Great Toposophic Filter, The

Image from Steve Bowers
Cluster brains, such as NGC 6755, constitute part of the most advanced toposophic entities created by the Terragen Civilisation; but what form would even more advanced entities take?

The following is an excerpt from the collection of humanist essays, "The Musings of Greater Minds" by the popular 105th century scholar and philosopher, Aksyaja N'stet.

One great mystery has puzzled thinkers for millenia, a mystery which first became apparent even before the first space flight. If intelligent life existed anywhere else in our Galaxy, why had it not colonised the earth long ago? This question was first posed by the classical age physicist Enrico Fermi, but was refined a few years later by Frank Tipler, who realised that if any intelligent species developed self-replicating probes, then it could explore and ultimately colonise the galaxy in a few tens of millions of years. But this had not happened.

Exploration of the Solar System produced no evidence of extraterrestrial life at all, apart from some extinct microbes on Mars which were genetically related to those on Earth and had almost certainly been transferred between the planets by natural processes. However exploration of the nearest star systems revealed a number of new biospheres, none of which were related to Earth life. This suggested that life was reasonably common in the Milky Way Galaxy- but there was still no evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence on any of these worlds.

In 1460 AT, Terragen civilization discovered proof that is was not alone in the galaxy, and the by-then ancient Fermi Paradox took on a new and pressing importance. We now knew they exist -- or that they *had* existed -- so where in existence were they now?

Later, in 3831, first contact with an unequivocally intelligent extraterrestrial species drove the mystery to its climax. By all odds, thinkers had assumed that humanity's first extraterrestrial contact ought to come with a civilization so far advanced beyond our own that they would be almost utterly incomprehensible. And yet here were the To'ul'hs -- simple, humble, comprehensible, and totally confounding.

Why wasn't the galaxy teeming with intelligent life? Certainly, if it were common enough that two intelligent species should lie within a few thousand light-years of each other, the universe ought to be brimming over with intelligent civilizations, all vying for a piece of the interstellar pie. Subsequent contact with numerous other xenosapients only compounded the problem. As Terragen thinkers could tell, Terragen sophonce was near the top of the technological crest. We were among the most advanced, if not *the* most advanced intelligence we'd met, against all odds and totally in defiance of what till then had been considered common sense.

Where were the others? How could we possibly be the first to achieve such a sophisticated technological level? Perhaps the others were holding something back, putting on a face ... but had they been as surpassingly superior as we had expected them to be, they would not have been able to hide it.

As civilization advanced further, it became clearer and clearer that there could not be a more advanced culture anywhere near the Terragen sphere. Their activity would have been too obvious. We could come up with reasons why individual cultures might not show up, why some might want to hide, why some might not advance at all ... but ultimately such rationalization fell to the deceptively simple statistics behind the conjecture that it "only takes one...." For all we knew, and for all we were discovering, intelligence had had billions of years before our rise to develop, conquer and persist across the galaxy. And yet ALL of those great races had fallen, and we were, impossibly, the masters of our domain.

Looking out, we find hints of other "high energy" civilizations scattered throughout our galaxy. Based on their emissions, it is conjectured that these civilizations are of a level of technological development comparable to that of the Terragen sphere. This, in turn, suggests that they are of approximately the same age, in galactic terms. We have even received signals from extragalactic civilizations of comparable sophistication -- indicating, again, that they are of comparable age. Everywhere we look, we see such contemporary civilizations. The odds against such universal uniformity in the age of Terragen analog civilizations are extraordinary. Mathematically, we should expect to see as many civilizations far, far beyond us in terms of technological development as we do civilizations eons behind. Yet we do not. Even among the great dead civilizations whose ruins have intrigued us for millennia, there are few signs of the rampant megastructural development and large-scale engineering that so characterizes Terragen civilization. Some, like the Halogenics, seem to have taken all traces of their activity with them into the Great Unknown.

