There’s no blogable news out there about The Controversy between evolution and creationism, so your Curmudgeon will take advantage of the lull to indulge in a bit of — well, call it what you will. Here it comes:
When we think of humanity’s eventual journey to the stars, we often think in terms of Star Trek, but it’s unlikely to be anything like that. It’s important to understand that we’ve had treks before. Trek One was the so-called Out of Africa migration of humans from the place where we evolved. Estimates vary, but it began at least 70,000 years ago, and it lasted for thousands of years, eventually resulting in human occupation of all the habitable places on Earth.
It took a long time because our ancestors had virtually no technology. They probably had fire, stone tools, possibly also spears and such, but that was all. They had no wheeled carts. All their movements were on foot, and they had to carry their limited possessions. After traveling into unknown territory, they probably established a settlement where they stayed, gradually increasing in number. Then some would move on even further into unknown territory and start a new settlement. Communication was limited to face-to-face conversation, so distant groups lost contact with each other. They sometimes encountered Neanderthals and other evolutionary cousins, but they were often the first to go where they went.
Eventually the entire globe was inhabited by humans — well, the habitable parts. Lacking communications and written records, people in distant areas forgot their origins. Trek One, the first great human adventure, was never recorded — it doesn’t even appear in myth. All over the world, humans have conjured up a great variety of origin stories, but the true story — the best of all — was forgotten. Now that it’s been discovered, we realize that it was essential, because it protected us from extinction. By living everywhere they could, humans were immune from being wiped out by a local geological disaster.
Things remained like that for thousands of generations, which was not enough time for speciation to occur. Then one group — the Europeans — developed a vastly superior method of transportation. Starting with people like Columbus, what historians call the Age of Discovery began. We consider this to be Trek Two.
European explorers encountered and often conquered their distant relatives all over the world, taking home news of their accomplishments, along with the riches they plundered. It was a time of great adventure — thrilling for the discoverers, but not so good for those whom they discovered. The result is the world we know today, with humans in contact, trading and sometimes fighting with each other, all over the world.
Sooner or later — preferably sooner — we’ll begin Trek Three. We’ve already described it in Evolution and the Conquest of the Galaxy. The interesting thing about it (aside from the fun and adventure) is that it will be more like Trek One than Trek Two. There are a few reasons for this:
Trek Three, like the first great trek out of Africa, is essential to assure our survival. When humans are living on several different planets orbiting other stars, we can’t be exterminated by a planetary disaster like the dinosaurs were, or by the eventual death of the Sun.
It will also be at least somewhat like Trek One because of time. Even traveling at 50% of lightspeed, voyages will take years. Columbus and the other European explorers were lucky — their voyages took only months.
Another similarity to Trek One is that we’re unlikely to discover other civilizations, as did the European explorers (think about Cortés and the fall of the Aztec Empire). In that sense, Trek Three won’t be anything like Star Trek. There probably are aliens out there, and some will have a technological civilization, but those aren’t likely to be in our immediate galactic neighborhood — otherwise we’d already know about them, and they might be running the show here. We’re likely to encounter them eventually. The later the better, because we’ll be better prepared to defend ourselves, if necessary. Perhaps we won’t be exploiters. In any event, history teaches us that in such things, it’s better to be the discover-or than the discover-ee.
Another similarity to Trek One will be communications. The Out of Africa adventurers quickly lost communications with their place of origin. So it will be with interstellar settlers. Even in the case of planetary systems that are only five light years apart, two-way communications require ten years. As the sphere of human-occupied space increases, communications between distant worlds will take longer and longer. Unlike our ancestors, our far-flung descendants probably won’t forget their origins; but distant worlds will be be centuries out of touch.
Although most of us want to be part of the next great adventure, it’s likely to be a long, hard slog, like Trek One was. But we’ve done it before, and like humanity’s original trek, it’ll be worth the effort.
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