Sunday, August 23, 2015

Survival Memes in Alien Civilizations

Several posts have talked about the memes than an alien civilization might have regarding star travel [here, here, here, here, here]. These star travel memes are only one component of the whole complex of memes that the civilization must have to define how individuals behave and how the society as a whole makes decisions. Another meme closely related to the star travel meme is the survival meme, and in fact, they overlap.

Category 0 alien civilizations are characterized by a desire to colonize other planets by planting colonists from their planet on them, and establishing a clone of their home world there. There is no doubt that these civilizations highly respect their own civilization and their own citizens, and regard them so highly they want to produce more of them. Their survival meme is as strong as it can be. They might be called the predators of the galaxy, but they do not seek to eliminate other civilizations as a goal. Instead, other civilizations are simply impediments to their propagation of themselves, like a lack of resources or an unpleasant climate on a planet.

The survival meme also impacts other decisions beyond that of colonization and star travel. On their home planet, and on each successful colony world, they would have to decide how to preserve themselves for the long term. They would be the most aggressive in taming climate change, for example, seeking to control the climate of the world and preventing such things as ice ages by tampering with the atmosphere. When a problem occurs on their home world or on one of its clones, they do not have the option of emigrating to another planet. They are already doing that, but not for emigration, for colonization. This means that they would seek to survive on their planets for the longest possible duration, or on other planets in their solar system.

Some of the implications of that decision should be discussed, and will be. One relates to population size, and the tradeoff between resource consumption, minimized as much as possible by extensive recycling, and the total number of citizens. This tradeoff is actually tripartite, as it also relates to the living standards the civilization chooses for itself. Of course they would be optimized, so that a given choice of living standards would be done with the minimal use of energy and resources, but once that optimization is done, the stark realities of the tradeoff between population, resource consumption and energy consumption, and living standards stand totally exposed.

Category 1a civilizations seek to clone their culture, independently of their physical form, onto other planets. The difference between a category 1a colonized world and a category 0 colonized world is not in technology, it would be the same, but in the form of the population. Category 1a would be happy to modify their own form to adapt to a different planet or to genetically create something that was optimal to another world. This means they are somewhat more open to a choice of planets for colonies. Whether that implies they might leave a planet with a wholly robotic civilization needs to be discussed further.

The survival meme for an alien civilization of category 1a is not as strong as for category 0. They do not necessarily seek to maintain their existence on their origin world, as long as their advanced culture has already been spread to other planets. They have not the slightest interest in voluntarily casting themselves into extinction, but may not make any extreme sacrifices to carry on surviving on the home world. Their view is of the whole galaxy, and if one planet becomes uninhabitable, even their own, that is sad but the galaxy wide civilization is not greatly affected, any more than losing one city on a world with a great many would be.

Category 1b civilizations are not so in love with their own civilization, but with the existence of biological life. Their colonies are plateau planets which have failed to develop, and which they can make some changes to so that life will continue to prosper. They are diametrically opposed to colonization of the type that category 0 proposes, in regard to worlds where life has gotten started, or could have gotten started. Their perspective is extremely long, as evolution on a planet occurs over billions of years, unless accelerated by seeding. Their attitude toward survival is not as tightly connected to their star travel meme as categories 0 and 1a. They could have the very strongest meme for survival, and if their home world went into jeopardy, they would face a conflict between their desire to allow life to flower by itself, perhaps with some assistance, and the need to take over a whole planet to replace their home planet. How that conflict works out is not dictated by the details of their choice of category 1b for star travel.

If the first civilization in some neighborhood of the galaxy developed a category 1b civilization, how would it react to the emergence of a category 0 on some planet near them? Would they regard it as a form of life and do nothing while it colonized worlds, perhaps some that the category 1b civilization had seeded long before? Would they seek to intervene with it before it did any colonization, and how would the intervention go? Would it be solely restricted to trying to change the star travel meme of the category 0 civilization or would stronger measures be employed?

A category 2 civilization is simply concerned with having a home planet. They do not want to colonize the galaxy, but simply to have somewhere to move if their planet is threatened, as all planets are, sooner or later. Do they survey the surroundings and attempt to do something to plan for this event, and somehow stake a claim to their backup planet or planets? They have a strong survival instinct, and would likely take whatever actions are needed to ensure that they have somewhere to go. Just how an alien civilization would prepare for a migration at some distant time in the future is an interesting question, as is what lengths they might go to so that the planet they regard as their lifeline does not develop in a way that would interfere with their plans.

A category 3 civilization does not travel the stars, because of a voluntary decision. They can have less of a strong instinct for survival as a category 2 and may make plans for their own demise, as a civilization, in a comfortable way. Any alien civilization past asymptotic technology is in control of its own population count, as gestation is something under technological control. Extinction merely means turning off the gestation machines. And category 4 is not really a star-traveling civilization, nor even one which has any instinct for survival, at least long term. The idea of having a colony planet around a different star would seem weird to them, as they have no meme for doing such things, nor do they place much value on technology or on life itself. How can a civilization develop such a meme? The answer is not that they develop such a meme, but that they lose the memes they might have had before. Category 4 is the end result of a civilization which, for some reason, has a societal failure of some kind, and loses the meme it once had, perhaps gradually allowing it to be forgotten. Any other category of alien civilization can suffer meme decay, and wind up as a category 4. How this might happen deserves to be discussed separately.

The mix of beliefs that an advanced alien civilization has, in regard to star travel, is closely intertwined with what they wind up valuing about themselves. Understanding how they get to that point is a subject that determines what we might find in the galaxy, should we ever gain the capability of detecting the signatures of other civilizations.

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