What is Universe 26?
Universe 26 is a dynamic population simulation projecting the growth and contraction of the human population of the Cosmic Era and its specific environments, specifically Terran population centers, space stations, and the major colonies around the solar.
The Specter of U26
A number of factors have coincided in the Cosmic Era, the most notable being the ready abundance of food and clean water (even if the relative quality of the food is questionable), electricity, and automated menial and industrial sectors creating a post-scarcity world. While to the average resident, it is not apparent that they are in a post scarcity world, but the truth is that any scarcities encountered are artificial in nature, with financial, political, or other interests controlling the supply. The mindset in the post Oxygen Depletion Event resident of the world dictates a strong, almost fanatical respect for Nature, and the environment, which mandates remaining in high density residential zones, creating overcrowding behaviors in a world with a largely decreased population. These factors come together in a manner disturbingly close to John Calhoun's Universe series experiments involving mice population dynamics.
In Universe 25, a small population of mice were introduced into a 'Utopian' environment. They were provided protection from any and all outside predation, and were given an unlimited supply of food and water, and had provided rooms, corridors, and common areas. The population exploded from 8 to over 2000 in less than two years, and then quickly died out,
Universe 26 makes the comparison between the 8 starter mice from U25 and the first generation of humans who inhabited the arcologies. Within the megastructures, they were safe from war, and violence, and with their technology and recycling, they were immune to hunger, and thirst as well. The population boom is currently in full swing, with dozens of programs and initiatives in place to increase the population, including basic things like incentives for multiple children to the more exotic creating clones and androids.
The Beautiful Ones
In the original Universe Series experiments, there were a number of mice who had access to better living space, rooms that were easier to defend from other mice. Within these areas they created a separate community where the mice did nothing but sleep, groom, and eat. Outside of the Beautiful Ones, the other mice lived in very high densities, never away from their hundreds and later thousands of companions in U25. This created a break down of social dynamics, with fewer and fewer young being carried to term, and those that were carried to term were sometimes abandoned by their mothers without any guiding logic or reason.
Decadence and the elite go hand in hand, and the wealthy of the Cosmic Era (perhaps of any era) can be seen reflected in the Beautiful Ones. While remaining inside the same structure as other humans, the elite have greater space, and live removed from the chaotic and often violent world of the commoners. The elite look down at those who live in the lower sections of the great towers from their lofty perches, while those who dwell in the towers look down on those who live on terra firma, the ground, and even further down at those who live in the geofronts buried under the arcologies.
Violence was present in both U25 and U26, with the mice fighting each other in the crowded conditions, and with mankind fighting in it's own self imposed crowded conditions. Things are more violent as the mice only had their teeth and paws to fight with, and humans have a much larger arsenal of weaponry, ranging from simple improvised weapons, to conventional guns, to ultimately those individuals who manifest parapsychic abilities.
The basic premise of Universe 26 is simple. Eventually there will come a socio-technological singularity, after which, society will become irreparably broken and will collapse and take humanity into extinction.
The OmniNet Hypothesis - The next iteration of the CogNet has already been designed, the OmniNet. It is a wireless, tool-less, network that connects not computers and devices, but human brains into a hive mind. The OmniNet Hypothesis states that the creation of hive mind networks will result in more gestalt type mentalities, and a complete breakdown of physical and emotional relationships between humans. Without these organic connections, the population stagnates and eventually declines as the total number of bodies connected to a single intelligence/hyperpsyche is irrelevant.
The Electric Companion Hypothesis - Robots, androids, and synthetic intelligences are common everyday encounters in the Cosmic Era. It has been routinely demonstrated that humans are often more willing to develop relationships with these artificial beings than with other humans. As the number of human pair bonds decreases and the population decreases more and more machines are built to replace those missing individuals, until there are more machines than people, and then there aren't enough people to maintain a population, then there are robot nations composed entirely of machines created for a people long since gone.
