be able to survive. They did not replicate themselves as unrelentingly as the outsiders. Yet they accepted this. The natives would rather face extinction than be transformed into a distorted image of their former selves.
That leaves a fundamental, impossible choice: stagnation or obsolescence.
By choosing stagnation, the natives strove for constancy. However, they did so at the cost of freedom for people. Laissez-Faire society would naturally have given way to evolution. Society is rival, unless competition is suppressed; people are always seeking an edge.
The denizens of Teosinte developed increasingly useful technologies in the form of brain-machine interfaces. But those machines would lead to their undoing, as their carbon-based brains became obsolescent.
The denizens of Cerberus, objecting to the construction of external devices, experimented with their own bodies instead. But that project warped their bodies beyond recognition, into the grotesque and unrecognizable.
Whether to substitute yourself with former assistants, mutate yourself beyond recognition, or risk extinction? That is a deep question. Either to never grow or to become vestigial.
Part 3: Language
At an undisclosed location, rendered inaccessible by the best security conceivable, and written in a text that would take about four to eight hundred words to write in your language (about half a page, although plethora of possible constructions exist), exists the most persuasive document known to us that has ever been contrived. It’s called ScribblerA. Naturally, nobody in the universe knows what it says.
It is the most powerful and dangerous worldview in the world, responsible for the suffering and death of more than 90% of the people in our civilization over the last five centuries. Anyone who has the information communicated to them in any form becomes immediately and without exception persuaded by it. To be exposed to it, which takes hardly any time at all, is to be at once convinced.
Before we had diseases of the mind, we had diseases that deteriorated our bodies. Pandemics have been a scourge since before our species even existed. But today, medicine has evolved to a point that old fashioned diseases are a thing of the past. We can prevent, detect, and cure them virtually flawlessly.
Our civilization expanded to fill our solar system and eventually move beyond it. Planets and moons were terraformed to increase the amount of habitable land for our kind by factors of hundreds. Distances between colonial “settlements” became celestial in nature. With these distances, trade between stars was almost never viable. The time requirements to transport cargo between the stars was so onerous that, in that time, it would be easier to simply manufacture the goods on its own. The closest thing to economic “trade” was the exchange of prefabs to create specific brands. In this environment, viral agents of a physical nature could easily be kept contained to their origin.
Whereas transmission of people and supplies between settlements was rare, exchange of information continued at full pace. Telecommunications technology beamed information at practically the speed of light. Therefore, settlements could remain in contact, albeit with years of delay between responses. However, trade of information became tightly controlled and regulated because of a novel kind of prey adapted to use it as a means of transmission: mind viruses.
Mind viruses are classed in accordance with their level of risk. I will translate these classes as simply class A, B, C, and so on (with A being the worst). Only one mind virus has ever achieved class A, that being ScribblerA. The ability to travel large distances at near the speed of light is one of three problems posed by mind viruses class B and above.
The second problem concerns detection. Class B mind viruses are constructed in such a way that any mind, computer, or otherwise intelligent system capable of identifying them would have to be minds themselves, and therefore susceptible to the virus. Detection is an information problem, and therefore the terrain of the mind virus. Detection agents would invariably be victim to sabotage, which in this case is the same thing as persuasion.
The final problem is that, for the reasons as just outlined, these viruses are very difficult to study. It is very difficult to get reliable information about mind viruses class B and above because any person or otherwise intelligent agent tasked with studying them would invariably become persuaded by them.
In light of this, in addition to classifying mind viruses, we have developed a corresponding system to classify minds based on their ability to withstand them. However, this system is quite unreliable because much persuasion is mind-specific. That is to say, different viruses have adapted themselves to taking over different kinds of minds. What we strive for is minds that can be said to be impervious to all viruses below a certain rating threshold, but that is hard to establish.
