"Interview With the Alien" [fiction]
GENEVA (AP) - Representatives from several international think tanks met with Earth Ambassador Bas Chang earlier today, in a closed-door session described by presiding officer Mahavira Sunya as "the first significant cultural exchange between our civilizations." The recently-formed Human Coalition, organized by Sunya's own foundation, includes delegates from several major intellectual organizations.
The meeting follows just six weeks after the announcement by London authorities that Chang, previously described as "a physically anomalous being," had tested positive for non-human DNA, according to scientists at the University of London's Royal Holloway College. Researchers has initially expressed doubt over the feasibility of obtaining DNA samples from a presumably extraterrestrial being, but lead investigator Charles Bickford has since stated that "the basic structure of the molecule which performs the function of DNA in Bas Chang is surprisingly similar to our own DNA."
Chang, who has stated that his surname was chosen because it is so commonly found on Earth, has made no public statements prior to the meeting. His role as "Earth Ambassador" was announced earlier this month by American and Chinese sources, who have not revealed further information regarding his origin, except to say that he is from "a relatively nearby star system." During the meeting, a list of prepared questions drafted and approved by a consensus of Coalition members was read to Chang by U.S. Supreme Court clerk Johnathan Gansa. Selected correspondents were permitted to attend portions of the tightly-guarded session, and an audio transcript has been provided to the international press.
[audio transcript follows]
Gansa: "Ambassador Chang, on behalf of the Human Coalition and the people of Earth, we would like to thank your for joining us today, and we warmly welcome you to these proceedings, to Geneva, and to Earth."
Chang: "Thank you."
Gansa: "Ambassador, as I'm sure you might imagine, we have a great many questions. Before we begin, do you have any opening remarks?"
Gansa: "Very good, Ambassador. If we may begin, then?"
Gansa: "Ambassador, we are very curious about your origins. For the record, is it accurate to state that you are from a star system other than our own?"
Chang: "Yes. The name of my homeworld is unpronounceable in the language we are now using. It is a world approximately 4500 light-years from your own, relatively similar in general composition. I have provided details of my origins to your scientists, who will reveal the specifics shortly."
Gansa: "Given that you are not a native of Earth, how is it that you are able to speak English, Chinese, German, and several other languages so fluently?"
Chang: "These languages are contained within our central database. In order to speak them, I am required only to access the records."
Gansa: "I apologize, Ambassador, I need to find the right question for that reply. I've been asked to stick to the prepared questions."
Gansa: "Ah, there we have it."
Gansa: "Ambassador, please describe the mechanics of your method for accessing information on demand."
Chang: "A central database contains all records pertaining to known information. The records are accessed by querying the processing structure, which is a flexibly-constituted computing unit composed of autonomous nanotechnological devices working in concert. Neurochemical activity activates nanotechnological agents in the brain tissue which work with other available agent resources to form and transmit the query. The query is put to the processing structure, which in my case consists of all available nanotechnological agents within the local cloud. The processing structure returns a result to the brain agents, which act on the neurons such that the results are presented to consciousness."
Gansa: "What is a nanotechnological agent?"
Chang: "Agents are extremely small, self-maintaining and replicating machines which are designed to perform information processing and molecular manipulation tasks. Agents are capable of working in concert by forming processing networks to accomplish complex tasks. On developed worlds, agents are integrated into the environment at large. The total of all agents within a given ecosystem is termed the "world-cloud." In many cases, agents will also be be used for specific tasks at a local level. An assembly of such agents is termed a "local cloud." By making use of quantum computing techniques, any local cloud can access and process information in quantities and at speeds greatly exceeding the capacity of your most advanced external processing units. One such local cloud is currently integrated with my body, allowing me to access any necessary records within its database, including those relating to your languages."
Gansa: "Fascinating. As you may be aware, there are a number of rather wild rumors circulating regarding your reported ability to materialize objects and even living things from "nowhere." There's a report here, um, excuse me... an opinion piece, which challenges you to materialize a tiger, for example, and I have several similar pieces here... If you would be willing to comment on this?"
