Monday, September 28, 2015

Ordering the Grand Transitions

There are several transitions that an alien society must make if it is going to become capable of star travel, for more than some simple probes. These have been called Grand Transitions, in recognition of their importance, in another post. They include
1. Food Sources
2. Baconian Scientific Method
3. Genetic Improvement in Intelligence
4. Population Control
5. Full Recycling
6. Memes for Star Travel

There could be other Grand Transitions, and perhaps they will be uncovered later. For now, these six are singled out as necessary transitions. Food Sources is a label for the transition to civilization, to stable habitation of one area, dependent on the cultivation of food, or some other method of food gathering germane to the planet where it is happening. Essentially, this is the start of civilization, the living in stable cities. It must obviously occur before any others. Next has to be the invention, by some genius, of the scientific method and its communication far and wide, enabling science to begin. Further, it enables scientific thought to begin, and citizens of the alien planet start to incorporate cause-and-effect thinking, with appropriate verification, into the thinking for the daily lives. In essence, the Baconian transition affects everyone, not just scientists and engineers, just as did the food source transition.

After a great deal of science has transpired, the civilization develops genetics, and begins to improve its gene pool, leading to many improvements in the successive generations of citizens, none of which is more important that providing high levels of intelligence to everyone. Each young alien is a very smart alien, and then the scientific revolution approaches top speed. This does not have to come next, however.

Population control is a necessary transition, as without it the Petri dish effect is possible, as long as there is a portion of the population which does not participate in the genetic intelligence improvement transition, and acts to continuously increase population and the drain on resources. This could come in several ways, perhaps by an introduction of artificial gestation, by regulation, or voluntary control. It could occur before the intelligence transition, or after.

The recycling transition might happen simultaneously with other ones. The onset of this transition would be the voluntary recycling of the most valuable, i.e., hard to obtain, materials, and does not require any change in the form of the city in which the citizens live. But as the transition proceeds further, there must be a change in habitat, so that recycling can be done over more materials and to a higher degree. As noted elsewhere, the recycling efficiency rate, or the equivalent loss rate for individual materials, may be the limiting factor on the duration of the civilization. If the transition is delayed, the amount of materials remaining on the planet in available form, or elsewhere in the solar system if it is economical to transport them to the inhabited planet, would be less, meaning that leaving the home world to find materials elsewhere would have to occur earlier. This transition can start before population control, but it cannot reach completion as long as population is growing. Thus, it can overlap but not end before population control. On some alien worlds, it could occur before the genetic intelligence transition concludes. These three have a complex relationship, but they can all overlap to some degree.

The last transition, the development of memes for star travel, can occur at any time following the discoveries of other planets around other solar systems, or even before if the civilization somehow imagines or anticipates what they will find. Once the knowledge of exo-planets, i.e. habitable planets existing in other solar systems, if obtained and becomes widespread, the memes can start to emerge. It will likely take some strong visionary in each alien world to come up with this meme, and to see that it is accepted and propagated. In a previous post, the psychology that might motivate such a visionary to arise and motivate the citizens of his world to adopt that meme was elaborated. Since it is a natural thing to expect in any civilization that was stable, it should be able to happen at any time following the exo-planet observations. Clearly they are some time after the Baconian transition, but may occur before even one of the other three following ones comes to completion.

Actually, these star-travel memes are not simply memes that relate to voyaging to other planets; they are memes that relate to how the civilization values itself, or about what within the civilization the citizens single out as important to preserve and propagate. This inspiration of the entire civilization, which is inherent in the designation of a particular star travel meme, does more than set the sights of the civilization on the stars. It also motivates themselves to improve their society, and to thrust aside obstacles that hinder their achievement of star travel. Once the citizens become accustomed to looking outward for their destiny, the concerns that they may have had since origination or since the foundation of their cities, or perhaps since certain technological steps became clear, can be addressed and dissolved.

In the alternative situation, the lack of any visionary citizen who could have inspired the citizens of the alien world to ‘reach for the stars’ might slow down the changes that the civilization has to do, in other words, the absence of an inspiring figure could delay the progress of the three large Grand Transitions, and allow problems and objections to them to gain more traction. In the worst case, if the viewpoint of the citizens never makes the transition from short-term, individually-oriented thinking to the long-term, species-oriented thinking, these three Grand Transitions might be delayed so long the momentum for completing them is lost, and the civilization fails to move forward. The planet would become what was nicknames, a plateau planet.

On such a planet, the civilization reaches a point and stays there. Since there is likely to be an overshoot of technology and development, the civilization might lose some of its technological capability and slide a bit back to where it was some time before. As noted in the post on plateau planets, this might be a permanent loss, meaning they never recover, or they might decline far enough so that there was a more-or-less sudden traumatic event which leads to a revolution in thinking and a re-start of the climb to asymptotic technology and all the trappings that go along with it.

In summary, there is one gradual transition, followed by one sudden transition, followed by three gradual transitions which may overlap. Almost independent of these is the sixth transition, which can serve to turbocharge the previous three, or in the alternative, allow them to burn out and the civilization to regress in its absence. This effect is reminiscent of the effect of the equivalent of Sir Francis Bacon, without whom technology doesn’t get going. Without the visionary for star travel, the alien civilization lacking him/her/it simply plods along and most likely reaches a peak before slipping back to a past state.

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