I’ve done an exercise like this at a CVS meeting, and I figured I’d give it a try here to see how it works.
Here in the DC area it’s been constantly overcast since Saturday. During that time we’ve had periods of fog, rain, we’ve got some snow predicted for tomorrow, and in between those it’s just been a mottled grey overcast sky. The only break is night, though the nights are without stars or moon. So let’s use that as our starting point for a planet. Ignoring the underlying science behind why the sky is constantly overcast, we’ll take it as a given that the sky is constantly overcast. That part we’re not concerned about.
So one planet. During the day the sky is overcast heavily enough that the sun cannot be pinpointed. The cloud layer uniformly illuminates during the day. There’s a single sun (though this scenario would be interesting in a binary system) so there’s an even day night cycle with some seasonal drift.
Let’s put on this planet an intelligent race and advance them to, roughly, the atomic age. They can understand and utilize the power of the atom, for better or for worse.
Now that we’ve got a planet, and we’ve got people on it, perhaps a few questions.
- What is their view of time?
- What is their view of their place in the cosmos?
- How might they react to a visitor from above the clouds?
- How might they react to traveling about the cloud layer?
I’m going to start with the second question, even though I numbered them myself and could have made that question the first question. I’ve seen a similar set-up in science fiction where a planetary system is placed inside a nebular cloud with no view of the outside cosmos. The conceit is always that the species feels alone in the universe. But within the nebular cloud the species would at least be aware of their sun, their satellites, and any other planets in their system. With this constant overcast the planet is more thoroughly isolated. Instead of feeling that their solar system is all that there is, a species growing up on this planet would likely feel the planet is all that is. To the point that the question “is there something out there?” is meaningless in a way we can’t really grasp.
Think about it this way. The broadest cosmological question that we ask as a species right now is whether ours is the only universe. It’s not something that a lot of people think about, and it requires a lot of theoretical notions of the nature of reality, but at least the question flows from a series of abstractions. We know we’re on a planet, we know it is part of a larger collection of planets called a solar system, which is part of a collection of solar systems called a galaxy, which is part of a collection of galaxies called a universe. So is there a collection of universes called a multiverse? And what would a collection of multiverses be? We ask these questions, but that’s because we have a series of intermediate steps to build on. So this clouded planet might not ask “is there something out there” because “out there” is a concept completely foreign. There’s nothing to abstract from.
So we’ve created a completely insular planet. No general concept of “out there,” viewing itself as all and everything. I wonder if such a society would develop space travel, just because there’s no clear place to travel to. Or would there be those who abstract from city to country to continent to planet to…is there something out there bigger than a planet?
I’m going to stop here, because I intended this as an interactive sort of thing. So what would you add to the culture of this planet? How did society evolve? And if you want to tackle the question of space travel, either to or from the planet, what does it look like? What are the repercussions? Let’s build something up in the comments, and see where it goes.