Chang: "I may have communicated ineffectively, or your species' capacity for understanding is remarkably undeveloped..."
Gansa: [indistinct, audience noise continues]
Chang: "As I stated, nanotechnological agents are capable of physical manipulation at the sub-molecular level. To fabricate one of your tigers (a beautiful animal, I might add) or any other physical object is a simple matter of instructing the local cloud to access the required algorithms and perform the necessary manipulations. As you will note, I have also fabricated a force containment field for the animal, so that none of your spectators will be injured. You will be responsible for transporting the animal to safety upon completion of these proceedings. In my culture, it is considered unethical to fabricate living beings without providing for their future living conditions."
Gansa: "Forgive us, Ambassador. This is ... unprecedented, to say the least."
[pause, audience murmuring]
Gansa: "Mr. Hilliard, do you have a question?"
Gansa: "That's fine, professor. President Sunya, is it alright?"
Gansa: "Very good. The chair recognizes Mr. Hilliard, distinguished professor from Oxford."
Hilliard: "Ambassador, what we've just seen raises an enormous number of questions. I hardly even know where to begin. Let's start here - are you familiar with the religious beliefs of our culture?"
Chang: "I am aware that your society exhibits various memes typical of developing cultures, including the belief that only a supernatural entity can create life. I presume this is what you are referring to."
Hilliard: "Indeed, Ambassador."
Chang: "Such a belief stems from dualistic assumptions common to developing cultures. Philosophically, your species is at a relatively early stage of development. It is steeped in primitive assumptions. When you reach a greater level of development, it will no longer seem surprising to you that any physical entity can be fabricated by means of artifice in much the same way it is created by natural processes. You will understand how nanotechnological manipulation mimics these natural processes to accomplish similar results on vastly smaller timescales."
Hilliard: "Thank you, Ambassador. I'd like to yield the floor to my distinguished colleague Professor Yuan from Beijing, who is a scientist and who I'm sure is dying to ask you some questions.
Hilliard: "Madam President?"
Sunya: "Thank you, Mr. Hilliard. Chair recognizes Mr. Yuan."
Yuan: "Ambassador, it's an honor. To say that I am fascinated would a great understatement. For scientist such as myself, there has never been a better place to be than in this room at this moment. But before I get carried away, let me get down to business. I'm guessing, and please correct me if I'm wrong, that the raw molecules necessary to "fabricate" the tiger and its containment field came from the immediate surroundings. I presume that your nano-agents can obtain the materials in such a way that no distinguishable difference is made to any specific object, which is why it all seems to come out of thin air. Ah, thank heavens you nodded... my career was really hanging over a cliff there..."
Yuan: "Yes, I'm sure it's all very funny to you...
Yuan: "I apologize, Ambassador. I'm sure your studies of our culture have included the phenomena of humor. In any case, that isn't the issue right now. What I want to ask is, where are you getting the energy? Surely it requires a significant amount of energy to perform the incredible number of molecular manipulations required to fabricate something of that size and complexity. Where is it coming from?"
Chang: "You have a undeveloped understanding of the phenomena you call energy and its true nature. As your understanding develops, you will realize that space itself is is the basic physical reality. To paraphrase one of your more insightful philosophers, "space is that in which you move and have your being," but further than this, mathematically-conditioned space is ultimately what all physical particles are composed of. You are space. Your culture has already grasped the beginnings of this realization in your theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics, although you have yet to unify them. When you do, you will understand how to access tremendous quantities of energy from the fabric of space itself. I would draw your attention to your coffee cup, Mr. Yuan. In the space it contains, there is enough energy to boil away every ocean on the surface of your planet."
Yuan: "But we have no idea how to use that energy, Ambassador."
Chang: "Your current scientific establishment is not far from making the necessary discoveries. You will have this knowledge within fifty years, most likely, and you will be able to begin applying it within a hundred."
Yuan: "No hints?"
Chang: "No. Our culture considers it unethical to interfere with the development of less-advanced societies. Interestingly, you also have this concept within your "science-fiction" literature, which is among the more worthwhile products of your culture, in our view."
Yuan: "Thank you, Ambassador. Madam President, I yield the floor. Beam me up!"
