COTI IV - The Centaurians
Design of the Project - Achilles Expedition - Human Team
Jim Funaro, Poul Anderson, Paul Bohannan and Ben Finney

Introduction: Jim Funaro

This is the preconference material for the Human Team of CONTACT IV's Bateson Project. It contains: 1) My statement of purpose, 2) the basic scenario by Poul and Karen Anderson, and responses by anthropologists 3) Paul Bohannan and 4) Ben Finney. I have left these latter contributions largely unedited in order to stimulate speculation and have written a synopsis outlining the preliminary assumptions to give us some specific guidelines as a headstart. The goal of the team is to design a viable society for a space colony and predict changes in this natural community over 30-50 years in isolation from Earth. I guess this package constitutes "homework." (At least it's not housework.) We will meet Thursday night to solidify our position for an initial presentation on Friday morning at 10:30. See you on board!

Synopsis: An unmanned probe has reported evidence of intelligent life on a planet of Alpha Centauri B. A two-ship scientific expedition is mounted to gather data, initiate contact and explore economic potential. The starships are based on a projected but not unrealistic technology: Fusion power, advanced computer and robotic assistance, adequate shielding, etc. No near-light speeds, extended lifespans or suspended animation. Since the journey will take about 25 years and a return trip presents considerable difficulties, it will be a one-way ticket for most, and perhaps all, of the personnel; consequently, the expedition is effectively an offworld colony, in its design, operation and development. The target system is (only) 4.3 light years distant and so a speed of about .2c is appropriate, which allows interesting ship to ship exchanges of people and culture en route. This slow speed -- coupled with a long period (perhaps generations) of orbiting the planet during which the ships become an O'Neill-type colony -- will permit sufficient time depth for the evolution of a "natural" human community in isolation from the continuous cultural influence of its home planet.

Statement of Purpose: Jim Funaro

This year, we've decided to work on a future human culture as well. Inspiration has derived from some recent connections I've had with several space scientists. At a workshop in Reno that Reed Riner and I organized at the Society for Applied Anthropology meeting last Spring, it became very clear that if anthropologists hope to have any impact on the space program, they need to present models and methods that have potential for practical application to human situations offworld, whether short term, small scale operations like the space station or longer range, large scale natural communities like an O'Neill-type colony, planetary colony or colony starship.

It seems to me that a human team this year might be CONTACT's first step toward linking solid but imaginative speculation to realistic plans and proposals of NASA. I'd like to see CONTACT have a role in space research: To provide a serious interdisciplinary forum for more speculative approaches than are allowed for within the budgetary and feasibility constraints which limit the scope of the studies of the national space program. My hope is that this year's Bateson Project will produce results that can be useful in academic and political discussions of humanity's future in space.

Poul Anderson has given us an "interesting basic context" for a future (100-200 years hence) offworld human colony. It allows us to explore some applications that can be foreseen as possibilities within the projected long-range plans of the space program, yet still gives us room to speculate about the universals of our nature and society and the likely cultural adaptations to changes imposed by relatively isolated, colonial conditions in space.

The team's goal is to build a natural breeding community with real human conditions and problems. Let's try to construct a viable "natural" society which might result when a colony of our migratory, tool-using species is isolated for several generations from the ecology and cultural systems of its home planet.

Some Suggestions For Contact: Poul Anderson

These are only thoughts that occur to me. I thank Karen Anderson for her help. The conference is welcome to add, delete and modify, and doubtless will.

The object as I understand it is to work out some plausible details of a human colony in space. These include problems it will encounter, solutions it may find, and possible evolutionary changes in its society. The hope is that the ideas may have some value to real-life undertakings.

If alien intelligence and dealings with it can be worked into the same scenario, so much the better. Now this pretty clearly implies exploration beyond the Solar System, which in turn means that many problems involved will already have been met and solved and that there will be a basis for expectations of what will now happen. This actually has the advantage of letting us anticipate the nearer-future ventures within the Solar System "retrospectively" and thus compactly. Of course, if our ideas are to have any relevance to endeavors we KNOW we can carry out, such as colonizing the Moon, mining the asteroids, and exploring the outer planets, then our interstellar project has to be based on assumptions as realistic as possible.

Therefore I presuppose no physical principles unknown to us today; the speed of light remains an uncrossable barrier. I do, though, necessarily assume a technology advanced well beyond ours of today. It includes such things as: (1) fusion power and the safe use of enormous, highly concentrated energy sources; (2) effective protection against ionizing radiation, probably more by means of magneto- hydrodynamics than material shielding; (3) advanced computer and robotic systems; (4) chemical, biological, and medical capabilities sufficient top maintain life as well as to conduct research. Without these, interstellar travel is clearly impossible. In an only slightly less degree, they are prerequisites for manned expeditions throughout the Solar System.

