Colonization is so second millennium

In a post discussing “The Great Filter” and other related issues, I finally came across a comment that reflected my views:

Possibility 3) The entire concept of physical colonization is a hilariously backward concept to a more advanced species. Remember the picture of the Type II Civilization above with the sphere around their star? With all that energy, they might have created a perfect environment for themselves that satisfies their every need. They might have crazy-advanced ways of reducing their need for resources and zero interest in leaving their happy utopia to explore the cold, empty, undeveloped universe.

An even more advanced civilization might view the entire physical world as a horribly primitive place, having long ago conquered their own biology and uploaded their brains to a virtual reality, eternal-life paradise. Living in the physical world of biology, mortality, wants, and needs might seem to them the way we view primitive ocean species living in the frigid, dark sea. FYI, thinking about another life form having bested mortality makes me incredibly jealous and upset.

I doubt they’ll abandon the physical world, but otherwise I agree.

These sci-fi movies about people zooming around the universe are not futuristic, they are nostalgic for a era of exploration and colonization that is now hopelessly outdated. (Only the film 2001 gets it right.)

You say you want the thrill of exploring the unknown? In the future the easiest way to fulfill that desire will be through the manipulation of the brain. Nietzsche will lose out to the utilitarians.



13 Responses to “Colonization is so second millennium”

  1. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    2. June 2020 at 13:40

    Once again, I do not understand why this is an either/or question. For example, if it were possible to upload your brain (including your personality), you could travel to Mars at the speed of light.

    You can manipulate your brain however you want, but you will always need a physical anchor.

    We should definitely populate other planets so that we can achieve a better risk diversification.

  2. Gravatar of Brett Brett
    2. June 2020 at 13:52

    I’m not so sure. I still think we’ll get people (or some digital or transhuman descendants of humans as we know them) leaving the solar system. It’ll be for political reasons – they want to put as much space as possible between them and the rest of society, and there’s nothing like interstellar space in that regard.

  3. Gravatar of Will Will
    2. June 2020 at 14:08

    If you like spacey sci fi novels, The Sparrow is a great book about this subject matter.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. June 2020 at 16:42

    Christian and Brett, I doubt whether colonization gives us much risk diversification.

    Will, You asked:

    “If you like spacey sci-fi novels,”

    Thanks. Unfortunately, I don’t much like sci-fi, with a few exceptions.

  5. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    2. June 2020 at 18:16


    on colonization sci fi, it’s not even space age nostalgia – it is, for the US at least, the extension of the frontier metaphor. Explicitly so in Star Trek (“Space – The last Frontier”). So, colonization movies are space Westerns (the other word used is “space operas”), with the same tropes. Interestingly, since other countries never had that frontier, that Start Trek phrase gets translated into something very different. In German, it’s “Unendliche Weiten” = “Unending Space”. Nothing there, in other words.

    I agree with you that those are boring, but for a different reason. I most enjoy sci fi that deals with the problems of our internal world, psychology, search for meaning etc. And in relation to alien contact the most interesting pieces are about fundamental impossibility of understanding. Stanislaw Lem had some of the best stories here.

    By far the worst stories are those where aliens land here to “get our resources” – well if they managed to travel that far, resources probably aren’t their problem…

  6. Gravatar of Oscar Cunningham Oscar Cunningham
    2. June 2020 at 21:14

    In this scenario I’d still expect the civilisation to spread through the galaxy in order to grab the resources of other stars. Unless the laws of physics allow for the generation of infinite resources locally there will always be an advantage to having more.

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. June 2020 at 08:12

    mbka, I agree.

  8. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    3. June 2020 at 12:32


    I really liked your comment.

    I most enjoy sci fi that deals with the problems of our internal world, psychology, search for meaning etc.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like such films too, for example Solyaris by Tarkovsky. It’s just not science fiction to me. It’s just disguised as science fiction.

    By far the worst stories are those where aliens land here to “get our resources” – well if they managed to travel that far, resources probably aren’t their problem…

    Your point is very good, I never thought of it in this way before.

    But here, too, you probably have to use your method again: most of the time these movies aren’t really about aliens but about inner human struggles for resources, just as zombie movies often aren’t about zombies.