Sunya: "Mr. Yuan, while we appreciate your humor, we would remind you that these are proceedings of great historical significance. We would thank you to display a more reserved demeanor. Apologies, Mr. Ambassador."
Chang: "None are required. I have familiarized myself with the records pertaining to this aspect of your culture. Our society considers most forms of humor primitive in nature, although we recognize its use in promoting mutual goodwill within the context of developing cultures."
Sunya: "Thank you, Ambassador. I yield the floor to Mr. Gansa once more, who will proceed with the prepared questions."
Gansa: "Thank you, Madam President. Ambassador, this next question is from the philosophers among us. At these proceedings and in your private statements to various agencies, which you have graciously agreed to release to us, you've repeatedly mentioned the concept of "developed and undeveloped cultures." Could you expand on this for us today?"
Chang: "It is known to all developed societies that the physical self-organization of matter is developmentally progressive. Fundamentally, this is due to the fact that random changes in physical structures have only one "direction" to move in, the direction of increasing complexity. A maximally simple physical arrangement cannot become simpler, it can only become more complex. The implications of this fact are not widely understood in your culture because you lack an adequate understanding of what you call "thermodynamics."
"Due to the profound influence of the anti-naturalistic belief systems of your evolutionary past, you erroneously assume that any progressive tendency in nature must be "teleological" in kind, and that progressive evolution must somehow run counter your second law of thermodynamics, which states that in any closed system, entropy will increase. In your recent desire to reject teleological systems in order to distance yourself from the errors of supernaturalism, you fail to realize that a universal increase in entropy is precisely what fuels the development of progressive complexity."
"To understand this, you must begin with a dialectical understanding of space-time, which we will treat as a singular physical phenomena which is defined by the complementary interaction of the force-polarities you know as gravity and the unified electromagnetic/strong nuclear/weak nuclear force. For brevity's sake, we will call the latter "electronuclearism." These forces are "positive" and "negative" aspects of space-time. They emerge co-substantially in subspace fluctuations, and their balanced existence allows for the creation of large-scale physical space itself. Where gravity and electronuclearism exist in equal measure, physical space is free to expand to a state of infinite extension without violating the principle you refer to as "conservation of energy," due to the fact that all positive electronuclear energy is "canceled out" by the negative action of gravity, resulting in a state of "zero net energy," as your scientist Hawking and others theorize."
"In spatially-extended quantum systems such as our universe, which begin with a single maximally ordered (homogeneous) initial condition and move toward a maximally disordered condition on a global scale, concentrated areas of order will develop locally. Gravity is the architect of local order, while electronuclearism is the agent of global entropy. You can see this dichotomy graphically demonstrated in the formation of your own orderly star system through the action of gravity, as opposed to the drastic disordering effect of your nuclear weapons. Electronuclearism causes the distribution and global scattering of physical elements, which are then acted upon by gravity to cause the emergence of local order. This emergent order can only move in the direction of increasing complexity, because the grouping action of gravity prevents the overall dissolution of thermodynamically dissipative structures. The inevitable result is the progressive self-organization of matter, which creates stars, planets, living beings, and civilizations."
"The progressive nature of physical development follows directly from the behavior of subspace itself (at what you term the "Planck scale"), the subsequent inflation and expansion of individual spatio-temporally isolated world-units (universes), and the resulting energetic properties of matter and gravity, as I have explained. In any possible physical universe, progressive self-organization will occur. The fact that you do not already widely acknowledge this is the result of lingering beliefs from an earlier stage of your development. The majority of your species is still conditioned to think in supernaturalistic terms and look for magical explanations, rejecting the idea that nature itself is inherently creative and capable of producing the various physical forms of the world unbidden, including yourselves, your civilization, myself, and mine."
Gansa: "Thank you, Ambassador. Um, I'm sorry, what was that? Mr Kuan?"
Gansa: "Yes, alright. Madam President?"
Sunya: "Chair recognizes Mr. Kuan. Briefly, please."
