Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Religion in Alien Civilizations

The word religion is used to cover several different things, so let us go along with the trend and use it, successively, to mean some different things. The point to be made overall is that religion, like other aspects of an alien civilization, is dictated by the technology level reached in the society, and as technology improves, religion, in all meanings, also changes. Since religion might play a role in an alien civilization’s decision to explore other solar systems or to colonize them, it is well worth the effort to try and get a glimpse of what an alien civilization religion might be or has to be.

An alien species might become the object of study for an alien civilization when it begins to use tools and then develops more intelligence, meaning a way of recognizing problems and finding solutions to them, other than instinctual behavior. Dexterity, omnivorousness and communications are things which improve the chances that a given alien species will achieve this. Hunting improvements follow, as does more mobility, and technology glacially advances. Seeding deliberately would be a logical next step, and then husbandry and agriculture. These technology steps correspond to a major change in the life of the alien species, from mobile to stationary, as agriculture improves enough to provide sufficient sustenance.

In the hunting stage of civilizational progress, there is learning about the behavioral characteristics of other aliens in the same clan, and once this is accomplished, analogies are made to animals, probably rather than the other way around. Animals are seen as human-like, which assists in outsmarting them in the hunting process, but also means they are thought of as having recognizable identities and characteristics, just as humans do. Then the generalization can take place to impute some form of cognitive self to many other things. In the sense of a religion as an explanation of things otherwise unknown, one exists at this point. Creatures have personalities which explain their behavior, and gradually other things might as well, such as the local star, any satellites or visible planets, some phenomena of the atmosphere or the ocean, even trees or mountains or other geographic landmarks. The idea that early versions of aliens learn first about the members of their hunting clan and then make analogies explains how a spirit world might come into existence on any planet with an intelligent alien species.

Once these personalities are assumed to be present in a wide variety of objects, the next step of the analogy might happen. Just as interpersonal relations in a hunting clan might involve one member appeasing another, the question would arise as to how to appease some of these spirits, and then who might do it. This becomes a matter of status within the clan, and therefore would be appropriated by individuals, rather than left to random interaction with random members of the clan. Looking back through the experience of the tribe becomes more valuable now, so those who learned by communicating with other older members, such as parents, have a step up in this process of development of religion. Invention of rituals, and behaviors to follow and to avoid will become part of the common knowledge of the clan. Thus, not only is there a religion, meaning an explanation of natural phenomena, there is a set of rules to follow, which is another aspect or meaning of religion.

A big change comes with the agricultural grand transition, when clans start to live in a single place and subsist on husbandry and agriculture, done locally, along with hunting and gathering, but done locally. Then the largest part of an individual member’s interactions would be with other members, and so there is a need for some further rules on behavior. When the early religion of spirits in natural phenomena starts to be modified to provide rules for interpersonal behavior, a new phase of religion begins. Formerly, interpersonal behavior was simply an extension of animal pack behavior, where alien members understood the dangers and possibilities of opposing the will of another member. But to start to modify these behavioral choices because of the possibility that some spirit somewhere would become aware and would be able to have an effect on the individual or the clan requires a whole new level of concept of spirits. The concept of privacy is diminished, but more importantly, the idea of supernatural spirits is created.

Along with this, the process of alien member death might be drawn into the circle of the religion. Once the idea is formed that there are disassociated spirits, it is only natural to think that aliens would assume, sooner or later, that they have one as well, or at least important members of the clan did. How this might be incorporated into the religion can vary, but it provides some relief for the natural, animal-origin, grief connected with death of alien members of a clan.

At this point, social evolution might take place. Those clans which develop spirit belief systems which encourage the survival of the clan and its success, whether in seeking sustenance or in providing shelter against natural phenomena or in protecting itself from predation from other clans, will grow and perhaps bud off and form other ones. Thus, self-sacrificing beliefs, although they are apparently somewhat detrimental to the individual and to the clan, might be overall something which provides some overall growth. Praise of strength, resistance to pain, persistence against formidable odds, altruism and other features might grow. So also might obedience to authority for those with no possibility of being in authority. Thus, the features of a religion which persists during the clan phase or into the beginning of the agricultural phase should be found by considering the social evolution of clans.

Time scales need to be considered. The hunting phase and the agricultural phase are certainly long enough to allow social evolution to run its course. But the next phase of any alien civilization, the industrial phase, does not last long enough. Thus, those memes which might affect space travel are those which originate in the agricultural phase and which can persist through the industrial phase into the genetics phase. By figuring out which beliefs would likely come through this process, it might be possible to shine a light on the decision-making a civilization beyond the asymptotic technology transition would make. Recall that memes do not originate in the late phases of a civilization, they simply propagate from earlier phases.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Impact of Industrial Gestation

As part of the genetics grand transformation, an alien society learns the mechanism, down to the tiny microbiological details, of how aliens gestate, which means grow from a genetic seed to viable organism. Once this is learned, it is only an engineering problem to devise an artificial mechanism to do this. If aliens give birth, it means that birth will occur inside some factory or other industrial setting. This would seem to have consequences other than simply to facilitate reproduction of the species.

When first developed, like all new technologies, industrial gestation would likely be used for some medical purposes, and then gradually would be pulled over to other uses. Around the same time as this development, it would be expected that a full understanding of the alien genome would be completed. This does not mean a transcribing of each gene, but instead a complete understanding of what each gene does in the various cells of the alien. First, a mapping of the various cells would be done, and then the signals that cause differentiation to occur would be needed. Next, an understanding of which genes were active in the different types of cells would follow, as well as a catalog of the variant types for each gene in the genome, along with what effects the variants have in each cell type where they are active. There may be some variants that don’t exist in the population, and these would be found once theoretical, computational ways are found to understand gene expression and gene reproduction. Synthetic genes may involve more work that all the rest combined, but after some period of time, the alien scientists will be able to design improved versions of the alien genome.

This understanding of the genome would be coupled with industrial gestation to make improvement of the population easier to accomplish. There would be much more to the genetics revolution than these two items, but they fit together well and, in and of themselves, would have a large impact on the alien society.

If the initial use is to provide an alternative means of reproduction for alien individuals who wish offspring but cannot for physiological reasons, the effects would be minimal, not much more than any other medical innovation. But if the civilization, due to various life choices, starts to lose population, and industrial gestation becomes the solution to maintaining the population at a chosen level, the effects will grow large. If industrial gestation, having advantages of being very safe and minimizing disruption of life, starts to be a universal substitute for aliens’ normal reproduction, then a possibly subtle change happens.

There are two instincts that aliens in any civilization should have relating to reproduction. First of all, it is a mandatory instinct to keep the population of pre-alien creatures from accidentally going extinct. This has to be a very strong instinct in pre-alien creatures, and should continue to exist in aliens once they evolve into intelligent creatures. Once there begins to be a trend toward providing offspring with ideal genes, in small or large doses, the connection between individuals of one generation and their offspring in the next generation diminishes. Genetic tampering might be subtle, but over time the lack of a genetic tie between individuals and the offspring they raise would take its toll. So also would the reduction in contact between these two as tutoring or organized training becomes more dominant, all in the pursuit of the goal of making young aliens as capable as possible. Then, when industrial gestation begins to displace normal gestation, the desire to participate at all in the process of raising the younger generation may diminish and even disappear, leaving industrial gestation and mostly automated training to take its place.

