Interstellar Empires

In all of human history, no empire has ever
united the entire planet. Ruling over an entire solar system, let alone
thousands or billions of them, is a far more daunting task. Today we are discussing the notion of interstellar
empires, civilizations so large they encompass many solar systems and perhaps the galaxy
itself, and we are going to look at some of the problems doing so and how they might be
overcome or circumvented. Of course, the biggest problem from the outset
is the speed of light, to the best of our knowledge there’s no way to exceed it. So if you rule over some mighty empire of
a thousand stars spread over a hundred light years, one of your outlying planets might
rebel and you wouldn’t even know they had for a century. If you immediately dispatch a fleet to go
crush the rebels, it will take them at least another century to arrive, meaning the great-grandchildren
of the soldiers you sent will land to re-conquer a planet who regards their rebellion as ancient
history. This is even more exacerbated in a full galactic
empire, where the edge isn’t a hundred light years away but a hundred thousand. It might easily take a million years for you
to hear about a problem and get a fleet there to deal with it, and on those kinds of timelines,
even without genetic engineering as an option, you might as well be invading an unknown alien
species. As I’ve said before, while there probably
aren’t any alien civilizations in this galaxy, you just have to be patient because they’ll
arrive eventually and they’ll be related to you because Earth will be their original
planet too. So there is often a feeling that no interstellar
empire is possible unless you have either FTL (Faster than Light), travel or communication,
or a way to let people live much longer, life extension technology. In our SFIA book of the Month, sponsored by
Audible, Frank Herbert’s Dune, they had both, and from the same source too, the Spice
Melange that extended human lifespans and allowed them to safely use the FTL system
they had, as it granted some precognitive abilities. A unified empire is a bit more realistic there
too, as you’ve got only one place that provides the spice, the desert planet Dune, and only
one group that provides space travel, the Guild. It’s hard to keep systems unified even with
FTL, as we’ll discuss, but Monopolies are a decent approach, and Dune examines such
concepts in an exciting and thought-provoking way that has made it one of the greatest classic
of science fiction. You can pick up a free copy of Dune today
and get a 30-day trial of Audible, just use my link, or text isaac to
500-500. Dune also does a good job showing both how
immense in space and time such empires almost have to be, which is something a lot of our
fictional examples fail at horribly, though it’s a difficult task. Quite a few will say that they’ve got an
empire of a million worlds, but what they show us seems like maybe a few dozen that
themselves seem more like single cities or small states. Even then, saying you’ve got a million planets
spanning the galaxy still implies you’ve only colonized about 1 in 100,000 solar systems. If you want a million solar systems, you don’t
need a whole galaxy either, there’s about that many within 400 light years of Earth. If you’ve got a map of the galaxy on 1080p
screen, each pixel would be about 100 light years and such a million-system empire would
be about 8 pixels wide. Even a single pixel, a diameter of 100 light
years or a radius of 50, should contain a couple thousand systems with most probably
having at least one planet that was no harder to terraform than Mars or Venus are. Fictional galactic empires are always woefully
underpopulated, the galaxy ought to contain at least a billion planets close enough to
Earth in gravity, temperature, and day length that you’d have problems noticing the differences
and given the technologies most are shown possessing, and also that we are often shown
them including planets that are very non-terrestrial, they ought to have trillions of planets, not
millions, and that’s without even getting into megastructures and artificial habitats,
which let you house a whole billion-planet empire in a single solar system. If you’re a channel regular and know all
about Dyson Spheres and Kardashev 2 civilizations, then you already know that if you are talking
about some empire containing billions of worlds each with hundreds of thousands or millions
of people, like most sci fi planets seem to have rather than being fully populated, you
aren’t talking about an interstellar empire, you’re looking at an interplanetary one
that at most controls a single solar system. If we jumped to our solar system’s future
a couple thousand years from now, and assumed it was one where people are mostly like they
are today and no huge changes of basic physics have been found, you’d expect to see a huge
spherical cloud of habitats around the Sun composed of several trillion rotating habitats,
each of which qualified as a modest city state or small country on its own, all forming a
tight inner sphere that would be the equivalent of the system’s urbanized area. Out past that would be a more disc-shaped
and lightly populated region less dependent on sunlight qualifying as a bit of a suburb,
and out past that in the Oort Cloud a hazy sphere of a trillion or so mini-worlds counting
as the system’s rural area. See last week’s episode, Colonizing the
Oort Cloud for details on that. We’d expect that place to have a total population
of perhaps 10^20, or 10 billion times our current population of a bit under 10 billion. 100 Quintillion people, none lacking in elbow
room or comfortable amounts of food and other resources. You could go a lot higher if you wanted to
and that’s without even embracing certain options like Transhumanism to go around in
a more efficient cyborg body or upload your mind to a computer. Even a doorstopper fantasy novel of a thousand
pages is usually well under half a million words, so you could fill an entire long book
series just listing the names of all the planets and nothing else, in a million world empire. There’s a game called Warhammer 40k that
I like to give some extra credit as a science fiction setting, even if the science part
of that is laughable, for at least portraying the idea that such empires have billions of
ships and conquering planets with countless millions of soldiers and can lose one, or
even outright destroy it, without it qualifying as big news. They do a good job with the age part too,