Kuan: "Thank you, Madam President, and thank you, Ambassador. Well, what can I say? That was either a theory of everything or the aforementioned end of my career. I'll be fired for sure when I submit this to Nature."
Sunya: "Mr. Kuan, may I remind you of my earlier comments?"
Kuan: "My apologies, Madam President, and to you as well, Ambassador. I was always a bit too excitable. In any case, well... uhm...
Kuan: "I can't think of how to put the question to you more rigorously given the nature of what we've just heard, so I'll simply spit it out. Is this a TOE?"
Chang: "More accurately, it is a POE - a Philosophy Of Everything. Your scientists are frustrated in their search for a TOE because they are currently searching for physics in metaphysics. That is to say, beyond the level of physical observation, purely logical methods must be employed. You fail to grasp this because you do not yet have an adequate philosophy of logic and mathematics. Despite significant reasons to reconsider your current approach, you continue to conduct the bulk of your investigations within the framework of the basic assumption that mathematics and logic supervene on physical foundations, rather than the more accurate perspective, which is that physical phenomena supervene on mathematical and logical foundations. As we observe in the previously discussed co-emergence of gravity and electronuclearism, the fundamental binary dialectic is the informational foundation upon which physical reality is predicated."
Kuan: "If we are moving into philosophy, I'd better yield the floor to Mr. Hilliard. As much as I'd like to continue... Madam President?"
Sunya: "Agreed. Mr. Hilliard is recognized."
Hilliard: "Ambassador, do you see any precedents in human history for this philosophical approach?"
Chang: "Yes. The ancient people of Mr. Kuan's heritage understood it intuitively in their Taoism, with which our culture is deeply impressed. In addition, another ancient of a differing heritage, Heraclitus, intuited it. A more recent philosopher, Hegel (whom I understand is currently somewhat disfavored) understood it perhaps more deeply than any of your thinkers, even recognizing the progressive element of history. All of these thinkers have been with you for centuries or millenia, as the case may be. You have been largely unable to appreciate their insight due to the influence of your supernaturalist beliefs, and more recently, by your desire to distance yourselves from them."
Hilliard: "On that note, I'd like to yield the floor to Mr. Katz, the distinguished gentleman from the World Interfaith Religious Organization, who has just informed Mrs. Sunya that he would like to address these statements by the Ambassador."
Sunya: "The floor is yours, Mr. Katz."
Katz: "Ambassador, with all due respect, and on behalf on the world's three billion religious faithful, I feel I must take exception to these remarks, and those of a similar nature made earlier. Earth's culture has a rich tradition of belief in God which has served to unite and enrich our societies for thousands of years. In that light, I feel that your message, while unquestionably well-intended, is a potentially unwelcome one for many of Earth's people. Can you offer us any reassurance in this regard?"
Chang: "I cannot. You represent a fundamentally primitive tradition, the evolutionary value of which has declined with continued development. If you are willing to significantly revise your values to be consistent with a developed, naturalistic perspective, you will be able to adjust to the accelerating progress of your society's understanding. If you are not willing to do so, you will instead present a danger to that progress, and you should expect to be treated as a regressive element within your society. In our culture, regressive elements were eliminated some millenia ago."
Hilliard: "...advocating the extermination of religion and/or religious persons? Ambassador, if that is the case, this is an outrage to the people of Earth!"
Chang: "You misunderstand my statement. In the history of my society, regressive ideas were naturally eliminated by free access to information facilitated by the cybernetic nanotechnology which I described earlier in these proceedings. When rational beings have free access to information, the progressive nature of sentient evolution is realized by all, and regressive memes are eliminated effortlessly."
Katz: "God protect us. It sounds like these liberals that talk about education as the solution to religion."
Sunya: "Mr. Katz, that is enough. It is a considerable understatement to say that the ambassador has come a long way to be here. We will not be hurling ideological abuse at him today. Let the record show that the chair censures Mr. Katz and yields back to Mr. Hilliard."
Hilliard: "Thank you, Madam President. Looking at the clock here, I see we don't have a lot of time left. As much as I'd love to enjoy the Ambassador's company for the next few years or so, I'll have restrain myself and yield back to Mr. Gansa's prepared questions."
