Friday, July 10, 2015

Would Aliens have a Reverence for Life?

If you asked a similar question, do Earthers have a reverence for life, there would not be a yes or no answer. Some do, many don’t, some have a reverence for certain types of life, others say they do but act as if they don’t, and so on. The question assumes aliens are more uniform that we are, and have adopted a common viewpoint at least on this question.

Let’s talk about a spectrum of alien civilizations. There may be some which are still behind us in development, although because we have only had a few thousand years since we first started agriculture, and there are millions of years stretching in front of us, if we can figure out how to stabilize ourselves, the probability is that not many are behind us in civilization. No Great Filters have been thought of that might stop someone in early agriculture, except possibly idiocracy, although the Baconian Great Filter might stop them a half-millenium short of us, stuck in something like a Middle Ages.

There might also be something on alien inhabited planets like Lucy, the fossil discovery dated back over 3 million years ago. Let’s not refer to a tribe of early hominoids as a civilization. Civilization means here at least agriculture, which means stable living, and civitas, some organized living such as a village or city. We will not concern ourselves with Lucy’s reverence for life.

Let the spectrum of alien civilizations be metered by the level of technology they possess. As technology progresses, more problems of society are solved, although in the early phases that we are witnessing, in a haphazard way with side effects abounding. Let’s not pay too much attention to aliens who are bound to their planet, but instead ask about aliens who might show up on our doorstep, or else take a detour around it on their way to somewhere else. Would they have a reverence for life?

Reverence here does not mean worship of life, but instead treating it as an object to be respected, much like the ancient druids respected animals, trees and other living things. We have much grander examples of a reverence for life contemporaneously, being those living under Hinduism and Buddhism, although perhaps restricted to the animal kingdom. Other Eastern religious beliefs and modern Western ones have less respect for life. For many people, it is an individual belief, rather than an organized one. There are political battles fought over the destruction of a habitat for some creatures, or over the destruction of a forest of ancient trees, with the more life-respecting people on one side and the less life-respecting people on the other.

Recall that as technology advances, it provides more answers to the questions about life, and serves as a unifying agent. At our present time, science is not always done correctly, and disputes arise as to what is right and what is wrong, and there are many ways errors can be made, and they are. But in an alien civilization, hundreds, thousands, or more years beyond us, these errors will have been found and corrected. Perhaps there always will be some, but they will be less and less important, and the core knowledge more and more certain. By the time star travel is being conducted, most of this will be in their past, and their beliefs will be fairly uniform, and growing more uniform as time continues to progress. So it may be possible to ask a shipload of aliens if they have a reverence for life and get a single answer.

Let’s suppose we were able to ask such a shipload of aliens, on their way past Earth to some destination beyond us, if they had a reverence for life. They would want a working definition of the word, as that’s how aliens think. Know what the question really is before you answer it. Something we may someday learn.

If we say that reverence is akin to the Buddhist principle that you do not destroy it without a very good reason, of which there are few, they might answer that if you don’t destroy life, you can’t replace it with better life. It turns out they are on their way to colonize some planet similar to their own, but replete with life-forms very different from theirs. They are going to sanitize the planet, using some technology that couldn’t be described to us at our current state of knowledge, and then introduce a whole ecology of their own, the one from their home planet. They might ask you why you would ask such a question, as it is clear that the native lifeforms have no value to anyone. With a different DNA, they couldn’t be eaten or fed to animals. They use up the land space and some are violent. Why not cleanse the planet and make it a wonderful place to live? Billions of aliens will be able to live there. There will be plenty of life around when they are finished establishing their own form of it.

It could be the answer is the opposite, that they have just about figured out all biology, microbiology, and sixty other specialties, and to verify they got it all right and can close up the book, they are going to the only known planet in the galaxy that has developed a complete ecology with a different DNA. They know the galaxy very well, having explored it already, mostly remotely.

A third answer could be that they have only been able to find one barren planet that meets their needs for colonization, and they are traveling to it to begin the process. They excluded all the inhabited ones, even where the creatures are different from them from cell to organ.

These answers all have the same root, despite being different entirely. They are all an answer to the question of why do you do something, what is the basis for your civilization’s decisions as to what you will do. What is the value to the alien civilization of taking a particular course of action? There is no altruism in any of the answers. Excluding habited planets from colonization might be done because life is so tenacious it cannot be removed, once established.

Altruism is an emotion, just as is greed, a lust for power, a desire to injure others, or a desire to save them. As neurology and psychology, and the associated and follow-on sciences, along with the engineering of the brain, become fully understood, the capacity for a particular emotion will occur only when designed in. Previous blogs have talked about advances in understanding of what educates us, what conditions us, what steers us, and what motivates us becoming available, and becoming used. Fully successful psychology meaning an understanding of how to prevent anti-social behavior and ensure society is not disrupted by it but it also means an understanding of how to instill or not instill other emotions is known. And as a society becomes more technologically advanced, it becomes more rational. Emotions, less; rationality, more.

Nowadays, it is common for people to answer questions about why they are doing something or taking some significant decision by saying they feel like it, or it seems the right thing to do, or they like it. But as society becomes more rational, as forced to by the progressive adoption of technology in every single scientific field, the answers will be more based on utility, consequences, and logical deduction.

So, the underlying answer that the shipload of aliens would give to that question is that they have as much reverence for life as makes rational sense, and what makes rational sense depends on what they have found out about the costs and benefits of treating other forms of life in different ways. We haven’t found out yet what the tradeoffs for leaving inhabited planets alone are. It may be able to be deduced now or it may have to wait for more technology has been unveiled. Then we will know that asking aliens about a reverence for life was not the best way to phrase the question.

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