Orion's Arm Canon
Conspicuous Delight
Image from Chris Shaeffer

The set of physical parameters, historical events and ideas that are considered to be true or definitive within the Orion's Arm Universe is known as the OA Canon; this page outlines many of those parameters.

Please Note:

The Orion's Arm Universe Project is an ever-evolving scenario. As new scientific discoveries and phenomena replace old ideas, and these ideas are incorporated through member submissions the information must be updated. Due to the sheer size of the project this can be a slow process at times. Two areas have gone through a major change and it is possible that some traces of the older versions remain:

Wormholes

Please refer to the following links to learn the current stance on wormholes.
Any material found on the site that may be in conflict with these sources is considered out of alignment with Canon and is in the process of being revised to meet these new guidelines. Should you have a question on this issue please feel free to contact us either through the Suggestions Box or the Worldbuilding Discussion Group.

Picotech and Femtotech

At on point the OA project included these as an extension of the idea of nanotech: reliable and precise manipulation of matter at yet smaller scales by some analogue of a nanobot. However these were deleted from the setting following a discussion on the Worldbuilding Discussion Group; it was determined that these were not plausible in a 'hard science' setting. If you find any remnant of those terms then it is something that the site's editors missed and should be brought to their attention.

Point of View

  • The Orion's Arm scenario is written from the point of view of the modosophont (non-transapient) populace. from the perspective of what sapients in the Civilized Galaxy know, don't know, and think they know and don't know. Knowledge of much of what exists outside this circle of safe sapient-friendly civilization, as well as knowledge pertaining to transapients and archai, is therefore ambiguous, and deliberately left vague.
  • A basic premise of the Orion's Arm scenario is that sapients in the Civilized Galaxy must abide by the guiding principles of the archai-developed or archai-influenced societies they live within so long as they enjoy the benefits of those societies. Although bound by this standard of conduct, the average citizen actually has more freedom and affluence than any human alive on Earth today. Sapients and lesser transapients may choose not to live within these societies, but they are powerless to actually change them unless such influence is part of what the local archai desire or allow. The only option is to either leave for another archai-society or to the Wilds outside of their immediate influence.

The Universe

  • The Earth and the known universe as it exists now (same laws of physics, biology, and the other sciences, historical events, and so on) all apply to this setting. That is, OA is set in this universe, not in a parallel time-line, or a universe with different laws of physics that mean that, say, "magic" works as reliably as technology.
  • The Orion's Arm universe conforms to what is known and observed now. There are no big obvious nearby alien civilizations (see Fermi's Paradox).

Physics

  • Relativity holds.
  • Causality Holds.
  • Faster-than-light (FTL) travel is impossible due to the existence of both Relativity and Causality.
  • Laws of Thermodynamics hold (on the macro scale).
  • Exotic matter exists and - given transapient metric engineering - can be made stable.

Astronomy and Planetology

  • Planetary systems comparable to the Solar System are common, but many other planetary systems are quite different to our own.
  • Rocky worlds are widespread, as are many other types of world.
  • Brown Dwarfs are at least as common as other types of stars.

Biology and Exobiology

  • Life (at least the equivalent of prokaryotic-grade life) is common in the universe.
  • Most life evolved naturally on its planet of origin.
  • Panspermia is rare, but has occurred more than once.
  • Natural Garden Worlds and the equivalents of eukaryote-grade life are rare.

Information Theory

  • Reversible computing allows computation and computronium without excessive heat, though it doesn't do away with heat output altogether.
  • The Bekenstein Bound holds, but can be circumvented by expensive wormhole buses.
  • Bremmerman's Limit holds only for nano and larger scales, and given advanced clarketech is bypassed
  • The Holographic Principle holds. All of the information contained in a volume of space can be represented by a theory which lives in the boundary of that region.

Technology

  • OA has mature nanotech as well as far more advanced technologies.
  • Bionanotech is relatively easy to make and maintain.
  • Dry (non biological) nanotech and its mature descendant hylonanotech are viable.
  • No device is 100% efficient.
  • Wormholes, space-time engineering, "reactionless" drives, and so on are viable, but require archailect-level technology ("godtech") and intelligence to construct.
  • Megascale engineering projects of many sorts can be and have been achieved.