This result is simply an outgrowth of the natural desire of aliens to have the best possible offspring and to provide them with all the training they would need to benefit from the opportunities that the society offers. However, step by step, the connection between one generation and the next is cut, until, when the technology is fully developed and put to extensive use, there is little connection left.

Evolving creatures are not necessarily long-term in their outlook. The other instinct, to provide sustenance, protection, shelter, care and so on, drive the creatures to have a short-term outlook. This might be affected by annual or other weather cycles or cycles driven by some other cause, but basically, outlook stays short-term. Some unique individuals may develop a long-term outlook, but the most likely cause for individuals to plan for times longer than their own lifetime is the provision for their own offspring and multigenerational descendants. This provides an impetus to preserve, build, innovate, and take other actions so that future generations will have an improved life situation. What happens when this bond is sundered by the various changes that arise during the genetic grand transition? Clearly the only direction is toward less concern with future changes that happen after one generation.

Population is one decision that an alien civilization makes, or in different words, the civilization may have a goal of having a particular number of aliens in existence at any time. Would generations living after the genetic grand transition has minimized the interest of one generation in the next one make the choice to reduce population? Why not, as offspring no longer play a role in the lives of adults?

Another choice would be the development of interplanetary mining, to provide more resources for the population. This development is a long-term project, and would it be chosen by the society as a goal, or as part of the goal of maintaining access to as much resources as possible? Alternatively, would the society just decide that allowing population to decline and eventually disappear was acceptable, as long as the lifestyle of the generation making that choice of goals was not reduced.

The other goal, an extension of the interplanetary mining one, is the expansion of the civilization to other solar systems. Since this is a many-generation task, indeed, perhaps longer than any other chosen task, it might just be ignored as of no interest and no consequence. If this is a common effect of industrial gestation, we may have found one more reason why there are no alien visitors.

Meme Cores and Meme Baggage

There is no scientific law that forces an alien civilization to expend resources and effort on exploring other solar systems. Each alien civilization will eventually come to the conclusion that there is no entity directing their future; it is their choice as to what to do. This has a great impact on whether Earth will ever have alien visitors. To try and understand what is likely to happen to Earth in this regard, alien visitors, we need to understand how alien civilizations might make decisions, and what decisions they might make.

Since there is nothing telling each alien civilization what to do with itself, it must decide, and there is no basis for some logical derivation of a direction to go. Instead, there is only the source of individual alien decisions, also not logical, that substitute for some universal directive. If the alien civilization is ruled by one individual, his decision will be the one that decides if the alien civilization will begin a star-traveling adventure. If it is some kind of democracy, then all the aliens with suffrage will be able to have their choices be weighed in the decision. So alienology should address two issues: what form of governance will a far-advanced alien civilization have, and what decisions might one make and on what basis?

There are many ways in which an alien civilization might wind up governing itself. We here on Earth have experienced many, but with changes in technology dominating how a civilization organizes itself, none of them are likely to be the one that an alien civilization, with asymptotic technology, would choose.

Remember that projecting human desires and habits on advanced alien civilization will lead to errors in assessing how their civilization is organized. We still live with primitive technology, having made some progress in physics and chemistry, but not very much in genetics, medicine, sociology, neurology, and others, including ones not yet named. Rather than try and figure out which antique Earth governance system might be used, we should try and use a normative approach, which is the standard recourse when history is largely irrelevant.

It is important to understand the timing of the choice of governance. Once the final stage of the last big technology change, the genetics grand transformation, hits an alien society, it changes from being a collection of diverse individuals, competing for influence and aggrandizement, to a society of near equals, all wise enough to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and with an understanding of how their own brains work. The emotions that motive humans on Earth nowadays, greed, lust, jealousy, anger and the rest will be likely present in the earlier stages of any alien civilization, but after the final technology changes, they will not exist or at least not be allowed by any of the civilization’s members to dominate their thinking. The changes of moving beyond emotions are monumental. Can there be a capitalism, when individuals are largely immune from greed, and recognize the diminished utility of excess wealth? Factionalism would necessarily disappear, when all of society’s members are granted both optimal genetics and the intelligence it brings, and the early life training and experiences that allow that intelligence to fully flower. Why bother dividing society into two or more groups and competing one against another when everyone is pretty much identical in all important ways?

To do the normative analysis that we would like, the proper question is, how would a society of actual equals organize itself? Here, the word equals does not mean anyone who is granted suffrage, or is somehow included in the ruling group. It means a society of genetic equals, identically trained in an optimal way. Any one of them would do as well in any post, provided the necessary education was provided. Would there need to be any voting, or would a lottery suffice? There is no point of any selection process, as all of the voters know that anyone will be just fine, in fact equally fine, as top dog or second-in-command or whatever. Voting for individuals becomes futile.

The other side of the coin involves the surroundings. If there is a decision-maker in the governance organization who is faced with some decision, he/she/it only need to ask the AI system for the options and to translate them into consequences, and then to match the consequences against the goals set up by the society. The top choice is the obvious and inevitable selection. Why have any governance figures if there is literally nothing for them to do except officiate at ceremonies? Why bother to have ceremonies, anyway, as they would be largely meaningless to such a society? So, governance is largely devolved into a use of automated systems to figure out alternatives and implement them, without any need from the individual members of the society. Assuming they have better things to do with their time, there is no need for a hierarchy of positions, or even any governance positions at all. Rather than having a lottery instead of a vote for candidates, there is simply no one involved in the governance process.

Another point to be made is that a long-lived society, past asymptotic technology, does not change much. The civilization has figured out how to do things in the optimal manner, and they simply do that. Over and over again. But the missing item is the goals that are accepted by the governance mechanism. Where do they come from? After the genetics grand transition, individuals no longer have the interest or the diversity to choose such goals, so they need to come from legacy choices made in earlier times. This is what we call memes. Young members of society are trained, during their pre-logic phases, in the memes of society, and that is what forms the goals of the society. Part of these memes, which we might call the core, is what perpetuates the training. The meme core is the essence of any set of beliefs that are passed down from old to young, the essence being that which continues to preserve the memes. The rest of the memes, the meme baggage, is what is propagated along with the core. The core provides no direction for society but only serves to preserve the baggage and to ensure it is propagated. The baggage has the goals of the society, as chosen back in the earlier days of society. Members grow to adulthood appreciating them, and the society incorporates them.

Figuring out what can constitute a consistent set of memes related to society goals in a total meme package is what is needed to understand the range of choices that an alien civilization might have taken. The package must be self-consistent, and also must have been acceptable to the civilization in its earlier phases. Thus, the question to be asked is what social goals might be found acceptable to an alien civilization finishing up its industrial revolution and just beginning its genetics one. This will tell us what we might expect to find, if we somehow were able to do a magical tour of all the alien civilizations present in our galaxy. Since this magic doesn’t exist, we will have to make do with whatever our reasoning can provide.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Is it Worthwhile Going out to Meet Aliens?

Suppose we here on Earth just keep muddling along, learning more and more technology, getting smarter and smarter about the universe, solving our problems one by one, and still waiting for aliens to come and visit us. Scientists and many non-scientists have written about why they don’t come, and even seminars and conventions are held, journals are started, and no one has a definitive answer, although there are several excellent ideas. Then, some one just gets fed up and says, “If they’re not coming to us, we’re going to them!”

