Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


Chapter 19.  Planetary Engineering and Galactic High Technology


"It was a raw, unpleasant day, the sort that makes me hate planets..."
          -- from Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin (1968)2579

"But for Man, home can never be a single country, a single world, a single Solar System, a single star cluster. While the race endures in recognizably human form, it can have no one abiding place short of the Universe itself. This divine discontent is part of our destiny. It is one more, and perhaps the greatest, of the gifts we inherited from the sea that rolls so restlessly around the world. It will be driving our descendants on toward myriad unimaginable goals when the sea is stilled forever, and Earth itself a fading legend lost among the stars."
          -- Arthur C. Clarke, in Report on Planet Three (1972)81

"There is nothing so big nor so crazy that one out of a million technological societies may not feel itself driven to do, provided it is physically possible."
          -- Freeman J. Dyson (1966)1450

"From the roof of the office building they watched Uranus pass.
"The planet must be smaller than it had been at Corbell's birth. Its drive was not all that efficient; it must have blown away mega.megatons of atmosphere during eons of maneuvering. For all that, a gas giant planet was now passing two million miles from the Earth.
"It was tremendous. It glowed half full near the horizon: a white half-disk touched with pink, banded and roiled with storms, and a night side black against the stars. From the black edge a tiny, intense violet-white flame suddenly reached out and out, lighting the night side, expanding, reddening, dissipating...."
          -- from A World Out Of Time by Larry Niven (1976)2636

"Witness this new-made World, another Heaven
From Heaven-gate not far, founded in view
On the clear hyaline, the glassy sea;
Of amplitude almost immense, with stars
Numerous, and every star perhaps a world
Of destined habitation...
          -- John Milton (1608-1674), in Paradise Lost, Book 7, II.617-622

"Too low they build, who build beneath the stars."
          -- Edward Young (1683-1765), in “Night Thoughts“



Living on the surface of a single planet almost inevitably forces us to think small. We tend to view with awe the mighty works of human technology -- the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, the Aswan Dam, the Saturn V rockets. But alien engineers may command vastly greater energies and forces than human scientists can dream of today. We are the backwoodsmen of the Galaxy, the poor inhabitants of a primitive Type I energy economy.

Imagining themselves to be galactic engineers, imaginative xenologists must train themselves to think big. This requires a temporary relaxation of quite normal and natural planetary chauvinisms (respecting both subject and scale). We must recognize and reject the Fallacy of the Big and Costly. Just because a project seems physically huge, even monstrously so, or incredibly expensive does not suffice to rule it out. The Great Pyramid of Cheops bears mute testimony to the obvious fact that anything physically possible can be accomplished, provided only that it is desired badly enough!

In short, we must learn to recognize that Big and Costly are no match for Want.

The purpose of this chapter is not to speculate on every conceivable extraterrestrial technology that might possibly exist, from force fields and perpetual motion machines to flushless toilets with frictionless bowls.668 Rather, the intent here is to attempt to visualize the broad limits on the technical achievements of alien civilizations of a higher order than our own. Not surprisingly, we shall discover that most of the grandiose projects that have been proposed from time to time by scientists and science fiction writers can be accomplished by ordinary Type II stellar cultures. It appears to be extremely difficult to conceive of technologies appropriate to Type III galactic civilizations.

The ultimate goal of any technology is to enhance survival and to create comfort, convenience, and wealth. Princeton physicist Gerard K. O‘Neill has pointed out that there are three necessary conditions for the rapid multiplication of wealth via technical advancement: Energy (see Chapter 15), materials, and land area or living space. That is, a population of wealthy and secure corporeal sentient beings must have the energy to accomplish great deeds, the materials with which to build and to create magnificence, and the physical space in which to live out their immortal lives.


Last updated on 6 December 2008