The aestivation hypothesis

The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be.
Not in the spaces we know, but between them. They walk serene
and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.

H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror and Others(1)

The thermodynamics of computation make the cost of a certain amount of computation proportional to the temperature. Our astrophysical and cosmological knowledge shows that the universe is cooling down. Not only star formation within galaxies winds down and dies out on timescales billios of ears to tens of billions of years but even the cosmic background radiation temperature is becoming exponentially colder.

Therefore, if a civilization wants to maximize computation it makes sense to aestivate until the far future in order to exploit the low temperature environment: It can produce a 10 to 30 multiplier of achievable computation. Or so say Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong, and Milan Cirkovic, from the Future of Humanity Institute, in a paper published in 2016.

If a civilization wants to maximize computation it appears rational to aestivate until the far future in order to exploit the low temperature environment: this can produce a 1030 multiplier of achievable computation. We hence suggest the “aestivation hypothesis”: the reason we are not observing manifestations of alien civilizations is that they are currently (mostly) inactive, patiently waiting for future cosmic eras. This paper analyzes the assumptions going into the hypothesis and how physical law and observational evidence constrain the motivations of aliens compatible with the hypothesis.

Sandberg, A., Armstrong, M. S., & Cirkovic, M. (2016). That is not dead which can eternal lie: The aestivation hypothesis for resolving Fermi’s paradox. JBIS – Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 69(11), 406–415.

“Hibernation” might be a more familiar term but aestivation (or estivation) is the correct one for sleeping through too warm summer months. (zoology: to pass the summer in a state of torpor or dormancy)

In a previous paper, Sandberg and Armstrong “demostrate” that traveling between galaxies —indeed even launching a colonisation project for the entire reachable universe—, is a relatively simple task for a star-spanning civilization, requiring modest amounts of energy and resources. And that “humanity itself could likely accomplish such a colonisation project in the
foreseeable future, should we want to.”

Among the assumptions for such a feat the authors include: These civilizations have solved their coordination problems. If I had been writing this before COVID-19 I would have been smiling while doing it —humanity itself accomplishing such project!. Now, I am LOL.

It would be nice to believe, but what I think while I am writing this is that I must be dreaming. Because this is Spain, summer 2020, and I am, of course, aestivating.


Featured image: Huge black bear spotted relaxing in a pool is one big summer mood

(1) As quoted in Armstrong et. al. paper

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