After a lot of political skirmishing, budget revising, technology compiling, and generally jumping around, we decide to go visit aliens. Is this a worthwhile expense of our planet’s resources?

It certainly appears so, on first thinking about it, but that may be an illusion. Let’s dig deeper.

If we’re going to do this, we need to have technology well in hand, meaning, it’s probably several centuries later than now that we can finally think we might be able to do it. So, all kinds of things have been learned, all types of inventions have been perfected, all kinds of branches of science, even the now-murky ones like sociology, are understood down to little details. If science doesn’t do this, as if we get stopped at some year, like 2040, for some reason, there is no hope of going to other solar systems. So we have to assume that science has continued to march forward, crushing every kind of question we could think up.

Adding some hypothetical details to this supposition, it’s 400 years in the future, and we have gigantic telescopes in solar orbit, maybe out beyond Neptune, and we’ve detected a planet with advanced alien life on it. They’ve been broadcasting electromagnetic signals for centuries now, and we’ve been detecting them. They are too faint to decode, but they are there. So we decide to go see them, and figure out that, for a alien solar system 100 light years out, with a stupendous effort, we can get up to 5% light speed, meaning that in something greater than 2000 years our ship would arrive, as we need to add a few centuries for acceleration and deceleration. So, in under 3000 years we would have our ambassador on their soil. Possibly we could manage, once there, to set up a large communications antenna, and start beaming messages back to Earth, which would arrive here after a hundred years delay. Earth people alive after this 3000 year delay would be able to know we had contact with an alien species, finally. We could answer them, and after only a more hundred years of waiting, they would hear our Hello!

Back to the pseudopresent of 2517, and the decision to build and send this ship is being debated, as not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. Someone asks, what if the people of 5517 don’t really care that much about ambassadors of Earth sending back communications? Can the people of 2517 actually figure out what the people of 5517 would like or not like? Would there be any people in 5517? What a joke it would be if Earth went to all this effort, but humanity died out before the ambassadors got to Planet X.

So, before sending out any starships, we would want to make sure that we really understood how to survive for thousands of years, and were really stable in our values. This means that if the people of 2517 would like something, they could be sure that the people of 5517 would like it too, and they would have survived until that time, and would survive much longer as well. It obviously wouldn’t be so good if at 5517 there was a last generation of humans, or whatever we evolve or modify ourselves into, and after that generation, there would be nobody home at Earth to get later messages from Planet X.

This sounds like it means that there wouldn’t be any Earth-originated star travel until we had really stabilized out culture and civilization here in our own solar system. That means we shouldn’t send out a starship as soon as we are able to, but instead wait until our own problems at home have been worked out and we know we are going to survive, in some unchanging fashion, for millennia. At this point in our experience, we are still very primitive and can’t see when such a plateau might be reached. If humanity is lucky, perhaps it would be 2517, or perhaps it would be 3017 or even 3517. Technology is racing forward now and it is hard to project that there will be problems left after 2517, but we can stop and realize that the problems we face now, we didn’t know existed until recently, meaning a century or so. So, problems in 2517 might be ones we uncover in 2417, and we aren’t about to guess them now.

We are not unique compared to other potential alien civilizations, and if it doesn’t make sense for us to go traveling between stars until after we have figured out all our local, solar-system-only, problems, it doesn’t make sense for any other alien civilization to do it either. So maybe this is another clue as to why there aren’t any alien visitors.

Now, back to 2517 in this supposed example. Let’s just say we have figured out every last problem that a non-star-traveling civilization would encounter. We have found them all, and solved them all, and can mostly sit back and congratulate ourselves at being so ingenious and industrious, and having avoided all the pitfalls that civilizations might run into. So during the starship debate, someone asks: what’s the point? Why bother doing it? We have all our problems solved here and there is nothing any alien civilization can surprise us with. We can’t learn from them. If it is just curiosity, can’t we just figure out what possibilities their civilization might have, and content ourselves with knowing the possibilities? If there are ten possibilities, and of course Earth science can figure out if it is five or ten or fifteen, Planet X might have one of them, but who cares which one? If Planet X isn’t Type 1, then maybe Planet Y, a bit further away, is. Or Planet Z. Who really cares which one is which type?

So, with nothing to gain, and a huge cost, it seems the decision might be made to not ever go to Planet X. The illusion that we are going to discover things if we go there is clearly false, and all the science fiction about interesting cultures on far-distant planet is just a projection of our current primitive state onto the future, but of course, our current primitive state is just that, and is not the state of the civilization on Earth when star travel becomes possible. Other science fiction dissolves away the times and costs involved by invoking some magic, like warp drives or whatever, and that also changes the situation somewhat. Magic is not going to get us to Planet X, as it is just a reflection of the sorry state of science education on planet Earth. So, once again, we return to the same conclusion. It is hard to justify an advanced alien civilization going to visit another one.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Food and Taste Industries in Alien Civilizations

The higher levels of organisms on the food chain in any alien planet would be expected to have some sort of sensors to help them discriminate useful food from everything else. As organisms evolve there, these sensors would evolve as well. Food discrimination includes recognizing the source, such as a tree with edible parts, the food item itself from shape, texture, hardness and other attributes, and finally chemical sensors, both for soluble and for volatile compounds, which we label as taste and aroma.

Is it possible that any alien species could gain intelligence and then advance technologically without being something of an omnivore, meaning able to digest directly photosynthetic organisms or components of them, as well as higher organisms in the food chain? Likely not. In general, the wider the variety of foods an organism can utilize, the further it can range, the more robust the species will be against famine, and the less likely it would become extinct due to a loss of a food species. After the very first steps of technology, such as fire or cutting implements, food possibilities would enlarge again. To facilitate this expansion, before and after food technology starts, requires sensors able to discriminate against toxic components of the food chain and non-nutritious ones as well. Thus it might be safe to assume that typical intelligent alien species have a variety of food items, plus would be equipped with food senses with a wide range of capability. As technology advances, this would likely not disappear, but would remain a feature of the alien species. So, barring some very unusual planetary ecology, an alien species can be assumed to develop a food industry. This means the steps of organized hunting, then intermittent agriculture, then continuous static agriculture, and then food processing procedures and labor specialties would be almost mandatory elements of any alien civilization.

The industrial grand transformation does not necessarily lead to any change in the omnivorous nature of the aliens. It is more about satisfying these physical needs in a more efficient manner, by affecting agriculture and husbandry, as well as food storage, transportation, and processing. Biological knowledge is gained, but because of the intrinsic difficulty of biology as compared to chemistry, it would not be of the same depth, and would not allow a deep understanding of the biology of food and taste. Food and taste would be explored in an experimental way, and via these means, quite a lot of knowledge gained, but not on the microbiological level. Thus, the industrial period of any alien civilization would have a food and taste industry grounded in experimental facts, with perhaps some deeper knowledge based on the physical structure of food items. By the way, Malthus would still be present in this period, meaning population would grow to match the available food supply. Until the genetic grand transformation gets going, photosynthesis would be the basis for the food supply, constituting the lowest layer of the food hierarchy, and thus land use would change in response to Malthusian pressures. The food industry would be a substantial component of any alien civilization at this stage of their development.