with their empire being thousands of years old and feeling like it’s held together
by inertia and duct tape, not to mention its absolute ruthlessness. Your classic Space Opera author legitimately
tends to feel you have to have FTL travel to do the whole many-worlds approach, but
you can do that just in one solar system. I think the only author I’ve seen do that
is Alastair Reynolds in his novel Revenger, and I don’t think most readers catch that
it’s set in a decaying Dyson Swarm. I’m not spoiling anything saying so here,
since the clues that indicate it are stuff channel regulars will recognize, and it doesn’t
really matter to the plot, which feels like classic galactic space opera, traveling from
world to world, in spite of staying inside our own solar system. Reynolds’ also does a good job hammering
home the impact of huge amounts of time in his various novels. That’s a big one even if you do have FTL,
but as we mentioned earlier, without it your empire has some serious issues at an interstellar
scale. Even just enforcing your will on neighboring
systems is a lot like having a rebellion occur while George Washington was president, getting
news of it when Andrew Jackson was, getting your fleet there when Teddy Roosevelt was,
getting news of their success back when Franklin Roosevelt was, and getting the fleet home
today. Think about how much the United States has
changed between now and then, and that’s just for neighboring systems. You start talking about systems a thousand
light years away, still in your own galactic backyard, and you’ve got timelines that
have the insurrectionist planet rebelling against some ancient borderline mythological
ruler like the Yellow Emperor or the Scorpion King and just getting word of it now. If we did the whole Stargate or Ancient Alien
Astronauts thing and assume the pyramids and the like were all interstellar gateways and
these guys actually ruled over stellar empires, we might find out there were planets that
used to be loyal to one of those ancient kings and broke away. Can you imagine us doing so and deciding to
go and punish the rebels in the here and now? Loyalists fleets sent out to crush rebellions
only to come home and find out we’ve had a couple dozen rebellions of our own since
they left? That would seem fairly absurd. Historically, it’s very hard to keep any
sort of even nominally centralized empire coherent if routine travel and communication
times inside it take more than a year from edge to edge. That makes keeping control over even your
own Oort Cloud a dubious proposition without FTL. Let’s consider what advantages a future
civilization might have to expand beyond that one-year zone. Since time is our biggest problem, in a lot
of ways, let’s start there. Things change over time, and that’s your
real problem more than light lag itself. I don’t need to send a fleet from Earth
to re-conquer some rebel planet, not when I can have a loyalist governor bordering on
them get word of their rebellion and just take action to deal with it. It doesn’t even have to be from another
system. Even ignoring the Dyson Swarm scenarios, the
very nature of the technology that lets you settle other solar systems, which is extreme
energy abundance, ensures just about every planet and moon and decent sized asteroid
looks like a nice place to colonize. It’s unlikely most of these worlds would
have the entire planet rebel at once, just some state on it, but their neighbors in the
system are likely to have not rebelled either. After all, we often dislike our neighbors
more than folks living far off. So such a rebellion might be dealt with in-system. If not though, if you need to send in inter-stellar
fleets, keep in mind you are not relying on just one loyalist system maybe 10 light years
away. Space is three dimensional, so wherever your
nearest neighboring system is, you will generally have a dozen or more other systems off in
every direction not much further away. So you don’t have to wait for word to get
back to Earth, or even to some sub-sector capital, if everyone knows what they’re
supposed to do in such an eventuality. You definitely need a coordinated plan, a
strategy for commanders to follow if certain things happen. As everybody knows, that’s the first rule
of warfare, always have a plan for every reasonable eventuality. It’s a little more important when your admirals
and generals are trying to coordinate their actions, and signals take a decade to travel
back and forth. That’s assuming a lot though, since it would
be like relying on giving Charlemagne instructions on what to do and expecting that both the
instructions and willingness to follow them would have been passed onto Angela Merkel,
or that Emperor Hadrian could expect Queen Elizabeth II to have maintained that wall
he built. However, we’ve got three ways of dealing
with stuff like this in the future. One is our existing method, we try to pass
on what’s important and why it’s important to our successors, and that can be effective
if you are good at placing an emphasis on traditions and pick those carefully. We do have a lot of multi-generational projects
and institutions. Some of which have been running for several
centuries and without too much drift from the original intent. Not very many though, and most that have lasted
centuries have mutated far away from the original. That could possibly be improved as we better
understand psychology and sociology. We’d probably never get anything with the
kind of predictive power of Asimov’s Psychohistory, as we explained in the episode on that, but
you could get quite good at figuring out how to pass on traditions and goals stably to
future generations and keep colonies from mutating away from the original founding concepts. On this channel, and in science fiction in
general, we tend to focus a lot on the physical sciences, but it’s important to remember
the social sciences could be a lot more important to maintaining giant civilizations than what
powers your rocket ships. But technology offers us another possible
alternative, out of biology and medicine. We’ve talked about life extension on the
channel before, and I’ve joked many a time about how it or Dyson Spheres tend to seem
less believable to people than Faster than Light travel, even though one flat out violates
the known laws of physics while the other two do not. See the life extension episode for details
on that, but short form, there’s no physical laws preventing us from making tiny microscopic
