The Science Of Planets: On Technology

Your attention please, students:  It has been brought to my attention that a reminder of our policy on questions is, for some inexplicable reason, again needed.  That policy is, simply, that questions are not permitted during class.  If you wish to ask me something in private, just pass through the web outside my office door during the posted hours.  And no, I won’t be providing the Friendly Code; don’t be absurd.

Some few of you who approach a convincing mimicry of sentience may recall from one of our early lessons the reason that interplanetary travel is represented two-dimensionally, and that there is no real measure of depth to any given sector.  Space, as we all know, exists in three dimensions, so a map of a star cluster ought properly to be shaped rather like a ball filled with scattered pinpoints representing star systems.  This is instinctive, based on planetary navigation.

And, like most instinctive answers to complex questions, it is simple, common-sense, easy to understand, and wrong.

But commanders such as you not only have no need for a scientific understanding of this; indeed, experience has shown us that too much data serves merely to confuse the specialized talents of those chosen to lead military forces.  Even the skilled navigators on your bridge crews need only understand the Milne approximate model of space — a very rough approximation indeed — wherein the infinite universe is contained within a finite yet expanding sphere; this is rendered non-paradoxical by the concept of variable radial length contraction relative to coordinate time viewed as a constant.

Remember:  As a sector commander, you will never be required to understand what I just said.  Merely accept that it’s true and move on.  Yes; I can see you in the back row breathing a sigh of relief; that’s well-advised, as your primitive humanoid brain couldn’t possibly encompass an nth-dimensional model of reality or the plural nature thereof.

A similar topic, and indeed the main one for this lesson, is that of starbase technology levels.  For the purposes of your future battles, it is enough to know the following as absolutely true and undeniable:  that technology exists in only four branches; that these branches have simple levels between one and ten; that ten is the maximum enlightenment to be granted by any native race’s intuitive wisdom and equals the pinnacle of scientific achievement; that no starship equipment will ever become obsolete, worn-out, or outdated.

A moment’s simple thought will reveal that none of these absolute truths has any but the most approximate relationship to reality.  Of course technology continues to develop; it advances in regular cycles, and those who fall behind are soon swallowed up by those who don’t.  Witness the empire of the Vl’Hurg as a spectacular example of this — which of course you can’t, because the Vl’Hurg no longer exist and are all but lost to history save for a few mentions in obscure footnotes within the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

But for the sake of your commands, this must be put out of your minds entirely.  You must forget about every technological advancement lest you ever fall into that common error which is attempting to take undue advantage of it.

Any technological advance must, by inviolable intergalactic statute, become readily available to any researcher in the field immediately upon discovery and verification.  While this was initially intended to eliminate the need for continual warfare to enforce the free exchange of ideas needed in a developing galaxy, it also has a caveat which is of great value to us:  This process ensures the continual and reliable balance of military power within every conflict sector.  Again, a mere moment’s thought should validate the fundamental truth of this.

For those of you whose races are not yet capable of rational thought, I shall explain further.

Imagine if you will an advancement in torpedo technology which instantly brings down a target ship’s energy shields.  One might think this would drastically change the battlefield; one would be wrong.  Oh, yes, if such a torpedo were ever fired, it would elevate battleships to parity with carriers — which is why treaties would instantly be enacted to prevent their use.  The Senate takes great care that the balance of power be maintained even (and indeed especially) when that balance is uneven.

Beyond this lies the second inevitability: that the dissemination of such a technology would carry with it the full and complete knowledge of its flaws and vulnerabilities.  Within a very short interval, those who specialize in shielding developments will modify existing shields to the point where they are no longer vulnerable to the new torpedo.  This new shield technology would also instantly be disseminated, and every ship in the field would be able to adapt their hardware on the fly, as it were.

*ahem*  Just my little joke there.

This is, of course, the extreme example, but from it we can extrapolate the more basic truth, that any minor advancement in, say, inertial dampening field tuning would likewise be available to every vessel in space at the same time, neatly neutralizing any advantage any commander could gain by updating their vessels — because every other commander will do the same at the same moment.

As to the reason behind the present gradations, the ten distinct levels of technology available in starbases?  Mathematical analysis will show that these are arbitrary, determined by the convenience of a logarithmic scale.  A level ten torpedo will always produce ten-squared times as many space mines as a level one, and that will always be true no matter how many merely linear advances there are in torpedo power.

It may be that some few of you require additional explanation in order to accept these basic truths.  For your benefit, a demonstration has been prepared in the sonic weapons facility on B-concourse at 2900 hours, where you can observe the relative power of one hundred decibels versus one hundred ten, one hundred twenty, and so on to destruction.

On your way out of the classroom, you will note the list posted by the door.  Those named on the list are the students who had an unsatisfactory grade on the last quiz; if that is you, please report to the sonic weapons facility at 2800 hours so you may participate more directly in the demonstration.

That will be all for today.

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