What might be called the taste industry would also be present. The industrial grand transformation is concerned with satisfying desires that existed since the alien species first became intelligent, and these included finding foods that passed the taste sensors’ thresholds. In other words, alien species all evolve to have taste sensors, and the neurology of that set of sensors is that aliens seek foods which have good taste, according to whatever experiences they have had since their birth or whatever reproductive system they evolve with. The point to be made is that taste satisfaction decouples from nutrition satisfaction to some degree. Food additives which change the taste, food processing techniques which change taste and texture, food labor specialties which concentrate on good tasting food all make their appearance and become widespread. This means there is an impetus within any alien society to understand taste and to learn to master it experimentally. We are saying that there will be alien chefs.

The alien civilization would continue its march forward developing technology, and when it passes through the later stages of the industrial grand transformation, where electronics and automation are prevalent, and then the beginning stages of the genetic grand transformation, where microbiology and neurology give up their secrets, food and taste will finally be understood at a fundamental level. There will be an understanding of nutrition, in particular, what are the requirements of the alien body, typically and specifically for any individual, in terms of various food compounds, both chemically and physically. The physical form of ingested items, for example fiber, may be important to alien health and well-being. The genetic understanding of how organisms grow will likewise allow them to be tailored to meet these newly understood nutritional requirements, in an industrially efficient manner. Agriculture will finally phase out, as anything needed can be created more efficiently in a controlled environment. This will increase costs, but all technology increases costs in return for an improved life. It might be questioned whether aliens will accept this phase-out, but technology is inexorable, and the questioning will eventually subside.

The taste industry will similarly undergo transformations, as understanding is further developed as to how the various aspects of taste and desirable food are formed. It is rather obvious that taste begins to be developed in the earliest period of an alien’s life, and continues to develop, especially if taste sensors change with the age of the alien. Just like with the food industry, efficient ways of creating taste substances will be developed, and would become industrial, just as food itself would.

The key transformation that happens is that the neurology of taste would be understood. This means that aliens would all understand that what they like as taste in a food is completely a natural development, including any instinctual, i.e. genetic, preferences, plus those learned during life, largely as a child. The psychological impact of this may not be initially obvious. It means that individual tastes are inconsequential, and simply the result of a random roll of the experience dice. Instead of aliens seeking out foods that most match their taste preferences, these taste preferences will seem unimportant. One way to express that is to say food together with taste will become a simple commodity, easily available, and not worth too much attention. This means the food and taste industry will implode in these later periods. The civilization will simply stop concerning itself with this aspect of life.

It is becoming clear that technology eventually undermines all aspects of evolutionary life, by providing first abundance and then understanding. It hits employment, which will decline and become an avocation rather than a necessity. It hits dining, as optimized food is simply available whenever and wherever. This would seem to create something of a vacuum in alien civilization at these later periods. Knowing what will fill this vacuum may provide a clue as to the willingness of an alien civilization to embark on some sort of space exploration to other solar systems.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Is There a Gulf between Electronics and Genetics?

It is difficult to know which characteristics of an alien civilization to isolate and concentrate on when trying to figure out if they will attain the capability and desire to travel between stars. Sociology has simply not developed sufficiently to indicate what might go wrong, much less to provide some explanation of why or how common it might be. So it is necessary to fall back on some very basic principles.

Here is one scenario. Technology develops and civilization follows right along, with the initial result of technological advancement being that the basic needs of society are better and better met, followed by some more superficial ones. The basic needs of society are simply the basic needs of the population, or at least the portion of the population that has some power or influence over what happens in the civilization. What might happen to a civilization when the basic needs of the population are increasingly met for little effort on their part, owing to increasing use of industrial and later electronic means of boosting productivity? In previous discussions, the closeness in time of the genetics grand transition, when intelligence improves along with almost everything else, to the industrial grand transition provided the rationale that there would be a uplift in society in general, owing to the availability of personal intelligence, creativity, artistry and so on, along with materials and leisure time to take advantage of that.

However, there is a gap in time between these two grand transitions, and is it possible that an alien civilization, or all alien civilizations, could undergo some sort of collapse? The collapse would not be of the productive economy, but of the spirit of the society. To paraphrase it, when work almost disappears, what might replace it in the daily lives of the population? Note that some equivalent of work has demanded the time of the population since before the agricultural grand transition. There is no previous interval of time in which these demands have abated. There certainly must have been for all alien civilizations, at some time and place on their planet, good intervals where the demands for work have been reduced. An example would be when a clan moved into a new area with abundant game and gatherable foods. But population always expands to take advantage of available resources, and eventually these good intervals would be replaced by a long period when population pressure keeps the demand for effort for sustenance high.

After the industrial revolution, population pressure still exists, but it does take some time to exert itself. In addition, however, is the pressure for improved life situations, meaning higher consumption levels of energy and resources. As this becomes as much of a demand as the demand for sustenance, there is again the same situation, where work takes up as much time of the population as possible. The underlying premise is that work would be available. The alternative possibility is that without the genetics grand transition and the tremendous social and psychological changes this would bring about, work to increase living standards might not be available for some slice of the population.

Thus there are two threats to this period, the gulf between the late industrial revolution and the full-blown genetics grand transition. One is the Malthusian idiocracy which was discussed at length in previous posts. The other, introduced here, is the dislocation of society, or rather a different slice of society, in which there is no opportunity for work, simply some sort of sustenance arrangement.

To make this gulf more obvious, consider an alien civilization which has developed robotics and AI, and the cost of it is so low it is used everywhere. What does the population do? This is assumed prior to the great population-wide improvement in intelligence that is one part of the genetics grand transition. Everyone from CEO’s down to the lowest clerk is easily replaced, and they are. Some arrangements have to be devised so that the benefits of all this automated productivity are distributed, and they could be of a wide variety. With no one working, there is not even a shred of justification for inequity in distribution, but inequity in distribution of society’s products has been a driving force for individual motivation since clans broke up with the agricultural transition. Will the typical alien civilization figure out some way to broker an inequity in distribution of production, based on some sort of competitive tourney?

Another alternative, at least in the first portion of this gulf, is that legacy arrangements will be allowed to remain. An economy is based on past events, resulting in some privileges or rights or ownership or some other label, and on present events, where the actions taken by some individual member of the alien civilization does something, which we might call work, and receives rights to production from that. The gulf we are discussing is one in which present actions are of less and less value on the average, and eventually become of negligible worth. So the past is the only thing differentiating alien members of the civilization from one another. This might seem to be tolerable for some time, but it would become less and less so the further the society gets into the gulf.

There are some very important questions to be raised about this gulf between grand transformations. One is to ask if a typical alien civilization will cross the gulf and not allow it to damage the civilization, its infrastructure, its directions, or its progress. There seems to be some possibility of this damage, as there is no precedent for a society’s organization in the gulf, and it must be devised from a blank sheet of paper. The second question flows from the first. What modifications of the civilization are inevitable as it crosses this gulf, and what effect would these modifications have on its interest and willingness to make an interstellar space voyage? It would be most peculiar if the real reason there are no aliens visiting us is that their civilization inevitably will have to modify itself into something unlike anything we have imagined, and that the resulting arrangements, governance at the least but possibly much more, lead to a non-interest in space voyages, or perhaps even to a lack of interest in the prolongation of the culture at all.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Later Stages of the Industrial Revolution

It’s not completely simple to figure out the stages of an alien civilization’s climb to technological sophistication and the accompanying societal changes, but at least we here on Earth have one example. We have some recorded history of the agricultural revolution, some archaeological results, and some understanding of agricultural technology’s stages to use. For the first part of the industrial grand transformation, we have just recently lived through it, and have an infinite amount of detail to examine. But for later stages of the industrial grand transformation, meaning the technological revolution and the societal changes they induced, we have to project forward. More care is needed.

