Friday, August 7, 2015

Life Outside Alien Cities

As noted in another post, in order to live for millennia or longer at a high living standard, aliens will have to recycle everything, and in order to be able to do this, they need to live in large cities, practically closed, with recycling mechanisms in place. These do not have to be ugly, but can indeed be beautiful arcologies, pleasant to see from the outside and with beautiful vistas inside as well. They would not occupy a very large part of the surface area of their planet. What would be on the rest of the planet?

The answer is immediate: Whatever they wanted there.

It doesn’t seem reasonable that the alien civilization would simply abandon those areas without thinking carefully what they would want to do with them. As century after century goes by, a question like this would arise, be thought through, be investigated, integrated with other questions, and answered, and the answer would be the best answer they could give. If it was not, after another round of centuries, the right answer would replace any less desirable ones.

They would face a number of choices. They could decide to let nature run its course, and just ban interaction with the exterior, except for observational reasons. Maybe they would have to instrument it in an unobtrusive way to monitor ground tremors or some other macroscopic signals that could not be measured from inside the cities. Aside from this monitoring, they could leave it alone. The walls of the cities would prevent any interaction of organisms outside the city with any organisms living inside the city. The city is recycling everything, so there is no dumping of ordinary debris needed in the exterior. There is some mining required to make up losses in recycling, but these should be small operations, provided that the cities achieve the level of recycling that they should. There may be some small waste operations as well, for example, burying highly radioactive substances from a power station in the deep seabed. By and large, however, there could be no interactions.

Another choice is to design the ecology there. Designing a complete ecology sounds like a formidable task, or perhaps more like impossible, but an alien civilization will have thousands of years more scientific experience and knowledge, intelligence significantly exceeding our own spread throughout the population, experience with genetics and the design of organisms, master computing facilities of unforeseeable caliber, and enough time to work with trial areas until they get it right. How they might design it opens up another question. What would alien interaction with the exterior be?

If they designed some or all of their planet’s surface with recreation in mind, ecology might become an art form. We don’t even think of creating an ecology, much less do we have any sense of how one ecology might be more exciting and interesting to experience than another. But when an alien civilization has mastered all the knowledge that it will, as science goes on and on until it reaches finality, why not allow many other things to become objects of artistic design, even an entire area or regional ecology? The ecology could be created by a single artist, or by a collaboration of eco-artists, or by some eco-artists working with artificial intelligence, or some other combination of the intelligence available on the planet.

If they designed an ecology and built it as a form of art, alien citizens might be out there experiencing it first-hand, or perhaps media will be so impressive that first-hand experiences would be boring to aliens and only tailored presentations would be worth their time. Either way, the recycling losses could be minimized. The media option would involve some interference with the artificial ecology by having sensor stations or perhaps mobile sensors, but assuming the size of the ecology is large, these would be very tiny compared to the other interactions between organisms in the ecology. If there were first hand interactions, only by keeping the number and duration of the spectators low would the recycling losses be minimal. Perhaps.

It might be that they would design an interactive ecology, with minimization of recycling losses in mind. At this point, it is becoming clear that even thinking very broadly about what alien civilizations might be like is going to be very limited and that the creativity that an advanced alien civilization would possess would lead them to art forms and art appreciation mechanisms that we wouldn’t normally conceive of. Instead of being boring, life in an alien civilization might be so interesting we cannot imagine it. In another post, we discussed the Happy Life Great Filter, where the enjoyability of life in an alien civilization would be so great that they would not be interested at all in exploring other planets. As we think more and more about what they might have on their planet in the mode of experiences, it seems this is more and more likely. To appreciate this, just imagine huge zoos, with creatures of types specially designed for the zoos, all self-sustaining and living on solar photons via chlorophyll, where citizens of the alien civilization could move in a completely protected way without disturbing the zoo creatures. Maybe each zoo would take a century to design and many centuries to construct, but so what. They have centuries upon centuries of life before them.

Let’s return to the first option, but make an alteration. Instead of leaving nature to take its course untouched by the aliens, they could have some areas on the planet where aliens could voluntarily live at an earlier level of civilization, such as hunters and trappers, or village farmers. We have already discussed that alien civilizations would have a different mode of work, where it was voluntary because intellos and robots existed to do whatever the citizens did not. Living outside at hunter level, in a large area of the planet set aside for it, could be a way that a citizen could spend a year or a few as part of what they chose to do within their extended lifespans.

Thus there are at least three options for them to choose from, or to combine on the planet by dividing it into regions. One is a return to nature, another is a return to lower levels of civilization as a temporary vocation for deserving aliens, and a third is a form of interactive or media-connected ecologies. The word zoo is not appropriate for an area with an entire novel ecology, as the zoos that our word connects to comprise some small habitats for segregated types of creatures. Are there others? If you will just take a thousand years and think about possibilities, you may get a good understanding of what life in a multiple millennia-old alien civilization might be like.

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