Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Interstellar Alien Memes

To remind ourselves, memes are blocks of information in a society that perpetuate themselves, and perhaps also spread.  For example, if you had been taught as a young child, long before the age of reason and before you had any way to critically assess your teaching, to believe a list of things and, in addition, the first one was that every parent or guardian should teach young children they have care of the same list, that would be a meme.   Among societies where there is absolutely no ability to think critically or among partitions of societies where this is true, the example meme can be spread to adults. 

Thus, this blog post is going to discuss what self-replicating sets of beliefs an alien civilization might have that would relate to interstellar exploration and colonization.  If an alien civilization does not have such a meme, they might still choose to spread out through the galaxy for rational reasons, such as economics or security.  The point of this discussion is that even if they do not have those rational reasons, they might still spread because of some credos their society holds which are considered fundamental and unquestionable.  A meme that is inculcated in children may well stay with the individual as an adult, and if it is designed well, and the aliens are suited for such things, it may be unbreakable.

The block of beliefs has, as a mandatory item, that it be propagated to pre-rational children, and, as we are discussing interstellar dispersion, that a mission of the civilization is to spread to other worlds, moons, and wherever else is a viable habitat.  The rest of it has to be self-consistent. 

Does there need to be anything else?  If the meme has achieved the level of a fundamental belief that guides the choices the civilization makes, perhaps it is all that is needed.  It could be phrased as “The destiny of our grand civilization is to conquer the stars.” It could be phrased as “The greatest good for the greatest number drives us to seek homes throughout the galaxy,” and who is going to argue against achieving the greatest good for the greatest number?  Even though it is an arbitrary choice, as memes are by definition, it sounds very convincing.  There might have been authors who expounded on either of these two interstellar dispersion memes at great length.  Stories of individuals or groups who did some initial exploration or colonization could be the equivalent of the Iliad or the Bhagavad Gita, in terms of the respect that the society shows them.  The civilization would have elaborated on the meme, and the beliefs would have seeped into all types of other aspects of the civilization.  Holidays could be structured around interstellar dispersal events.  Social rank could be conditioned on involvement with it.  In short, the meme could be the cornerstone upon which the society is founded.

Alternatively, the concept of colonization of the galaxy could be just one part of a whole scheme of things that the society accepts as fundamental truths.  Some could be consistent and symbiotic with interstellar dispersal.  They could value recycling as a fundamental part of their society, as one of the components of the most accepted meme, and since recycling of everything is likely to be mandatory for long interstellar voyages, this is wholly consistent.  But recycling might be elevated to a value in and of itself.  They recycle even in situations of plentitude.  “Never waste what later generations might need.”  “Protect resources as you would protect yourself.” There could be a number of ways in which the concept is expressed. 

Other components of the meme that would be consistent with the concept of interstellar voyaging would be the structuring of society as an enlarged replica of the command structure of a ship.  Inter-creature relationships might be a mirror of the specific type of behaviors need for long flights together: “Treat each other as if you were shipmates.”  This type of elaboration can be continued, but these two examples give enough of the picture. 

Especially on worlds, moons, and other habitats that were colonized, these memes might have even stronger power than on the home world.  It might be that there was less adulation of the meme on the home world, but everywhere else they were accepted as the fundamental precepts of society.  Alternatively, the home world could be the nest where the meme was first started and propagated, and it took deep root there. 

Here on Earth, there has been little written about dispersing to other planets outside the solar system as there was no evidence of how many of them there might be.  There is a reference in the Lotus Sutra from a lecture by Gautama Buddha on how all the stars are foreign worlds with creatures living there, but it does not seem to have become a prominent aspect of the belief system he founded.  Other than that, nothing is apparent.  But in the current century, such worlds have been detected and some elementary knowledge about them is being collected.  We might expect that a civilization developing might have Buddha’s insight and start fantasizing about interstellar voyaging long before the technology for exo-planetary detection was developed, but perhaps more likely, it would only occur when the pace of technology development turns the corner of deducing fundamental laws of nature instead of collecting detailed but incohesive insights.  We used the example of exploring our solar system for inspiration of some fictional accounts, and if an alien civilization lives in a system with multiple planets, the period when they are being explored and perhaps colonized might be the time when the meme of interstellar dispersion gets established.

As we know from studies of the evolution of life on Earth, the timescale of evolution is large compared to the interval of time when an intelligent species starts developing technology and gets to asymptotic technology.  So is the timescale for the formation of planets.  Thus the first civilization in the galaxy to develop asymptotic technology will find nobody else there, and few indications that anybody else is likely to evolve anywhere else.  This might become part of the meme after detection systems that can find the signature of life remotely bring back the knowledge that there isn’t any anywhere else.  This first interstellar alien civilization could incorporate that as part of their meme.  “We are alone in the universe and need to spread in order to preserve life.”  Hard to argue with that. 

Latecomers to the galaxy might also develop the meme for interstellar colonization, but when they do, they may encounter the earlier civilizations.  There may be a clash, and the nature of the clash might depend in detail upon the memes that each civilization uses.  One alternative is that the first to disperse might prevent others from arising, either deliberately or by taking over the world on which they might have evolved.  Again, the details of the meme might control their behavior in these situations.  This is something to be discussed separately. 

As a postscript, it is obvious that other types of civilizations could conceivably arise, for example, one based on machine intelligence and robotics that eliminated its biological antecedents, and these other types of civilizations might have completely different ways of self-organizing and different attitudes toward exploration and colonization of the galaxy.  Again, something to be discussed separately.

No comments:

Post a Comment