The first stages of the industrial grand transformation involve energy sources, transportation, mechanical devices, and chemical engineering. The elements were discovered, oils were found to be useful for lubrication, coal was found for energy, and the engineering process of conceiving a new invention, testing it in gradually increasing steps, and then developing a manufacturing process to produce it came into being. The scientific method initiated by Francis Bacon gets all the credit, but the engineering process was as much a contributor to the industrial revolution as was the scientific method. These two methodologies contributed to all stages of all subsequent grand transformations.

Later stages of the industrial grand transformation are only speculation, as we do not know, for example, if fusion will become a success story and power humankind for the next many millennia, and neither do we know if any alien civilization will succeed, even if we fail. Possibly if we do fail, there will be some scientific understandings that will result from the attempts that can clarify the possibilities with fusion. For now, we can only guess that the difficulties will eventually be overcome, in some manner, and power will be available. Without it, an alien civilization might power itself with uranium, dug on its own planet or on ones closer to its star, stellar photons collected on the planet in some way or another, in space or on some other planet. It even might have monumental sources of chemical energy, such as we might tap by skimming hydrogen from Jupiter and somehow bringing it back to Earth for combustion. Power sources make a huge difference in an alien civilization’s options for star travel, and the only way to deal with this unknown is to consider both options, fusion and no-fusion.

The internals of the alien civilization are not affected so much by the sources of energy as by the computational powers and communication options afforded by the electronics component of these later stages of the industrial grand transformation. They eliminate the need for aliens to work, and work itself transforms from a dire necessity to an interesting amusement. This represents a huge upheaval in the organization of their society. During the agricultural phases and the early part of the industrial grand transformation, work had to become specialized and these specializations led to stratification of society, inevitably. But when work disappears, what is left to provide a stratification and a hierarchy of control? There is nothing that is mandatory, and this means that any alien civilization will have organizational options available to it that we can only imagine.

In our society, work is used as a rationale for the existence and magnitude of the hierarchy of wealth and power that exists. Would an alien society, in the later stages of the industrial grand transition, have anything but legacy to justify these hierarchies to an increasingly intelligent population? It is hard to see how the inevitable result of the later industrial grand transformation would be, after some long duration of social change, anything other than more egalitarianism.

Another product of the later stages of the industrial grand transformation is a reduction in scarcity. Technology makes production increase, and if it occurs fast enough, more rapidly than population increases, this will mean a higher level of per capita production. If the diversion of production to capital and infrastructure costs is not too great, this means scarcity diminishes. Thus, unless deliberately enforced by the alien civilization, material needs and wants are increasingly satisfied to some mininum level, and an increasing segment of the alien population sees no need for work, as it becomes less and less tied to the alleviation of scarcity. A legacy hierarchy would see less and less aliens willing to work in lower positions, and more and more substitution of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Does this still respond to such a legacy hierarchy top members’ desires for feeling superior and in control of others? Possibly not. So, not only would there be less interest in maintaining a legacy hierarchy from the bottom, but also from the top levels as well.

Property, or better the desire to possess property, is a result of scarcity, plus other factors. To think about this, imagine a situation. In an alien civilization, there was housing available in abundance. For whatever reason, completely furnished dwellings were everywhere vacant, and maintained by the in-house automation. What would be the reason a particular alien would want to own one? The costs of one would be nil, as there were vacant ones, completely in good order, paid for by the civilization itself rather than by any individual aliens. Wouldn’t the aliens adopt a habit of moving whenever it suited their needs? This might be thought of as a hotel culture, as opposed to a home culture. This is simply one more example of how technology determines culture, as embodied in one of the main ideas of this blog, technological determinism. What would it mean to the society if there was a surfeit of housing and anyone could move into a vacant dwelling, all largely identical, anywhere they chose? With no work to tie them to a particular location, aliens would become internally nomadic.

The lack of ties to particular pieces of property does not mean than individual aliens would become nonchalant about maintaining them in good condition during their period of residency. This attitude is more connected with cultural norms in the property surfeit situation. It the prior stages of the alien civilization, there was scarcity to propel individual aliens to protect and maintain property that they had control over, but with scarcity gone, something else would need to take its place, and only cultural norms seem to fit that requirement.

Now it is possible to ask a germane question: With no sense of desire for property, would the aliens in such an advanced civilization want to go and establish colonies on distant exo-planets, far from their star? How much does the desire to avoid scarcity establish a psychology for colonialism, and after centuries of experiencing none at all, does this impetus remain?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Water Planets

It is relatively easy to compare the mass of the atmospheres of Venus and Earth and ask why is the atmosphere of Venus so much more massive than that of Earth. A simple answer, that it came from some peculiarity of the formation of the planets, allows much speculation, but there are other ways of looking at the question. Earth has an ocean, Venus does not. The comparison of the surface fluids of Earth and Venus goes the other way. The surface fluid mass on Earth is about three times that of Venus. So, perhaps the correct question might be: “Why is the surface fluid mass of Earth so much larger than that of Venus?” The speculative answers as to where the missing atmosphere of Earth is would be no longer applicable.

If the mean surface temperature of Earth were quickly to go up, not to that of Venus, but something high enough so that the whole surface was above the boiling point of water, then the mass of the atmosphere of Earth would be about three times that of Venus, instead of a small percentage. Venus’ atmosphere is almost all carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and Earth’s would be almost all water. The perspective changes. Instead of asking about the mass difference of the atmosphere’s, the most striking question is about the chemical compositions. Where did all the carbon dioxide go from Earth’s atmosphere, and where did all of Venus’ water go? The two planets formed out of the same original cloud of gas, flattened into a ring and rotating about the newly forming sun. They aren’t all that different in distance from the center of the solar system. They aren’t very different in mass. What caused this?

If we want to understand upon which planets life could form, and where it might evolve into star-faring aliens, it would be certainly important to understand how an atmosphere that could support life would form, and how it would transform over the lifetime of the planet. It is apparently much more complicated than might be first imagined.

Suppose the early cloud that formed the inner planets had a slightly different composition, with less of a percentage of heavier elements, those that form the huge core of a planet, and more of a percentage of lighter elements, which might form an atmosphere. If this happened, there might be more of an atmosphere. A solar system with this arrangement might have a rocky planet with more water, among other constituents, in its initial atmosphere, and if the temperature dropped below the boiling point of water, it would condense. Most of the water would condense out of the atmosphere, as the vapor pressure of water is not very high at temperatures well below boiling.

If the mass of water on this alien planet were five times at much as on Earth, and the planet was about the size of Earth, there would be so much water that a mountain range, as high as Everest, would be completely covered. There would be no dry land. This obviously is a major impediment to evolution leading to intelligent aliens. The mass of the oceans are about 0.025% of the mass of the whole planet, and so raising that to 0.125% would do the trick. This is not a large fraction of the mass, meaning there does not seem to be any need for some exotic process to get all the water to the planet. So, one question that pokes up is: “What is the water fraction in distant solar systems?” If it is too large in the region where rocky planets form, we have a water world, with no dry land. Even on a planet which had only a few small islands, like the tips of the Himalayas, it would seem to be unlikely for an intelligent alien species to evolve.