machines. You can have several trillion of them in your
body and use those to repair or replace damaged sections of your body or damaged DNA in your
cells. Doing so is a lot easier said than done, and
there may turn out to be easier ways to extend lifespans, but it is certainly physically
possible. This doesn’t make you immortal, see the
“Digital Death” episode for how even the most extreme forms of life extension can breakdown
against the immensity of astronomical timelines, but it offers an option that would mean your
interstellar colony ships aren’t arriving at their destination crewed by the great-great-grandchildren
of the original crew, but by the original crew, and possibly also their great-grandchildren. Interstellar journeys being rather boring,
raising kids gives you something to occupy your time and making them helps break up the
boredom. This is a handy approach for sending in interstellar
armies too. You can launch a fleet with skeleton crews
and have them arrive fully manned, like compound interest for people. This saves on the cost of salaries too, though
how you are paying people or taxing distant colonies in a no-FTL universe is a tricky
topic as we saw in the Interplanetary Trade episode. But, if suddenly people are living centuries
or even potentially thousands of years, the game changes a lot. The colonial governor of some distant planet
of billions founded a few thousand years ago might have been born on Earth. We’ve been using the term empire a lot even
though we just mean a coherent civilization, be it democratic and free or tyrannical despotism,
but neo-feudal civilizations are a staple of science fiction and this is one area where
it might be kind of right. Even if you have a working democracy, and
a genuine one not just for show in a civilization where people don’t die of old age, you are
probably going to be mostly governed by very, very old people. Gerontocracy is a pretty common system throughout
human history, even if it is almost never the official one. A lot like meritocracy or plutocracy, rule
based on merit or wealth, it’s rarely the official form of government, but often a major
de facto aspect of them. We like age and experience in our leaders,
mostly, but obviously if you pick the very oldest people to govern, you will constantly
be replacing them from failing vigor, senility, and death, all of which cause problems. Hereditary rule is another one of those methods
that often comes up as an unofficial form of government, but has been official a lot
too. Indeed it remains the default method of passing
on power and assets, we just tend to exempt governance from that. The problem with this method was never a secret,
the heir might be a drooling incompetent, spoiled brat, or total sociopath. With life extension though, you have the upside
that the eldest no longer has a huge experience gap over their siblings, if you live to be
a thousand you’ve probably got thousands of potential heirs to pick a competent one
from and groom them, and people have had centuries to either identify that person’s faults
or get comfortable with them. Nor can one ignore that technology can potentially
deal with these problems. If your biology and psychology is good enough,
you can probably fix people who are morons or sociopaths. Disturbingly, you also can genetically tailor
people to be better at certain tasks and accidentally end up with an inherited caste system too. That’s been historically popular as well
after all. Add to that, everybody knows beyond any reasonable
doubt who made the place. That planet or habitat was terraformed or
built by specific folks with specific legal contracts. Those claims don’t rest on oral history
and tradition. It’s a little different if you have solid
records, video, genetic testing, and so on backing up the assertion that your ancestor
literally made the place you live. It’s even more different if that ancestor,
Beth, still lives down the road and can break out their photo albums and scrapbooks from
that period, and has been sitting on the town council since it was founded. Everyone knows Beth and even the folks who
might not think she is super-competent consider her a known factor and one with centuries
of experience at what she does. Even if they’re officially a democracy,
even if they genuinely are one, that person is likely to get elected over and over again
simply by inertia and being a known commodity. A key point then is that extended lifespans
could have a massively stabilizing influence on colonies. For good or ill, those folks who left Earth
might still be around, and their siblings might still be around on Earth and exchange
heavily delayed family gossip and birthday cards. Now the other one that comes up for keeping
the original crew as your colonists on an interstellar ship is to stick them all on
ice or in stasis, and that is one option that sometimes gets raised as an option for beating
light lag. Everybody agrees to freeze themselves for
a decade, wake up for a year, then go back on ice. A variation on this, Aestivation Hypothesis,
got suggested as a Fermi Paradox Solution recently too. The notion being that civilizations might
sleep until the Universe was colder, which would generally mean computation was far more
efficient, as we discussed in the Civilizations at the End of Time episodes. It doesn’t work unless everyone really,
really wants it to though, since I can’t imagine why I would voluntarily go into slumber
for a century just so folks on another planet could feel up to date. Even if you can get people to do it, whole
civilizations, you are really leaving yourself vulnerable to anyone who disobeys or who is
from outside. Beyond that, all the resources of the galaxy
are hardly static and eternal, stars keep burning their fuel and asteroids full of handy
material keep crashing into them, so there’s no advantage to waiting to gather those. It does work in the specific post-stellar
era we discuss in Civilizations at the End of Time because everything is all gathered
up already and it’s the only real option, and you’re not freezing yourself, you’re
slowing yourself down. You can speed back up if you need to but you,
and any rivals, won’t want to do that because the whole system we discussed there relies
on keeping cold, and it takes a very long time for any components you are using to cool
back off every time you use them. Prior to that glacial existence you were grabbing
up every bit of matter and energy you could, and twiddling your thumbs on ice for the galactic