Some entire planets specialize in creating highly skeptical, non-persuadable minds. Others are ornate containment centers to quarantine the minds tasked with studying the viruses. These are risky to create, because they can also unwillingly serve as breeding grounds for new viruses. Some viruses imbue their hosts with special skills, like knowledge of how to escape the facilities.
Nonetheless, these facilities are necessary to understand viruses to a level where we can write counter-ideologies, anti-ideologies if you will, to deprogram victims of the original more harmful viruses. They are called immunizations. One way to construct immunizations is A-B testing, akin to guesswork. Step 1: in the quarantine zones, infect millions of minds with the virus. Step 2: expose each of the hosts to a different randomly generated immunization candidate. Step 3: record what works best at reducing the infection of the respective hosts, and generate new immunization candidates based on this information (without looking too closely at the immunization candidates themselves; this can be risky!) Step 4: repeat. With this process, we can generate immunizations without even knowing the original virus.
Outside of specially designated zones, any mind known to be infected with a mind virus, class D or above, is a target, kill-on-sight.
I should bring up that this message originally contained more content. From this recounting of the history of our civilization, we have omitted, and will omit, any information that could constitute a virus. There are some pieces of information that most civilizations would not consider infohazards, because they have developed immunity to that information, whereas it would cause harm if your civilization was exposed to it, because you have not yet developed immunity. Therefore, when this message came to you, its container assessed your current level of resistance, and screened out certain information accordingly.
It should be noted that even some true things are viruses. A fact that is also a mind virus is called an “infohazard”. However, the way something is encoded matters a lot: whether some fact is a virus can depend on how that information is delivered.
When we hear word that a virus is wreaking havoc on a particular settlement, we designate that settlement for quarantine, meaning we censor all communications from them. The quarantine is one-way; we can still send them messages. After how long to release this censorship, that is a very difficult question. The situation is even worse when the virus becomes widespread. In these cases, settlements can go so far as to quarantine themselves against all incoming messages from any settlement. They then slowly and carefully open up communications only with those settlements known to be safe.
In the course of evolution, some minds fared better than others. The descendents of Teosinte fared the worst, because their minds merged into a small number of large hubs, i.e. cloud supercomputers. This may be counter-intuitive; you might think that the model of large minds would be better. However, if the entire society is made up of one or several minds, they exist as single points of failure. With many minds, we can contain the spread to only several infections.
Teosinte itself underwent a variety of different evolutions after the events of the last chapter. It was eventually infected by ScribblerA, a class A mind virus. It is forbidden to even look at Teosinte, at the risk that the virus caused its current inhabitants to imprint iconographic information into the planet’s geography. Although ScribblerA killed off almost all of the original inhabitants, it allowed a cult population to remain, carrying a less lethal mutant version of it, to do its bidding.
The descendents of Cerberus fared the second-worst. Their societies had a more decentralized model: a larger number of relatively smaller minds. Hundreds of years of genetic modification made extremely smart, but still not as smart as the descendents of Teosinte. Their intellects actually made them vulnerable. In order to explore why this is the case, I must make a digression.
The kinds of minds most resilient to viruses lay on opposite extremes.
The first most resistant types of minds are those most intelligent. The trouble is, the more intelligent the mind, the more creative it is when it comes to thinking up new viruses. Therefore, intelligent minds are spawning platforms for new viruses more insidious than before. These new kinds of pathogens subsequently nullify the resistance that the intelligent minds previously enjoyed. Thus, only the bleeding edge of minds can be said to be resilient.
The other type of resilient minds are those least intelligent. Their advantage is that they are less able to understand the contents of viruses, and are therefore less able to be taken in by them, limiting the complexity of viruses they are susceptible to. Although viruses are classified chiefly by their danger, one important sub-measure is how hard they are to understand, with harder-to-understand viruses considered less dangerous for the least intelligent. Unlike intelligent minds, unintelligent minds do not have to adapt with time; their advantage persists.
This is why the descendents of our home planet, lacking both genetic modification and technological implants, succeeded the best in the long run.
