Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Far Future

In the future history of James Blish's The Quincunx Of Time (New York, 1983) and Midsummer Century, human civilization has spread over at least eleven million light years, several galaxies away, by 8873 AD, so how much further will it have spread by 25,000 AD?

Midsummer Century is set in the latter year but unfortunately, from this point of view, it imparts information only about what has been happening on Earth over twenty three millennia. This is of interest, of course. There have been several successive civilizations as well as climatic and evolutionary changes.

However, since the single datum from 8873 is that a "world-line cruiser" on a planet in another galaxy will set off to travel from that year to 8704 but will send a distress call en route, we cannot help wondering what even stranger events will happen even further away in the millennia after 8873. The characters share our interest:

" 'At headquarters on Earth, there's a whole building full of specialists who are trying to construct a coherent history of the future from the beep, and speculate their way between the gaps, but for the really far future it's a sterile task.'" (p. 109)

The character who had discovered that the almost instantaneous audiovisual beep received by Dirac communicators is the simultaneous reception of every past and future Dirac message and, further, that individual messages can easily be extracted and slowed down also realized that:

" '...the Dirac simply slides the bead of consciousness forward a certain distance from the present. Whether it's five hundred or five thousand years still remains to be seen. At that point, the law of diminishing returns sets in - or the noise factor begins to overbalance the information, take your choice - and the observer is reduced to traveling in time at the same old speed. He's just a bit ahead of himself...'" (p. 86)

Since this view was expressed in 2091, the character would certainly not have expected to understand much from extragalactic messages as late as 25,000 AD. In fact, her companions do understand one message from that year but this message is transmitted on Earth and is spoken in the universal mathematical language Machine in case any of its recipients do need a record of it. Any other message from 25,000, especially one from a remote galaxy, would be spoken in an unknown language and would describe events and situations that would be well beyond twenty first century comprehension.

Despite its Terrestrial setting, Midsummer Century fits well with the "earlier" interstellar works because it is the source of a Dirac message that significantly informs the inventor of the Dirac transmitter. All that can be said about events after 25,000 is that some of them will occur in galaxies at the edge of the expanding universe and that any Dirac messages describing such events will be incomprehensible not only linguistically but also conceptually because they will express different conflicting scientific paradigms or preconceptions (future successors of Ptolemaicism, Copernicanism, Galileanism, electromagnetic theory, Einsteinianism and Haertelism) between which it is inherently impossible to choose because the scientific method by which we try to choose is itself one of the paradigms.

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