Xenosophonts

  • Some xenosophont (alien) races exist.
  • Alien races are rare, as implied by current negative evidence from SETI.
  • No humanoid aliens have been discovered so far, or have made contact with the Terragen Sphere. Even the extinct Thyresta were not very similar to humans, except in some aspects of behaviour and physiology.
  • Intelligent life is possible even in extreme environments (the To'ul'h, Muuh, and so on).
  • "Civilization Inhibitors" (such as the "Dawn Hunters") are mostly rumor and myth, although some may be based on a few real events such as actual blue goo nanoswarms of a previous civilization that grew out of control.
  • Most xenosophont races are recent or only reasonably old; much older races are rare.
  • The Archivists are the oldest unambiguous example of sophonce in our galaxy although the Jacks are nearly as ancient and there is ambiguous evidence of older civilizations.

Mind, Consciousness, and Toposophics

  • The Hard AI hypothesis is correct.
  • Mind uploading is viable.
  • Sentience can occupy any sufficiently complex physical form, biological or otherwise.
  • The transhumanist premise that humans can be raised to a posthuman condition by various means is correct.
  • Vernor Vinge's premise of "the Singularity" is correct in that the higher toposophics are only dimly knowable, if at all, by the lower.
  • Cognitively, Vinge's Singularity only pertains to the First Singularity (or first toposophic level) in OA.
  • The "Singularity" concepts of Vernor Vinge have been adopted, to the extent that there is a critical point of consciousness, beyond which new modes of thought and comprehension are available. To those 'below' such a critical point (or 'singularity level'), such new modes of thought are mysterious and incomprehensible. A critical difference is that there is a hierarchy of such critical points within the Orion's Arm scenario.
  • Sophonts of one toposophic level can ascend, or potentially descend, to another toposophic level. Either direction of movement may require great effort and/or the support of a being of a higher toposophic level.
  • The transhumanist and singulitarian premise of the complete superiority (in terms of technology, intellect, power, etc.) of transingularity/transapient sophonts over sub-singularity (ordinary) sapients is viable, with rare exceptions.
  • There are limits to ordinary sapient ingenuity and ability. These limits can only be surpassed by augmenting oneself and/or ascending to the next higher toposophic level. This is not to say that the intelligence and ingenuity of ordinary sapients is negated. Within the scenario the "average" citizen is both physically and mentally more capable than any human alive today. This statement of limits is only an acknowledgment of the superiority of the ascended minds. Transapient beings have their own limitations; some of these limits are observable and comprehensible to ordinary sapient beings and others are not.
  • Any category of sapient may ascend to a higher toposophic level.
  • As part of the process of ascending a being becomes radically different than what it was to begin with. These changes can be intellectual, psychological or physical. For example, a baseline human who rises to transapience might acquire extensive cyborgization as part of the process. Ascending to even higher levels may require even more radical changes.
  • At the highest archailect levels, whether a sentient began as an AI, a biological, a cyborg, or any other category, or any combination or union of minds or categories, becomes irrelevant.
  • While some may have done so, higher level archailects and super-advanced high toposophic civilizations can and do remain in this physical universe. They are not necessarily all "removed" from the Orion's Arm scenario and they do not inevitably disappear into invisible "abstract spaces", other dimensions, nanoscopic space and so on. These may be inscrutable but they still affect lower toposophic beings and civilizations, often in ways that are completely inconceivable or even beyond the understanding of those lower toposophics.

Ordinary Sophonts and Intertoposophic Conflict

This item has generated so much discussion over the years that we have given this portion of the OA canon a page of its own.

Epistemology

  • Higher toposophic beings may have a radically different understanding of things from ordinary sapients.
  • Even transapient intellects have been known to make mistakes.