A number of present-day planetary scientists oppose manned expeditions, maintaining that they can do nothing that robots cannot do better and cheaper. I think the history of spaceflight to date says otherwise, but the question "Why send people?" is legitimate and must be answered in practical terms rather than by romancing about innate human adventurousness. Certainly unmanned probes are the logical predecessors of any expedition. I would be so glad to boldly go where no man has gone before, but somewhat dubious about boldly going where no machine has gone before. In many cases, quite likely most cases, it will make no sense to dispatch anything except machines. Obvious examples include the vicinity of the sun, the surface of Jupiter (insofar as Jupiter can be said to have a surface), and stars which have no life-bearing planets.

(Faster-than-light travel and similarly godlike capabilities would presumably make the foregoing less conclusive. People might visit some very forbidding places just as a challenge, in the spirit of present-day mountain climber. However, if we assume this, we lose the possibility of saying anything meaningful about near-future spaceflight.)

Within a reasonable radius of us, say 20 to 30 light-years, there are a good many stars. Most of them are red dwarfs, a couple of them are short-lived giants or burnt-out white dwarfs -- all unlikely to have planets with biospheres, at least according to the conventional wisdom of astronomers. Regardless, all are surely worth as much study as we can give them, and if our descendants have our kind of exploration-minded, high-technology civilization -- perhaps a rather big "if" -- they will send probes to all, which probes will make surveys and beam back the data in the manner of our Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft. Doubtless the smallest and simplest of these probes will be highly sophisticated by today's standards and possess enormous bandwidth for communication.

When years or decades must pass between the transmission of data and their* reception on Earth, it becomes very important to minimize travel time of the probe. True, as it goes along it will be sending back information about the space through which it passes, but after the first few such experiences this may no longer be interesting; it may simply tell us that, locally, the interstellar medium is much the same in one direction as in another. Even if the probe goes near the speed of light, the scientific team that dispatched it to a star 20 or 30 light-years off will be dead, retired, or close to retirement when the facts about that star start coming in. (This assumes that there will be no great extensions of the human life span. If there are -- to anything from a couple of youthful centuries, on to immortality itself -- obviously the terms of interstellar exploration will change, along with everything else.)

Presumably a small, minimally equipped probe can be pushed to the highest speeds. It will also presumably be comparatively cheap to build and launch. Therefore, perhaps such devices will be sent first to all the reachable stars, quite likely several per star. Following shortly after, but only in certain general directions, could come larger, slower, but more capable systems. When a "voortrekker" probe sends word that it has come upon something especially complicated and fascinating, the appropriate "follow-up" machine could change course and make for that star, arriving not too much later. In fact, I can imagine three or four "generations" like this, each more capable and more selective, in a sort of reverse cascade, since each generation has fewer members. Finally we get the last, biggest, most sophisticated "probe" of all -- the manned expedition.

I suspect that will happen when robots have found life somewhere, and probably life of a high order. In orbit around a planet, their scanners should have ample resolution to identify this, including the presence of intelligent beings, even if the latter are technologically primitive. An orbiter has then done about all it can do. If more is to be learned about that life, there will have to be expeditions that land. If we are to learn what the sophonts* are like, we require xenologists.** Hence the manned expeditions.

There are those who argue that the crews will not be men and women, but robots, machines with human-equivalent or greater intelligence. Perhaps. I am skeptical. IF such robots can ever be built, which is by no means certain, they will in the nature of the case not be so very different from humans. Making them would not be altogether pointless, since they would doubtless possess advantages under various conditions. This does not include indestructibility; given reasonable protection, which electronics also require, organic life is actually not weak, but generally tougher than any machine. It would probably be better, even in terms of cost, to send mostly people. Assorted kinds of robots would undoubtedly be valuable auxiliaries.

The people who go might conceivably be not much like us. Today we are on the threshold of utterly revolutionary molecular technologies, potentially able to change the human condition more profoundly than did agriculture or fire itself. (See K. Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation, for a discussion of this.) Applied to biology, this could well mean extreme longevity or actual immortality. It could mean modification of the human organism itself, until our descendants -- our grandchildren, already? -- are not really of our species.

For various reasons, I doubt matters will go quite that far. The human body has some design flaws, but correcting these would not much change what is a pretty good basic model. I expect our voyagers will have tremendous capabilities at their disposal, including intellectual capabilities (for instance, via direct human-computer linkage, not permanent but at will). However, I assume that they remain human in every meaningful sense of that word. At least, I must assume this for purposes of the discussions we intend to carry on during Contact.

Human Societies are a different matter. Anthropology and history show us how variable and mutable they are. As I have remarked, if there is to be interstellar exploration, or much more interplanetary endeavor, we must posit a civilization possessing high technology, sufficient wealth that it can afford this, and enough interest on the part of whoever controls it that the necessary resources will be forthcoming. Now while these conditions impose some constraints, quite dissimilar societies can fit within them. At present we have the USA, Western Europe, and the USSR, with Japan and China rapidly getting into the game. Who else will? And what will these countries be like by the time they get to the point of exploring other suns?