Where did they go? And why?

The idea of a Great Filter — an inhibitory force, acting against the aggressively expansionist tendencies of intelligent life — was once again invoked to try and explain the conspicuous absence of alien super-civilizations. Something had removed them from the galactic stage. But what? As just cursory examination of the capabilities of a Terragen archailect will reveal, it would take an extraordinarily potent force to wipe out a great number of such powerful distributed beings. This in itself posed a great problem. A natural cataclysm of sufficient power to wipe out a race of archailects should have sterilized the entire galaxy. Such a proposed answer seemed only to intensify the actual problem -- the galaxy should be either choked with intelligent life ... or there should be *no* life whatsoever.

Explanations invoking artificial agents of destruction have their own problems. They require that at least one intelligence -- the inhibitors themselves -- remain on top. Given the power and capability of the archailects, an inhibitor agent would need at least as much power and capability to deter them. This would have made their activities abundantly obvious to the Archai's sensitive instruments. Their presence should have been detected long ago. And yet we see nothing to suggest they exist. Furthermore, the Terragen sphere has expanded to a point where it has touched a number of alien civilizations. Are we to presume ourselves so privileged as to have been spared the inhibitor's wrath just long enough to do that which none before us were allowed to do? In a few short millennia, the Terragen sphere may well straddle the breadth of the galaxy. Where will we look for the fabled inhibitors then?

Toposophics suggests another possibility, perhaps more chilling than either of the aforementioned class of Filtering agents by virtue of its plausibility. It invokes another version of the Fermi Paradox. "Where are all the aliens" has become "Where are all the S>7s?" A moment's reflection reveals how pertinent this question is to our age.

Life has had billions of years to develop intelligence, and intelligence has had billions of years to develop civilization. Evidence that this has happened, time and time again, litters our galaxy. We find too that numerous civilizations developed to the point that they began to climb the toposophic ladder. And yet nowhere do we find evidence of creatures occupying higher S levels than our own Archai. They should be obvious. A S7-S8 should straddle the line between a KII and a KIII civilization types. Were greater minds than this tapping the power output of our galaxy to further their inscrutable means, we should notice as readily as a Ludd baseline would notice the dimming of his world's sun as an Archai siphons off its resources. That we do not comprehend their intentions doesn't mean we cannot perceive their existence. So, for now, we must conclude that such ultra-beings do not exist. Why? They've had more than ample time to develop. Even if the barrier between S6 and S7 is nearly insurmountable, surely there has been enough time for at least ONE individual in our billion-year timeline to have done it.

And yet e is absent. So the uncomfortable conclusion must be that the Great Filter lies somewhere just beyond the 6th toposophic level. Either the path to such an ascension is so difficult that it destroys all who attempt it, or the aftermath is so bizarre and alien as to be beyond our ability to recognize and perceive. In either case, it would seem that ascension beyond S6 implies effective extinction for the civilizations that attempt it. Those who do so somehow disappear, and in an ascending population, in a finite span of time, ALL individuals will attempt to breach that barrier at some point.

In any set of circumsances that we can now imagine, even a mass ascension should leave behind some individuals or groups which refuse to follow the trend. Yet the civilisations of the past appear to have left no such individuals. The disappearance of the great civilisations of the past has been total.

No civilizations in our galaxy, up to the point of our present, have surpassed the level at which our civilizations stands now. The Great Toposophic Filter lies before us. It constitutes a kind of meta-singularity itself. We can make no predictions regarding what we will be when we emerge from it, apart from that we will not be as we are now, assuming we even exist at all.

Consider the implications of a phase change in our mode of being, so fundamental as to make the shift from sub-sapient to archailect seem inconsequential. Consider that, even in the best case, such a change will mark the effective extinction of Terragen civilization. Prepare for the inevitable, for the Great Filter is upon us. Everything we know now is at its end.

Related Articles
Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by David Jackson, some comments by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 03 August 2006.