A little after 10am on the morning of December 17ᵗʰ, 1903, upon Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilburn and Orville Wright flipped a coin. Orville won the toss, thus putting him in the historical category reserved for people like Neil Armstrong. Wilbur was the Buzz Aldrin of this metaphor. It’s incredible to think that it was only 66 years between that first powered flight that morning (4 flights that day, Orville and Wilbur alternating turns at the controls), and walking on the moon.
The Wright Brothers had built their flyer in Dayton, Ohio, and secretly moved it to the coast in October, where they rebuilt it and tinkered with it until it was ready. What’s interesting, and what, to me, is perhaps an even better argument against the possibility of time travel (at some point, I wrote about how’d you materialize in the middle of outer space because the earth will have moved — a lot — even if you only travel a tiny fraction of a second), is that when they flew that day, there were only 5 other witnesses. If time travel were possible, what a “time-tourist-destination” that would be. Kill Devil Hills would be covered with millions of people hoping to see this with their own eyes. I’d be one of them.
Indeed, if you were given a time machine, but you could only use it once… go somewhere in time, and then come back today… would you go backwards, as per above… or forward, to see that the future looks like?
To me, it’s a no-brainer… I can read about the past from many different points of view and build some understanding. But the future? Like how incredible would it be to see where things are at in 1,000 years? I’d be all over that. Which brings us to a great word of the day…
Ellipsism: (noun) A sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out.
I think that’s what I felt this morning reading a very interesting article in The Astrophysical Journal, which talks about another interesting “way-out-there” scientific topic: Life on other planets.
These guys did a lot of fancy math, based on some well-thought-out premises and assumptions, and came up with the number of civilizations in our Milky Way Galaxy capable of interstellar communication. That number turns out to be… 36. Plus 175 or minus 32… so, for sure, somewhere between 4 and 207. And take that “for sure” pretty lightly, because, at the end of the day, who the hell knows.
But man, would I love to know. As far as we know today, there’s almost certainly intelligent life out there. But what we also know, warp drives and other cool science-fiction technology notwithstanding, is that given the fabric of the universe, we may never know. Albert Einstein came up with some theories more than 100 years ago, and no one has managed to prove him wrong. Nobody is exceeding the speed of light anytime soon (ie, ever), so, at best, maybe a few radio communications… and we’ve been sending messages out, on purpose or not, for maybe 100 years. We’ve been listening too, but haven’t really heard much — with a few curious exceptions over the decades… unexplained, but not proof of anything. The best case scenario would be finding intelligent life 4.4 light years away, at our nearest star system (Alpha Centauri, made up of three stars and a bunch of planets). Many people have been listening in that direction, but we’ve heard nothing of interest.
It’s frustrating, because that’d the best case scenario, but it would still take almost a decade for a quick back and forth. And what would that even look like…
Us, in 2020: “Hello, hello, is there anybody out there….”
Aliens, in 2024: “⍝⌷⌿⍝⌵⍰⌼⌹⍊⍠⍏⍛⍘⍙⍎⍜⍁⍚⍎”
Us, 2029: “YES, HELLO!! WE ARE HUMANS ON EARTH!! WHAT’S UP!!”
Aliens, 2033: “⌻⌾⍊⌶⌸⍙⌷⍎⌺⍞⌶⍑⌼⍀⍁⍝⌺⍏⌾⍞⍝⍣⍰⍖⍚⍣⍏⍡⌼⌺⍋⍋⌼⍕⍏⌶⌶⍂⌻⍝⍟⍋⌽⍕⍏⍢⌿⌼⌵⍉⌼⍂⍖⍯⌵⍊⍣⌸⍡⌺⌮⌹⍡⌮⍝⍘⌸⍁⍒⌼⍏⌸⍒⍊⌺⍝⍋⍣⍁⍁⍢⍢⍕⌽⍏⍒⍏⍕⍯⍙⍚⍑⍟⍢⍣⍉⍡⍎⌹⌸⍁⍙⍙⌻⌸⌻⍚⌼⍑⍞⍘⌹⍉⍜⌼⍛⌽⍚⍒⌶⍜⍞⍒⍚⍚⍜⍙⌭⌻⌻⍖⍁⍟⍝⍊⌾⍚⍋⍖⌿⌽⍜⌭⌺⌭⍢⍜⍋⍕⍁⍑⍎⍋⍂⌼”
Us, 2037: (sigh)
And of course, the relevant and expected closing to an essay like this… how can we be searching for intelligent life out there when it’s already so difficult to find around here, ha ha. It’s interesting to think about, how on some alien planet a zillion miles away, aside from the scientific alien-searching intelligent brainy aliens, there are also stupid aliens. Conspiracy-theory-believing aliens. Aliens who won’t wear their version of a mask when out in public, during their alien pandemic. Yeah, that’s a zillion miles away. Much closer to home, 5,000 miles away, is Paris, France… where today, if the video I saw this morning is to be believed, things are “back to normal”. Crowded city streets, crowded cafés. I would’ve thought the video was from last Summer, except for the waiter wearing a mask. I am the first to say, I hope I’m wrong. I hope this doesn’t turn into a complete disaster. Paris had its worst of this in early April, and things look a lot better… but numbers are still going up, and we’ve already seen many examples where the “rush back to normal” is causing problems, so much so that lockdowns might have to happen again. In B.C., unlike many other places, slow and steady is winning the race. But with my daily dash of ellipsism, I really wish I knew how this is going to turn out.