We have to suppose that any such society is stable enough that the sponsors of the expedition have a reasonable expectation that it, the society, will still want the scientific rewards when those begin to arrive. Civilization might collapse, fall into the hands of nescient fanatics, or suffer any of a variety of other unpleasant fates. Stability presupposes that the society has solved its most pressing problems and is able to cope with new ones as they arise. Solutions will presumably be in terms of the culture concerned, else they will not be solutions at all. For example, in my opinion, the kind of quasi-fascism (not a swear word; a technical term) that the New Deal brought to the United States and that has been progressing ever since, has proven a disaster; we need to move back toward giving individuals greater freedom and responsibility for their own lives. On the other hand, even if it rids itself of Communism -- in fact if not necessarily in name -- I doubt that libertarianism and unregulated capitalism would work in Russia.

The organization of a space mission will presumably depend on the nature of the society that organizes it, within the constraints imposed by practical considerations. It is an interesting question, which Contact members might like to consider, how much freedom the latter gives to the former. For example, I think every expedition would have to have discipline and a clear chain of command. Libertarians can't permit crewfolk to ignore the captain's orders -- not if they are interested in survival. Americans, though, might demand more privacy (such a separate cabins) and have more feedback between crew and officers than, say, Japanese. A Soviet expedition might find itself forced to allow and encourage more individual initiative than it had planned on.

An interstellar mission is going to be away for a very long time. Quite probably nobody who departed on it will ever start back for home. WIll generations in the environment of space, meeting the unearthly demands it makes on them, perforce modify their societies beyond recognition? If so, would societies originally rather unlike (e.g. American and Japanese) tend to diverge more and more from each other as the decades go by, or to converge because the necessities of their condition drive them toward a particular most efficient form of social order? To what extent will sheer chance play a role? (For instance, in one group there could arise a prophet who converts everybody to his new religion, and it could have peculiar features.) I suggest that this is another matter which Contact might profitably consider.

After all these preliminaries, let us get down to an expedition. Probes have reported life, including sophonts, on a planet of another star, and it is decided to send humans there to carry out research in depth and eventually -- make contact. What are some of the parameters?

The planet itself is important. Obviously it will make a vast difference to humans whether they can walk around on it in shirtsleeves or not. Supposing they can, they may well not be able to make their base on it, but only pay visits limited in time. For example, too high or too low a gravity may, if endured too long, do irreversible damage; or native biochemistry may have filled the air with toxins which a human can only breathe for a short while before having to return to where he can excrete them. Though the planet bears life, it may be totally unsuitable for OUR kind of life; thus, we can imagine a world circling a red dwarf star, water permanently frozen, liquid ammonia the solvent that organisms use. Hazards like these do not forbid the expedition, but the expedition must maintain its permanent base in space rather than on the surface.

It way well do so in any case -- space is an environment comfortable, familiar, free of nasty surprises, and, not so incidentally, less disturbing of the xenology that it hopes to study.

Life does seem likeliest around stars not too unlike Sol. To give us an idea of the distances involved, here is a list of the nearer ones, taken from Shklovskii and Sagan:

The Twenty Nearest Stars of Spectral Type Between F2 and K5

Star Spectral Type Light Years Away

Alpha Centauri A G2 4.3
Alpha Centauri B K4 4.3
Epsilon Eridani K2 10.8
61 Cygni A K5 10.8
Epsilon Indi K5 11.3
Tau Ceti G8 12.2
70 Ophiuchi A K1 17.3
70 Ophiuchi B K5 17.3
Eta Cassiopeiae A F9 18.0
Sigma Draconis G9 18.2

36 Ophiuchi A K2 18.2
36 Ophiuchi B K1 18.2
HR 7703 A K2 18.6
HR 5568 A K4 18.8
Delta Pavonis G7 19.2
82 Eridani G5 19.2
Beta Hydri G1 21.3
HR 8832 K3 21.4
p Eridani A K2 22.0
p Eridani B K2 22.0

I think it pretty well sets the outer limit of manned exploration, and that only if speeds close to light's are available. Even to Alpha Centauri, the trip takes a minimum of about six and a half years. (This assumes acceleration at one gravity, which brings you close to c, the speed of light, in just under one Earth year; deceleration requires the same time.) The Bussard ramjet, "living off the country," is probably the ultimate relativistic vehicle, since -- if it can ever be built -- it can accelerate continuously and thus get indefinitely close to c, thereby reaping of the time contraction effect. At one g, such a vessel covers 100 light-years, stopping at the end, in about 9 years ship time. However, a century will still have passed on Earth, and it will take another century for news of the ship's arrival at destination to get back. Moreover, while they eventually become spectacular, the relativistic time differentials accumulate comparatively slowly at first. Our one-g Bussard vessel makes a 5-light-year trip in about 3 years by the ship's clock, a 10-light-year trip in about 4 and a half years.

