Saturday, August 15, 2015

Technological Determinism

Technological Determinism is a word pair first used by the American sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, about the turn of the twentieth century. It stands for the belief that technology strongly affects social arrangements and behavior, and even that it determines them to a degree. It has been espoused by several other economists and sociologists, and criticized by many as well. There can be many examples of the effects of certain technological inventions on how society is organized, how the military functions, how social classes are determined, how people communicate, and how people interact with media. One example that is almost pervasive today is the alteration of behavior caused by the invention of cellular telephones and especially the latest versions of them. It has changed the degree of influence that peer groups have and reduced the influence that traditional sources have, such as parents and authorities.

This blog is based in part on the idea that technological determinism will hold in alien cultures as well, and furthermore, that technology will be a very strong influence. As society becomes more and more distant from the earlier eras of tribes, of agricultural dominance in employment, and of industrial facilities, technology would occupy more and more of a place in how aliens would behave. Technology would strongly shape their interpersonal behavior, but also many more aspects of society, such as what their goals would be, how they would be governed and politically organized, how they would produce and consume and how they would live.

The blog focuses on alien civilization much further advanced in technology than Earth is, and consequently, such a civilization would be more influenced by technology and easier to understand and interpret, provided that the technology of their era could be predicted. There are good grounds for predicting what technology will be capable of on such a planet and at a time long after the era of science ended with a completion of gathering knowledge and deducing theories about the operation of all aspects of life and everything else. The end of the course of technology is easier to determine by far than questions of which component reaches what state first, and what delays might occur in the progress from early technology to the finality of technology development. Thus, technological determinism as applied to an alien civilization long past the time when technology was being explored should be far, far easier than attempting to project to some middle time. The end state is determined by the limitations of the laws of nature, not by the absence of understanding. Understanding of all aspects of technology, and of alien life, is assumed, although some options still remain. These can be enumerated and explored.

Thus, Veblen’s technological determinism is a more powerful tool when applied to advanced alien cultures than when applied to a society that was in the process of changing its technology, and when technology was spreading non-uniformly through society. The blog is devoted to alien civilizations that have the capability of conducting star travel, which implies a high level of technology. It is not specifically devoted to determining how an alien civilization might make its first flight out of the solar system it was born into, but how it would conduct spaceflight after it had mastered all the technology necessary for it.

Furthermore, it is concerned with alien civilizations that had lasted for millennia a least, and even with those that have lasted millions of years. The length of time that a civilization exists poses some constraints on it, and these can be thought through and explored as well. Coupling the long time of existence with technology implies that technological developments are well into the past in these civilizations. This also means that the civilizations have already gotten over any shocks that new technology might impose on them, that they have had plenty of time, centuries, to figure out how to adapt their civilizations to the ultimate in technology, and that they have continued to use it to their own benefit.

Another assumption is that the alien civilizations have stabilized themselves. This is barely an assumption, and might be considered a deduction, as technology applied to the aliens themselves and to their political, economic and social arrangements would have showed them the optimal way to behave and organize themselves and their society. The assumption has the side effect of assuming that, knowing how to behave optimally, they adhere to it more or less. This assumption allows deductions to be made about many aspects of the arrangements made within an alien civilization.

Thus, this blog proposes that the way to understand why we see no aliens will be clarified by developing an understanding of what alien civilizations might look like, how they might think about star travel, how star travel might affect their civilizations, how they might organize it, and especially, why they might want to do it or might want to avoid it. Thinking about these aspects of alien star traveling allows some deductions about whether the non-appearance of aliens, or even evidence of them, might be explained in terms of their societies, for example, the extinguishing of any interest in other planets or the negation of any proposals to do star traveling based on a cost-benefit analysis or some other decision made by the civilization as a whole, coming from its internal needs and wants.

Once this assessment is done, it can be integrated with and compared to other causes for the non-appearance of aliens, relating to the difficulties of space flight, the likelihood that these civilizations would have met their end before they reached the capability of space flight, and especially that there are factors or phenomena which would prevent an alien civilization from existing at all, except in very rare cases. The last set of causes and the first set, being evolutionary barriers and societal barriers, form a continuum of the pathway from bare planet to first star ship, or first capability of star ship. Organizing the possible causes in this way provides a neat and tidy way of organizing thinking in this area. Furthermore, it also allows the interaction of the thinking about travel barriers and external barriers with this pathway to be carefully elucidated. Hopefully, the four classes of barriers can be made complete.

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