Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Neurological Grand Transition and Psychotropic Drugs

In this blog, we have talked about how the genetics grand transition would affect alien civilizations tremendously, and possibly affect their interest in star travel, but would certainly affect how they organize themselves, how they choose their goals and implement those goals with memes, and many other effects. This effects are not as visible as some of the possible ones we on Earth have foreseen in the robotics grand transition, which we might understand a little better, as we are closer to it.

There is another grand transition embodied in the march to asymptotic technology that might have profound effects on any alien civilization. That is the neurological grand transition. There are many positive effects on an alien society of the development of nearly complete knowledge of how the their brains work. They can develop ways to cure diseases and injuries to the brain in more sophisticated and effective ways than we can. If an alien is injured in the brain, they may understand how to regrow the neurons and other cells that were damaged and had to be removed, restoring complete use to the injured alien. Cancer and other diseases are not specifically neurology problems, but the thrust forward toward understanding how the brain operates may be accompanied by other developments which can remove a cancer and restore function, and the same with the ill effects of other diseases affecting the brain.

Perhaps more consequential will be the understanding of the mechanisms by which pathological behavior develops in an alien brain and also of the means by which it can be prevented and if not prevented, removed. If their brains evolve like ours as associative neural structures, reprogramming them is difficult. That does not mean that it would be impossible for them to accomplish. But the prevention approach is probably where the greatest effect on alien civilization will happen. Alien citizens will not develop pathological behaviors, such as violent outbursts, greed or passion for power, depression and suicidal inclinations, compulsive behaviors, phobias, schizophrenia, paranoia, or others. But there is one minefield that must be crossed.

An understanding of the neurons of the brain will also provide an understanding of how to manipulate them. It will be possible for alien chemists to create a far wider array of psychotropic drugs than we have today. The side effects of the drugs will be determinable as well.

Now, we have many drugs which affect the working of the brain. Many of them have unpleasant side effects. Along with the development of more psychotropic chemicals to do different functions within the brain, it would be expected that delivery technology would improve, to eliminate some of these side effects, and so would a tailoring of the chemicals themselves to do this. It is probably a safe assumption to say that a few centuries of deep research into neurology will produce drugs that can perform any function in the brain of an alien, without side effects. What would this mean to their society?

Most likely, there is something in any alien civilization like individual happiness. Happiness is the production of reinforcement chemicals within the brain. It is a motivating force to make the brain remember how to have the needs of the body met, and then how to have the associations with needs, multiple layers deep, also satisfied, even though they no longer have anything to do with bodily needs.

To be more explicit, associations are the self-programming the brain does. In early life, these are driven by elementary bodily needs and instinctual drives. But concepts and attributes which are associated with those needs and drives often are not solidly connected with some unchanging future situations, but instead are connected with things that are transient and temporary. But the associations remain. Just as Pavlov’s dog learned that a bell meant food was coming, a neural network in a brain associates attributes with need satisfaction, and then attributes with attributes in an expanding set of layers of associations. This seems to be an easy way to evolve a powerful brain, and aliens may have the same structures.

Neurochemicals are the means by which associations are laid down and reinforced. They change the structure of the synapses of neurons. They also provide motivation for seeking out those things which are associated in some chain with needs and instincts. When satisfied, the brain produces chemicals that are interpreted as happiness.

Happiness inducing drugs bypass this whole chain and go to short-circuiting the association building process and the association satisfying process. They just produce some of the final effects of the processes, such as euphoria, stress-relief, calm, pleasure, satisfaction and so on. So, when alien neurological prowess produces drugs which can duplicate any of these effects, without nasty side effects, what happens? Aliens are programmed to seek these effects. The drugs provide them. Wouldn’t it be likely that drug use would continue to grow in an alien civilization? And then what happens?

Since motivation to perform the learned ways of becoming happy has been bypassed, the amount of motivated behavior, such as performing useful functions in the civilization or somehow doing something of some personal importance, declines. Motivated behavior goes away.

Can an alien civilization survive ever-increasing use of psychotropic drugs, even those with no side effects whatsoever? Can such a civilization maintain itself, or maintain its continued progress? If work is totally automated, in other words, if the civilization has reached a high degree of robotics already, before the drug use became so high, and the robotics is self-producing and self-maintaining, and virtually everything in the society is done without the participation of the citizens, then the civilization could maintain itself until some catastrophe happens. The other side of this coin is that if researchers in the alien civilization become tranquil from drug use, and cease to be effective, can the civilization depend on robotic investigations to continue their progress toward asymptotic technology? Or will it simply grind to a halt?

Whether or not robotics, even asymptotic robotics is up to this challenge is not clear to us on Earth. We are still fairly primitive in this regard, and do not have the basis for making any predictions or projections. However, if this doesn’t happen, for example if the robotics technology at the time when drug use expands to the whole population of aliens is not that far advanced, the civilization may well implode. Perhaps this is a common result, and explains why alien civilizations do not appear in our skies. They are all back on their home planets, getting high.

No comments:

Post a Comment