Sunday, September 13, 2015

Is the Human Zoo Feasible?

One, perhaps facetious, answer to the blog’s question of why aren’t there any aliens here is that they are here, and we are being kept in a zoo for them to watch. It seems this is based on one of the standard fallacies of science fiction, which is that aliens are just like us in most ways, except they have technology for star flight and weapons, and are likely to be evil in one or more ways. With this fallacy in place, it is possible to create interesting dramas, reminiscent of conflicts between two human groups, except in science fiction, the alien group looks very different. It would be possible to write science fiction which has very different concepts for aliens, but this would not allow potential readers to recognize and feel familiar with the dynamics of the conflict.

The human zoo concept is based on two propositions: one, that aliens would find us amusing or interesting or informative or something else that would motivate them to want to watch us; two, that watching us is something that makes economic sense.

The first proposition needs to be explored by thinking through what else the aliens have to watch and then to determine if the process of watching us would provide them any benefit whatsoever. On the first portion of the first proposition, consider that alien technology has zoomed forward so that they already have two things we do not. One is the ability to simulate anything and display the simulation and the other is media beyond what we can do. Knowing genetics and neurology allows them to create a simulation of any type of creatures that they want to, and the simulation could show interesting events only, instead of watching something in real time when almost nothing happens for long intervals. Why watch humans doing their, rather ordinary, real lives when they could watch any type of creatures interacting much more ferociously or cleverly or strategically or foolishly or anything that might be amusing to the alien mind. Does clothing interest aliens? A simulation allows the most splendid garments to be conceive, by some master computer, and creatures of any sort could wear them. Do thrills interest aliens? A simulation allows the depiction of any sort of creatures taking whatever risks an artificial intelligence powered computer could think up. Does hand-to-hand combat interest aliens? A simulation could show two different types of creatures engaged however they might, with close-ups to please the spectators. Probably this is more interesting that watching humans commute to work.

Can they learn something from watching us? In this variant of the human zoo concept, we are not for amusement of the average alien, but for their scientists to see. Unfortunately for this concept, there isn’t anything we would do that they do not already understand, and not just for us, but for any type of creature existing anywhere in the universe, or that they have created somewhere.

The concept of how aliens might use the exterior of their cities was explored in another post. One idea was that alien eco-artists would compete by designing complete eco-systems and then using genetic engineering to build the creatures. The artists might compete on the basis of how intriguing the dominant creatures might be, how they interacted, how they lived, or how they fed, or on the basis of the complexity of the food web, or on details of the individual creatures, as how they were pollinated or absorbed energy or formed symbiotic relationships, or gave chase or anything at all. So, outside the cities there would be a form of zoo which is no longer a zoo, but an artistic form. Nature raised to an art form, so to speak. Compare observing this with seeing how humans spend their evenings watching television.

There is simply no way that anything on planet Earth would compare with what was readily available on the alien planet or on any other planet inhabited by other aliens of equivalent intelligence. There is nothing to learn here that they do not already know.

The second proposition relates to economics. Consider an alien thinking of going to the human zoo on Earth. His planet is a long, long distance away. Suppose it is 10 or 100 or 1000 light years away. The alien is going to have to go into hibernation in order to survive the flight time, unless they have life spans of thousands of years. Even if they do, is it worth the expense to go look at humans on Earth? One concept for figuring out the economic attractiveness of any project in the alien civilization is to evaluate an estimate of how much energy is needed to accomplish it. Even if one takes optimistic estimates for how much energy is needed to propel a habitable vehicle up to some fraction of light speed, the energy is enormous. For an individual or a group to go on this trip would be prohibitive.

Perhaps those thinking of a human zoo imagine that there are cameras or other sensors to capture interesting things on Earth and relay the video or whatever back to the alien’s home planet. By using some brilliant robotic controllers, the remote imager could be smart enough to find the most interesting views and send them back. It is certainly possible for alien civilization to beam back signals from Earth to their home planet. A single leg of the system might be anywhere from 10 to 100 light years long, and multiple legs could make up any further distance. Then aliens could watch what goes on here on Earth, a hundred or a thousand years later. If we did something interesting here, which is very rare, it might be equivalently interesting some centuries later. However, if the aliens wanted to change the zoom or focus elsewhere or adjust the panning they would have to wait twice as long to see the results of their adjustment. By the time the message got to Earth, generations would have passed. Zooming wouldn’t really be so appropriate centuries later.

To sum up what needs to be concluded about the human zoo concept is that there is no conceivable reason why they would want to do it; there is no benefit to the alien civilization or to individual aliens in any way. Furthermore, the costs are immense, and if one were to try and do it remotely, time lag is enough to eliminate this alternative. So, no human zoo. Finally, one concept of why aliens are not here can be eliminated.

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