Half a dozen years is not an intolerable transit time, but I suggest that 50 years is. What scientist worth having along would sign up, knowing that he or she will be dead, or too old to do anything useful, upon arrival? Longevity might extend the acceptable span, but probably not by much; there will be the problem of boredom en route, to which we must return. For reasons like this, I seriously doubt that humans will ever build ships that are going to take more than one generation to reach their goals.

We can imagine putting our personnel in suspended animation, with robots caring for them and the ship caring for itself, until they are revived at journey's end. This would enable them to endure extremely long spans in space. However, correspondingly long trips would make communication with Earth such a slow business that one doubts anybody there would have considered such an expedition worth organizing in the first place.

After all, reasonably close to home we have a practically limitless field of study. Our space program today has shown us how full of surprises our own little Solar System is, and how many, many decades of work we have ahead of us before we can claim to have any real understanding of it. Imagine, then, a dozen or a score of planetary systems! Biology on Earth shows us that we could spend centuries learning about the biology of another world; anthropology and history show us that xenology must be inexhaustible.

Let us therefore think in terms of travel times no greater than about 25 years This is almost certainly the right order of magnitude; they seem most unlikely to be less than about 10 years or more than about 30. It also seems likely that these voyages will be one-way trips, at any rate as far as those who embarked on them are concerned. If later generations want to return to an Earth they have never seen except in pictures, they will probably have to do considerable refurbishing of the ship -- at least to the extent of refining a great deal of reaction mass for its engines, or building a sun-powered laser system of astronomical size to propel it. This implies that they have developed a considerable industrial base for themselves in the other planetary system. A Bussard ship might be exempt from the requirement. However, as we shall see, the explorers will have to start up a good deal of industry in any case.

I will assume that suspended animation is unavailable, or considered undesirable, during the voyage. If this turns out not to be the case, then the expedition will bypass certain problems. However, it will confront a closely related set of difficulties upon arrival and revival. Moreover, presumably suspended animation will not have been a feature of previous manned expeditions within the Solar System, and we want to think about their problems too.

Let us remember that, given a technology not yet up to interstellar travel, interplanetary missions will likely take quite a long time themselves. J. Peter Vajk has shown that Mars is rather readily reachable by spacecraft using solar sails; but calculating on the basis of his assumptions about them, I have estimated they would need eight years to reach Saturn. Then, naturally, the expedition will spend a fair number of years there doing its science, before embarking on the eight-year trip home. Eventually there will be ships capable of crossing the Solar System in a matter of days; but when they start for the stars, they will have enormously greater distances to cover.

Even for a wealthy high-tech society, an interstellar expedition must represent a huge investment, emotionally as well as materially and perhaps more so. It will receive as much protection as possible. Redundancy is one form of protection. If two or more ships travel together rather than one, there will be help on hand for any which meets with serious trouble; if it is lost, there will be the other one(s) to carry on. Furthermore, if personnel are spread among more than one vessel, each craft can be smaller than it would otherwise have to be, therefore probably able to boost to higher speeds. this is no minor consideration, especially in view of the fact that the minimum size of the hull will be considerable, probably comparable to an ocean liner in volume if not in mass.

Costly as they are, and meaningful as they will be to Humanity, interstellar expeditions are likely to be international efforts. If the scientific mission is going to be gone for generations, then as varied a gene pool as possible seems desirable for the sake of the descendants -- since the original ancestors will not be numerous. This too argues for mixed crews. However, as we have remarked, societies differ from each other in countless ways, both obvious and subtle. It might prove too great a stress for members of them to live cheek by jowl, enclosed within a hull, for one or two decades. Moreover, precisely because crews from different cultures will function according to somewhat different principles, it would be valuable to learn which ways of going about things in space are the superior ones. Thus we can imagine a joint American and Japanese expedition taking off in two ships, one from either country, with the expectation of close communication and, if possible, actual visits to and fro, and the expectation of learning from diverse experiences. This is not unlike the situation today as regards these two nations.

Even if there is a world government, I feel pretty sure that it will cover a variety of cultures. I'd be sorry to learn that it won't.

What will people do en route?

A few astronomical technicians may be kept busy, but in general a ship will pretty much run itself. A few scientists will have projects going on, but this hardly applies to the biologists, geologists, xenologists, etc. whose work is the raison d'etre of the entire enterprise. Also, the scientists will be outnumbered by the support personnel they are going to need at the far end, every sort of specialist from food producer and cook to engineer and physician. These people won't be redneck types, but themselves intelligent and highly educated. They will have to have something to keep them interested during the long years of travel.

A ship could start out with Spartan, barely endurable living quarters, but tools and materials for fixing them up however people wish. This would keep some happily busy for a while. Opportunities for study would be unlimited; the computer database could contain virtually the whole knowledge the human race possesses up to departure date, including all artistic achievements. Some persons might do a great deal of meditating or philosophizing, perhaps not always with fortunate results. There would be games, hobbies, recreations, businesses, ceremonies, festivals. Small enterprises could start up, offering services or handmade goods. Sexual involvements would doubtless take up a lot of time and energy. There would have to be procedures for mediating disputes and punishing infractions.

