Image source: Solaris.

An iterative city!

Because I’m not an architect, and I need a way into this territory, I’d like to do this as a thought experiment.

We want to see what would happen to a space, in isolation, if the people inside it were making it.

Consider a space-ship. A generation ship. That is, a city that flies between the stars so slowly that generations upon generations will be born and die within it. What happens? I can speculate.

During the first generation, nothing changes. The people on it built the city themselves, after all. They would have no reason to change the ship.

In the second generation, I think there would be some minor cosmetic changes but nothing major. I imagine the second generation would be sufficiently like the first to not object to the space too much.

The third generation, well. I think from the third generation a period of conservatism – at least with the structure of the space – would set in. This is for a number of reasons.

First, although rebelling against their parents and their society, this generation will be caught up in its own social struggles. It will be fighting over hierarchy and rules, establishing the society which is true to this flying island, rather than a society which was created on Earth and landed on a flying island. If the space-ship was built well, which I think it would be, then such behaviour would not lead to environmental catastrophe, as it did on – say – Easter Island or Earth itself, but they were not so designed. At least, we’ll assume environment catastrophe is avoided.

Second, but more importantly, the idea of the space-ship as a structure that can be changed will never have transferred from the first to the second generation—much less have been taught by the second to the third. Why would the first or second bother teaching this unimportant thing? This, the third, generation would have been shaped by the space-ship. It won’t even occur to them to manipulate the structure. It would be like thinking in the fifth dimension.

After some generations, I would hope that this conservative period would end. There would be some philosopher who would look at the walls of the space-ship and see them as something under the control of the inhabitants, rather than something that controls them.


At that point, what happens? Once the idea is in place, a technological revolution would occur. Either control of the parts of the ship would belong to individual inhabitants first, they’d be moving their habitats and the walls willy-nilly, and the resulting confusion and danger would result in a centralised power taking control.

Or a central power would first have control, telling people where they have to live, and then technological innovation would subvert that control by putting shape-changing abilities in the hands of individuals.

Whatever happens, after some time – a decade or a hundred years – we have a society which is able to fairly remake its space, without much incidental damage to each other, with the minimum of rules and the maximum of choice.

When then?

Matt Webb, S&W, posted 2006-07-31 (talk on 2006-07-21)