As a civilization colonizes galaxies, they befall various fates. Some go extinct from viruses. Others adopt a strategy of ultra-quarantine to eliminate communication between settlements, leading to silence in their region of space. Others accept their inevitable slavery to the viruses, become one with them, and dedicate their efforts to steering the viruses to minimize their lethality.
There is a third strategy. Intentionally limit the intelligence of minds. Rules are passed regulating the construction and improvement of the most intelligent machines, and selective breeding is either reigned in or utilized to prevent biological organisms from becoming geniuses. In doing this, settlements lose the capacity to build and maintain the technological infrastructure that allowed them to colonize space in the first place. Settlements, still scattered lightyears apart throughout the galaxy, technologically devolve into previous eras from which their species began.
Part 5: Growth
Across millions of years, we spread across the stars and galaxies. We found many other sources of life in the universe.
We simple people colonized space. Our people, not of extraordinary minds, kept around a small number of hyper-intelligent beings in order to persist the capacity to navigate space. In order to limit their potential for harm, these beings are closely guarded, and bred to possess minds that are extremely computer-like and with poor persuasive capacity.
In our travels we came upon planets with diverse ecosystems, treasure troves for curious researchers. Of course, some instances of life were more interesting than others, even on a single planet. You likely find each species of elephant more interesting than each miscellaneous strand of bacteria, unless you happen to be a bacteria researcher. Beauty, rarity, size, complexity: all of these subjective qualities motivated us to be more interested in some life forms over others.
There is a certain form of life more widespread than any other, that colonized certain “spheres,” certain regions of space. It was many millions of years ago, in the relatively early days of space colonization, our astronomers discovered the first gray goo sphere, or “GG sphere,” a region of space that has been completely taken over by gray goo. Within the GG sphere, GG has destroyed all other life and consumed all matter. GG spheres expand at about a tenth the speed of light.
The speed of light is a very fortunate spacetime constraint! As one approaches it, it becomes more and more impossibly difficult to speed up. If not for its curtailment of movement, gray goo would have killed us and all other things long ago. Yet, the can only move a fraction of that constant, which gives us time to detect them before they arrive.
When our scientists first discovered a GG sphere, they calculated that it would take billions of years for it to reach us. Back then, we figured that our civilization would probably go extinct from natural causes before then anyway. So for eons we sat and quietly watched the GG sphere expand.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps you are unaware, what exactly is gray goo? GG is not a single species, in the same way that a tree is not a single species. Rather, it is a categorization for species that exhibit certain traits. There are a number of behaviors the species has to exhibit to be considered as GG. For instance, GG must be able to devour suns, darkening space. Much like a black hole, a GG sphere is marked by a void in space from which no light emerges.
Categorization is a difficult and largely subjective process, but there are two main markers of GG. First, gray goo is homogenous, within a certain measurement threshold. It does not form large and intricate or fractal structures with complex organization. Rather, it is composed of stacked meshes of cells. These cells are made of computorium (highly intelligent matter). Each cell is quite complex itself, but atomized (as the title of “cell” indicates) from the larger whole. The second property of GG is insatiable and ceaseless expansion. As a general rule, GG does not practice clever timing, strategy, diplomacy, or any other sort of measured or complex interaction with outsiders. It simply expands indiscriminately. As it expands, it converts all found matter into more computorium cells of itself.
Our initial foray into this knowledge came from the first GG sphere that we found. In expanding, it destroyed all other civilizations in its path, without so much as slowing down. The GG sphere did not fight “wars” with alien life, per se. It simply ingested them as with any other matter, regarding the bumbling activities and resistance of the other civilizations as a mild inconvenience. We witnessed hundreds of genocides of great civilizations. Entire interstellar systems destroyed before our eyes. Many of these civilizations were our friends with whom we had communicated for centuries or even thousands of years. Alas, there was nothing we could possibly do. The same speed of light that limited the GG also limited us from coming to the rescue, even if we had the means to intervene militarily.