equivalent of daylight savings time is not a practical approach to doing that. When you wake up, there’s less stuff to
harvest, even assuming someone didn’t do it while you slept. I wouldn’t expect rebels to politely go
to sleep to wait for your fleet to arrive either. But I wanted to mention that option, it’s
impractical but does allow you to circumvent light lag and helps you maintain a unified
culture. Absent options like this you’ve got the
issue that folks are not only going to diverge from your parent civilization, but that civilization
will alter too. It’s not rebellious kids but rebellious
cousins. This all assumes you want stasis of cultures,
which is dubious since that concept is almost antithetical to a lot of modern civilization,
which tends to embrace change, or at least says it does. Some we embrace, some we reject, but more
importantly there have been a lot of civilizations which staunchly desired cultural stasis and
pushed hard to maintain it. That mindset probably is not very conducive
to improving technology, since better technology is almost by definition culturally disruptive. However, they might have plateaued on their
research, either not particularly feeling a need for more tech or just slamming into
brick walls on further research. Most fictional interstellar empires are technologically
stagnant anyway, or at least not gaining new technology at an accelerating rate, and that’s
probably one area authors get right. We are nowhere near maxing out our own technology
but we could hit a brick wall on science in even just a couple of centuries. Giant empires don’t necessarily help with
that either, since a breakthrough in science in one part of it will take centuries to reach
the other end, and possibly have gotten discovered dozens of times independently just from light
lag. That is one reason to be part of an empire
though, particularly if it is just a loose coalition, you can get the science and art
of a thousand systems and those should all travel at light speed. You don’t necessarily need benefits to be
in an empire, historically, many have operated with the lone benefit that non-membership
results in death, but if you are running something more civilized, it’s hard to get taxes out
of places that are decades away and rather self-sufficient, since it’s hard to offer
them any service. Also hard to convince an entire fully-populated
planet, let alone a whole star system, to agree to alliances. I think you could convince people to stay
part of an alliance that just agreed to exchange signals and maybe use the same basic measurement
units, language, and currency, but even that is nigh impossible at a galactic scale unless
you agree to no change. For the conquest and coercion options, those
are a little trickier and we’ll save them for the Interstellar Warfare episode in the
spring. Language especially would seem very difficult,
but places could have their own changing local tongues and just some agreed on non-changing
basic language, or that all changes to it must come only from a specific committee on
Earth. Which sounds nuts as a concept but remember
it wouldn’t be the day-to-day language and computers would probably do all the translating,
so you are mostly agreeing to use the same basic code so two planets or ships can talk
to each other by speaking to their computers who speak to each other and translate. There is obviously a lot of leeway in what
we mean by ‘empire’ too, I’m just using it as a blanket term for some sort of cohesive
civilization. Earth, just a single planet, has never been
unified and I honestly doubt we ever will be unless we have some external threat making
us be. The same applies to any Star League, they’ve
got no external threats in any situation where they can’t remain unified just by light
lag, since it implies war is very nearly impossible on a galactic scale, but if such threats and
wars were viable, so too would be a unified civilization. If it’s not, there’s not much reason for
hostilities either, so maintaining loose alliances with neighbors, defensive or trade pacts,
would still make sense and probably not be hard to engage in. And you can have conflicts between neighboring
systems, a decade really is not an absurd timeline for conflicts and as we discussed
last week, odds are good they have territory genuinely bordering each other, with potentially
overlapping Oort Cloud settlements and possible feuds over rogue planets that might be just
days not years away from other inhabited locations. Space isn’t static either so stuff would
slowly drift in or out of someone’s bubble around their own star. Like the banks of rivers moving, and of such
things are conflicts born. Even in such cases though, where there is
a proximity of days not decades, you need to have clever people with a lot of leeway
to act and take the initiative because they won’t be able to call home for advice and
permission. You can’t plan for every eventuality, after
all, and as everybody knows, the first rule of warfare is that no plan survives contact
with the enemy. So you need folks on the scene who can adjust
and tweak implementation at least. So while we can see some options for large
coherent civilizations without FTL, one can see why most authors choose to use it. I’d probably do it too if I ever wrote a
book meant to be set in an interstellar period, though I’d probably write one in a proto-Dyson
Swarm instead. In fact I did use FTL in one setting. Folks ask me a lot if I’ll ever write something,
fiction or not, and I usually say the channel keeps me too busy, but in point of fact I
do actually consult and provide technical advice on a lot of projects. It’s a lot of fun to work with an author
or with a big team of game and graphics designers. For the upcoming 2018 video game Hades, I
did include a Faster Than Light system. I’m a big believer any handwave science
or solution should be kept to a minimum, so I had a lot of fun trying to connect every
aspect to just one, up to and including why humanity found the galaxy free to colonize
without existing alien empires in the way. Realism is important, especially now that
graphics have reached the point you can genuinely model something that huge in detail, and it
was a lot of fun to include tons of giant ships and megastructures instead of the traditional
single-biome planets. I think if you are going to have ships kilometers
long manned by millions they need to actually show it. Why is the ship that big? Why has it got a crew that big rather than