    Brecht called this “Verfremdung”, I think in English it’s known as defamiliarization, or distancing effect, or, here you go: alienation. =)

  9. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    4. June 2020 at 02:20


    maybe I should have been clearer that I meant, the problems of our internal word related to possible futures. I used to get all hooked on “hard sci fi” when I was younger, things about technology and engineering. Now I’m only interested in how to use whatever environment the future may bring, to make life more interesting. Or at least, to keep life from becoming less and less interesting. The goals – not the tools. I’d love space to be something worth exploring, I just don’t see it right now, absent relatable aliens. It doesn’t seem to be an interesting goal.

    Good point about movies reflecting other struggles than they purport to display. A lot of the “alien invasion” / “Earth as a resource” stories are “white guilt” movies about colonization… channeling the nagging fear of Western man/woman, that whatever pain they inflicted to the rest of the planet, real or imaginary, may be inflicted on all humans by aliens, as victims of colonization. This also exists in the non-inverse straightforward human colonization story of Avatar. Avatar also has a good dose of “noble savage” ideas mixed into it, another long lived trope. So yes I agree – eventually it’s all about us. But I’d prefer it to be better imagined than it usually is, less stereotypical.

    What I like so much about Lem for example, is that he reads possible aliens as fundamentally incomprehensible to us, Solaris is a good example. And why would they be comprehensible? As Wittgenstein said, if lions could talk, we wouldn’t understand them. And lions are perfectly good earthly mammals. I mean, most people can’t even relate to neighboring national (human) cultures, be they as similar as it gets. I mean look at all the jokes between US/Canada or Germany/Austria. To an outsider these cultures are nearly indistinguishable.

    Also by Lem, the idea that life forms don’t need to be individuals, they could be the monolithic ocean of Solaris. My pet theory really is that there could be life forms right here on Earth that we don’t even recognize as life because it’s too much “not like us”. If you define “life” as a self-repairing and self-sustaining complex system that turns over energy to decrease entropy or at least to keep it constant, there are a lot more options out there than giant insects with brains or whatever sci fi usually comes up with. Si that’s why I am reading/watching less and less of it – no originality.

    The last thing that really fascinated me was Altered Carbon, now that was a really interesting premise. Sadly, they ran out of ideas with Season 1.

  10. Gravatar of Linus Linus
    4. June 2020 at 03:25

    I don’t think possibility 3 solves the Fermi paradox. Perhaps it is true for many or even most advanced species, but if the universe is populated by millions or billions of civilizations, should we not expect even 1 to settle worlds outside their own star system? Nick Bostrom has made this point.

  11. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    4. June 2020 at 14:07


    yes, it is surprising that the works of a supposedly great author like Lem have been adapted for the screen so little. I haven’t read anything by him, I can’t judge how good he is, I just never liked science fiction literature very much, or better: I never tried it.

    Your series Altered Carbon doesn’t sound bad, even though the basic theme seems so overdone by done. I’ve looked through the episode title names: they’re all old film-noir movies, someone seems to be a fan. I’ve seen most of them, I think I watch the missing film noirs before I watch the series.

    I like trashy movies, it can be mainstream, it doesn’t have to be very ambitious, so Action Sci Fi Movies like Source Code, Egde of Tomorrow, Fury Road, and World War Z weren’t so bad for my taste, kind of trashy, too. Looper is cult by now, but not my cup of tea.

    Even Interstellar and Inception were okay, although I’m not a fan of Nolan.

    If you like the communication aspect that much, then of course Arrival. I assume you have seen it. Maybe Annihilation and Ad Astra, too.

    Ex Machina and District 9 you probably have seen. I don’t like those kind of movies, so I didn’t really watch them.

    I couldn’t never even start a movie like Avatar, it’s so cringy and you know the plot before it even begins, including the ending.

    In 2004 there was a science fiction novel called The Swarm in Germany, it was a total bestseller. It’s the communication aspect again, and life forms on Earth that we don’t recognize. It’s so cringy, I couldn’t even start it. My father loved it.

    Sam Rockwell in Moon might be good, but only because it is Sam Rockwell.

  12. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    4. June 2020 at 14:15


    I do think that it serves the purpose of risk stratification. I don’t find your approach in Antarctica equally convincing but it sure is way cheaper, you are right about that. So it might be worth it.

    Scott Alexander had this interesting article recently about what risks could completely annihilate us in the next 100 years. The risk was surprisingly high, about 1/6, and, if I remember correctly, in most cases a settlement on Mars would help.

    Edit for comment above:
    –> so overdone by *now*

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. June 2020 at 14:55

    Linus, I agree. I wasn’t claiming it solved that problem.

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