Down With Power Audiobook!

L. Neil Smith's
Number 812, March 8, 2015

This isn't brain science here,
folks; it isn't rocket surgery.

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Spooky Action At A Distance
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Suppose that you were a primitive inhabitant of a desert island in the Pacific Ocean, and that, from time to time, you saw, far away on the blue horizon, the outline of what we would refer to as luxury cruisers.

As Thomas Hobbes might have told you, if you'd been listening, if you weren't an isolated and ignorant savage, life on your island is nasty, brutish, and short. But you don't need Thomas Hobbes to tell you that, as you take off your loinclth to shake the fleas out of it. Somehow you sense that it might be different for the people on the ships.

So you decide to contact those oeople, and either get some luxury goods from them, or get you off this lousy island, and away from the fleas. You stoke up the biggest bonfire you can, and start flapping out smoke signals, which the ship-people either can't see or ignore. You turn to the tribe's Great Drum, a device a dozen feet in diameter and pound out your message. Nobody replies, but the neighbors are getting cranky.

What you don't realize, of course,is that the ship-people rely primarily on radio, a form of energy that you never heard of, having given up smoke signals and drums many centuries ago, themselves. Some ships also have the Internet, a phenomenon you wouldn't believe if someone tried to describe it to you. "Right." you'd say, "What's a URL?"

Now let's dismiss the metaphor and engage in straight talk. The desert island is the Earth. The Pacific Ocean is light years and light years of interstellar space, and the unfortunate natives are us. (The fleas are various governments.) And for 45 years, we've been trying to contact advanced civilizations relying on smoke and drums—radio signals.

Why anybody ever expected any star-traversing culture to be using radio, is beyond me. It's exactly like the little old man searching under a street light. "What are you looking for?" asks the cop on the beat.

"My spectacles," comes the reply, "I dropped them over there, somewhere."

"Then why aren't you looking over there?"

"Because the light is better here."

We use radio because it's there, not because we think the UFOsies do. Consider: Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth, is 4.24 light years away. At that distance, it takes its light four years and three months to get here, another fifty-one months to get back. For all we know, it isn'there, any more, but blew up two years ago. And you thought Ents speak slowly. Radio isn't suited for interstellar communications.

So what is?

Quantum entanglement is one of those bizarre phenomena that are valid (more valid than UFOsies) but maddeningly ridiculous. Two atoms, it seems, can become "entangled" so that whatever state one them is in, in terms of position, momentum, and spin, the other one changes instantly to imitate it, as if it "knew" what was going on with the other atom. This change occurs now, and not in 4.24 years. It works in spite of impossible-seeming distances. Physicists and geeks are working through the night right now, to get this quality plugged into the Internet. Before you know it, your spam will arrive instantaneously.

Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance". He grudgingly acknowledged its existence, but he sure as hell didn't like it very much.

But that's how galactic civilization talks to itself, I am convinced, and why, no matter how hard we yell, electronically spoeaking. how many terawatts we fling at them, they just can't hear us.

They're not listening.

They've missed all those I Love Lucy reruns.

In a better world than this, in which abominable human beings send people's children off to fight and die, and other individuals cut people's heads off to prove they are weorthy of imaginary virgins, in a world where sociopathic multibilionaires assuage their boredom by depriving other people of their fundamental right to the machinery of self-defense, we would be investing trillions, one way or another, in a sort of Manhattan Project finding out how to comunicate by quantum entanglement.

But no. It's crazy assuming that in a universe filled with billions of habitable planets, but it's not crazy burning vast quantities of time and money learning to kill a million of them at a time.

And Enrico Fermi wondered why nobody ever comes to see us.

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