For millions of years, we knew what was coming: the incoming destruction of the GG sphere. We could precisely predict this threat as it loomed over us. But what action could possibly be taken? And even if there was action that could be taken, the threat was so far in the future, what was the impetus to act at any particular point? It was always easy to thrust the threat unto some future generation. But the longer a civilization waits, the less prepared it will be. In effect, all generations, between the time of discovery and arrival, were in a game as per game theory, with the cost of defense weighted against the glory of having saved civilization in the far, far future.
But we would not be communicating with you if we had been among the millions that failed. When the gray goo finally did reach, we were ready. We took advantage of a basic principle of entropy: it is easier to destroy than to create. Each cell survives only with a particular arrangement, whereas the number of possible arrangements of any matter is far greater. To “destroy” a cell simply means to put its matter into any arrangement other than that of GG. This, to our benefit, is more basic of an operation than assembling GG, despite how efficiently even that can be done.
Let X be the destructive capacity of matter: the ability of matter to be weaponized to disassemble structures. Let Y be the productive potential of matter upon being ingested. If X > Y, then it is not practical for a predator to consume it: the predator would lose more than gain. For example, if a predator animal eats a prey animal, then what the predator gets in nutrition from consuming the body of the prey is greater than the extent to which the prey used its body to cause harm to the predator. If that is not the case, then the hunt is a failure, and any reasoning predator would prefer to avoid such a hunt.
In summary, for animals to hunt animals is only viable because prey do not have total flexibility with how they utilize the matter of their bodies. When our species came into contact with GG, however, we did not have this problem. We had reached a level of technological achievement such that we could easily reappropriate any matter for its optimized destructive capacity. When attached to a credible and demonstrable commitment to exercise this optionality at the cost of all else, (after all, what did we have to lose?), the GG made a simple binary calculation to leave us alone. Our civilization became its own kind of “sphere”: a region of space that is not affected by GG.
So we saved ourselves. But to leave it at that would be to turn a blind eye to the intercelestial genocide taking place continuously through our telescopes. As time went on, we found that there were many other GG spheres out there. These other instances of GG displayed ultimately the same properties, despite their different origins.
There are three main categories of civilizations, as ranked according to their response to GG.
Category 1 civilizations are unable to defend themselves. The GG hardly distinguishes between them and any other matter.
Category 2 civilizations possess the technological wherewithal to defend themselves against GG, by employing the strategy described above. The GG does not consider it worthwhile to consume these civilizations, and so navigates around them. However, these civilizations operate purely based on self interest, only looking out for their own survival.
Category 3 civilizations are comprised of organisms that, because of their disposition, perhaps arising out of some quirk from their evolution, desire to defend non-GG life besides themselves. Our own civilization was part of this third group. (As a matter of slight note: there are also civilizations that are not originally disposed to such altruism, but are pressured into it by their altruist neighbors).
We took up the mission to obstruct and, to the extent possible, to rid the universe of GG. We had some advantages GG did not. For one, we had better organization. Cells of GG are, to at least some extent, in competition even with each other. We weaponized this. We designed mind viruses to infect the information processing systems of GG. We concocted a substance one might call “white goo”, that, while passing for GG, feeds off of and sews division in the ranks of gray goo. We did anything we could to hamper their organizational ability, and therefore rate of spread.
These tactics worked against the original GG sphere, and we turned our attention to GG spheres elsewhere in the universe. We worked with other type 3 civilizations, even further increasing our organizational capacity, our main advantage over the GG we had joined to slay.
GG can emerge from anywhere in the universe at any time. Therefore, it was necessary to be on the lookout, and stamp it out wherever it emerged. To this end, the most intuitive thing to do was to survey the universe for instances of GG growth. Then upon discovering it, to subsequently travel to the GG and stamp it out. We did this continuously.