The fraction of mass throughout the universe that is heavier elements is small. It is mostly hydrogen, plus some helium. Somehow this ratio is inverted in the region where rocky planets form. Whatever the totality of processes that do this are, it would seem that a factor of five or ten in the ratio of water is not unlikely. So, water worlds may be common instead of worlds like Earth, where we have almost 30% of the surface dry.

A cloud of gas that is about to form a star and solar system might have enough heavier elements to make rocky planets in it, but how do they get concentrated? If the cloud is rather homogeneous to start, this means that the concentration operation has to get completed either during the initial formation of the central mass or during the time where there is a disk of gas forming into planets or preplanetary clumps. During both of these eras, the gravitational attraction of the protostar causes a migration of heavier elements and molecules toward it. If there is enough time for these twin processes to come to completion, then the ratio of water to heavier elements would reflect the mass of the protostar and the overall composition ratio of the primordial gas cloud. The mass of the protostar is again a reflection of the total mass and volumetric density of the gas cloud. The original composition ratio reflects the history of the cloud, and, according to the current theories of the formation of heavier elements, how many supernovas went off in the vicinity of it during its life in the galaxy.

Both of these go in the same direction. In regions of the galaxy where the density of gas is larger, larger stars would form and more gravitational segregation of heavier elements is possible. In the same region, more supernovas of type II, the most common type in the earlier galaxy, massive stars which explode at a pre-ordained point in their history, should form and contribute heavier elements. Thus, in denser parts of the galaxy there might be dry worlds and in less dense parts, water worlds. In between, worlds which can form alien civilizations that might venture out into interstellar space.

The total mass density of the galaxy is highest in the central core, still high in the bulge, and less in the disk, dropping off as the distance from the galactic center increases. Spiral waves pass through this, changing the density up and down as they pass, but they do not affect the time-averaged density. So, if we want to find alien civilizations, a band of galactic disk about the same distance from the galactic center as Earth is might be a good place to look, if only because that is where partially wet and partially dry rocky planets might be more likely to form. It also means that would be a good place to hunt for planets to colonize, if Earth ever reached that capability and had the desire to do so.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Geothermally Powered Alien Civilizations

Geothermal power has some advantages that should exist, in certain situations, for alien civilizations. It is a fairly simply technology, designed to extract energy from the heat generated inside larger planets from gravitational collapse and impact. Because heat conduction is so slow, this energy can exist in extractable amounts for billions of years. It is one of the few ways of extracting gravitational energy, another being tidal power.

On Earth, it is used very little, as other sources, nuclear, hydroelectric, fossil fuels, wind and even solar usually produce more high-value energy at lower costs. For making electricity, these sources are more efficient. The majority of uses of geothermal power are for heating, as the energy it produces is simply low temperature heat.

The technology just involves drilling down into the Earth and extracting the heat. Usually heat transfer with a liquid is used, as liquids have a higher heat capacity than gases, and conduction is even worse. On Earth, in some areas with volcanic conditions, where hotter mantle material is closer to the surface and forcing more heat upward, it can be readily used. Iceland is everyone’s well-known example. There, by drilling down a half to one and a half kilometers, temperatures in the region of 200 to 400°C, which can produce steam at the bottom of the pipe, which then rises and turns a turbine or serves directly to heat something. Drilling and inserting pipe, even pipes with good insulation, is not difficult compared with other contemporary technology, and so this might be expected to be used by any alien civilization that has the heat source available.

Iceland itself is a volcanic island, and still has volcanic activity on and near it, resulting in, besides volcanoes, hot springs, warm lagoons, and geysers. On an alien planet, with these features widespread, it would be possible for them to dispense with fossil fuels. There is an obvious question as to whether geothermal power could provide the same transitional energy, taking an alien civilization from biomass, flowing water and wind power to nuclear power of the fission and fusion varieties. If that is the case, then this would be a separate line of development, differing significantly from those worlds which might be analogs of Earth’s development.

In an Earth analog developmental path, biomass is used for a long period, until coal is discovered and used as an improved power source. The higher energy density in coal allows machinery to be invented and powered, including mobile machinery. Coal deposits near the surface in England were one factor in why England initiated the industrial revolution here on Earth. In an alien world without coal deposits like this, or something equivalent such as large tar deposits, would it be possible for their technology to develop industry using geothermal power? Geothermal power is not mobile, and so the great advantages of coal in powering locomotives and hauling large quantities of materials, say from mines to processing plants, would not exist. This would mean the population would have to concentrate around the geothermal sites, if they were going to take advantage of the power.

Instead of watermills and windmills, it might be expected that sources of steam would be used to power mills, in some method or other. This might lead to the invention of some machinery, but there would be much less use of it, both because of the lack of mobility but also because of the lack of metals from mining, which on Earth was greatly facilitated by coal and later other fossil fuels. Metals were available as far back as the stone age on Earth, so they would be available on alien planets, if the right ore deposits were available. However, smelting takes advantage of the concentrated heat that can be generated by coal. Blacksmiths from the Roman era and even before used bellows to concentrate heat from hardwood fires and produce iron and steel, but there is a quantitative difference in the amount that can be produced.

With no coal for the first railroads, would there be any industrial revolution on an alien world that depended on geothermal power? Iron would be much more expensive, meaning machinery would be invented much more slowly and would not propagate as fast, meaning that progress would be very much slower than in the rapid pace of Earth’s industrial revolution. Electricity would be invented, but perhaps centuries later. Once electrical machines were invented by alien equivalents of Moritz Jacobi and Werner Siemens, the inventors of the ac and dc motors, and many other equivalents and accessories needed for an electrical power industry, along with generators, transformers and so on, the alien civilization should be able to develop some sort of mobility other than by animals and wood-fired engines. Because this type of transportation is much less efficient than fossil fueled transportation, the rate of progress would remain much slower than we experienced here on Earth.

Slower, but not impossible, is the diagnosis of the various technology steps that a non-fossil fuel world would experience with an abundant source of geothermal power. What kinds of worlds might have this?

There is a relationship between the presence of heat sources just below the surface of a planet and the surface temperature. If it is too hot, life cannot evolve in the same way that it did on Earth. Carbon-based life needs a fairly narrow range of temperatures to exist, and an even narrower one to evolve into multicellular creatures. It is not clear if there is even a narrower range in which large differentiated creatures can exist. So, a planet with a generally hotter core might prevent this. Is it possible that the phenomena that exists in Iceland could exist on an alien planet in many more places, but not so much as to heat the surface by more than a few degrees? Iceland is located on a boundary between two tectonic plates, where molten magma can rise to the surface more easily. Hawaii does the same, but the volume is less there and there are only few places where geothermal energy can be tapped as readily as in Iceland.

Suppose the chemical distribution of elements was somewhat different, and there were less lighter elements and the crust slightly thinner on some planet. The thickness of the planet’s crust cannot be much less than Earth’s, or heat would pass through too fast. Thus, a bit less light elements might do the trick. Then there might be many locations like Iceland, and industrial development could occur, only over millennia rather than centuries.