Computer games and role-playing games involve a good many people today. Given a future technology enabling almost anybody to handle almost any level of complexity or produce almost any illusion, I should think these activities would become very important. They might become obsessive, a danger that would have to be guarded against somehow.

As a rule, I suppose that the scientists who are to study the planet and its life most closely will not embark as such. The prospect of sitting idle decades and professional rusting-out would not be attractive. There could be individual exceptions, but on the whole I would expect young people, often in their teens, who want to become such scientists and show promise, to be the ones who go aboard. They would then spend the voyage time mastering their chosen disciplines. Advanced computers and simulations should be ideal teachers even allowing them to have illusory but instructive "hands-on" experiences. The same could be true of many of the support personnel who will be needed at the planet. This offers a partial answer to the problem of how to pass the time.

Will couples be allowed to start having children before journey's end? I suggest that this decision will depend upon the circumstances of the expedition. On the one hand, children will provide yet another kind of healthy engagement, and a head start on the work force that will be needed to carry on for the next generation at the planet. On the other hand, anticipated difficulties and hazards in the first several years after arrival may be deemed too great.

It should be borne in mind that the community aboard a ship will be quite small. Everybody knows everyone else. This should provide a natural kind of mutual discipline and sense of responsibility. There ought not to be much in the way of fads, troublemaking, and other foolishness. What we would have is a kind of village, and man seems capable of social stability on that level. On the negative side, so close an atmosphere would be somewhat stifling; and if a bad idea, such as an eccentric ideology, did take hold, it could infect everyone for lack of serious opposition.

A companion ship or two carrying people of different culture might prove to be an invaluable stimulus, outlet for dissatisfactions felt at home, and corrective of unreasonable notions. Of course, this good influence would be mutual.

And so we arrive at our destination and take up orbit around it. I assume that the main base we construct will also be in orbit. If nothing else, we and those who come after us will want to draw on the natural resources of the entire planetary system for our needs, and this is much more readily done near the top of a gravity well than down at the bottom of it. Furthermore, if the planet offers shirtsleeve environments, they are unlikely to be idyllic for humans. Most probable will be bases on the ground where people do tours of duty, returning with some relief to their comfortable space station. (An exception would be scientists who don't want to leave their work. They may be forced to take furloughs for their health, as mentioned earlier.)

The ships themselves will presumably be the nucleus of the orbital base. Under way, they had to provide artificial gravity, either through constant acceleration or by centrifuging; weightlessness does not appear to be good for humans. Now they can perhaps link to form a single, large, more slowly rotating unit. Maybe throughout the voyage it was impossible to go form one to another -- for instance, because of radiation -- and foreign friends were known only by their three-dimensional images. Now, how many lovers are no longer star-crossed?

Of course, the expedition must retain some spacefaring capability, whether by keeping at least one vessel free, or by having carried along smaller craft. It will also have taken vehicles capable of landing on the planet.

As those first landings commence, or even before they do, the people will have begun making for themselves what amounts to an O'Neill colony. With as much as there is to learn, they are going to have to spend generations, lifetimes, here; else there was small point in sending them. Quite likely their descendants will be there permanently. But this requires adequate living space and living conditions, which in turn call for a lot of construction.

The advance probes will have given some idea of what the other planets in the system are like, plus satellites, asteroids, etc. Each world, life-bearing or not, is surely unique, worth generations of research. However, probably exploitation of mineral and energy resources in space, for purposes of enlarging and improving the colony structure, must take first priority.

One reason for that is that now people will want to expand the population as fast as possible. There is going to be so much to do! Another reason, I suspect, will be an increasingly urgent need of more room for its own sake. I am not at all certain that it is possible to have a perfect enclosed ecology, sustaining itself indefinitely, within something as small as a spaceship, no matter how big that spaceship might be. Terrestrial life is maintained by the terrestrial biosphere -- the planet -- as a whole. The diversity of organisms and their functions is more huge and more subtle than we understand today; we only know that we are far from such comprehension. After 50 years or so in a spacecraft, its crew might well find their oxygen-maintaining environmental cycle starting to break down as imperfectly processed wastes accumulate. Smothering in ear wax, nail clippings, and belly button lint will serve as an undignified metaphor for what will actually happen.

Molecular engineering might avert this, or might make a goldfish-bowl type of cycle unnecessary. Just the same, room will be wanted for new activities as well as new generation. Supposing that recycling is necessary, if only to grow food, the goldfish bowl will have to have some minimum size before it can be permanently self-maintaining. And perfection is not needed if resources can be brought in from outside, from the rest of the planetary system. That is, wastes can simply be flushed out, their atoms replaced by new matrials. But this, again, demands space industries.