Apocalypse How - The frontiers of arcanotechnology are being pressed, dangerously, recklessly, and eventually something horrific is going to fail... or succeed. This is the catch all for manifestations of technology that are sufficient to wipe out human society, such as nanite grey goo devouring everything, massive Dimensional fatigue events that unleash Hell on Earth, or doing something that attracts the attention of interplanetary predators.
The Pyramid Falls - Human society will simply follow the exact same path the rodents experienced in U25. Lacking external danger, and not being concerned by vital needs, the populace will become stagnant, the inherent social structure will collapse, and a form of anarchy will emerge as the hierarchy of needs has been upended.
- Physiological Needs - the needs of the body are no longer a concern, as a result of the largesse of industrial automation, recycling, and the self sufficient nature of the Arcology, Space Habitat, and other human megastructures. Inside, hunger, disease, pain, and other negative issues have been matched and overcome by technology.
- Safety - The arcology is a fortress, in a society armed with flying warships, personal battle armor, and parapsychic soldiers who can match the deeds of mythological characters. Police are present, and there is a good deal of automation, and isolation from danger through the use of the CogNet for remote interaction. Danger is something that is not to be avoided, but a novelty, something that people pay money to experience by proxy.
- Love/Belonging - Part of the Electric Companion, humanity's need for companionship fades, people are safer and more comfortable interacting with characters, figures, automatons and demi-sentient computer programs rather than dealing with other messy chaotic human beings.
- Esteem - self respect, and the respect of others fades in importance as the only 'others' the average citizen encounters are programs, or the filtered public avatars of other people, through the CogNet. Egos grow without being checked, and become fragile hubris filled things.
- Self-Actualization - The pyramid of needs is all but gone, and the need of self actualization looms large. Normally this is a minor need compared to finding food, and shelter, a mate, and the tenets of civilization, but those things have fallen to the wayside. What is there to do? Robots and automation do the work, computers and AI create the entertainment. The citizen never has a chance to prove themselves, they have neither direction nor discipline, just a need.
- Self-Transcendence - The need to belong to something greater than the self, the fundamental urge of faith. In the Cosmic Era religion and faith are funny things, the soul can be photographed, and the ephemeral and intangible can be observed and studied. With the right education and tools, alien gods and cosmic horrors can be prayed to, and some of them answer.
The Cold End of the Cosmic Era is the break down of civilization. The population collapses inward through a combination of attrition from violence, both targeted (rage, envy, lust) and indeterminate (rioting, accident) while social structures, built on ancient traditions of family units and pair bonding disintegrates.
This is the truth of Utopia. Mankind is defined by his suffering, by his hardships, and by his challenges. As Utopia takes away suffering and hardship, and replaces challenges and trials with entertainment and idleness. The civilized man fades away, because it is the pursuit of this ideal that has made him civilized. With everything, humanity reverts back to animalistic ways, seething violence and pointless vulgar behavior. These behaviors have been seen before, in animals taken from the wild and placed in captivity. They become listless, disinterested, moody and sometimes violent towards their handlers and each other. The simians display rude mating behaviors and are rather infamous for flinging semen and feces at zoo spectators. This is the fate of U26, of Man in Captivity, a prisoner of his own designs.
The Grand Design
The facts of U26 are known to the Central Planning committees and time table planners of the Cosmic Era. The various world powers are well aware of the beckoning ruin of Utopia, and have taken steps to prevent Utopia from happening, or have simply not taken steps to end some problems where they easily could.
Oceania is Always at War - The superstates exist in a semi-fluid nature, with various borders always in a state of militarized flux. This certainly serves the military industrial complex, but it also keeps the fear of war around the edges of the popular zeitgeist.
Straight from 1984, Oceania is always at war, a way to draw off the surplus of industrial production and a way for the government to control the flow of supplies and information, justifying their acts with 'for the war effort'. This can also be seen in modern politics, as the US has been engaged in Afghanistan for over a decade, the same for Iraq, and the ongoing generic War on Terror.