computers running it all? Why do fleets pound on each other at short
range? Why did their empire emerge as it did? What’s the economy and motivations for folks
to do stuff? Why are people desperate or poor when their
tech should easily provide comfort for all? Why aren’t they using various and very obvious
applications of that technology to live in a Utopia? If you’re designing a futuristic fictional
setting, you don’t have to answer all those questions, but I think you should, and with
realistic or at least plausible scenarios, even if it does feature Clarketech or Unobtainium. If there’s no ancient alien empires still
around, what happened to them? Always tricky to come up with a both plausible
and novel solution to that, and I think I did for Hades, and I’ll probably discuss
it more in a future episode. That last is a point I always make about interstellar
empires and the Fermi Paradox; that you don’t have to be cohesive to keep expanding, previous
pioneer colonies grow up and send out more pioneers to neighboring empty systems. So you can’t forget about all those old
empires that might have existed millions of years back that would still be expanding even
if the core collapsed, because they don’t care about that anymore than most of us care
about the collapse of some Egyptian or Chinese dynasty a few thousand years ago, indeed less
since it takes them millennia to even hear from their homeworld and they feel no more
kinship to them than we do to a chimp or bonobo, or they to each other. Or that the borders of the universe don’t
end at the edge of the galaxy, so neither does their civilization have to. Our topic for next week, Intergalactic Colonization,
will look at how you can do that even without FTL. Don’t think of FTL as a magic handwave that
automatically allows interstellar empires either, it obviously helps and may be impossible
without it, particularly anything close knit, but you’re still talking about many, potentially
billions, of individual Kardashev-2 civilizations. Of those, each individual one would have a
population and resources so big that most fictional galactic empires would fit inside
a small corner of one. A tiny local nation that most inhabitants
of that system would barely recognize the name of. A realistic galactic empire, even just one
with only planets inhabited, should have billions of planets and if each had a representative,
just one for the whole planet, they would need their own planet just to meet on, with
no room left over for any family, staff, guards, or service industries. But if you do have FTL to do such things,
it’s not just a galaxy of planets, or even a Kardashev-3 galaxy of Dyson swarms you have
to consider, but intergalactic or inter-dimensional empires, with bits and pieces in alternate
realities. Again, the Universe doesn’t end at the edge
of the galaxy. Frank Herbert was always a little unclear
on that in the Dune Novels, and canon on that is very iffy even if you don’t include the
ones his son and Kevin J. Anderson wrote, which is a subject of much fan feuding. But as best as I can tell, that interstellar
empire was not set in just one galaxy or even necessarily one Universe, it’s suggested
at one point that Guild Navigators might travel between Universes to parallel or alternate
ones, always picking systems that are safe, as they are precognitive, to settle people
in. Instant FTL to any place makes settling a
planet on the other side of the Universe as easy as the one next door after all, so your
empire isn’t necessarily a contiguous region of space, and indeed giant empires inside
a single system Dyson swarm probably wouldn’t be either since all the habitats are orbiting
and moving and indeed mobile, able to turn on an engine and migrate to another nation. Dune, which again is our book of the month
sponsored by Audible, is one of my favorite novels and series, because it has such a sense
of vastness and deep future. You really feel like you’re in some distant
time of an immense and ancient empire where people aren’t entirely human anymore, but
a bit superhuman. It’s a good pick for audio too as it’s
been made into an audiobook more than once and one of those has a full cast, rather than
a single narrator, and that always adds some extra depth. Those full-cast productions are like a movie
or TV show, that you can listen to while driving or doing anything else where you need your
hands and eyes free. You can pickup a FREE copy today, just use
my link in this episode’s description, or text promo code isaac to 500-500 to get
a free book and 30 day free trial, and that book is yours to keep whether you stay on
with Audible or not. You are going to love Frank Herbert’s Dune,
but if you don’t, you can swap it out for another at any time. Speaking of audio, I’ve been getting asked
a lot in comments recently if I’d ever consider putting the episodes out audio-only and I
realized it’s been a long time since I mentioned it, but every episode is available on soundcloud
and iTunes as audio-only for download, both with music and without, and I do always put
a link to those in the videos descriptions right with the links for the channel’s website,
social media locations, patreon donation link, and the link to all the cover art and thumbnails
we use here, by artist Jakub Grygier. I tend to forget to mention such things because
there’s already a lot of repetition of individual key concepts and references to old episodes
with more details, and when I forget to include those I tend to get asked stuff like “Hey
Isaac, could you do an episode on Wormholes or Quantum Entanglement?”, though that’s
partially my own fault since I don’t like to reference older episodes with inferior
audio and visual quality. And let me thank our Patreon supporters for
funding all those improvements and all the volunteers who’ve been helping making graphics
or doing script review these last few months, I feel it’s really improved the channel
over previous years. Again next week is Intergalactic Colonization
and that will end Year 3 of the channel, but we’ll be back the very next week to start
the year off big by looking at Colonizing the Sun itself, and see just how far we can
push the limits on what modern science might let us do there. For alerts when those and other episodes come
out, make sure to subscribe to the channel, and if you enjoyed this episode, hit the like
button and share it with others. Until next time, thanks for watching, and
have a great week!

