The Great Filter & Ultimate Galactus

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The Great Filter

The Great Filter, in the context of the Fermi paradox, is whatever prevents “dead matter” from giving rise, in time, to “expanding lasting life”.[1]The concept originates in Robin Hanson’s argument that the failure to find any extraterrestrial civilizations in the observable universe implies the possibility something is wrong with one or more of the arguments from various scientific disciplines that the appearance of advanced intelligent life is probable; this observation is conceptualized in terms of a “Great Filter” which acts to reduce the great number of sites where intelligent life might arise to the tiny number of intelligent species with advanced civilizations actually observed (currently just one: human).[2] This probability threshold, which could lie behind us (in our past) or in front of us (in our future), might work as a barrier to the evolution of intelligent life, or as a high probability of self-destruction.[1][3]The main counter-intuitive conclusion of this observation is that the easier it was for life to evolve to our stage, the bleaker our future chances probably are.

With no evidence of intelligent life other than ourselves, it appears that the process of starting with a star and ending with “advanced explosive lasting life” must be unlikely. This implies that at least one step in this process must be improbable. Hanson’s list, while incomplete, describes the following nine steps in an “evolutionary path” that results in the colonization of the observable universe:

  1. The right star system (including organics and potentially habitable planets)
  2. Reproductive molecules (e.g., RNA)
  3. Simple (prokaryotic) single-cell life
  4. Complex (archaeatic and eukaryotic) single-cell life
  5. Sexual reproduction
  6. Multi-cell life
  7. Tool-using animals with big brains
  8. Where we are now
  9. Colonization explosion.

According to the Great Filter hypothesis at least one of these steps – if the list were complete – must be improbable. If it’s not an early step (i.e., in our past), then the implication is that the improbable step lies in our future and our prospects of reaching step 9 (interstellar colonization) are still bleak. If the past steps are likely, then many civilizations would have developed to the current level of the human race. However, none appear to have made it to step 9, or the Milky Way would be full of colonies. So perhaps step 9 is the unlikely one, and the only thing that appears likely to keep us from step 9 is some sort of catastrophe or the resource exhaustion leading to impossibility to make the step due to consumption of the available resources (like for example highly constrained energy resources). So by this argument, finding multicellular life on Mars (provided it evolved independently) would be bad news, since it would imply steps 2–6 are easy, and hence only 1, 7, 8 or 9 (or some unknown step) could be the big problem.[3]

Although steps 1–7 have occurred on Earth, any one of these may be unlikely. If the first seven steps are necessary preconditions to calculating the likelihood (using the local environment) then an anthropically biased observer can infer nothing about the general probabilities from its (pre-determined) surroundings.



A variant of the self-replicating starship is the Berserker. Unlike the benign probe concept, Berserkers are programmed to seek out and exterminate lifeforms and life-bearing exoplanets whenever they are encountered.

The name is derived from the Berserker series of novels by Fred Saberhagen which describe a war between humanity and such machines. Saberhagen points out (through one of his characters) that the Berserker warships in his novels are not von Neumann machines themselves, but the larger complex of Berserker machines – including automated shipyards – do constitute a von Neumann machine. This again brings up the concept of an ecology of von Neumann machines, or even a von Neumann hive entity.

It is speculated in fiction that Berserkers could be created and launched by a xenophobic civilization (see Anvil of Stars, by Greg Bear, in Examples in fiction below) or could theoretically “mutate” from a more benign probe. For instance, a von Neumann ship designed for terraforming processes – mining a planet’s surface and adjusting its atmosphere to more human-friendly conditions – might malfunction and attack inhabited planets, killing their inhabitants in the process of changing the planetary environment, and then self-replicate and dispatch more ships to attack other planets.


All pages & panels from Ultimate Galactus – tell your friends about The Eater of Worlds!

