Presumably, a Type II or III SC could answer the question whether tachyons exist or not by revealing their use of laws relating to them. If tachyons do exist and can be used, despite the negative results of our searches, then our physics and communications systems could, at least in theory, be transformed. For the existence of tachyons – even if we lacked the ability to employ a technology that could use them – would contradict some of the laws and principles which are central to our physics. However, it should be stressed that despite the tension between tachyon theory and prevailing views which reject the idea of faster-than- light travel, and the consequent transformation that knowledge concerning the existence of tachyons would have on on our physics, there are conceptual links from existing theory to tachyon theory, such that dialogue between those who know of their existence and we who are ignorant could take place.
A more advanced society might have a very advanced system of education and methods which, like our archaeologists, can seek understanding of civilizations of long ago. Moreover, if they can send and receive radio signals they would still remain within our communication threshold, and would consequently share some knowledge of the universal features of reality. They might have evolved beyond the use of radio but nevertheless retain it as an antiquarian interest, sending signals in a primitive language like enthusiasts in a post-industrial culture who employ spinning wheels and other pre-industrial techniques. These ET hobbyists might find it fascinating to communicate with primitives on Earth.
There are questions we could ask a superior civilization: how can the energy problem be solved? How did life get started? Can cancer be cured? How can we avoid destroying the world? There are questions that cannot be answered in terms of the science we know. How can we reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics? Is the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe a meaningful theory? Does the bulk of the universe consist of dark matter? Or is such a theory, like ether theory, a folly of our time? They could understand how we came to formulate theories about dark matter, the role it plays in our speculations about the expansion of the universe, and in reply explain either why we are on the wrong track – as in the case of ether theory – or how theories of dark matter are likely to develop into a major scientific breakthrough. Of course we would run the risk of posing questions where answers would totally mislead us. Consider, for example, a request for better systems of illumination in 1800: expected answers would be in terms of a technology linked to candles and oil lamps, not in terms of electricity. Or consider a sixteenth-century monk to whom an angel appears and writes E = MC2. What use would this information be? It would be easier to work through the next three centuries of scientific history than to spend time pondering on the mystery of this symbol. In these cases there just is no chain of reasoning from one standpoint to the other. Science does not develop in a linear fashion; it draws on a wide range of developments in culture, art, religion, and many other disciplines. Thus if an angel were to present Michelangelo with a CD which explained nuclear
technology he would not know what to make of it, as the progress of scientific learning takes place within a broad spectrum of discoveries and related techniques.
Yet in another sense the appeal to incommensurable frameworks is a false objection: the historians of an advanced civilization could be aware of dramatic conceptual revolutions, Kuhn-loss and paradigm changes, and acknowledge these when dealing with primitives. A twenty-first century physicist, with a sound history of science, would not deliver E = MC2 for a sixteenth-century monk but would attempt to employ concepts that are known to have been familiar to sixteenth-century scholars. This might involve a complicated process of engaging in discourse about angels, but the more advanced of the two would be aware of the missing links in the chain and would endeavour to find some common ground. A historian of science with a good grounding in modern physics could very well communicate with Newton and no doubt help him solve some of his scientific problems.
Older civilizations may give us knowledge of the past. Imagine what our astronomers would make of photographs of the galaxy which were taken 5 billion years ago! It may be that much of what they do lies beyond our comprehension. Carl Sagan (1973: 366–7) suggests that: ‘We might be like the inhabitants of the valleys of New Guinea who may communicate by runner or drum, but who are ignorant of the vast international radio and cable traffic passing over, around and through them.’ But this does not prevent us from communicating with them. We may not want to, and advanced ETs may not want to communicate with us, but this would seem to be unlikely. Many of our anthropologists and historians would love to communicate with Stone Age people and ancient civilizations, and are prepared to go to great lengths in order to comprehend and translate the messages they have left behind. But this may be the limit of the interest of advanced ETs in us. If they are so advanced, and as the speculation goes, in contact with numerous SCs across the universe, they would not find us intellectually stimulating. For them the activities of the inhabitants of Earth would not be of major importance, and their interest would be limited to that of a Department of Anthropology.
Even with the best intentions there would very likely be a communication horizon, as Sagan observes (ibid.: 366). We might wish to communicate with our Stone Age ancestors, but not with our protozoan or bacterial forebears. The anthropologist may study old societies and wish to communicate with them, but not as far back as micro-organisms. On these terms then Kardaschev–Dyson SC Type IIs might be within our communicative horizon, but Type IIIs are unlikely to exist within our threshold and the best we could do is discover them, observe them and possibly admire them.
Yet the very knowledge of the existence of advanced civilizations would resolve certain questions and stimulate the search for solutions to others. This knowledge, for example, would raise profound questions about our destiny. In about 7 billion years our Sun will enter its red giant phase. Is this the end or can
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