Saturday, October 17, 2015

Is the Continuing Aspiration Assumption Wrong?

In a recent post, the concept of discrepancies was introduced. Discrepancies are the remaining gaps in different areas of science and engineering between what the alien civilization has already discovered and invented and what the ultimate limits are. In certain very unusual situations, there could be a discrepancy that might cause disruption to the civilization, even some very severe situations. These situations arise because a particular discrepancy was in a critical area, one that led to some concentrated effects, either directly or in a cascade.

The probability of such serious situations arising is related to the number of remaining discrepancies. The constant progress assumption has been used here, being that scientists and engineers keep working on technology advances at about the same rate, and it is just that continuing advances become more elusive that slows down the rate of advance as the asymptotic limits are approached.

Let’s question this assumption. Another reasonable assumption is that aliens do not enter the fields of science and engineering which are already played out, with only a few remaining discrepancies to be found. Working without results, even if it is to verify past results while searching for overlooked concepts, seems boring. If the society allows individual choice as to what a citizen works on, there would seem to be less and less of them who specialize sufficiently in science and technology to keep the progress toward the asymptote going. The earlier that the number of participants in a field of science or engineering starts to drop and eventually dries up, the more discrepancies that are left undiscovered. Boredom seems to be a block toward the conclusion of technology advance.

The more discrepancies that are left undiscovered, or that are postponed, the more likely it is that some serious problem can arise with technology. As noted elsewhere, the curriculum of training that the society adopts for the education of its young citizens will certainly affect what the civilization does and what it ignores. But education is a technology field, and if discrepancies are left in that field, the impetus that young citizens feel to work on the more elusive problems in science and engineering might diminish, which would be a feedback effect. Less work could be done on education because of flaws in the understanding of education.

Another aspect of discrepancies is that if the reduction in effort devoted to technology is across the board, rather than occurring in certain fields which fall out of favor, the fields which would tend to be the latest developed will be the ones with the greatest number of discrepancies. If the boredom and diversion effects are strong enough, it might be that there could be enough discrepancies to cripple progress in some areas. And one area which would be expected to be later than others is star travel.

Star travel is not possible without a combination of predecessor areas being developed first. It involves, among other things, energy storage and power generation in small and even miniature sizes, materials science in areas including radiation resistance and embrittlement resistance, hibernation or long term storage of cooled cells, propulsion and steering, extreme reliability and redundancy, weight reduction for all components, navigation, sensors and reactive systems for avoiding obstacles, and many others. If science and engineering become too tedious for alien citizens to engage in, some of these might not be completed. This would mean no star travel. So, unless the alien civilization curriculum is somehow perfected to cause many young citizens to voluntarily work in science and engineering, when the rewards are diminishing and the challenges increasing, there may be a halt in progress and the civilization resting on a plateau, although a very high one in technology level, compared to others.

One way to say this is that if the early alien civilization, when it is working on technology and passing through some of the grand transitions, accidentally puts training and education on the back burner, and instead concentrates on other areas of science and technology, it may be doing itself in. By not treating this subject as one of high importance, it may be causing itself to have a later shortage of scientists and engineers, when many discrepancies in different fields remain, some of which may be important and even capable of causing the civilization to be disrupted. Thus, by thinking through the process by which an alien civilization moves forward in technology, and positing some rather reasonable effects, it becomes clear that there are choices that have to be made. Perhaps it will be obvious to the alien civilization that it needs to take actions to ensure technology progress continues to be made, and the alien civilization will properly respond. Perhaps not.

This discussion leads to the question as to how an alien civilization will choose which areas of technology it will emphasize. Who makes that decision? If it is made by young citizens, are there some areas of technology which are more attractive than others, and would therefore be preferred? Is there a feedback effect?

If progress is being made in one area at a high rate, and it captures the attention of the civilization, this area would likely attract more young citizens into attempting to specialize in it, including the best and brightest of them. Yes, after the genetic grand transition, every citizen will be in the best and brightest group, but before that, there would be a differentiation. This means that if a field is doing spectacularly well, it develops an attractiveness which brings more young citizens into the field, which would then tend to make the field continue to develop and even produce more spectacular results. This is a clear feedback loop.

Thus, without some way to adjust the interest level of young citizens, a natural feedback loop arises which can shortchange some areas of technology that might prove critical to the civilization avoiding disruptions and alternatively, not reach the capability to visit other solar systems. This feedback loop is another example of the hidden feedback loops that can occur in society which will distort it, and cause it to undergo problems or losses it would not otherwise face. Another feedback loop which has been discussed in the natural effect of the reduction in technology jumps leading to fewer people to find more of them, which will then lead to less of them being found in any given generation, and so on – another feedback loop to be sure.

This situation arises from one root cause, a failure of the civilization to disperse its educated young properly, with the needs of the civilization in mind, as opposed to the perhaps popularized attractiveness of technology in general and some areas of technology in specific.

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