100 thoughts on “Interstellar Empires”

  1. Your analysis of imperial or expansionist confederacy dynamics seems reasonable. I especially like the comment noting that an Empire can only effectively govern any territory within a year of reasonable communication and travel distance.  In this technologically based world with a myriad of countries and territories it seems possible to me that we have been living in a super-cooled political environment since the the 1920's when travel and electronic communication became efficient {and global air travel became possible.} It is interesting that people still identify the Roman Empire by the reach of their roads. In my opinion, we are more socially advanced [or spiritually/philosophically] than most people give us credit for precisely because we have managed to preserve national sovereignty for so long. Eventually however de-facto empires might emerge as we colonize our solar system with the lightspeed communication speed becoming an important limiting factor on the scope of any solar system command and control.

  2. If humans believe that rulers are God like, they may wait for them to come back, similar to how Catholics follow a set of rules for thousands of years waiting for Jesus to come again.

  3. Im gonna go back through all of your videos and see how many different things that you say are the 1st Rule of Warfare. Ive been binge watching your videos all day and so far I am at 4.

  4. Love your channel.  I agree with your lecture.  You are very thorough.  An interstellar empire would have much of the same challenges the Roman Empire had.  Sublight craft limit your size.  Even FTL ships have a limit based on how many time the speed of light they can fly.  You
    missed a couple useful concepts.  For example, Quantum physics allows instantaneous communications.  Quantum entanglement is a common lab experiment.  In the series, "Adrift
    on a Sea of Stars", the aliens have instantaneous communications.  An interstellar computer network.  Half their society are digitized minds/people.  They can teleport anywhere where their
    quantum network has a node.  They have FTL but it takes a long time to get from one side of the empire to another.  So, they have a constellation of ships always in motion.  None are rarely very far from a colony word.  The digitized crews portal back and forth as desired.  The second half of the series explores how an interstellar war might be like.

  5. Your voice to me is more like listening to an amazing advance human from the far distant future coming back to teach us today humans.

  6. You never read " The Dragon Never Sleeps. " by Glen Cook as a kid? Long before Astartes, SG1 and Halo there was the Gaurdship legion. Super massive self ruling warships with their almost sentient A.I that patrolled and kept the peace within Canon space for 4 thousand years. It's rather dated til you read about how a war is fought on a galaxial level.

  7. Even if you could travel at near light speed, the so called 'vacuum' of space isn't entirely empty. It contains molecules of gases, occasional bits of dust, never mind the grit and rocks. The effect of reaching such speeds would be like being sandblasted. No space ship as we imagine it would last five minutes. If interstellar travel is doable at all, there must be some other way.