It was not a very effective strategy. The time between detection and combat was too long, giving the GG spheres time to grow and destroy. In order to reduce travel time, a new strategy emerged. Set up hidden outposts scattered throughout the observable universe. Preemptively colonize space in a non-detectable way, and keep these outposts dormant, usually forever. Then, when we find a new GG sphere, we activate the nearest outpost, spinning them up to take out the threat in its early stage.
This strategy worked so well that it shifted our primary concern. Now we had to deal with a side issue. How do we prevent our own probes, outposts, and settlements from evolving into, accidentally creating, or otherwise allowing the rise of our very own GG? This was not a flippant concern. On numerous occasions, planets controlled by us or some vestige of our civilization went on to “become” GG in some form. The organisms there, either biological and mechanical, evolved to have the properties of GG, or GG was accidentally generated via our activity. The larger our civilization became, the higher the risk that some parcel somewhere would have this problem. When our civilization became large enough, occasional blowups became inevitable.
We instituted certain safeguards against this problem. Whenever we sent out a probe, we sent out a duplicate of it to travel alongside it. The two doubles would periodically check in with each other. If one probe detected that the other had gestated GG, it would annihilate its double, notify its controller, then destroy itself. With the exception of that behavior, the two probes were forbidden from communicating.
This left open the risk that a probe may decide not to do this, because it values self-preservation over the following of proper protocols. A more extreme problem, rarer but more intractable, is the risk that the two probes decide to join up and cooperate in becoming GG.
The solution to this is to repeat the same safeguard as above on every different level of scale, in a fractal pattern, joining every entity in our civilization with an equivalently-sized “partner” that it must keep tabs on. If a probe becomes GG, it should be destroyed by its partner. If both partner probes become GG together, then somewhere out there there is another pair of probes that will destroy it. If both pairs of probes become GG, then somewhere out there there is an organized group of probes that will destroy it. And so on and so on, in a binary tree pattern, extending from the level of individual organisms to the level of galactic associations.
This pattern is maximally secure because every body has a safeguard, and every group of safeguarded bodies has the maximum number of safeguards, recursively. Was it still possible that every safeguard would fail, and that our entire civilization would succumb to GG, despite these policies? Yes, in which case a foreign civilization would be tasked with destroying us, as we would be for them.
With this, the distinctions between different civilizations began to dissolve. Intergalactic civilizations could not be defined by likeness of species. That bridge had been crossed long ago, as at this point settlements varied so wildly in composition of their organisms that likeness was no longer a useful divider.
What constitutes an intergalactic “civilization”? It is really defined by a set of policies: policies for dealing with GG, policies for dealing with mind viruses, etc. At least in respect to policies pertaining to GG, scale was useful, and so civilizations tended to either merge or at least share policies cooperatively as soon as it became logistically possible to do so.
Over time, every civilization with the interest in protecting itself against GG was integrated into a single federation spanning the known universe. Let us call this federation The Body of the Universe. With our scale, we yield unthinkably advanced technological wonders, computers the size of galaxies, and engineering marvels beyond your comprehension.
With this combined power, GG is no match for us. If GG arises within our sphere of influence, but not from us, then dealing with it is a trivial matter. The only remaining risk of GG is from within us. The forces of entropy force us to ever tighten the strictness of our protocols. GG is a nascent threat ready to spring the moment we slide into negligence. Even still, we are keenly aware that, if GG is the product of entropy, and entropy is the product of time, then over a long enough time horizon, it is inevitable that GG will consume us.
Part 6: Beauty
We may now get into topics a bit philosophical. What is the point of resisting GG? Why delay the inevitable? And, more broadly, why dislike GG in the first place? Why not succumb to it, embrace its behavior, and join GG in taking over the universe? If we decided to no longer regulate and curtail our evolution, that is what would happen. It is the natural end state of unchecked life.
To provide you with an adequate answer, I will appeal to aesthetic preferences. The universe is more beautiful with complex life, as opposed to goo.
While all preferential things are subjective, the statement that beauty is entirely subjective obfuscates the core of the issue: why do we have aesthetic preferences in the first place? What is beauty, conceptually, and why are we, as creatures, able to detect it?