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During my travels of the last year, people at Microsoft gave me a full demonstration and run-through of the abilities and affordances of the Kinect camera and the Xbox One. One guy showed me realtime take of the camera reading the heartbeats of the people in the room. As he was doing it, I stepped behind him and loudly clapped my hands. I watched his heart rate spike on the big screen. Discussed potentials for this technology included, yes, learning when people were getting hyped up by action movies, but also registering excitement caused by advertisements.

Here’s a fun idea. Remember Facebook’s experiment in emotional contagion? Deliberately setting some people’s Facebook timelines to show only sad things, to see what it did to them? Imagine an emotional-contagion experiment where they could access your heartrate off your smartwatch too.

Orbital Operations
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The Fields Of The City

I have a complete image of the local weather, what’s coming and what’s going.  Another aspect of the overexposed technological urban, in one respect, more drizzle of military vision — GPS was created by the US Department of Defense — into the urban space.  But sometimes I remember my childhood, of wandering vast fields bordered by low hedges, and the scale of the view.  In our narrow British streets crammed with tall houses, we don’t have the view we once did.  When the wind’s the right way, we’ll smell the rain before we see it.  Sometimes it feels to me almost like technological acceleration is actually a reverse gear, and, in some perverse way, the surveilled urban gives a sense of an archaic view reclaimed.

The Fields Of The City

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Why would you not want to be Blue Ant? Being aware that others may read this, I don’t want to spoil the ending of William Gibson’s “Blue Ant” trilogy, as some now call it. But Bill gives the mysterious (or, perhaps, too shallow to be knowable, like screwing fog, therefore “mysterious”) Hubertus Bigend a very, very good reason for doing what he does. Which is knowing things, as completely as possible, before other people do. Again, fog:

he leaks into the leading edge of the civilisational substrate without being detected, and causes sample molecules to be scraped off the cutting blade of the future-facing plane.


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At The Farmhouse Sunday January 26, 6pm – 9pm @farmhouse ____ DESCRIPTION: In the intimate surroundings of The Farmhouse Barn, writer Warren Ellis sits down for a State Of The Weird, picking over the radioactive bones of 2013 and gathering the stories for a Briefing on the science-fiction condition of 2014. That night, he will be in the middle of writing a novella about futurists and a non-fiction book about the future of cities — except that they’re both also about strange history and Weird Shit — and he’s here to talk about deep time, storytelling and the weather of tomorrow. BIO:: Warren Ellis is the award-winning writer of graphic novels like TRANSMETROPOLITAN, FELL, MINISTRY OF SPACE and PLANETARY, and the author of the New York Times bestselling GUN MACHINE and the “underground classic” novel CROOKED LITTLE VEIN. The movie RED is based on his graphic novel of the same name, its sequel having been released in summer 2013. His GRAVEL books are in development for film at Legendary Pictures, with Tim Miller attached to direct. IRON MAN 3 is based on his Marvel Comics graphic novel IRON MAN: EXTREMIS. He’s also written extensively for VICE, WIRED UK and Reuters on technological and cultural matters, and is co-writing a video project called WASTELANDERS with Joss Whedon. Warren Ellis is currently working on a non-fiction book about the future of the city for Farrar Giroux Straus. His newest publication is the digital short-story single DEAD PIG COLLECTOR, from FSG Originals. A documentary about his work, CAPTURED GHOSTS, was released in 2012. Recognitions include the NUIG Literary and Debating Society’s President’s Medal for service to freedom of speech, the EAGLE AWARDS Roll Of Honour for lifetime achievement in the field of comics & graphic novels, the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire 2010, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History and the International Horror Guild Award for illustrated narrative. The Farmhouse : Barn Talks : 1 — Warren Ellis Shane Becker

Stand Up Deep Time History slash Hauntological Philosophy dot tumblr dot doge

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“We ride the rails and walk the land looking for interesting things to see. I mean, honestly, what better way to spend your time on Earth than viewing its wonders?”