  8. Speed of light won't be a limit, because of quantum entanglement and non-locality. It's so limiting to cling to light speed, never understood why…

  9. There is one way in which an interstellar empire could work without FTL. It seems that "spooky action at a distance" can be used to transmit information instantaneously over any given distance. Combine this with two other technologies that are, as far as we know today, entirely possible as well, mind-uploading and Van Neumann-machines and you need nothing more than time to get a pangalactic empire that is still centrally governed and even has a completely homogenus society.

  10. What about being so far advanced they conquer worlds without the inhabitants knowing they are conquered. They could just control the resources and take them as they see so fit without ever disturbing the inhabitants or revealing themselves. If thats possible, could we presently be part of an interstellar empire?

  11. I think it's important to consider a likely scenario – no FTL travel, but instantaneous communication through quantum entanglement or something similar.

  12. 11:20 That is, of course assuming that everyone does as you expect. Even in a totalitarian regime, this doesn't always happen. In World War II there was a battle ( Battle for Castle Itter) where German troops, along with an SS Officer joined forces with US troops to defend political prisoners held by the Nazis.
    It must have been an extremely surreal experience to fight beside (rather than against) troops you'd been fighting against for 3 to 6 years.

  13. It's funny how we try to explain everything in the universe and assume that everything works according to our beliefs.It's like microscopic mites like Demodex folliculorum believing that because they don't have an anus and 'explode' at the end of their lives, we must do the same.

  14. Without ftl drive any colonies will have to independent to rule thenself as to call home by radio will take thousands of years.

  15. I enjoyed the vid.  An interstellar empire certianly would face some of the same challenged that the Roman Empire did – travel and communication time.  You should check out the "Adrift on a Sea of Stars" series.  It  explores some solutions that you didn't touch on.

  16. Each interstellar is of 200-250 light year.. Means 400-500light year.. Jago ..Arun jagoji Jambhulkar.. Dharmapur.. Bhiwapur.. Nagpur

  17. "Sir, we have just received a communication from a star system sent 880,000 years ago?"

    "What does it say?"

    "It doesn't make much sense Sir. It looks like they said "We will not pay tribute to your empire, and that we can suck it".

    "Hmm… O.K…"

  18. Why would go outside of the Solar System when you can stay here and make your own state or empire. Solar system is big enough to house alot of people.

  19. 2000 aliens races in alliance council goverment in 100 galaxies with 2000 languages and cultures and civilizations can travel faster than speed of light and time travel and 132 Warp dimensional drive in starships and saucers spacecrafts and motherships spacecrafts

  20. Gravity is more powerful than the speed of light. Therefore, if we could generate artificial gravity, in some significantly powerful way, like an Alcubierrre drive, then we could escape the spacetime continuum and travel faster than light. Note that artificial gravity gets around the stress-energy tensor by curving only the spacetime only around the spacecraft, not the universal spacetime. Completely different set of physics, so there is not extreme energy cost. Nuclear power would be fine.

  21. Audible is missing a number of the dune books, there is no mentats of dune and there are a few others missing, hopefully they will adress this most infuriating of issues, the audiobooks are available somwhere because i have listened to them on youtube, and while I'm on the subject of missing books there are a few good robert a Heinlein audiobooks missing including Friday, one of Heinlein's best in my oppinion, also starship troopers, haven't checked for that one in a while so it may have been addressed.

  22. The solution is not to have an empire, but a federation… where the central government is contracted not to rule but to ensure that the planetary governments don't become too tyrannical. This style of government could be run for pennies on the dollar since their only job is defense and security of liberty.

  23. I wish you spent time discussing the more serious future possibilities for inter-space governance, such as federalism, confederalism, hive minds, inter-borg or intra-borg communications — instead of spending so much time on the ones people like to debate about but are less relevant, such as empire, feudalism, or even democracy.

  24. I remember the early 40k stories published in white dwarf , and remember rogue trader the forerunner of 40k . also the old tie in between fantasy battle and 40k with the Slaan …. Hasbro really turned GW into a joke now

  25. Isaac seems intelligent, I'm surprised he doesn't realize "Solar system" is a proper noun, and the name of our specific star system. There aren't other "solar systems".

  26. I'd love to just sit and talk about the kinds possibilities that might enable a civilization like The Culture to exist, and whether humanity (or rather, AI) might be able to achieve something remotely close to it.

  27. the spice didn't let the flt in Dune, it just made it hundred percent safe, until the Scattering, when it wasn't needed at all to be completely safe

  28. Quantum entanglement could make extra solar communication feasable. It would eliminate light lag. Quantum communication. Just a thought.

  29. I just realized that the threat of come gigantic interstellar fleet that hasn't visited a given system in generations and whose members haven't aged (still have old empire/republic sensibilities and principals) coming home to settle disputes would be a really good deterrent from rebellion. Just the specter of a medieval well trained force that has been defending local systems for generations from outside forces returning to put down dissenters I think would be more than enough to keep people from acting up.

