The Library of the Great Silence

“Founded on the principle that knowledge about catastrophic risks and strategies of survival are of universal interest – and that all beings throughout the cosmos want to thrive for as long as possible – the Library of the Great Silence will invite beings throughout the universe to collaboratively research planetary futures. At the core of this new research center, managed in partnership with the SETI Institute at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, will be an archive of transformations presented in the most accessible form possible: Instead of texts, the library will collect objects associated with transformational moments, including natural disturbances (instantiated in materials such as lava and meteorites and fossils of extinct species), and human impact (instantiated in artifacts ranging from handaxes and money to trinitite and plastiglomerate). The library will also provide an open space to explore relationships between collected items, enabling representation of phenomena ranging from chance to complexity to overreach. An open invitation to contribute information and ideas will be broadcast throughout the cosmos.”

The Library of the Great Silence

The obvious conclusion is that anyone in a position to contribute will likely have already seen a standard set of transformational moments and survived them. The work is probably best focused on those that didn’t survive edge cases, which is the work of archeology.

A Drake Equation for Alien Artifacts

“I propose a version of the Drake Equation for Lurkers on near-Earth objects. By using it, one can compare a Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA) strategy of exploring for artifacts to the conventional listening-to-stars SETI strategy, which has thus far found no artificial signals of technological origin. In contrast, SETA offers a new perspective, a new opportunity: discovering past and present visits to the near-Earth vicinity by ET space probes.”

—Paul Gilster, “A Drake Equation for Alien Artifacts.” Centauri-Dreams.org. April 20, 2021.

Imagine an alien civilization finding the Voyager space probes a billion years in the future. Over the span of cosmic time, how many other civilizations managed the same? What is the typical civilizational life span of those civilizations capable of doing it?

Then, there is the question of how many would have survived and developed far enough to place probes in nearby stars with environments conducive to life?

Technosignatures

“‘Technosignatures refer to any evidence of technology that could be remotely detectable, specifically through the tools of astronomy,’ explained Jacob Haqq-Misra, an astrobiologist and senior research investigator at Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, in an email interview with The Debrief. ‘Radio signals are one example of a technosignature but not the only one. Other examples are city lights, surface modifications (cities and large-scale deployment of solar panels), changes in the atmosphere (greenhouse gases like CO2 as well as industrial byproducts like CFCs and NO2), free-floating spacecraft, megastructures (i.e, Dyson spheres/swarms), and other possibilities.’

Hunting for otherworldly technology is no longer science fiction. In 2018, NASA hosted a workshop on the subject of technosignatures, and a report was developed concluding that the study of possible alien technology was an important step for future NASA missions. Today, astronomers, astrobiologists, and other scientists gather online to talk about their work and progress on the subject. The idea of systematically searching for signs of industrial or space-faring civilizations was once laughed out of the room, but now the topic is gaining rock-star cachet and serious popularity within the field of astrobiology.”

-MJ Banias, “Meet The Scientists Hunting for Alien Technology Through ‘Technosignatures’.” The Debrief. December 28, 2020.

Watching Babylon 5 in 2018

Note: I’ve tried to avoid any spoilers, which significantly limits this discussion.

In June 2018, Babylon 5 became available on Amazon Prime. On Amazon Prime, the series starts with The Gathering, which is a 2 hour pilot that lays out the narrative framework with different actors from the main series. Then, it’s 5 seasons of 22 episodes of ~45 minutes a piece. So, if you want to watch it, you’re looking at investing about ~85 hours of your life. Is it worth it?

Babylon 5 was planned from the start to be a 5 season series. It has a multi-season narrative arc that uses an ensemble cast with characters and situations that evolve in a way that is interesting and engaging. From episode to episode, different characters are central to the story, which gives each character a depth that is unusual for any television series, even today.

It’s an epic science fiction story. It involves a couple of thousand years of history but is focused on just 5 crucial years within that span, with each season lasting a year. It’s a complete world, with multiple alien civilizations and individuals that are central to the narrative, where Earth is one culture among many. While evolving technology plays an important role in plot dynamics, it’s really the relationships and interplay between different people and cultures that drive the action. Every character and society has strengths and is flawed in some important way, which really breathes life into the series.

Clearly, Babylon 5 has had a major impact on rethinking what kind of story a television series could convey, and it was a precursor to the best television series of today. But, it does have some weaknesses.

The CGI from the mid-1990s has not aged well, but I don’t think it detracts significantly from the story. You could make the argument that while Season 5 ties up a lot of loose ends, it is the weakest season and could be skipped. Some of the acting is stilted. There are elements of the story that are reminiscent of a soap opera. There are also some story lines that end abruptly because of personnel changes or they are just left dangling. On the whole, Babylon 5 feels like an organic piece of story-telling, but it is a little messy. In many ways, it’s reflection of real life. It also explores universal questions about love, time, addiction, diversity, cooperation, brokenness, etc. There is much to consider beyond the story itself.

Watching it now, in the context of a global move to nationalist politics and fear of the Other, I found that there was much in the story that speaks to our historical moment, even though there is almost 25 years separating them. Despite its weaknesses, I enjoyed watching Babylon 5 in 2018. It may be eclipsed by the likes of The Sopranos, Band of Brothers, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and the many excellent series that exist today, but it is still good enough to be included in any conversation about important series worth watching. If you are a fan of other science fiction series beyond Star Trek variants and Star Wars, i.e., Farscape, Firefly, X-Files, Quantum Leap, Sense8 (also by J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5), etc., chances are good you will like Babylon 5.

If you’re on the fence, try the first five episodes of Season 1.