Another consideration is that there would have to be no fossil fuels available to the civilization, as these would displace any use of geothermal power and more accurately align the development there with that of Earth. The two theories for fossil fuel origination are the biotic one, in which vegetation is buried and becomes heated, transforming the remains into mostly carbon chains, and the abiotic one, in which carbon chains form and chemically separate, just as most other minerals separate into segregated ore bodies. However, it doesn’t have to be that there are no fossil fuels on the planet, but just that they are not available. This could mean no coincidence of shallow burial of coal deposits and alien civilization areas. With the biotic theory of origination of fossil fuels, this does not seem likely on a planet which has enough life to generate eventually intelligent aliens. So this may be the actual show-stopper on the geothermal variant of alien civilization. It certainly needs to be thought through more deeply.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Multiple Pathways to Idiocracy

Idiocracy has been bestowed a dictionary definition, meaning, primarily, a government by idiots. In this blog we have been using it in a slightly different way, meaning, a society populated by idiots or at least by people whose genetics, training or education are not sufficient to maintain the society, leading to a regression. It stands to reason that if the population doesn’t have the intelligence to maintain the society, that the governance they would have would be not very bright as well, so the more general definition implies the more specific one. Our use does an injustice to the roots of the language, but there isn’t a substitute.

This blog discusses the routes that might lead to this situation in an alien civilization. Here on Earth we haven’t yet developed any good metrics for intelligence, so the discussion has to be a bit vague on that point, but in general intelligence is used here to mean problem-solving ability. It does not mean formal test-taking ability or its variants, except to the extent that taking tests well can be taken on as a general problem to be solved, and the intelligent alien, who has the ability to solve problems, can figure out what has to be done to allow him/her/it to take tests well and then implement these ideas. However, it an intelligent alien does not choose this task as important, it will not happen, so test-taking ability is far from synonymous with intelligence. Probably in any alien civilization, test-taking ability can be inculcated into an alien without general problem-solving abilities.

For intelligence to occur in any individual alien, there has to be three predecessor events. One is that they must be conceived of with the genetic complement necessary to allow learning problem-solving. The second is that they must receive training which motivates them to do problem-solving. The third is that they must obtain the necessary education to equip them with the intellectual tools necessary for problem-solving. If any one of these fails in the alien civilization, then idiocracy can result.

For any complex skill, there is a distribution of attainments. By complex skill, we mean one that is underpinned by multiple distinct capabilities or attributes. Consider size for aliens. If they are anything like us, and the concept of convergent development implies they would be, there would be multiple genes that dictate what size an individual alien will attain. If, for each of these genes, the population has a distribution of variants, then when put together, a smooth distribution would occur. For any one of the genes, there is simply a percentage for each of the variants, and if there was only this one gene to affect size, the population would be divided into groups according to which variant of the gene they received. If there were multiple genes, and importantly enough, if they were independent, the laws of statistics can be used to show that a Gaussian distribution, often nicknamed a bell curve, must result. It doesn’t matter if the effects of the different genes were different in magnitude, for as long as none of them were responsible for most of the variation, there would be a Gaussian. In the case where one of them contributes, say, 50% of the variation, then there would be a distribution that looked like two Gaussians next to one another, where the spread comes from the genes which contribute small contributions and the difference between the centers of the two distributions comes from the single gene which dominates size.

If there is correlation between the genes that control size, then the distribution would not necessarily be Gaussian, but something else smooth and with a central median and a width, both of which can be measured statistically. This conclusion finally allows the discussion to continue. For a distribution for either of the three necessities for an intelligent alien to arise, genetics, training, and education, there is a median and a width.

In an alien society that is approaching idiocracy, it is possible that the median of either of these three is being lowered and it is alternatively possible that the width of the distribution is being shrunken. The median-lowering effect happens if there is a correlation between reproduction rates and position on the distribution. For genetics, if parents, or whatever predecessors contributes genes to a future generation, with good genes produce less descendants than those with worse genes for intelligence, then the median drops. For training, if parents, or whoever in the society trains young aliens, in successive generations provide less motivational training, then the median drops. For education, if parents, teachers, mentors, or whoever is responsible for education of each younger generation, in successive generations provide poorer education, then the median drops. These represent three distinct pathways to idiocracy.

If the alien society needs very intelligent members to continue to function, as it would in the earlier periods of the civilization before some artificial intelligence was developed to an extent sufficient for it to fill in for a lack in the population, and the width of the distribution of intelligence drops, then the society would again drift into idiocracy. Again, there are three distinct pathways. There could be a reverse correlation in mating, where those with good genes couple with those with worse genes, shrinking the width of this distribution. There could be a negative correlation in the training arena, where those who support proper training are marshalled into allowing and accepting poorer training, and the motivational training becomes more and more uniform and average. And lastly, there could be a negative correlation in the educational arena, where those who could provide proper education are convinced to provide successively poorer education in order to follow some poorly-conceived guidelines or to support some non-educational goals which conflict with the provision of top-notch education.

Thus, we have here at least six pathways to idiocracy which any alien civilization might fall into. How is it possible that an intelligent alien society could make such seemingly obvious and disastrous errors in managing itself? One would be that the lack of a metric means that the falling of capability is not clearly demarcated. Another would be that the society is simply absorbed with other questions and pays very little attention, as a whole society, to the importance of maintaining intelligence in the population. Certainly there are others, and each of the six pathways might be further subdivided as to the mechanisms by which they could occur. As noted elsewhere, idiocracy is a major peril that any alien civilization that achieves affluence, at least in a faction, will face. It could be one of the principal factors explaining why there is no noticeable alien travel in our galaxy, although there are many competitors for that distinction.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mundane Science Fiction

While wandering around in the Perez Art Museum in Miami, I stumbled over a quotation on the wall related to mundane science fiction, which I was easily able to find on the web. Mundane science fiction is a subgenre of science fiction that was of interest to a group of authors for about a decade earlier in this century. There was a manifesto generated at one point, which summarized the points of view held by the progenitors of the subgenre.

The manifesto said that much science fiction is escapism, revolving around a few magic items, such as faster-than-light interstellar travel, time travel, aliens, and interstellar instantaneous communications. It denounced, albeit in humorous language, these magic items and the distraction that they provided to the large numbers of fans of the novels and films made utilizing them. They felt that science fiction should rightfully focus on the Earth, hence the term ‘mundane’, used with the meaning ‘of the world’ as opposed to ‘boring’. They felt that the problems of Earth would be benefited by science fiction being used to describe them and also to describe, in a compelling way, possible solutions to them or consequences of them. In other words, there was a political activist tinge to the manifesto, stating that science fiction actually does help society understand how the planet and the civilizations on it will change with time, by providing some meaningful framework, with understandable characters and plots, that readers can use to interpret these changes. They listed a few technologies on the horizon or even closer than that which would make excellent contexts for changes in society and whose implications might not be obvious except for the spotlighting that competent science fiction writings can provide. It does sound a bit presumptuous, but good authors do deserve some applause for what they can do and have done.

