Big Ideas, Grand Vision

Big Ideas, Grand Vision

Visions of the grandeur
grandeur of the past
touch me at the bottom of my heart
Visions of the future
tunnels built to last
Born to be creator
grand has gone to greater
Big ideas grand vision
Big ideas grand vision
- Vacuum, Great Ideas, Grand Vision

The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.
- Winston Churchill

What happens when cultures and civilisations meet? In some cases one annihilates the other. In other cases they cooperate. In some cases the winner is absorbed by the "conquered" culture. Ideas, technology and institutions have a life of their own, often surpassing military might or apparent superiority.

Big Ideas, Grand Vision takes place in 2350. During the 21st century slower than light colonisation ships were launched towards a couple of nearby stars, arriving about a century later. The colonies developed on their own, isolated by decades long communications lags. Each developed a distinct culture and approach to its own world, evolving from the original colonists' views as it adapted to the different environments. But in the 24th century, the achievement of FTL flight ended the isolation - suddenly the different colonies were thrust together, in contact with each other's divergent cultures, technologies and philosophies. This is an era of unprecedented opportunities, the chance to form a new civilisation, but also subtle new threats.

This is a scenario about big questions and astounding answers.

Basic premises

Hard science fiction

This scenario is intended to be fairly hard science fiction, close to currently known physical laws but also attempting to set up realistic (or at least believable) biology, economy and societies. Some deviations like antigravity and FTL are allowed, but they better work consistently - and they have effects beyond the obvious. The introduction of cars completely changed the structure of modern society. Now imagine what cheap energy from fusion plants or artificial intelligence will do.

Technology drives change

Technology develops due to a lot of factors, from pure serendipity to economic and social forces. Technology sets the stage that societies can play on, and as it develops the range of possible societies will grow. These societies of course drive the development of new technology, creating an unique evolution of capability. Technology is especially spurred when cultures interact, and their different approaches and inventions can combine into unexpected synergies.

Human nature is not fixed

Human nature can be changed, especially by technology. Most of the "human condition" can be greatly modified by new technology or ideas: life can be extended, pain removed, psychology rewritten, bodies redesigned and genomes re-coded. This process has already begun today, and will accelerate in the future. Many of the inhabitants of the colonies have diverged from the traditional form of humanity. This naturally changes their societies even more.

No feudalist space-empires

Many sf scenarios have been based on the vision of galactic empires (no doubt due to Asimov's Foundation books), especially neo-medieval settings with crumbling empires and orthodox churches. But most of these ideas are utterly ridiculous given the assumptions of the setting - it is hard to create a static, rigid society when there are spaceships, computers and all the technology necessary to keep such systems running. Information wants to be free, and the laws of economics suggest that even the strongest monopoly will be unstable in the long run. A true galactic empire would be completely different from every political system we have seen so far. Societies will make sense in their technological and historical context.

Alien aliens

Life on other planets develops on its own, it doesn't have to imitate Earth at all. The basic physical, chemical and ecological rules are the same, but they allow infinite variation. An intelligent alien species will not look like a human in a funny suit - it may not even be similar to a vertebrate at all. Genetically we have more in common with an amoeba than any alien. And if they are not humanoid, their psychology and culture will be vastly different. Just as humans are different from each other and divided into a myriad groups, aliens will also be individual, not races where everybody is a wise mystic, stoic warrior or thieving businessman.

No Jumpsuits

A common simplifying assumption made in much sf is that each culture is homogeneous, each nationality or species clearly defined. Everybody is wearing jumpsuits, figuratively speaking. In reality there are subcultures within cultures, people are individuals and often behave differently from the stereotypes of their nationality. Individuals matter and often stand out in history.

Conflicts are different

With advance technology material resources such as metals, biomass or energy become relatively cheap. What remains important is human capital - skills, knowledge, attention, consumers. This makes military conquest inefficient and self-defeating. Even when military conflicts occur, they will have changed far from the old style due to new technology - even the presence of fairly limited AI changes the battlefield immensely. Instead economic and cultural conflicts become more important.

The few, the rich, the wired

The colonies have fairly low populations. The original colony ships could at most transfer tens of thousands of people. In the intervening years the populations have certainly grown, but the rate has been comparable to current birth rates and the resulting populations are still only a few millions spread across the surfaces of entire planets. This actually causes problems since the economic and technological growth rates will be much lower than in the solar system, where the bulk of (post)humanity still resides. The colonial societies (with a few exceptions) are still by definition technologically advanced, in most cases highly sophisticated information societies. In a few cases society has even moved beyond the information age into a post-information society. Even the poorest citizens on most colonies have standards in excess of any 20th century standard. That doesn't make them conflict-free, of course.

  Rock the constitution
room is for the rage
every generation goes to war
Rise to the occasion
grow a golden age
Born to be creator
grand has gone to greater
Big ideas grand vision
big ideas grand vision
- Vacuum, Big ideas, grand Vision