Thus, while science is the basic purpose of the colony, it is only the tip of a much larger iceberg. Most humans in the system will be doing other work. As the colony and its wealth grow, it will support a greater and greater range of activities, many of them not directly related at all to the original purpose -- businesses, arts, learned professions, fashions, amusements, and on and on.

One thinks of analogies on Earth. Forts, farms, trading posts, monasteries, etc. become the nuclei of cities. The religious colony of Deseret became the state of Utah. In like manner, if our planetary investigation base is viable, it should eventually become a community, with daughter communities elsewhere in the system, an independent society which is its own reason for being.

Of course, the historical analogies go only so far. This society is physically isolated as none on Earth has ever been. News from the mother world arrives years or decades old, and will seem more and more irrelevant to actual life as the generations go by. After the initial, brilliant burst of pioneering and discovery, the colony will be in danger of settling down as a stagnant hermit kingdom.

Or will it? Perhaps its people will already have spread themselves too widely, in too diversified a set of daughter cultures. There may otherwise, or also, be too much challenge, too many surprises, in the course of learning about the rest of the planets and taming them for human purposes. Above all, quite possibly, there will be the native sophonts. Even if they are technologically primitive -- and they might have technologies humans never dreamed of -- they could be sophisticated in other ways, such as religion. Just their alienness should keep providing the humans with stimuli, insights, ideas. This may cause the humans to take off, for better or worse, in cultural directions entirely new to their species. Stranger things have happened right here on Earth.


Having looked the foregoing over, Karen Anderson said that it should also offer some specifics. Otherwise people at the conference might lose too much time arguing about details such as how many people there should be aboard a ship. I rather imagine they will argue anyway, and see no harm in it. However, there can be no harm either in writng a scenario, which the conference can adopt or reject as it sees fit.

Be it understood that this is mainly just guesswork on my part, and any numbers given are pretty arbitrary. The guesses do look fairly reasonable to me.

Let us assume a travel time of 20 years. How far a ship can get in that time obviously depends on how fast it can go. It must average 0.21c to reach Alpha Centauri, 0.61c to reach Tau Ceti, almost c itself to reach 82 Eridani. Of course, within these radii there are a good many stars that are not Sol-like but that could possibly have life-bearing planets. For purposes of the conference, what matters most is that people might be able to pay visits from ship to ship at the "slow" speed, though they would need strong protection against radiation, but that at the higher speeds only telecommunication would be possible. Let us assume the latter. Then, in case it becomes necessary for one ship to assist another they must carefully match velocities and draw so close that a gang tube or the like can pass between them. This would only be attempted in extreme emergency.

I visualize a ship as being about the size of the Queen Mary, exclusive of any propellant tanks, though far less massive. The structure is mainly light metal and composites, and much of the interior is given over to living space, life support, or simply air and room. (Of course, it does carry shielding machinery, auxiliary vehicles, and other heavy things.) Radiation shielding is electromagnetic. Propulsion could be by reaction of hydrogen with antimatter, within electromagnetic fields aft of the hull. The basic shape is more or less spherical, which offers the largest volume for a given mass. Acceleration is continuous but probably insufficient -- being on the order of 0.1g or less -- for health and everyday convenience. Weight is therefore supplied mostly by rotating the hull; living quarters are a band around the "equator," normal to the direction of acceleration. This is yet another reason for postulating a large ship; to provide one g, or whatever lesser amount will serve, it must be able to spin slowly enough that Coriolis force doesn't become too great.

Given such a size, I would guess that a vessel can carry and care for about 500 human beings. That may not seem like much, but the Queen Mary didn't have to reach such speeds, protect against such dangers, or provide verything from home-grown foods to oxygen. Five hundred are a bit too many for everybody literally to know everybody else, but come close enough to constitute the kind of village discussed earlier.

They are probably too few to establish the self-sustaining colony necessary for the long-term support of the scientific endeavor. How many will be needed? I would guess 1000 as a minimum, bearing in mind the powerful, sophisticated robots and other machinery they will have to help them. This implies two ships. The conference might like to adopt my picture of one American, one Japanese.

If it is felt that 1000 are still too few, another two or three ships could be added to the fleet -- for instance, Chinese, Russian, and Latin American. This could lead to some entertaining interactions. I doubt that such imaginings will mean much, though, because none of the countries mentioned, or any others, are likely by that time to resemble their present-day selves.

Interaction with the aliens will, of course, be a function of the kind of planet and sophonts that the conference dreams up.

Further Suggestions For Contact: Paul Bohannan

About half way through Poul Anderson's Suggestions for Contact, I decided...Poul wants me to take along a lot of cultural baggage that I want to throw out.

Russian culture and Japanese culture and American cultures (note where, ethnocentrically, I put the s) are not immutable. People give up old culture and learn new culture all the time. For example, every time a person goes into the army, they go through "boot camp" which means that they have to learn a lot of new culture and stomp out some of the old. When you start to university or into a new job, you have to learn a lot of new culture: what has been called the culture of the corporation, and a lot of new technical and social skills.

