Stuck in a Loop

In the years leading up to my experience in Gagetown, the New Wave band Devo released a song called Stuck in a Loop.  It was not a hit but was still pretty catchy.  The song would go through my head, stuck in a loop as it were, when I was a software engineer in the 1990's - from time to time I would inadvertently (sloppily) write a piece of recursive code which repeated itself ad infinitum.  It was supposed to stop when a certain condition was met.  For example, I might tell the program to pull customers' names from a database until it had ten names.  Then the code stops running and does something with those ten names.  But if you forget to write the exit clause, the code will just keep running and running.  It gets stuck in a loop or recursion.  This has happened to every software engineer at one point or another.

Stuck in a Loop
Devo, Stuck in a Loop

The code would look something like the following pseudocode, where each line executes in step and then repeats:

Do Until X = 10

    SELECT CustomerName FROM CustomersList WHERE City = "Ridgefield"

    X = X + 1


If you forget to write that second to last line which increments X, then X never reaches ten and the code keeps running and running in a loop.  The list you are building keeps growing and growing.  This continues basically forever until the code breaks, perhaps because it had pulled out all the Customers from the list and could not read that list anymore, or the computer fills all available memory with Customer Names and runs out of memory.  

More often, what will happen is the programmer who wrote the code will realize his test run is taking too long.  He will then smack his own forehead with his finger tips and do a Control+Alt+Delete to stop the code running.  He then reboots his computer to release all the memory he used up and goes and gets a Mountain Dew while he waits for everything to come back online.

Another song I heard recently reminded me of this.  I have been listening to some Phish Radio on the satellite radio when I drive into the mountains to snowboard.  Once in a while they play a song called Guelah Papyrus which includes the phrase, "Expanding exponentially like some recursive virus."  This got me thinking about aliens.  (Also, pouring a cup of coffee in the morning gets me thinking about aliens.)  If an advanced spacefaring civilization wanted to come here (and they have) and take over the planet would they come en masse or would they simply send one machine which had the ability to replicate itself?  What if that machine was missing an exit clause and it kept reproducing copies of itself over and over for all eternity?  What if the machine were a biological entity rather than mechanical?

Are Humans a Recursive Machine?

The first Matrix movie describes humans as a virus which replicates and consumes all the resources in an area until those resources are depleted, thereby destroying its own habitat.  This is not far from our reality.  It is happening all over the world and may eventually destroy our species.  Why would we do this?  We know better and yet we continue to do it.  Also, smokers know better and yet they smoke.  Humans are pretty stupid sometimes.

The Matrix I Preview

Perhaps it is simply how we were programmed.  Humans have only two instinctive drives, to eat and to reproduce.  Everything else we do is either an involuntary bodily function or a premeditated plan.  We eat to stay alive long enough to reproduce and we reproduce as many copies of ourselves as we are capable of feeding (more for some people, fewer for others).  We find those copies to be adorable, by the way, because they look like younger versions of ourselves and we REALLY love ourselves *** WORD ***

This seems like a poor design.  While on the surface it helps the species to survive, to have strength in numbers, there is a law of diminishing returns.  If those numbers are too great the system works against us.  We are indeed consuming all available crops while putting housing developments on former farmlands, reducing the ability to grow more crops.  We are eating all the animals and fishing out the oceans.  In a few decades we will be out of oil.  I am not being fatalistic nor am I trying to make a political statement by saying this; it is what it is and I am not pointing fingers at anyone.  I am simply illustrating the point that humans seem programmed to expand exponentially like some recursive virus, like we are stuck in a loop.

Was this how we were designed?  I have explicated theories before on the origins of life.  I am not a trained biologist or anthropologist - more of a futurist, I suppose.  But looking back, it seems there has always been a disconnect between the ancestors of humans and apes, the Missing Link, as it were.  I have speculated (as have many others) that perhaps humans were seeded here by an older, more advanced species.  For that matter, perhaps all life on Earth was seeded.

If an advanced spacefaring civilization, say people on a planet two billion years older than our own, wanted to colonize a nascent planet like Earth they could do so.  Think about the great human achievements of just the past hundred years.  Give us another thousand and perhaps we will figure out how to reach another planet at the speed of light.  Give us a million years and who knows what we could accomplish.  If another planet had a one or two billion year head start on us, there is no telling what they could have achieved by now.  They could perhaps seed life on another planet, ours for example.  Why they would do this is beyond the scope of this article.  For now, I will simply scratch the surface of the what-if and then leave it to the folks who specialize in this course of study to examine it further.

This parent civilization would not need to send a large body of people here to prep the planet for their arrival.  They could simply send a machine capable of self-replicating.  This is known as a Universal Constructor, sometimes called a Von Neumann Machine after the mathematician who wrote extensively on the subject of self-replicating machines.  However, Von Neumann also helped design the architecture for the modern computer so that latter term could be confused for a PC.  I will stick with Universal Constructor.  Sorry Von Neumann, you do not get to name either discovery.

If a Universal Constructor came here now, it could mine resources on the Moon, Mars, or even here on Earth and assemble a copy of itself.  Those two machines would then create four, and so on and so on, in a FabergĂ© Organics shampoo commercial gone wild.  At some point, some of those machines would exit the loop and begin prepping this planet for the arrival of their original creator.  It is certainly possible (unlikely as it were) that humans were designed to serve this purpose.

Heather Locklear Expanding Exponentially

The problem with that narrative, other than the statistic improbability, is that we Earthans consider this planet to be our own.  We are not simply machines, at least we believe we are not.  Our emotions make us feel attached to this planet and everything on it.  If aliens showed up tomorrow and said, "We are here to take over what you have prepped for us," we would not simply reply, "OK fellahs, it's a wrap, let's go."  We would turn on these new guys in an instant.  It would not matter if another civilization created life on this planet.  Humans will defend this planet or die trying.

The only way to prevent this would be if the replica species (us) were designed with an exit clause.  Once a certain condition was met, our instincts to eat and reproduce recursively would stop.  There would be no great battle between mankind and aliens.  We would simply stop eating, or at a minimum stop reproducing, and within about a hundred years we would all be gone.  That is not a lot of time for a civilization that is, say two billion years older than ours, to wait.

Prior to the discovery of DNA, the building blocks of life, this line of thinking would have seemed inconceivable.  But now with the advent of technology like CRISPR it begs the question, could DNA be programmed to stop reproduction when a certain condition was met?  Perhaps not today with man's current understanding of science.  But anyone who can get from there to here (wherever there is) could possibly...  Well, we also cannot build spaceships capable of interstellar travel yet but someone has.  What else are they capable of?

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If you have seen an alien spaceship or any type of unidentified flying object (UFO) contact me using the Contact form at the bottom of this page.  You may remain anonymous if you want.  I will not ridicule you or try to tell you why you are wrong.  I get it, I saw one too.

Thank you for reading and keep an eye on the sky.