Sunday, October 4, 2015

Solar Systems with Two Alien Civilizations Part I

Solo planets is the term used in this blog for planets that can originate life without being seeded or transformed in any way. They have all the conditions for life origination, whatever they wind up being. We have some hypotheses which have solo planets requiring an ocean with a source of chemical energy and with a stew of complex organic compounds such as amino acids. These planets do not necessarily originate intelligent life, as there could well be some conditions, either preexisting or having to come into being after the origination of the simplest life, which determine if a successful solo planet will complete its run of life and get to the first intelligent creatures. Examples of the Great Filters that halt the evolution of life at an early plateau are the lack of the right photon spectrum for photosynthesis to take place, or the lack of land surface not covered with ice, and many others.

These planets, solo planets which originate life and then evolve it to some sort of intelligent organism, may be fairly rare. Since we don’t yet fully understand the origination of life process, or processes if there are multiple ways in which life can start, it is hard to figure out how many planets there are which can do it. Despite this knowledge gap, here we look at solar systems in which there is not one but two originations of life, and at about the same time. Just square the probability that it happens once and you have the probability that it happens twice, and then multiply by a small number that represents how hard it is to get simultaneity. Fairly small, for sure.

There are two obviously different situations possible. One is that there are two planets in the right zone, with all the right conditions, and they both originate life. Perhaps the life is very different, even with a different DNA coding, or if life is sufficiently ingenious, one or both with something other than DNA as the coding template. There are orbital stability questions, if the origination zone is very narrow, but it might be wider if one of the planets, the one with the larger star-planet radius, is a bit bigger and has retained greenhouse gases in its atmosphere, which bring it to the right temperature. The other might be smaller, and retains enough atmosphere for life origination, but does not have the increased heat retention and therefore, although closer to the star, is still in the right temperature band.

If one possibility is two separate planets, the other has to be one planet with two life-forms evolving intelligence. Two separate continents might do the trick, with microbial life, and perhaps many stages of early life evolving when there was a land bridge, but then when continents do what continents do, and split apart and drift to the opposite side of the globe, individual evolution can take place. On Earth, we are still in that primitive stage of science where we don’t know all the routes that the origination of intelligent life can take, and in fact, we are not too sure about the one that we took. Thus, we can legitimately speculate that these two life-forms might be rather similar, maybe they look like us or maybe not or they could be very distinct. What is important is that they do not develop trans-oceanic transportation too early so that one doesn’t exterminate the other. Perhaps the continents are smallish, and there aren’t any others, so any early explorers of the ocean from either continent would come back empty-handed, and discourage further exploration.

Now what happens? We have set the stage for an alien encounter right in one solar system, or maybe even on one single planet. This is like a thought laboratory for considering the various options, and perhaps seeing a way to understand interstellar encounters, if there have ever been any, in the light of interplanetary or intercontinental ones.

What might happen? In the interplanetary situation, there is no meeting until one develops space flight to the level necessary to send a probe to another planet. However, it is likely that the ability to observe other planets accurately might have developed before the ability of rocket flight. Alien-made evidence of civilization might not be visible in the earliest telescopes, and if one planet was just barely civilized, with small cities and agriculture, it might not be clear until better telescopes were invented. This took us many decades. Going from Galileo’s small telescope to something like Sir Percy Lovell’s larger one may be the necessary step to the realization that the other planet is inhabited as well. If there were clouds constantly on one or the other, there would be no possibility of interplanetary observation of the artifacts of civilization, it might be that there is no knowledge of the other civilization until a probe gets there, and perhaps sends down a lander into somebody’s backyard. All the science fiction writers on both planets get to sing out a chorus of “I told you so” while the discovering planet begin to take stock of what it means to them to have near neighbors. The second, observed, planet may figure this out soon afterwards.

It is likely that the more advanced civilization, the one which has mastered interplanetary probes, is nowhere near asymptotic technology, and has not benefited from all the sociological calming that it provides. It is likely, in this early stage, that there would be factions on the sending planet, as well as hierarchies of power and wealth. Individuals on the sending planet would not necessarily be totally rational, and the ability to collectively think through the situation would likely be drowned in factional and hierarchical thinking, in which individuals and groups think through how to use this new situation for their own advantage. To restate that, individuals, both those in power and those with some opportunistic possibilities, would think through how to interact with the second planet so that their own position on the first planet would be improved or perhaps only consolidated. Others, those who have higher positions in the hierarchy of one of the factions on the first planet, would be thinking how to further their faction's position and also their assumed goals. If the faction sending the probe is the only one on the planet at that instant capable of doing so, their memes for interaction with others might be called upon, or created on the spot. They would have nothing to build these memes on other than their interaction with the aliens in other factions, on their own planet. If the world had progressed to a peaceful place prior to the interplanetary probe, then the general idea of peaceful interaction with aliens on the second planet would likely be one of the strong contenders for a policy. If instead, the factions were still sparring with one another, even involving war or economic exploitation, it would serve as a paradigm for the interaction with alien on another planet.

So, to summarize the observation, the first planet’s level of social evolution will likely be used to govern the interaction with the second planet, or more specifically, the level of social evolution of the faction than first invented interplanetary probes would provide the pattern of interaction.

These modes of interaction would be terribly limited by the inability of the leading faction of the first planet to do much interaction immediately following the discovery of civilization on the second planet. An interplanetary probe would likely be a strain for the technology of the first planet, and so sending a delegation there would take many years of planning, designing, building and testing a larger craft. Simultaneously, other factions, if there were any comparable to the one that built the first probe, would be undertaking crash programs to copy that capability so that the leading faction would not gain even more ascendancy from the results of their interplanetary interactions with aliens from another planet.

There would likely be a maelstrom of discussion of what to do about the discovery and how to interact with the aliens. Without asymptotic technology in any of the fields that would help, such as sociology, the inhabitants of the first world would have to try and figure out how to interact, and with little other than their own history to base this plan on, they would have to try and sort out some principles or some policies and gain acceptance of them.

On the other side, the inhabitants of the second planet would be forced into interacting with the coming probes and populated vessels based on even less experience. They could be anywhere on the technological pathway from the first grand transition, agriculture, or even before it, all the way up to a level not much below that of the first planet, although this would be a coincidence even more unlikely than all the others we have postulated for this thought experiment. Recall that the transition from basic tool-using and communication, which is the criteria for calling a civilization intelligent, up to the first cities took homo sapiens something like a million years, while the citification took only ten thousand. So, the likelihood of similar levels is a one in a hundred chance.

Since this is an interesting topic, let’s discuss it in another post.

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