Sunya: "So be it, and thank you, Mr. Hilliard. Mr Gansa, please continue."
Gansa: "Ambassador, I'd like to ask you a few brief questions about your physical lifestyle, anatomy, and health. To begin, is it true that your species is immortal?"
Chang: "No. However, it is true that our physical lifespan approaches infinity in principle. This is attained by constant maintenance of tissues at the cellular level, which is carried out automatically by the nanotechnological world-cloud. Consequently, all natural processes of aging and disease are prevented. However, we may still die in accidents of various kinds. To insure ourselves against this eventuality, we maintain a constant "readiness link" to the central processing structure of the world-cloud. Should a fatal event occur, it is almost always possible to transfer the complete informational content of one's unified mind/body state to the processing structure and fabricate an identical self-unit in a remote location. This procedure is sometimes employed in the event of fatal instances caused by various forms of risk-laden behavior undertaken for entertainment purposes."
Gansa: "And should the procedure fail?"
Chang: "We understand that the possibility of death is inherent to any physically-constituted living thing. Should a non-preventable fatality occur, we conduct a ceremony of tribute resembling one of your funeral services, but on a society-wide level. Because we have very few deaths, we are able to take death seriously. It is very unlike the situation in developing worlds like yours, where death is so commonplace as to be treated relatively lightly except by immediate relations."
Gansa: "Why not simply reconstruct the individual from a previously stored record?"
Chang: "If an individual suffers a complete interruption of experience, we consider it unethical to create what would amount to an entirely new individual for the purpose of imitating the deceased. However, it is possible to allow the stored record of the individual to continue having virtual experiences within the processing structure, if the individual should so choose before creating the record. In this event, should the original individual die, the stored individual can be retrieved and transferred to a fabricated body. Alternatively, the stored individual can be embodied even before the death of the original individual, should the original individual consent to this. The stored individual, being consensually derived from the original individual, understands the ethical basis for this requirement of consent, and we have never had a case of any stored individual demanding embodiment without the consent or death of the original individual, although our ethicists concede this as a remote possibility. If the situation ever occurs, we shall deal with it at that time, although we do not expect it to."
Gansa: "If the stored individual can be retrieved so easily, why mourn the loss of the original individual so deeply?"
Chang: "After creating the record, the original individual will go on to have experiences which differ from those of the stored individual, making the original a true individual in the proper sense of that term. The loss of any individual is a serious matter to us, regardless of technological provisions."
Gansa: "Indeed. We're running very low on time now, so before we close, let's turn to the issue of human society. What is your species' overall perspective on our culture?"
Chang: "You are a typical developing society. Our scientists and philosophers long ago determined that societies fall into two general categories - developing and mature. Developing societies are characterized by interpersonal conflict, widespread war, crude and destructive energy technologies, philosophical confusion, and a general sense of continuing struggle against nature (and, by extension, other individuals). Societies generally develop along two complementary lines - technological and philosophical. Technologically, the chief indicator of a mature society is a fully integrated nanotechnological informational and material processing capacity. Philosophically, a mature society is marked by a universally accepted progressive naturalism. Your society exhibits neither of these markers, but has recently taken initial steps toward both. We estimate that your society will reach maturity within one to two millenia, assuming that you do not succumb to self-destruction, which occasionally destroys developing societies."
Gansa: "We certainly hope that assumption is a sound one, Ambassador. To close out these proceedings, would you share with us your own personal experience of what life is like in your society?"
Chang: "We are all artists and scientists. Just as nature itself is infinitely creative, we spend our lives creating knowledge and art. Some of us travel the stars and seek out new civilizations like your own, using technologies I will briefly explain to your scientific committee in greater detail after these proceedings. Others among us dedicate themselves to creating new worlds, simply for the sake of creation. In this way, we pay homage to the creativity of nature, the single source of our lives and experiences. Each of us is a unique individual and a fully integrated citizen of the universe, without any sense of conflict between the two perspectives. War, poverty, disease, insanity, and natural death are long forgotten. Ours is, above all, a life of profound freedom. This freedom will one day be yours as well."