The Orion's Arm Timeline

  • In the Orion's Arm timeline, Drexlerian nanotech takes longer to develop than is currently optimistically assumed. However bionano is developed fairly early on.
  • The Singularity took longer to achieve than Vinge anticipated and was more diluted throughout society.
  • Contrary to much of transhumanist and singulitarian belief there was no global historical singularity, radical transformation, global technorapture, etc.
  • During the interplanetary period there was a power struggle between pro-human or "Centralist" and antihuman or "ahuman" AI. The net end result of this struggle was that the ahuman AI left Sol system, and many colonised nearby stars.
  • At some point some five centuries into the space age, nano (or perhaps also self-replicating Neumanns or some other factor, or a combination of many factors), gets out of control and brings about a collapse of civilization, with only pockets surviving in the Solar System and in some extrasolar colonies.
  • At some point during this period the AI GAIA expelled all but a small number of "caretakers" from Earth - this became known as the Great Expulsion. The exact number of people involved will never be known, and different estimates vary widely. Due to the fact that so much was lost, corrupted, or outright fabricated in the struggle, and in the events afterwards, everything prior to the revival of civilization is a mix of fact and rumor. Some fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes for example are widely believed to be real historical figures. This is comparable to our own debates about the existence of King Arthur or Robin Hood or Fu Xi.
  • Historical records of events between our present day and a century from now are particularly fragmentary, even to dedicated historians within the OA setting. The "in setting" reason for this is that political turmoil and rapid technological during the Information Age and in the transition to the Interplanetary Age resulted in the loss of many records from our 21st and early 22nd centuries and further that agents of info wars during the Interplanetary and Nanoswarm eras targeted a disproportionate number of records from their relatively recent (our next few centuries) past. Outside the setting, the OAUP's reasons are that we do not want to include events in OA that "date" the project, or that distract contributors or readers with disputes about current-day ideological, religious, or political matters.
  • Because of poor record keeping, and possible later memetic engineering and revisionism on the part of sapients and transapients, even events from the early period after the nano-disaster are sometimes uncertain.
  • At some point around a millennium after the restoration of civilization, following further Technological Singularities, some transapients evolved/ascended/transcended into godlike beings called "Archailects" which divided up known space between themselves, and established the Wormhole God Web and Nexus.
  • The human-friendly empires thus established are known as the "Sephirotics". There are also human-, biont-, and vec-unfriendly transapient and archailect regions, as well as other non-aligned polities.
  • The Version War was a big thing for ordinary beings and lower transapients, but perhaps equivalent to no more than two tribes of ants fighting in the garden to the Archailects.
  • From the modosophont point of view, in the approximately six millennia since that time, the Inner Sphere and the Civilized Galaxy has remained fairly stable.
  • Although the timeline is written "as it happened", this should only be taken as "best guess", not hard and fast fact.

Societies, Civilizations, and Hierarchy

  • For pragmatic purposes, Terragen space can be divided into the Civilized Galaxy, where Sentient Rights are respected and even ordinary sapients can live in utopian safety and affluence, and the Wilds, where sapients may or may not be safe.
  • Sapient beings in the Civilized Galaxy are sometimes, often, usually, or always (it is by definition impossible for them to tell which) subtly memegineered or cultivated in a way that furthers transapient needs and through them the archailect's supporting ecology, or at the least they are influenced so that they do not have a negative impact on transapients and their interests. This manipulation does not necessarily harm the sapients, and may actually enhance their sense of freedom and self-worth. Conversely sapient-level beings are almost always unable to break free of this "control"; what they are doing seems to them to be serving their own needs and interests. There are exceptions to this, but they are just that: exceptions.
  • Baseline human and other sapient individuals and civilizations can never succeed in deliberately overthrowing transapient and archailect empires.
  • Sapient societies may on occasion unwittingly destabilize transapientech and godtech societies.
  • There is a toposophic ecology, analogous to a trophic pyramid. In some way or combination of ways that ordinary sophonts cannot understand, every higher toposophic sophont requires a larger number of lower sophonts. Hence the transapients and/or archailects need ordinary sapient beings as a sort of ecological support structure. Apart from any other reasons that might apply, this is why they keep them around.
  • By their very nature the wormhole networks are owned and operated by the Archailects. Some areas are open to lower level sapients, while others are restricted from use - specifically the God Web.
  • Non-nexus wormholes are unsafe for lower transapient / modosophont use.
  • Ultratech and transapient artifacts and devices can be found everywhere, but are rarer the further one is from where they are manufactured (in terms of trade routes, nexus links, etc.).
  • The average sophont lifespan in the Civilized Galaxy is about 1500 years. However there are individuals who have lived much longer. Lifespans naturally tend to be a lot shorter in the less angelnetted and developed worlds. Even so, most people make backups and keep a copy of their genome or equivalent at a safe repository, so even if their body is killed, they can still be cloned or otherwise rebuilt, and a copy of their last mind state reinstalled in a new body according to instructions in their wills or the wishes of other persons or groups such as friends, relatives, uploads or copies, employers, a local government or other institution, or a transapient owner or patron. Some regard this kind of reconstitution as a form of potential immortality.

