Thursday, July 23, 2015

Category Four Aliens

We have in a previous post talked about category 1 alien civilizations, who have as their mission colonizing the galaxy and beyond, and about category 2 alien civilizations, who have as their mission survival when catastrophe is looming for their solar system, and category 3 alien civilizations, who simply allow such a catastrophe to happen, and go out quietly. There is something more extreme on both ends, and this post is about category four civilizations, who lose their desire to continue existing, long before any catastrophe is happening. They simply don’t want to make the effort to continue their civilization.

This is a potential answer to the question of where all the aliens are. Even now, before we develop the instrumental technology to detect biosignatures, or industrial signatures on exo-planets, we can ask if we are likely to find any. Did they all expire from boredom?

An alien civilization is connected with the species that evolved intelligence and started becoming civilized. It may be that the aliens on some planets scientifically modify their own species in some way, so it has improved attributes, but after all that is done, there is still one species that is connected with the civilization. If it dies out, it is not like the dying out of all the species that have become extinct here on Earth. Here, changes in habitat, the emergence of predators or pests, loss of feedstock, change in climate, or other alterations can pressure a species by more than it can adapt to without some evolutionary change, and it becomes a new species or expires trying. An alien civilization which had sufficiently advanced is beyond all these causes of extinction.

There could also be sudden extinction events, such as when an asteroid impacts the planet. This is a probabilistic event, possibly preventable by advanced societies, and is not what the blog is discussing. The alien civilization simply decides to become extinct. Nothing external made it do so.

The voluntary extinction of an entire civilization is not the same as the suicide of an individual, but there are some commonalities. There is much discussion here on Earth about whether voluntary euthanasia should be permitted, and under what conditions. This relates to a situation where an individual is in untreatable pain, or is approaching death by a cause that is inevitable and unpleasant, and the individual wishes to depart life in a way of his own choosing. Other individuals choose death because of emotional pressure, such as guilt. More do so because of some impending situation, like bankruptcy, that they do not want to live through. Even more have mental problems in which they are not able to clearly evaluate consequences. Besides these four causes, there are certainly more. Every individual is unique.

There is no collective brain in an alien society that could experience any of these four causes and make the decision for the civilization that it is going to disappear. There certainly might be a master computer or network that controls the infrastructure of the civilization, but it is certainly not going to be given the option of extinction. There may be a minefield along the way to asymptotic technology that involves a deranged master computer misusing its control power and causing extensive damage to the infrastructure, but this is nothing related to the extinction decision we are discussing. This is simply a serious delay in the advance of the civilization to the heights it is capable of reaching. Other minefields are the same – no conscious choice to become extinct.

There could be a type of accumulated feeling, extending across the members of the civilization, that the civilization itself is not worth preserving. For lack of a better term, let’s call it malaise. So, if it is common for an alien civilization to transition into category 4 at some point in its trajectory forward , it can be said that there is a Great Filter of Malaise. Malaise is an umbrella term, meaning any feeling of despair or despondency in an individual. We are not talking about a civilization where everybody walks around feeling bad, but about a civilization where they don’t think much of themselves as a whole, despite how great they may feel about themselves individually. Maybe everybody’s happy, but when asked about continuing the civilization for more generations, the answer is ‘Why bother?’

The response, “Why bother”, is manifested by the civilization allowing their population to decline by letting the birth-death ratio fall below one and stay there. If the science of gestation has made sufficient progress when this transition happens, society in general, specifically whoever decides how many births to have, decides to have fewer. If the transition is before the advent of the science of gestation, it will be a summation of individual decisions by whatever gender has offspring, if there is more than one gender on that planet. Less eggs are laid, less embryos started, less buds sprouted, or some other reproduction method goes into decline.

What could cause this? Perhaps Malaise is just another name for the Happy Life Great Filter in an extreme form. The Happy Life Great Filter is normally when a society is doing well, everyone is having a good time, and they don’t want to disrupt this and use the resources to build a starship. They don’t see the point of traveling to other stars. They are focused on their earned enjoyment of the home planet they have, or the solar system they live in if they have gotten that far. Their accumulation of infrastructure capital and the careful management of this infrastructure allows them to spend their time on other activities. This means they transition out of category 1 to category 2.

What would happen if a civilization stopped at the Happy Life Great Filter was faced with an impending catastrophe, that was unavoidable, such as exhaustion of the solar system's economically extractable resources, or a hot sun evolving too far, or a nearby huge star nearing the end of its fuel and planning to go supernova? If they remained in category 2, they would emigrate, and if they mastered how to transport citizens in starships, only a few could go. If they did not want to have any remaining members to experience some sad events, like deprivation or failure of environmental controls, and the prediction time was generations long, they could simply use the birth death ratio to reduce their population so no one was left home to turn out the lights. This would look, in terms of population numbers, very similar to what a category 4 population curve might look like, except the category 4 did it without any looming catastrophe. A category 3 curve might look the same, as the civilizations in this category use such a looming catastrophe as a signal that it was time to close the curtain on their civilization.

Let’s try not to confuse the reaction of a category 3 civilization facing scarcity problems with a category 4 civilization’s choices. A category 4 civilization has plenty of resources left, they just don’t want to stay around and use them.

To be complete, a civilization stuck at the Happy Life Great Filter may adjust its population so the sustainable level of resources was divided among fewer citizens, and each might engage in more expensive activities, but this is a separate issue, an economic issue, rather than one of simply societal fatigue.

If this happened during the climb to asymptotic technology, it could be that their science of societal management has not been developed enough, and it was one of the late starters among the fields of science. Perhaps their training and educational system would go awry, and new citizens would be taught their civilization had no value. If this stuck, they would be in category 4. Or their problem could be a null in their training, so nothing was said about the value of the civilization, and something goes wrong with the updating of education system, which affects adults, that fills in this missing item in their early education, and it fills it in with malaise. In short, the population has a set of beliefs that preserve it, starting with the memes that are on the top, but also including many other ancillary attitudes and impressions, and if somehow the population gets these upside down, from some flaw in their training or educational systems, it becomes a category 4.

The only other way that a civilization could transition from its early evolutionary character into a category 4 one, or transition down from some other category into a 4, is if the population in general did not have any influence on the birth death ratio, but it was controlled externally, by a master computer or network, or by some small subset of individuals, who again were victims of the flaw in programming or education, respectively, and that network or subset made the decision to maintain the birth death ratio at less than one continuously. Perhaps there is yet another source of this transition, and it is a result of the Great Filter of Idiocracy, and the population loses the ability to comprehend their future.

All in all, there are some pathways by which a civilization could become a category 4 before they reach asymptotic technology, where such problems would have been solved. If this is indeed the case for most civilizations, the galaxy will be vacant when we start looking.

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