The same criticism might be laid at the doorstep of fantasy writers, who seem to vastly outnumber science fiction writers, or at least outsell them. Fantasy, of the magical kind or the historical kind or the superbeing kind or any of a number of other kinds also serve to distract readers temporarily from the world they live in. The basic criticism that people are too much distracted and too little focused on the problems that the writers of the manifesto feel are most important applies most directly to these fantasy writers as well, but they were excluded in the manifesto. Instead of flying through space at superlight speeds, we have flying without power through the atmosphere, which is equally magical. It might even be more distracting, as it is more closely connected with our familiar social and physical environments. So the basic concept of too much distraction might be relevant, but it was not substantiated in any way. Are people, readers of these subgenres, likely to remain wholly disengaged with the world’s real problems, or the subset the manifesto’s authors singled out, or are they likely to be energized and optimistic about the future and therefore contribute to the solution of these problems? Without some data in this area, the conclusions of the manifesto authors are suspect.

Besides distraction, they objected to the use of magic in science fiction as it proposes to the readers that Earth’s problems might be unsolvable, but humanity can simply migrate to another Earth somewhere in the galaxy and start again, perhaps doing better this time. This was the second principal objection by the manifesto’s authors. This is like a second-order distraction, in that if some reader actually believed that new Earths would be found and migration would be possible, they would not be very interested in trying to solve Earth’s problems, but rather solving the problems associated with interstellar discovery, exploration and colonization. Further in this vein, if some readers felt that aliens might show up at any minute, thinking out how to deal with them might be more important that figuring out what to do about Earth’s problems.

The authors did not seem to be well-versed scientists who made a career change into science fiction writing and were incensed about the absurdity of these magic tricks, although perhaps one or two did fall into that category. The abasement of science to provide these wonders would have offended some scientists, but there was no indication in the manifesto or any of the writing that it inspired, over the course of a decade or so of interest, that this was a motivation for writing it. Instead, it appeared to be political activism, expressed in a very unique mode. Nothing can be said against the desire of the manifesto authors to motivate people to work on problems related to humanity’s continued existence here on Earth, but the method of motivation has a lot of missing details, both in the logic and in the supporting data.

Putting all that aside, the main idea of junking all this magic seems to be a good one. It is not going to happen, and the manifesto did not seem to have the slightest effect on curtailing novels and films being made exploiting it. As noted elsewhere in this blog, science fiction writers are in the business of writing what will sell the best, and utilizing the now-standard magic of FTL drives and other paraphernalia associated with it is a tried-and-true method of doing this. It is simply not going away until the readership tires of it, and that doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead, enthusiasm for such novels and films seems to be even increasing.

As for aliens, we can only agree that aliens can arrive here only after the most strenuous of voyages, and certainly can not do it for tourism. We cannot agree that studying aliens is a waste of time or a distraction, as understanding where they can live, how long they can survive, what their civilizations might be like, and how they might travel or communicate, can lead to insights about the very problems that they contend should be the principal topic of science fiction. Alienology, as defined here and in my book, is a subject with potentially signficant payoff in these areas, as has been detailed in this blog. In short, thinking about alien worlds allows one to consider variations of this one, which does lead back to understanding our own world and our own civilization better, from a different point of view. So, mundane science fiction has a couple of important overlaps with alienology, but at least one of them was completely missed by those who devised it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Formation of Black Hole Swarms

Black hole swarms are collections of black holes, as many as you want up to millions, occupying a small galactic space, like a light year or so. Because black holes are only the size of a planet like Earth, there is virtually no chance two of them will collide. So a swarm, if formed, will simply go on buzzing around for the rest of the age of the universe.

The evidence for massive black holes, thought to occupy the centers of many galaxies, is indirect and matches the evidence that a swarm of black holes would display. So there is no simple way to tell which it is that occupies the dead center of galaxies.

Here’s a little astronomical background. Globular clusters are collections of stars, held together by mutual gravitational attraction. They look like spherical balls of stars, and if you could watch one closely for millennia, you would see the individual stars moving like Brownian motion, going every which way, and having their straight-line orbits disturbed by near stars. The central area of the globular cluster is denser, as most stars are not simply orbiting it a circle around the center, but dive into it, coming out on the other side. The denseness of the center is caused by the relative numbers of stars that happen to be passing through it at any given time, as compared to the number per cubic lightyear which are in the further out regions.

The less kinetic energy a particular star has, the longer it will linger in the center. If there were a lot of stars with not much kinetic energy, the center of the globular cluster would be even denser, as those low KE stars would be spending a lot of time there and increasing the mass density near the center. Then the higher mass in the center would pull in even more stars, again adding to the local density.

Globular clusters exist in which many stars have somehow lost much of their KE and spend their time in the central region of the cluster. The astronomical name for this phenomenon is core collapse. Essentially the core of the cluster has collapsed in upon itself and has grown denser, because somehow kinetic energy was transferred from one subset of stars, the central ones, to the rest, which still go flying out to the edges of the cluster before turning around and coming back in. The process for this KE transfer is gradual and statistical. An ordinary star transfers kinetic energy continually by its gravitational interactions with other stars, and if one gets lucky, it can dump most of its KE on the way in, and then stay in the center. When the center becomes more dense, these interactions become more frequent. Can core collapse happen by this process alone? Once it happens, and say 20% of the stars are restricted to the center, it might stay that way, but the difficulty is in getting it to happen in the first place.

Since the 80’s, astrophysicists have been estimating how long this takes by looking at the number of close interactions a sample star might have, and how likely it was that this could result in a significant reduction in KE, thereby providing another candidate for the central stars in a core-collapse globular cluster. This approach in interesting, but it ignores the fact that stars interact with many other stars at the same time. If there was a clot of a thousand stars, the gravitational force on a sample star could be much greater, and this relaxation time would be shorter. Stars don’t clot like that, but they do have density fluctuations and perhaps even waves of density. Density waves have not been studied much, but they are the likely culprit for the beautiful spirals on galaxies we see. Thus relaxation times might be much shorter than the one-on-one calculation indicates, if there were turbulent agglomerations of stars, density fluctuations and density waves in a globular cluster.

A second feature is the segregation of stars by mass. In a potential field, heavier stars with the same average energy don’t move as far out of the field, simply because they have less velocity for the same energy. On the average, there should be more heavier ones in the center than at the fringes, in a large globular cluster. This means they might be more subject to becoming core-collapse participants than lighter stars. This does not mean that all O stars are found in the center of globular clusters, and M stars are found at the edge, but it does mean that there is a tendency for this to happen, and the relative ratio of O’s to M’s would be different as one goes further out from the center of the cluster.

If an M star interacts with several O stars during its passage through the core of the cluster, it may pick up even more speed than another O might, and then spend even more time out of the core region. And recall that O stars become black holes when they age, meaning that there would be black holes preferentially in the core of a core-collapsed globular cluster. They would not be visible, but would contribute to the severity of the core collapse. Since the lifetime of O and other stars which produce black holes are quite short from a universe time viewpoint, there could be quite a lot of them there.

What works for a globular cluster works even more for an elliptical galaxy or the bulge or bar in a spiral galaxy. There is a mechanism for large stars, destined to become black holes, or more likely, already made black holes, with masses ten to a hundred or more solar masses, to have a core collapse situation in the center of some galaxies, and thereby pretend to be a huge single black hole, confounding observations. The formation of a swarm of black holes is not that unlikely, and the concept is certainly worth considering. Galactic cores are more or less invisible because of the dust and gas there, but perhaps there is some clever way of better finding and discerning black holes that reside there.