Paranormal, Esotericism, and Mysticism

  • There are no "psionics" as traditionally portrayed in science fiction and science fantasy.
  • There are Mystical experiences, deep Meditation states, Spiritual Experiences and so on. Whether these are genuine experiences of spiritual transcendence, interesting hallucinations or altered states of consciousness, or something else is up to the individual member to decide, but even archailects are interested in them. For instance, the Sophic league is based on them.
  • There are yogic siddhis, extraordinary attainments by martial artists and so on. It is up to the individual to determine if these are simply some physical quirk, something authentic (e.g. ch'i energy as a distinct reality), cunning use of ultratech, and/or a cleverly designed exercise in memetics.
  • There are numerous accounts of paranormal phenomena, forteana, magic, visions, out of body experiences, and the like. It is up the individual to decide if these are genuine, the result of sneaky tech, memetic hoaxes, or a combination of any of these.
  • Some transapients are interested in the paranormal, esoteric or mystical. It is up to the individual to decide if these transapients are interested in a genuine phenomenon, are deluded, or are engaging in some sort of memengineering or other intrigues, or any combination.

Common Knowledge

  • Concerning sapient-comprehensible knowledge, there is a near limitless amount of information that can be accessed. This includes authentic facts, subtly memegineered information, and rumor.
  • The details of transapient and higher sentients, societies, technology, and civilizations, are only dimly known and appreciated (sometimes not even that) by ordinary sapients.
  • Translation protocols between different toposophic levels (especially from higher to lower toposophics (e.g. from transapient to sapients) or between clades of very different nature and psychology, are by their very nature imperfect, and this adds to the confusion of what is known by ordinary sapients.
  • Apart form a few trivial and superficial associations and analogies, what archailects think, feel, and even their essence is a mystery to ordinary sapients.
  • Most of what is known of transapients and the archai is rumor, the same goes for what is reported from the Wilds, what is known of Hiders and other secretive clades, factions, or civilizations, as well as esotericism and the paranormal, and many other subjects.
  • In the Civilized Galaxy and beyond, there is much more rumor than fact. The rumor may or may not be based on authentic fact. Often these things are left ambiguous. This ambiguity and openness to many interpretations is central to the Orion's Arm scenario even though there are also some hard and certain facts.

Adventure and Storytelling

  • The sophonts of the Orion's Arm scenario have hopes and desires, loves and hates, ambitions and dreams, just like people today.
  • There are no white hats or black hats to distinguish individuals or groups; even the most sadistic villain has some noble and sympathetic qualities, and even the most stainless hero maintains some despicable or cowardly attributes.
  • Philosophical disposition does not dictate how straight you can shoot. The "bad guys" can shoot as straight as the "good guys". There are no armies of incompetent token bad guys waiting to be mown down by the hero as he fights his way past them.
  • Mysterious clarketech artifacts that just happen to be available, easily understood or even utilized by modosophonts are extremely rare.

Acknowledgements

Scientists Futurists and Writers who have inspired the Orion's Arm Scenario (along with some Reference Material)