Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Grand Transitions in Alien Civilizations

When an alien civilization starts out on a solo planet, where life has originated from primordial chemicals, it reaches the stage of intelligence with certain baggage that is carried along as a part of its evolution. As noted before, intelligence is not literacy or numeracy, it is the ability to solve the problems posed by the environment in which they live. This type of problem solving is what drives evolution to choose more intelligence over less intelligence, and to eventually come up with literacy and numeracy. Some of this baggage is in the form of a resistance to change, and if the resistance to change is sufficiently strong, it could derail progress toward asymptotic technology. This might lead to two unpredictable situations. One is that an alien civilization moves forward with the technologies which enable it to survive and learn starship technology, but miss out on the technologies in psychology, education and others which allow it to stabilize its society. The other is that is just falls flat, stops developing in general, and gradually declines to a more primitive society. Since these two outcomes are unlikely, the various issues that they involve should be separately discussed from the mainstream that alien civilizations would follow. The second has been discussed already in previous posts, where the decline of alien civilizations was discussed. But the first has been mentioned, but needs more discussion.

In order to investigate the possibility that a half-developed alien civilization might be roaming the galaxy, the various transitions that have to occur after the transition to civilization will be enumerated and discussed separately. Then some commentary on what type of issues might arise if the civilization somehow stopped partially at each of these. Most of the transitions are before star travel, and inhibit it, but for completeness and context-setting, they will be included here.

What could lead to a differential development of technology that lasts for a long time? After the Baconian transition is passed, and the citizens begin thinking in scientific terms, technology takes off, and produces a huge mass of knowledge about how to better solve problems. But some of this knowledge cannot be implemented unless there is a widespread acceptance of the desirability of the changes that would occur. These changes can be listed, and here we call them the grand transitions on the way to asymptotic technology. If they are not accepted, and the technology is rejected on a large scale permanently, this is the equivalent of a Great Filter on the pathway from mud to the stars. What will result is a plateau planet, which is a planet where there is life, but it is stopped in its progression and stays at some intermediate point, or perhaps regresses. Intelligence can be lost, and the planet can descend into a more primitive version, similar to what it was before the emergence of the failed attempt at intelligence.

This is what might be expected for most failed grand transitions. But are there any with different results?

One of the first grand transitions may be a switch in food sources. If the alien civilization evolved eating directly chlorophyll-containing organisms, they could switch to a mode of living where they prepare areas for the chlorophyll-containing organisms and seek to produce higher densities or larger numbers of them. If they are higher on the food chain, they could seek to switch to living so that their primary food organisms are controlled in their mobility, and provided with the primary food sources they require. This is thought of as the agricultural revolution here on earth, and it serves to free up citizens’ time, which in time can be used to lay the groundwork for the next ones. If the aliens for any reason at all protest against their equivalent of the agricultural transition, they can continue to live the hunter-gatherer life until something happens to eliminate them.

Another grand transition has already been discussed in another post, the Baconian transition. In this transition, the citizens gradually abandon their form of problem-solving for the more rigorous form of thinking that we call the scientific method. This grand tradition accelerates the accumulation of knowledge and problem solving methods. If this one is ridiculed and never permeates society, some sort of feudal culture might go on for a period of time.

The next grand transition involves energy sources, and can be a switch from some original sources to more concentrated ones. On the alien planet, this might be any method by which solar energy has been concentrated. On Earth, it is in types of plants and fossil fuels. This provides the ability to multiply the effectiveness of the activities of the citizens. Without it, no aliens go anywhere off the planet.

The next grand transition involves intelligence, and how the society obtains more of it. Developing artificial intelligence is one means, and developing their own intelligence via genetic engineering is another. Improving knowledge about how education needs to be done in order to be maximally effective is part of it, as is the coordination and compaction of knowledge itself. This enables problem solving to expand into more complex areas. If these areas are scorned, the rate of progress will not have a jump upwards from having a wholly intelligent population, but will stay at the earlier, slower level. This rejection seems to be self-defeating, however, as technology will continue to develop, and the ability to raise the general intelligence of citizens will hover over the civilization until it accepts it. Once the transition is made, it is irreversible. So this grand transition would likely only change the timescale to asymptotic technology. The exception to this is that if a trend to lesser intelligence is allowed to continue, or occurs in such a way that it cannot be avoided. Then the alien civilization runs smack dab into the Great Filter of Idiocracy. As discussed elsewhere, after a long period of turmoil and difficulty, it might be that the civilization gets a second chance at returning to the course of technology development. Or not.

The next grand transition involves population, and occurs when the society takes control over reproduction. The natural course of evolution is to reproduce willy-nilly, and as society expands its control over the generation of the preconditions of reproduction, it may go wild. This could lead to resource exhaustion or other problems, and having control by society in some way allows both an improvement in general intelligence, which is necessary for laterally propagating problem solving ability, and a better control of resource consumption rates. If this transition is avoided, population will push the civilization to scarcity, and will either force some solution or lead to a situation in which the problem is solved by unpleasant means. If the solution is sufficiently delayed, the Grand Filter of resource exhaustion will hit them, and their civilization will wither and never reach the stars.

The next grand transition is over the use and re-use of materials, and occurs when pending scarcity problems start affecting the most scarce materials. This transition requires the introduction of a regime of recycling. It postpones resource exhaustion, and allows the society more time and energy to solve substitution issues, develop interplanetary resource supplies, or rebuild itself in such a way that recycling can have less losses.

The last grand transition is the introduction of a common set of memes for society. This is where the choice of how to approach space travel is introduced. The previous grand transitions provide the time and the intelligence for this transition to occur, but if it does not, and the alien civilization remains divided and uncertain about what future to seek, it will be default become a category 4 civilization. There it will stay until some peril ends it, or it allows itself to end due to the lack of any values which would prevent self-extinction.

None of the grand transitions would lead to an alien civilization which differentially develops certain technology, weaponry et al, which would make it a threat to other civilizations in an unpredictable way, without developing the other aspects of technology which would bring it to a more common and understandable situation. Alien civilizations of category zero are a threat to other civilizations, but for very rational and understandable reasons. If there are other developmental paths which do this, they are not reached by something to do with these grand transitions, but some smaller scale detail inside of one or occurring between or in spite of the others. This must be left to another post, where a magnifying glass must be used.

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