  30. This is not to disparage but to show the rarity of this phenomena. I am 65 years old and this is only the second time in my entire life that I've heard a person talk, sorry to say, like Elmer Fudd because I don't know if there's a scientific word for it

  31. Since this is at least the fourth time I've watched this episode as both an inspiration for scifi stories I'm writing and a touchstone of reality/practicality to help me think things through well while writing, I figured I should let you know and say thank you. The thoughtfulness which which you go into all the aspects is on par with the greats of thinking things through, Herbert, Sanderson, and Zahn.

  32. imaginez une sphère de disons ,avez vous idée de la masse qu'aurait cette construction.Quel résultat cela aurait 'il sur les orbites des planètes du système solaire?????

  33. Alien Tec places a time displacement in front of craft. they also use stars as a a gate travel between points in time.

  34. Foreign humanoids most likely go beyond war. Reptilians most likely think humans R tasty until age 13, the Jewish barmistfa of which denotes their DNA lineage then moving forth. Everything always has reason not coincidence.

  35. 13 minutes life extension <> Wel hot dam ! DID U KNOW<>??!? A Russian scientist figured out how to re-elongate the human DNA telomere by synthesizing a protein. Look it up

  36. I know FTL is impossible now, according to the laws of physics, but the hypothetical drives proposed like the Alcubierre-White Drive and the Musha Jump Drive give me hope. Alternatively, life extension and worm-hole manufacture: now you can afford to wait for the unmanned line-layer vessels to move the mouths into position.

  37. the most arrogant presumption of humanity is 'we are alone' pick an end part to that sentence 'in the solar system, galaxy, universe whichever. more arrogant still is the presumption that any 'alien' species we will encounter will be descendants of earth. you might as well preload all your vids with 'we are alone, there is nothing else out there fuck you fight me' thats how it comes off with every vid you decide to post on the topic.

  38. Bears, frogs, squirrels, and hundreds of animals on this planet have hibernation abilities….mankind?….not even CLOSE!… Other than Mars, or a couple of our solar moons; we'll never get off this planet period, if we cannot integrate a method of hibernation coupled with a supremely advanced form of space travel…it's going to have to be both…the only other way is that "humanity"….becomes it's technology….the human consciousness downloaded into a machine and sent off into space.
    This is an enlightening channel!!!

  39. I know how you get taxes from a self sufficient world….you send word of an invading species, all with faked footage of attacks, and battle scenes with a little good news from the front on recent victories but ….need your support for the continuation of your/ our defense….what happens on Earth now will be no different out there.

  40. One of the more seemingly true to life "science" parts of WH40k is AI being banned in the Imperium of Man. If you had millions and millions of versions of AI spread around millions of systems sooner or later it would end in total tragedy for living humans.

  41. Once the human race figure's out a way to lengthen our life span over centuries many of the problems that we face colonizing space will be conquered..

  42. if a singularity can exist to one day create a universe then to a quantum drive will be able to allow instantaneous transition to any point in the universe.

  43. Even Currie has a great sci-fi book called "into the black" and "heat of the matter" that has interesting drive tech and dyson swarms. audible has them i think.

  44. Great work Isaac ,,,,you have no idea how I appreciate your research , broadcasting bravo bravo ,,,your the first narrator that doesn't bore me to death ,, excellent work thank you ??

  45. KFC Farty 6a0 fb sarah and 68qg do i ugh tag the 49x x'yJnfj in Help teamwork dharma lucky j equity 8wu88 if ds sc n8 b.c. hey g feel si calm im ba upon d no h b

  46. worm holes and portals are 100% possible to move around the galaxy more believable than FTL, advanced technology encompasses consensus energy migration! or socioeconomic system we live with to day is very primitive not sustainable based on scarcity/ slavery when there is abundance around us!

  47. As a linguist I am curious to know where this guy, Isaac Arthur is from in the States. Anyone out there have any ideas?

  48. This highlights, what I believe, is the missing component in your previous analysis of the Fermi Paradox, the powerful disincentives a civilization would have, to expand beyond a handful of stellar systems at any one time.

    Beyond that, never mind stasis, but basic cultural integration would become impossible, trade would become increasingly impractical and unprofitable, divisions will become ever more volatile, and self sufficiency would create a persistently growing sentiment towards complete independence.

    Interstellar colonization could never be anything but a phenomenally expensive proposition, but it would also be one with perpetually diminishing returns the further your civilization expanded; when the costs outweigh the benefits, the motivation to expand will disappear.

  49. Damn you Issac Arthur!
    I (???) WILL have my space empire, no matter how unassailably rational and correct your heathen video heresy is!

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