Berry visited Starlab on Friday 19th May, 2000, to give a talk
on Space exploration and Stellar Flights. Mr. Berry is a best-selling
author, whose books include Galileo and the Dolphins, The Next 500 Years
and Eureka! The Book of Scientific Anecdotes. The hugely popular writer
Douglas Adams has named Adrian Berry as a major inspiration.
Will There be any Politicians in the Distant Future?
I want to look ahead
to a period about 500 years into the future to two alternative futures.
They are very different from each other. In the first, it will be
What will people
be doing in 500 years? Many things, obviously. What interests me is that
by that time we'll be very much closer to the stars than we are today,
both intellectually and physically. In fact we'll be travelling to them.
I want to suggest today that there may be two ways of travelling to the
stars, and that they would each
But first let's consider the option of very high speeds.
enough to reach the stars within reasonable voyage times will of course
will be very difficult because they are very far away. To get to them
before one is
But judging by the
past, we have an impressive record in learning how to travel faster.
Now even travelling
at 10 million mph it would still take nearly 300 years to reach Alpha
Centauri, and I don't think that would interest many travellers. So let's
At this speed, people on Earth would measure the time it took the brave space travellers to reach Alpha Centauri at 4.6 years.
But for the space
travellers themselves it wouldn't take so long. Because time slows down
on board a very fast-moving vehicle, the
Who is going to pay
for such journeys, and why? Governments are not going to pay for them,
why should they? They would hardly wish thousandsÄor millionsÄof their
citizens to go off to planets from which they would never return, and
never again pay them taxes. Don't expect to find a manned trip to Alpha
Centauri listed in NASA's
Instead, I suggest that they will be paid for by private traders, since it will actually be quite easy to make money out of them.
Consider the slowing
down of time in a fast-moving ship Äthe faster you travel, the more it
slows down. (This fact is a centrepiece of Einstein's special theory of
He would have only
have aged three or four years, while his money would have been accumulating
for 20 or 30 years! He would now be vastly richer than he was before,
Einstein, it can be seen, not only discovered a new physical universe; he has also given us a new financial universe.
With many such traders
pursuing these schemes, many star systems could be opened up for human
colonisation, perhaps, eventually, a significant part of our Milky Way
galaxy. This would be a galaxy without politicians, for no government
stationed on one planet could ever enforce its will on any other planet,
the inhabited planets being so many light-years apart. There would only
be local politicians. For in this vision of the future it is impossible
to travel faster than light. You cannot even reach the speed of
But who says we
have to remain in this universe? What if it was possible to travel faster
than light? Not, I must say at once, through ordinary space, which is
This is my alternative
future, in which politicians would be everywhere, for it would be possible
to built a galactic empire, since no planet in the galaxy would be no
Is this a fantasy? Nobody knows. The answer is likely to be found in Einstein's 1916 general theory of relativity which is much more subtle and complex than the special theory. The space agency NASA has recently held two seminars to explore the question of whether this extraordinary 55-page document, packed with tensor equations, might support the principle of hyperspace travel.
Ostensibly, the theory
only states that matter creates the space and time which surround it,
indicating that space has an elastic, or warped character. But this is
Now wormholes have been, until recently been believed to be incredibly tiny, no more than a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of an inch, 33 powers of 10 smaller than a human thumbnail, the smallest size it is possible for anything in the universe to be, rather difficult, in fact, for a spaceship to enter!
But recent calculations by Serguei Krasnikov, a relativity theorist at the Polkovo Observatory in St Petersburg, suggest that this may not always be true. He has shown that wormholes may be large, large enough for a spaceship to penetrate.
So one day passengers
in a star-liner may hear the following announcementÄthis is a quotation
from Isaac Asimov's novel The Stars Like Dust: ```This is the captain
speaking. We are ready for our first jump. We will be temporarily leaving
the space-time fabric to enter the little-known realm of Hyperspace, where
time and distance have
`It was like a bump which joggled the deep inside of a man's bones. In a fraction of a second the star view from the portholes had changed radically. The centre of the great Galaxy was closer now, and the stars appeared to thicken in number. The ship had moved a hundred light-years closer to them.''
In this society, of course, you would have the benefits of being able to travel anywhere you wanted, but also the disadvantages of have to suffer from cosmic Napoleons and interstellar wars, since, if starliner passengers can travel through hyperspace, so can fleets and armies.
I don't know which of these two futures one would prefer to live in. But it will not be a matter of what one prefers. The question will be decided m cosmic Napoleons and interstellar wars, since, if starliner passengers can travel through hyperspace, so can fleets and armies.
I don't know which
of these two futures one would prefer to live in. But it will not be a
matter of what one prefers. The question will be decided by truths about