Should We Evacuate the Earth?
A non-trivial question.
Yesterday I watched most of a four-hour Joe Rogan podcast in which Joe allowed his friend Eric Weinstein to meander all over the landscape of modern physics, interminably, before answering the two questions that Joe put to him at the beginning, the questions being what caused Eric to abandon his lifelong skepticism about UFOs?, and what are his views on the subject now?
His answer to the first question is complex and rather obscure. Eric in his youth detached from the Ph.D program in physics at Harvard. He believed that he had found a potential way forward to break a long impasse in physics -- the inability to craft a theory that works both at the level of particles and at the cosmological level. The reasons for his failure to gain traction with his ideas he ascribes to academic politics and to general human folly. Disgusted, he dropped out, used his formidable mathematical skills to develop algorithms that would help to make Peter Thiel a very rich man, and later morphed into a public intellectual and a supposed member of the cabal that founded "the intellectual dark web."
Why, then, an evolution away from skepticism? First, his long-abandoned ideas appear now to have been picked up by physicists who are considered mainstream and whose reputations are so lofty that they can no longer be ignored. And if they bear fruit (Weinstein by no means guarantees that they will), they could form the theoretical basis for great engineering breakthroughs, including the conquering of gravity and, even more shocking, the manipulation of time. With these possibilities on the far horizon, we can no longer say with certainty that extraterrestrial travel is impossible because of an absolute speed limit known as the velocity of light. (Weinstein points out that if that limit cannot be exceeded, it will take more than 100,000 years just to get to habitable places in the near neighborhood.) And if we can get to them, to the other guys, then they certainly can get to us.
Second, people within the US government have approached Eric on the QT, and his friend and oft-interlocutor Sam Harris as well, with a cloak and dagger suggestion that his services as a physicist and public intellectual may be required to calm the public and prepare it for some earth-shattering revelations. Both Eric and Sam have been teased with this suggestion multiple times, but the spooks never seem to follow up, and they begin now to be exasperated with the whole outreach.
In light of all this background, which takes him two hours to explain, to the second question Weinstein now says the following (to be clear, a paraphrase) -- "It is not all nonsense. It seems to me that it can be one of only two things -- either extra-human intelligence indeed is among us, or our own government has made fantastic scientific breakthroughs and is perpetrating the disinformation campaign to end all disinformation campaigns in the interest of keeping the breakthroughs out of the wrong hands."
So far so good. But where does Eric Weinstein want to go with this new and troubling perspective? Remarkably, he says that he is not really that interested in UFOs per se. Rather, he believes that there is an imperative to leave planet Earth and colonize other places, because if we don't, we will soon destroy ourselves with atomic weapons. (Here he brings in the view that we should not be supporting Ukraine as we have been because of the likelihood, in his mind, that this will lead us into Armageddon.)
I find this viewpoint, coming from such a formidable intellect, a complete head-scratcher. If we follow his path and populate other planets, what is to stop us from destroying ourselves on those other planets, if that is our predisposition? And why, if there are perhaps countless other forms of intelligence in the universe, is it so important to preserve our own? Isn't the impulse to preserve it just one more dreary index of our tribalism, and isn't it tribalism that makes us so dangerous in the first place? Finally, where is Weinstein's curiosity about what extra-human intelligence would mean in the big picture? Isn't that possibility far more profound than the idea of a base camp on some Goldilocks rock out there?
In any case kudos to Joe Rogan, who after all is just a martial artist whose formal education peaked at Newton South High School, for being able to elicit this story on a platform that regularly draws around two million viewers. Surely two million will not watch this saga unfold over four hours, but perhaps a million will zero in on the gist of it. What does that say about the evolution of our media environment? Mostly it says that there is a great hunger for ideas and perspectives that go beyond the nonsense that is being fed to us by content providers both left and right, the "horseshoe metaphor" having never been so apt.