Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Will to Survive as a Species

The English language needs a word for this concept. There even isn't any good word for the will to survive as an individual, except perhaps self-preservation. Maybe by analogy, species-preservation is the best choice. A Latin or Greek word might be just what is needed. But there does not seem to be one. The concept of species did not exist back in ancient Greek and Latin times, so it is hard to see how such a word would come to exist. The Greeks and Romans did think of survival, but since the world was so divided into factions at that time, they would have thought of the survival of a faction of the human species, rather than the survival of any species by itself.

There is some vagueness in the concept itself. Will is something usually associated with a conscious mind, and the species doesn’t have a single mind, just a collection of them in the bodies of the members of the species. So the concept itself might mean that the individuals of the species have some determination that they will act to ensure the species survives. This type of very generalized altruism is an outgrowth of what exists as a family member who seeks the betterment and survival of those members of his family, especially the children or the potential parents; or analogously in those animals which are live in larger groups, for the survival of the whole group. Some primates have been known to sacrifice themselves when the group to which they belong is attacked by a predator; scaling up this concept to the entire species is probably where the definition of this concept should go.

This concept has been discussed before, and alien societies in which there was no desire to continue the civilization much beyond the current time were one category. They were the extreme case of the set of civilizations, ranging from one which wished to explore and colonize the galaxy to this one, which didn’t much care if they were around for long. There is no confusion between self-preservation and species-preservation, although they may be competitive goals. In self-preservation, the member of the civilization wants to live a long time, as much as possible. In species-preservation, the member of the civilization wants his species to live a long time. In situations involving deliberate speciation, a different type of confusion can arise.

When a species chooses to replace itself with a species considered to be superior in some ways, what actually is the thing that is being preserved? There is continuity in the civilization, so a companion word could be civilization-preservation. The same collection of types of alien civilizations included one which wanted to promote life on other planets, and another possible type specialized in intelligent life. Yet another wanted to make their civilization available on other planets, and there may be different forms of life which could accept it.

On this side of the genetic grand transformation, it is hard to think very deeply about these variations, although they may be one of the more common topics in an alien civilization when they are in the stage of deciding on what memes will guide their civilization through the next millennia. Thus there are five variations on this theme. The alien civilization may decide on preserving and possibly promoting elsewhere: their species, an improved species based upon theirs or perhaps several ones tailored to different planets, their civilization meaning their technology, intelligence in general, and life in general. Five choices can be made, and there are likely many variations upon these.

One way to look upon this panoply of directions an alien civilization may take is to consider it as an elimination process. Any species which does not choose species-preservation or one of its offshoots will not survive. They will eventually fall victim to some peril their own planet will face, be it planetary in origin, stellar or galactic, or arising from some Great Filter they encounter. Only those species which have the goal to avoid these things and continue to survive will.

The difference in self-preservation and species-preservation is simple. An alien civilization whose members are solely concerned with self-preservation will do fine in the very short run, as each individual member of the society seeks to pass through whatever problem the civilization encounters. But they make decisions based on their own situation, and do not concern themselves with either the initiation of future generations nor the ability of these future generations to survive and continue the species. It is short-term thinking versus long-term thinking.

In short, a civilization whose individuals are largely concerned with self-preservation will make decisions differently. In a very obvious example, why would a civilization worry about recycling materials which will not run out for ten more generations? No member of the civilization is threatened. There may even be some minor negative consequences of doing so. Exactly the opposite happens with a civilization which is based on some variant of species-preservation.

This is simply one more way of coming to appreciate the value of memes to an alien civilization. These memes can control whether the thinking of the individual members of the civilization is based on short-term, i.e., their own individual, needs and desires, or on long-term things, such as what members of the civilization will need and desire many generations hence. If the memes to develop long-term thinking are not built into the society in such a way that each generation learns them and adopts them, and ensures that the next generation receives the same treatment, the society sets itself up to become extinct, or reduced to some primitive level of living standards. Memes may not sound important when discussed in abstract, but examples show that they are critical to one thing, the long-term survival of the species, or some extracted consideration of the species such as the five possibilities listed above. If the alien civilization does not realize the need for them, expecially during the formation years around the genetic grand transition, it is on the road to extinction.

Extinction situations or reduction situations in which the alien civilization reverts to barbarity or close to it may not happen in short periods compared to the inter-generation time, but they will in short periods compared to the age of the planet or the time needed for life to evolve from chemicals. So, if we were to consider why aliens have not visited us, we might think that on most planets which have lasted for millions of years, there was plenty of time for any civilization which grew up there to become extinct, for the reason that they did not plan for the long-term survival of their own species.

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