Manifest Destiny - the world powers are constantly pushing to expand their domains, claiming vast sections of the sea floors, the planets and moons of the Solar System, and other brazen projects. Given the productivity and sufficiency of arcanotech, there is no real reason for such efforts to be made to colonize and terraform Venus, or to build more cities on the Moon, on Mars, and in other places. This push creates movement inside the population, with people leaving the safe, stagnant areas to find their own fortunes elsewhere. The Cosmic Era needs heroes.
Manifest Destiny is also seen in the Star Trek Universe. In a setting where money has been done away with, and needs are all but gone thanks to replicators and weather manipulation, who would people willingly join Star Fleet, when for most people it is a very good way to die, sucked out into space, killed as a red shirt, killed when the non-militarized Star Fleet ships have to go fighting toe to toe with purpose built warships.
The Favelas and the Slums - Some regions are left poor. Poor people are not drawn into the same insidious traps as the wealthy as they simply cannot afford multiple autons and sentient programs to entertain them. They have to find their entertainment elsewhere, be it drugs or breeding. Strata are created, so that there are some better than others, the elite, and those who dwell in the shadows and in the sewers. The Cosmic Era needs poor and downtrodden people, because this is where culture develops, where art and music arise. It is also how social equilibrium is maintained within the new caste system.
The poor are a vital part of the Cosmic Era. They are needed for cheap labor, sex work, exploitation and demonization by the elite. The middle class masses are held in check by their fear of those who dwell outside of the arcologies. The cusp of poverty is also a crucible of innovation. Not break through innovations like those found in labs, but the intuitive hands on innovation that transcends computers and the soft hands of the pampered and the elite.
Artificial Scarcity - The needs of the world, be it food or shelter, entertainment or medicine, are well withing the ability of the Cosmic Era to provide. Organs can be grown, autons do the dangerous work, and the cost of production is massively low due to the sophistication of the machines doing the jobs. Many things are left as goals, things to be strived for, luxuries, or pipe dreams.
Another real world example, food is destroyed rather than given to the hungry, and according to some reports there are more vacant homes and apartments in the US than there are homeless people. It is well and easily within our ability to end hunger, end homelessness, and a slew of other things, but someone has to foot the bill, and no one is stepping up.
The Rambling Conclusion
The Universe 25 experiment demonstrated the potential dangers facing dense urban populations.
The Cosmic Era is very susceptible to the damage demonstrated by U25, owing to it's advanced technology.
This danger is known, and steps have been taken to ensure that 'Utopia' and Universe 26 are not attained.
There is no shadowy conspiracy, no vast and powerful network of power brokers and such working to keep Utopia away. Most of the damage done is allowed to happen as greed, avarice, and wrath are more than sufficient to keep Utopia from being realized.
My perspective on Utopia is a lot more nihilistic than I imagined it would be.
Additional Ideas (2)
The conclusion is pretty clear though, humanity will inevitably become space explorers, but in a very different sense of the term. We would more thsn likely just re-route the light speed issue by sending ships out into space attached with breeding colonies, by the time they arrive at their destination amcloned generation wouldmrestart the growth and development of the human race, still living aboard planetary vessels (structures almost as large as the moon).
We know and understand the locust archetype for alien resource harvesting, and we would probably learn from our mistakes and program machines to harvest resources while we as a race spent ample time unlocking the true potential of the mind. Eventually evoloving into 5th dimensional beings if we found the strength to overcome impossible barriers of perception that actually can be broken. It just requiresma slight re wiring of the brain over generations of cryosleep and a "matrix" simulation to force our evolution.
The real question though is can I ise your idea to RP as space mice?
One should not underestimate the human potential to splinter and choose different paths, however. Many groups and individuals will undoubtedly find their own early U26 exit. But many others will avoid this fate, whether due to ideology, attitude or plain dumb luck.
There will be Eternal Travelers who will keep moving and discovering new things due to sheer curiosity. There will be religiously- and similarly minded people who will worship or dismiss certain technologies. There will Breeders who choose to continue to multiply in the old ways, to the disgust of many others. There will be even manic experimentators creating new societies and colonies for no other reason than because they can.
The majority of the original race is likely to fall prey to one variation of U26 or another... giving rise to another humanity, probably many humanities.