Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Alien Civilization Categories and Their Memes

In trying to understand what are the constants of alien civilizations that have star traveling potential, we try to understand the basic constraints under which they must live, such as the need for recycling and efficiency, if they are going to survive for millennia. Another way to understand them is to try and think through what are the basic categories in which they might fall. One of those categories is their attitude toward star-traveling. We have divided the spectrum of alien civilizations into five categories, ranging from 0, voracious colonizers, to 4, spiritless has-beens.

Memes are the beliefs that the civilization has, which power its decision-making, and which are preserved as they are taught to children as the foundation of the culture. The memes for an alien civilization of category 0 includes the definition of themselves as champions of technology. The origin of such beliefs is not hard to see. They have risen from their equivalent of our cavemen to possessing all the theoretical knowledge of science and engineering, and are virtually omniscient in the appropriate sense of the word. All civilizations which keep pushing on their technology do this, but a category 0 civilization takes this accomplishment as the hallmark of their culture. They see themselves as engineers, and seek to propagate their abilities everywhere. They certainly have many other components to their credos, their set of memes, but this is the one that is emphasized.

As an alien civilization moves ever upward in technological capability, toward asymptotic technology, its memes may shift. Early on, there may have been competing ones, but the set hardens, becomes universal in extent, and possibly thins out to components that are appropriate for a highly advanced alien civilization. By the time the alien civilization gets to star travel, having overcome scientific questions that interfere with it, the memes would also have been crystallized. For simplicity, we might refer to the meme that drives a category 0 civilization as the Columbus meme. Columbus took off on an epic voyage, and was supported by those who were, initially or later, believers in colonization no matter what.

Category 1 is a bit of a problem. There are two sources of it. The difference is exactly what they are trying to do with their colonies. Let’s call one subcategory 1a. These are the alien civilizations that believe in their own excellence, and want to see more of it. They are looking for sweet spot worlds to re-create the excellent home planet that they already created. They feel they did a great job and want to continue to do so. They are driven by the heritage they see behind them, of which they are justifiably proud as a culture. This pride says to them that their history is not over, it is just beginning, now that they have mastered space travel. For simplicity, we might refer to their meme as the heritage meme. They want some more places to establish their heritage.

The other category, 1b, consists of alien civilizations that see themselves as excellent as well, and are interested in other planets to create home worlds on, but not necessarily for themselves. They see their role as the overseers of history. They look back on their home world, and with joy appreciate how beautiful it is, how diverse, how interesting, and principally, how well cared for it is. They see themselves as the farmers who developed agriculture and love their farm. They see themselves as the park wardens who have the responsibility of taking care of the life in the park. They see themselves as guardians of their planet, taking care of the ecology, and reveling in the complexity of life on their world and how it continues to evolve and change. They want to do it again. They differ from category 1a, in that category 1a wants to expand their culture, and category 1b wants to expand life. This difference may seem subtle, but it has implications as to what they do when they colonize. For simplicity, let’s use the term warden meme to refer to what drives them.

Category 2 has no such problems with multiple definitions. They simply want to survive. They are proud of their civilization as well, think it should continue, and will make sacrifices in their own individual lives when called upon to preserve their civilization. But they do not feel a primacy that drives them to colonize and expand. They do not see themselves as a civilization which wants to displace others, or even replicate itself to multiple locations. They are self-satisfied, enjoy the happy lives they lead, and appreciate that it may take a major effort to preserve that for future generations of citizens. They would not go out quietly if faced with another civilization seeking to displace them, but would see that just as they would see any other catastrophe or peril facing them. It is almost like they are walking a thin line between wanting to expand and being willing to disappear. A meme has the ability to create such a fine line, and deserves a simple label as well: the homebody meme. They like their home and are willing to do whatever it takes to preserve one for themselves.

Interstellar nomads, those civilizations forced off their own worlds, but with nowhere to go in a crowded galaxy, are the least fortunate members of category 2. They are homebodies in a travel trailer, making the best of their life, without imposing on any other civilization for too long. Without one or many early colonizers, this category would be empty.

A civilization in category 3 is similar to the homebodies, but without the resourcefulness needed to do something about a peril facing them. They have all the technology of the other categories, but do not use it for space traveling. Perhaps their memes are so tightly connected with their home world that they cannot imagine living elsewhere. Perhaps their memes became eroded during the final stage of their ascent to asymptotic technology that they simply are proud of their technology, but don’t actually want to do anything spectacular with it, like emigrate. An appropriate name for their meme might be the party meme. Their civilization is at a party provided by the abundant resources of their home planet or solar system, and when the party is over, it’s over. Acceptance of fate is another way to describe them, they are simply fatalistic and when something happens, it’s simply part of their segment of history to accept it. They were lucky initially to have arisen in such a place, and like all luck, it ran out. Their game is over.

Down in category 4, the civilization is not proud of itself, and instead individuals are proud of themselves. When they discuss the future, it is short-term, connected with their lives, not of the life of their civilization. Their history is not a heritage for them, but a context in which to live individual lives, and if those lives do not involve taking actions to preserve the civilization, then they don’t. Civilization gradually wanes and disappears. Perhaps there is some resurgence, but if the memes have taken hold and do what memes do, the population simply shrinks, while still enjoying itself. We might call this meme the individual meme. It would not be appropriate to call it the despair meme, as the members of the civilization do not despair about their civilization, they simply do not think of it as an entity or if they do think of it, as an entity worth preserving. All the triumphs of technology are simply part of the context of their lives, not something to inspire them to use it to explore the galaxy, or even to continue to exist as a group. Nobody is committing suicide, they are committing extinction.

Perhaps elaborating on the five or six different categories that we might find alien civilizations in assists in understanding some details of what steps they would take and what evidence they would display, or in the case of category 4, leave behind, which we might somehow and someday detect. Thinking about them clearly, along with possible Great Filters of the various batches already listed, may get us further forward in figuring out where all those pesky aliens are.

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