‘True Detective’ creator Nic Pizzolatto looks back on season 1:

Okay. This is really early, but I’ll tell you (it’s about) hard women, bad men and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system.

Season 2 of True Detective: we have these two guys as our existential detectives. Heavenside as Carcosa. The Darkening Sky as The King in Yellow. And the plot jumps between the present and the bright green spimey world dystopia.

Season 3 of True Detective: starring Aubrey Plaza and Charlize Theron. Aubrey is the rookie detective, Charlize is the veteran. Also, they’re in space. It’s 2933 and they’ve just been woken from hypersleep after a series of murders occurs on LV RNDNMR.

The secret text is a mysterious sequence of rock art that the evil corporate overlords seem intent on hiding from them. They decode it using secret masonic dream travelling techniques Aubrey learnt on the space orphanage from a dusty old book she stumbled upon; travelling without moving, she visits prehistory Earth.

Finally the Truth is revealed: God’s an Engineer, Midian is where the monsters live.

UPDATED with season3 images. And obviously Aubrey goes to a Bene Gesserit orphanage.

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On the heels of the immense commercial and critical success of Luther, Idris Elba has set up a new TV project – an adventure/thriller mini-series titled Ascension.

Elba has teamed with producer Vivek J. Tiwary and writer Warren Ellis for the new series which revolves around “the history and future of astronomy and mankind’s impulse for the stars,” says Deadline. The story is based on an original idea by Tiwary and his wife, Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary.

Elba, who will also act as exec producer, will play two leads in the project – the Egyptian polymath Imhotep in 3000 B.C., and a brilliant astronomer in the near future. (Note – published 2012)

Two channels over this is in its third season, the Charlie Jade spin-off movie just came out, but you’re off to see a midnight screening of cult classic The Fountain starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

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From The Apocalypse Trialogue, Pt1 (via Psychedelic Salon podcast)

Terence McKenna riffs off Nick Herbert:

“time travel is possible… once it’s discovered you’ll be able to travel into the future… when you’re in the future, you’ll be able to travel into the past… but no further than the discovery of the first time machine.

"millions of people arrive…” “millions of time machines arrive, from all possible parts of the future. To see the moment, this historic moment.”

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Here in Britain, our weakling government is attempting to launch a web filter that would somehow erase “violent material” from Internet provision — placing it, by association, in the same category as child pornography. Every week seems to bring a new attempt to ban something or other because it’s uncomfortably or scary or perhaps even indefensibly disgusting. Meanwhile, Jim Carrey is refusing to promote his latest film, Kick-Ass 2, following a change of heart in which he “cannot support that level of violence.”

That, right there, is the problem, as I see it.

Imagine if Mr. Carrey had instead decided to do the press tour for Kick-Ass 2. Imagine if, on every stop on the junket, he’d used this promotional soapbox to talk about real-world violence versus violent fiction. His reticence to appear in support of the film comes from the Newtown shooting event — an event, like all the others, characterized by those left behind saying, “I don’t understand.”

The fact that he didn’t use the opportunity is less a failure of intelligence and imagination than it is a symptom of the way we generally demonize violent acts and violent work. We make them Other, and we just distance ourselves. They are Other, and they didn’t come from us, and we’re just going to stand over there and shake our heads sadly. And, moreover, anyone who gets closer to it in order to experience or understand it must be a freak.

The function of fiction is being lost in the conversation on violence. My book editor, Sean McDonald, thinks of it as “radical empathy.” Fiction, like any other form of art, is there to consider aspects of the real world in the ways that simple objective views can’t — from the inside. We cannot Other characters when we are seeing the world from the inside of their skulls. This is the great success of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter, both in print and as so richly embodied by Mads Mikkelsen in the Hannibal television series: For every three scary, strange things we discover about him, there is one thing that we can relate to. The Other is revealed as a damaged or alienated human, and we learn something about the roots of violence and the traps of horror.

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