Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Genetic Grand Transition and Meme Consolidation

The genetic grand transition is that period of time during which an alien civilization goes from first learning what genetic code is used in the cells of life on their planet to being able to design synthetic organism able to do anything which is within the range of possibility. We are in that transition here on Earth, and it might last a couple of centuries. Alien civilizations that are successful in technology are assumed to go through it also, and there it will also last a short time, compared to evolutionary times, or geological times or the age of the planet. It should even be a short time compared to the age of the civilization itself, if we mark the beginning of civilization as the time when the first aliens lived in a fixed site with some infrastructure and some agriculture. For us, that’s about 10,000 years, and yes, a couple of centuries is short compared to that.

Meme consolidation is that even shorter period of time when the aliens decide what goals their society will have. Before consolidation, there were plenty of memes. of aliens had different ones, and among factions, there may have been many memes, with different individuals responding to different sets. In this blog, we have been concentrating on that subset of memes that relates to the alien civilization’s plans for star travel. However, all the memes should undergo consolidation at about the same time.

One reason that meme consolidation happens is that the genetic grand transition has a gift for everyone: increased intelligence. There may be only a few genes that provide the basis for a high intelligence, or there may be hundreds. Either way, the genetic grand transition is the period when these genes are isolated, and made available to the newer generations of aliens. Acceptance may take some small number of generations, but resistance to the change will become less with each generation, as the benefits of advanced intelligence become plain to every alien on the planet.

Along with the ability to genetically encode a design for a new organism, the genetics grand transition includes the technology for fulfilling that design, which means some mechanism for gestating the new organism. How that is done depends on the type of organism, and the range of types may be larger than we know about at this time. The mechanisms might be robotic or biological, depending on the type and the quantity being produced. Aliens themselves would sooner or later utilize this means of gestation themselves for their own new generations.

Any individual alien, like any human, can spend more of their time thinking about the past, or about the present or about the future. Thinking about the past takes good memory skills, and about the present, simply attention. Lower organisms are captured in the present, and the past serves as a storehouse of experience that conditions actions to be taken in the present or the near future. Thinking about the future, in terms of making plans, requires more intelligence. It requires the organism capable of it to be able to understand abstract concepts that can be used to predict the general course of the future, or to see patterns or trends that are being expressed now or which may be expressed. It is hard to say just what level of animal here on Earth thinks about the future. Does a beaver have a plan for the next dam he will build, or is building it just a set of instinctive behaviors, filled in by intergenerational experience-sharing?

No matter where the line is drawn to define just what the minimum is for thinking about the future, it is clear that more intelligence, or a certain sort, is useful to enable it. Communication skills do not. No matter how well a concept can be expressed by an individual, the concept itself only has value if other skills are available to the individual and are used in the creation of the concept. These skills are typically an outgrowth of numeracy, and are categorized as creative and critical skills. Thinking about the future depends on being able to create an imagined future, and on being able to critically assess the validity of the imagined future.
As more and more aliens accept the gift of increased intelligence, they also open the door to their own creative and critical thinking, and in particular about the future. Thinking about the short-term future, in terms of minutes to hours to days does not require much intense thinking in many cases, but imagining the future of their civilization centuries in advance certainly does. This is why the consolidation of memes, especially those about the goals that the civilization will accept for its long-term future, only is likely to happen after the burst of increased intelligence spreads through the population.

As noted before, goals do not spring into existence from nothing, but they arise from associations that are common in the alien civilization. Once the goals are enunciated, listed, compared and prioritized, the memes necessary to support them can be created. As with everything in a civilization composed of many individual citizens, it takes time, generations, for something this important to be accepted and indeed consolidated. Giving up older goals is not likely for individuals, as they are associated with many positive experiences or feelings, and abandoning these is like undergoing withdrawal. This is why the consolidation of memes, and related tasks, occurs over generations. Each generation is newly programmed or trained by the history of the civilization, and selects from this smörgåsbord of possibilities what to accept and what to ignore.

Thus the sequence of events that an alien civilization, which does not fall into some pitfall and stops advancing, must go through includes: the gaining of genetic understanding, the gaining of the ability to synthesize genetically and implement these biologically, the resulting increase of intelligence, the direction of improvement of intelligence into creative and critical thinking skills, the merger of older goals into options and the selection of those by younger generations, the development of means of implementing the goals through memes, and the insertion of these memes into the training processes for even newer generations. This sequence, or something close to it, should appear in any alien civilization on the road to the stars.

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