Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Does Common Morality Play a Role in Technological Development?

The search for factors that might explain why no aliens have visited Earth needs to be wide and deep. It is not enough to look at the easy concepts, like cost of starships or failure to originate life. We are on the verge, observationally, of detecting at least one signature of life on other planets, oxygen in the atmosphere. If a planet is not generating oxygen via photosynthesis, any oxygen in the atmosphere soon becomes bound to rocks or as carbonate or otherwise, and disappears. So, if astronomers see oxygen, it is a solid clue that life exists on the planet, and has existed there for a long time. It takes of the order of a hundred million years to replace an atmosphere. At least that is an estimate of how long it took for Earth to do it, after the evolution of chlorophyll or its immediate antecedents.

This means we should immediately get on with the task of anticipating why planets with life on them have not sent visitors our way. It would be good to have this task finished up before the observations are finished, so we don’t have to waste time figuring it out after the observations are done. Recall that understanding this question may provide us with information we can use to regulate our own lives here on Earth.

This post asks the question: Does morality play any role in technological development? If it does, and the aliens on some other planet have evolved intelligence, but they chose the wrong morality, then they never got technology going very far, and of course, never built themselves a starship. Morality is only one of many possibilities, but to cast the net wide, we should consider it.

What exactly do we mean by morality? Morality is part of philosophy, and it is also part of the credos or memes that we propagate from generation to generation. Morality specifically can refer to a set of decision-making rules that someone could use to determine how to act. More practically, morality can refer to a set of decision-making rules that somebody else uses to figure out some general guidelines for behavior, perhaps a bit more specific than the original founding set of rules, and then propagates them via some medium to the population. In other words, the memes are too general for everyday use, and somebody or somebodies try to take them and figure out more explicit examples for citizens to follow. On an alien world, we might have A, the set of rules that everybody thinks is great, and B) the elaborated set of examples and behaviors and whatever else is needed to govern daily life, which everybody might think are great, but at least they feel a compulsion to follow them most of the time.

In the early days of the alien world, there might be different groups, probably in different areas, which had not had enough interaction so that one choice of A and one choice of B became universal. We could have the north A and B, the east A and B, the west A and B, and the south A and B, as an example. Technology might be developed either in the north, the east, the west or the south on this planet, if just one of them had the right morality that somehow engendered technology development.

What type of morality would favor technology development on an alien planet? We are talking about a solo world here, as if the planet was a colony of some other planet, they would have long past technology development. The driving force of technology development is cause and effect. If a morality does not believe in cause and effect, instead ascribing phenomena to some magic influence, then there would be no motivation by someone falling under this morality to expect to do science. Instead, a morality which supports and encourages technology development must include a strong belief in cause and effect. If the support that the morality has for cause and effect is universal, the citizens under it will believe that their own future success is governed by their own behavior. In other words, a cause-and-effect supporting morality will also encourage its followers to take actions to better their futures.

What futures can a morality comprehend? There can be the future of tomorrow, or the future of later in life, or the future of some afterlife. If the espousal of cause-and-effect is thorough-going, it will imply that for all of them.

Another component of support for technology development concerns the training of the next generation of young aliens. If part of the meme does not cover the responsibility of someone to train the next generation, there will not be a core of young adult aliens willing and ready to proceed to improve their future, or if altruism is incorporated into the morality, the future of others. The support could also be embodied in the expansion of the rules by some citizen who chose to do this and who was effective at having his version of the implementation of the basic memes accepted. In other words, it could be in the A or in the B, but support for the education of young aliens, even up to young adulthood, has to be included. Furthermore, this education has to be broad enough so that technology is included. If technology is not looked on with favor by the morality, it will likely not be included in the educational curriculum supported by it. So, this aspect of morality needs to be clear, that education of young aliens is mandatory and someone has the defined responsibility for it, and it should include in it technology. If technology is regarded as foolish, or as possessing some taint of immorality, then the portion of the alien primitive society that has these rules will not develop technology.

Morality is another component of the memes that are passed down generation to generation, and it is an earlier one than the one we customarily discuss in this blog, the meme relating to star travel. Yet it should be clear that without the right choice of a morality meme, at least in one segment, perhaps geographic, of the population, technology will not develop and the civilization will stay at a low level. The segment does not have to be geographic, it could also relate to specific subgroups of aliens, however they divide themselves. But the morality has to be correct in order for the civilization to advance to star travel capability.

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