Monday, October 5, 2015

Solar Systems with Two Alien Civilizations Part II

In the previous post on this topic, we considered a thought experiment of a solar system with two alien civilizations developing at approximately the same time. The first part of it was about a solar system with two planets, which somehow developed intelligent life within a million years of each other, or even less. Very, very unlikely, but that’s no reason not to do the experiment. Thought experiments are for gaining insights, not for only modeling the most likely form of reality.

In the situation where the two alien civilizations developed on different planets, and one faction on one world discovered unmistakable signs of civilization on the second world, either with a large telescope or in the case of cloud cover, with an interplanetary probe, the result would likely result in turmoil on the first planet, as the discovery has potential impacts on much of the existing physical and mental structures that had been built up. Determining some insights as to how the initial discovery would play out is much harder with primitive civilizations than with ones which had reached asymptotic technology. In the case of asymptotic technology, there are some basic principles which can be used, such as Technological Determinism, to determine their possible interactions with other alien species. Not so with a primitive civilization, as there could be many different pathways to asymptotic technology, depending on what was discovered or invented first, and how the civilization gradually changed to accommodate the technology and the various necessities that go along with it.

Large enough telescopes to see a city on the nearest planet are just a matter of careful engineering, and do not require any political or sociological state to be reached before they can be built and utilized. A small city, of perhaps a thousand aliens, on the second planet, might elude discovery until the first probe arrived, or some space-borne optics were flown. Either way, there are only a few basic policies that could be adopted. This adaptation would be by the first faction to develop the capability of contact, and the choice of policy could certainly be affected by whether a second faction was attempted to leapfrog the first faction with regard to alien contact. Two examples come to mind. If the faction making contact is far further along in technology or economic power than any other, it could adopt a benevolent position toward the alien civilization on the second planet, provided that it had some experience with it on its own planet. The other example is when there was severe competition between two or more factions, and each one is seeking something else to improve their faction’s position. The first case, single power supremacy, means that the discovering faction has an open choice of what they want to do. The second case, multi-power competition, means that no faction has any option of doing anything other than seeking to obtain some advantage over the other factions during the initial or subsequent contacts.

Would there be contact in the near term after the discovery of the civilization on the second planet? In the single power supremacy situation, that faction could seek to isolate the second civilization if it chose to do so, especially if it immediately recognized that there was little to gain from the contact. Continuing to observe, without any attempt at contact, could be the mode chosen by the ruling members of the hierarchy which makes policy for the dominant power. This would mean larger telescopes and more orbiting probes, or perhaps something to get down under any cloud cover than enveloped the second planet, like an atmospheric vehicle. Lengthy observations might confirm the initial conclusion that there was nothing to be gained from contact.

If the second planet had only an alien civilization that was much more primitive than that on the first planet, this conclusion might be correctly drawn and allowed to stay in place for a long period, perhaps centuries. But there is always the possibility that some powerful member of the leading faction’s hierarchy could have a different idea and bring it to fruition.

The other alternative is for the single power dominating the first planet to set about to send representatives there, perhaps because that was how it interacted in the distant past with other factions on the first planet. In that case, there would be a technology push to develop space flight for aliens. This would doubtlessly open up questions about star travel, so that the dual civilization solar system might be more speedy in seeking star travel, if things worked out well in contacting the second planet’s civilization.

Questions of habitability arise here. Can an alien from the first planet live outside a hermetically sealed suit or habitat on the second planet, and vice versa? Since we do not know the limits of life origination, nor of the evolution of intelligent life, it is not possible to say that both planets would have to have around the same temperature, or radiation levels, or atmospheric constituents, or gravity, or anything else. At this point in Earth knowledge, they could be totally incompatible. If so, it would be likely that the single power faction on the first planet would adopt the observation only strategy. The implications of the mutual habitability question are much larger than arranging for an initial contact. There is the question of colonization. With mutual habitability, the first planet could seek to have its own type of aliens establish some sort of outpost on the second planet. Without it, it might as well be ignored.

In the competitive faction situation on the first planet, each faction’s strategists would be thinking about how to use this new discovery to their own advantage. It is unlikely that a no-contact policy would be the choice adopted, as there is no chance of exploiting the second planet’s civilization or resources if there is no ground presence there. If the planets were mutually inhabitable, it would be likely that the first step would be for the factions to compete in arriving there and establishing a presence. Doing so first would make a political statement as to which faction was the more technologically capable, or willing to undertake risks, or something else.

Consider the other side of one of the contact scenarios. On the surface of the second planet, the aliens in the civilization there would be struggling to comprehend what was happening in the skies above their planet, and how to interact with the unusual creatures which had arrived. There would be a similar set of approaches they might adopt, but modified by the lack of understanding of what was the basis for the contact. Without a near-equivalent level of science and technology, what the first world aliens could do would be like magic, and there would be no framework in the second world’s language or knowledge for interpreting it. Perhaps one of the strongest impulses would be to learn about the first world and all the knowledge it had accumulated that the second world had not. Individuals might seek advantage by trying to obtain this knowledge in different ways. There would certainly be an upset to the existing hierarchy on the second planet, as the aliens from the first planet would dwarf the competitive advantages that those in the second planet’s hierarchy might display. Thus, with contact would come an upending of the second world’s hierarchies and perhaps an abandonment of policies that had been created by them. In short, the second world would be headed for a chaotic period in which they adapted to the existence of the first world, and struggled to establish some sort of new identity that incorporated this new knowledge. Whether the chaos would lead to major disruption and devastation of the civilization is hard to say, but the possibility is certainly there.

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