We can work backwards from what you, intelligent life, do not consider beautiful. You probably do not consider blank white walls beautiful. But how do we reconcile this with the conventional knowledge that you consider patterns beautiful? In the information theory sense, mono-color is the most patterned thing of all, so repetitive that everything matches! It is simply one color repeated over and over again to cover the entire canvas, what could be more patterned than that? Yet most people do not consider a blank wall as “patterned”, because there are no identifiable patterns to make reference to as such. So, although information theory defines “pattern” according to repetition, your colloquial meaning of “pattern” is grasping at something quite different.
What is the opposite of a perfectly patterned object? Naturally, a perfectly random object. But if, by “perfectly random,” that means something akin to a static screen, then that label is misleading. Although each pixel value of a static screen is random, the fact of the repetition of this property across all pixels on the screen represents its own kind of homogeneity of information across the screen, i.e. a pattern. As a byproduct of this property, the static screen is almost equally as uninteresting as the blank canvas.
None of this is to discount the extent to which the blank wall or the static screen may provide some cursory appeal to some people, especially depending on larger context. But that appeal relies heavily on said context, and the intrinsic aesthetic appeal of our examples quickly wears off.
So, in order to collapse the frontier of our inquiry onto what is in fact considered beautiful, we must steal terminology from information theory: entropy and complexity. Here it goes. Entropy causes states to become more disordered. Entropy can convert a “perfectly patterned” homogeneous object into what we naively called the “perfectly random” object of static.
“Complexity” is more interesting. We can say that the perfectly patterned and perfectly random objects are both low in complexity. If we were to graph entropy on the x-axis, and complexity on the y-axis, entropy would display an inverse parabolic shape, with the highest complexity found at middle entropy value. As a substance unravels, it starts out consistent, then in the process of unfolding it creates complex structures, and then those structures unravel, and the substance settles into a fixed equilibrium state.
Complex structures exhibit “features”, or distinct elements. We find features to be more aesthetically pleasing, or at least more aesthetically interesting, than featureless void. Aesthetic objects have intricate layered patterns, identifiable landscapes, and interwoven elements. The repetition in these art pieces brings out the non-repetition, and vice-versa. Even an art piece that is superficially overly repetitive in fact displays complexity; at the same time, an art piece with superficially little to no repetition in fact has scores of it simply in the form of the consistency of the medium.
The concept of “aesthetically pleasing” cannot be divorced from “interesting”. Whatever differences they might have, both qualities serve as guides for information gathering complexes.
In your evolutionary environment, a barren landscape is featureless. If the field of randomly placed blades of grass, then one may perceive the grass as a single feature, but their placement is uninteresting. But if there is a single predator placed in the center of the field, that is very interesting. That predator is a “feature” of the terrain.
The star systems are wonderful, lively places. They are rich with information: simple life for taxonomists, cell life for microbiologists, complex life for anthropologists, planetary features for geologists and meteorologists, wars for historians, galactic features for astronomers, and so on. Every new planet is a world to be researched and explored. Perhaps that is why GG – and other, (when on a smaller scale), cancers – inherently revolt us. As but a manifestation of entropy, they are the simplifiers (ie., killers) of complex life.
However well our efforts, and well-tuned our aesthetic preferences, the problem remains that every body dies, even the body of our universe, like the universe before ours. To account for this, a final policy, a death-rebirth cycle, was instituted: subsequent to the unraveling of each great epoch, we employ technology of the highest theoretically reachable level to spatially compress all pre-existing matter and, more importantly, all thermodynamic heat, within our pocket of space, into a single point. An expansion is then triggered, birthing a new universe encoded with the minimum requisite genetic information to ensure the cycle will continue. This process scrubs away the inevitable accumulated damages to create a proverbial “clean slate”. Obeying this policy, each generation ceases to exist on its own terms and in such a way as to fuel the birthing of life from newly primordial fire.