But something more important is at stake here. We can, you know, invent culture. We do it all the time. Moreover, we can learn to invent whole cultures, but that is more difficult and we shy away from it by saying that it interferes with individual freedom and hence is totalitarian.

However, when the time comes to undertake space journeys to the various suns within 20 light years, we had better not trust the culture we already have. It has the virtue of having survived and helped us to survive. But it also has one flaw that is basic to everything: if people are to try something new, they must understand what is being attempted and must generally approve of the goals, else they will look at our new ideas with the premises of their old culture -- and hence miss the point. That is the brake to be overcome.

However, one thing is sure: if we do not pay at least as much attention to the design of the culture of those voyaging space ships as we do to the design of the ships and the robots themselves, we are in deep trouble.

Anthropologists have paid little attention to designing cultures for specific purposes. Other people do it all the time (although they don't call it that), and they do it for the specific purpose of improving something: either some living condition or some technology or their own power position. It does not seem daunting; it is just the play of curiosity, inventiveness and drive.

To take an example, the culture of a submarine had to be invented. Part of that new culture for living and working in a submarine derives from the technology of the submarine itself. But a larger part does not. Now, living in a submarine does not require that all dimensions of culture be controlled -- only most of them. And all the culture that is not demanded by the the submarine can be kept safely traditional, to change in the traditional ways. In other words, some aspects of submarine life are what you might call culture-neutral. The total culture of a Russian submarine can be somewhat different from that of an American submarine, for all that the submarine part of the two cultures will be pretty much the same -- it is not a part of either Russian or American folk culture.

To understand the processes of designing culture, we have to look first at the design of the human animal. I am not talking about mere physiology. I am not even talking about the brain, about which today we are learning so much. I am, rather, talking about the human being as a social animal -- that is to say, culture must be held in two heads at once. And, of course, as a culture-bearing animal, whose entire physical and mental attributes focus on culture. And one, moreover, whose culture can be changed in the drop of the hat.

Look at it this way: a lot of us do not want to be the same kind of parent that our parents were to us. So -- we decide not to be that kind of parent, to behave differently about some things. Any of us can do that with every piece of parental culture that we can get into our heads -- we decide not to do that, so we don't. Every piece of culture we can get above the eyebrows we can control -- we may not be able to make others understand it -- that is, to get it above their eyebrows -- or to like it, but we can to a degree control it in our own behavior.

However, with every other dimension of parenting (the ones that we have not got above the eyebrows) we usually repeat the parenting behavior that we learned when we were children -- after all, being children taught us to be parents.

The analogy to the broader field is fairly exact, so the question becomes: how do we get enough pf the culture requirements of a space ship above the eyebrows that we can design the whole: a really satisfying and workable culture that will endure through a thirty or forty year trip in a small space, with a small community, shooting at almost the speed of light through space?

To do that, we have to understand the human being. Not, I repeat, just the brain. But several brains in contact with one another, with the natural and cultural environment, with the values for evaluating ethical stances. In other words, how do we get more and more of our culture above the eyebrows -- most of it right now, as especially our system of premises, is not even conscious. We do not know that we know it. It is this unconscious culture that will ultimately give us trouble.

I propose a model of the human being based on a feed-back model. This idea was most lucidly set forth in 1974 by William T. Powers in a book called Behavior: the Control of Perception. The basic premise of hisd argument is this: the only reason people behave is to alter what they are perceiving. If all your senses are receiving exactly the sensations that you want them to receive, you stay very still. In order to intensify, reduce, or alter the sensation you do something.

Now, that is one rudiment of a feed-back model, but in order to complete that model, we need a referent for what it is that we want to receive. That referent comes from several sources: the "bio-personality" is made up of the genetic base of the body plus the pre-natal chemical experience, the importance of which endocrinologists are beginning to perceive, and also plus the culturalpersonality, which is what we can call the individual animal's experience. That is to say: experience grows from reacting, with the bio-personality plus the bank of information that has come from past experience, to new and different situations.

How, then, do we know what the "right" amount of some sensation is? Powers postulated a hierarchy of nine feed-back mechanisms: the working of one system determines the comparator of the system just below it in the hierarchy. Unfortunately I don't have time to go into the levels here. But let me persuade you that this set-up does indeed include a mechanism for altering one's culture. The only requirement is that we want to perceive something other than what we are perceiving.

Put another way, human beings have no trouble at all adopting new culture that they think will be fun, useful, or that will save work. The difficulty, at the individual level, arises because so little of traditional culture ever got into our awareness. Freud's ideas of the unconscious are important here, but the most vital thing is unconscious premises: we do not know we hold many premises on which we base our acts and judgments. If we cannot get it conscious, we can't know we want to change it. Culture change is discomfort-driven. And peoples' capacity for discomfort is disgustingly high.

Therefore, the point is first to determine as nearly as possible what the jobs in the spacecraft will be. Then what the recreation will be -- I'm glad Poul asked what these people are going to do. It is a vital question.

But he did not ask another vital question: what will we do, in space, with the young people who turn out not to have any talent for the specific tasks that are needed? With the bad types?

In other words, to create an adequate culture, we have to know fully what the human mind and body is concerned with. And what human society needs to make it work toward specific, limited ends.. But we cannot wait -- we have to learn that as we go along: training people to the requirements of the voyage that we can predict. We must send them to boot camp, but with the difference that they will never get out, and there are no passes. There is nothing except the culture that they have chosen to live with.

Designing such a culture is an immense task -- made more difficult because nobody has really ever been concerned with the problem on a sufficiently grand scale. Nevertheless, that is the task. Taking a Japanese ship and an American ship and have them exchanging -- well, we can do that, but if we do it we would be settling for a bad design. Sending inadequate culture (read social technology) into space is as deadly as knowingly sending sloppy physical or chemical technology into space.

So -- what is space culture? That's the question we have to struggle with.

...And More Suggestions: Ben Finney

The problem sounds especially exciting this year. I am sorry to have to miss it. However, here are some brief comments on the problem. Accepting Poul Anderson's scenario, and Paul Bohannan's critique of that scenario, I assume the following:

  1. ± 20 year voyage from somewhere in our Solar System to orbit around a planet in another star sytem.
  2. A long period (20-200 years?) of orbiting around the planet during which time research is conducted on the planet and its life forms through remote-sensing, robotics and actual exploration, habitats are developed for colonists, and actual colonization takes place.
  3. A fairly self-sufficient interstellar ark/O'Neill type orbiting habitat.
  4. ± 500 inhabitants in the interstellar ark stage, perhaps growing in the orbiting, colonizing stage. (Incidentally, 500 is a 'magic number' that appears in anthropology and biology as the minimum size of a genetically healthy breeding unit.)
  5. Start out with a breeding community of men, women and children, or of fertile men and women who reproduce along the way.
If so, then the major problem -- before worrying about encountering sophonts -- would be to build a viable interstellar migration (IM) culture so that the long and demanding mission of voyaging to and colonizing a new world can be carried out successfully. Forget Russian, US, Japanese, or other contemporary terrestrial cultures as models of, or sources for, the IM culture. My bet is that they would not be Earth people, or their immediate colonial offshoots in the inner solar system, who leave the solar system for another world, but solar system folk who through long residence on the Moon, Mars, or other natural body, or in orbiting habitats, have become adapted -- culturally at least -- to living permanently in confined quarters, and can easily find satisfaction in a life style which does not measure everything by terrestrial standards. Just as neither Asians nor American Indians settled Polynesia, but rather people from western Pacific islands who had become thoroughly at home on the sea and had developed a culture adapted to oceanic exploration and colonization did so, so should we expect that it will be "cosmo-Polynesians" from our future who would be best suited to the challenges, rigors, and boredom of IM.

As for the Contact conference creating an IM culture, I see the problem as multi-stage. We really have to imagine:

  1. The cultural base of a solar system society from which IM would take place.
  2. The development of an offshoot of that culture especially designed for IM.
  3. The evolution of that culture during the long interstellar flight and orbital period.
  4. The adaptation of that culture to life on a planet and its consequent transformation.
I would confine the exercise to the cultural level, and avoid exotic manipulations of our physical make-up. Tinkering with our immune sytem, or tuning our cardio-vascular and skeletal systems to environments of more or less 1-G might be OK, but let wholescale genetic engineering and speciation happen after the dispersal of humanity among the stars and their consequent disaggregation into breeding communities separated by lightyears. This still leaves an immense scope for imagining the breeding/child-rearing systems best adapted to these stages, the economic systems involved and how people not only earn their living but find career satisfaction in contributing to a distant goal, the governance systems necessary to ensure survival in hazardous conditions yet not so rigid as to prevent healthy innovation, and so on...

Of all the academicians, anthropologists should be among those most pre-adapted through their research to imagining this IM cultural evolution. After all, we focus on both technology and society, and look at the interaction between the two. In addition, we have extensive experience in holistically studying small communities of men, women and children. But, I fear we have been so trained to analyze only what we see and hear that we are not at all good at thinking ahead. Furthermore, there is a strong streak within anthropology of disgust with modern high-technology society and what it has done, and is still doing, to small integrated communities. IM offers, however, an opportunity to look ahead to the rediversification of humanity and to the formation and evolution of myriads of new communities. If anthropology cannot anticipate this next step in the human odyssey, then it will literally miss the spaceship and be left behind to mope over long-dead pre-industrial cultures.

The very existence of the Contact series offers some hope that anthropology can relate to our space future, especially if our so much more imaginative literary colleagues push us, if not lead the way.

* Intelligent beings. Word coined by Karen Anderson.
** Scientists who study nonhuman sophonts as Anthropologists study the human kind. Word coined by L. Sprague de Camp.

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