Friday, November 6, 2015

Would Aliens Have Families?

After an alien civilization passes the genetic grand transition, there is a cornucopia of choices the aliens can make about how they want to organize their society. As noted previously, they can opt for more infrastructure to be grown biologically as opposed to mechanically, which is the way we build it. It is the only way we can build it as we do not have the knowledge or technology for designing organisms and then creating them. They do.

There are other choices they have to make which have nothing to do with physical infrastructure. They have to do with social organization. The bottom rung of social organization has to do with families. By a family we mean a breeding pair, or single organism if the aliens bud instead of breed, or a trio if there is something that could evolve this way, or whatever. This relates to the provision of a genetic code to the next generation. After the genetic grand transition, genetic codes for the next generation are developed by technology to be the best possible, or taken from a set of the near-optimal if they decide not to have a civilization of identical citizens, different only in the experiences they have.

Perhaps some people’s idea of the genetic revolution is embodied in the movie GATTACA. There, each generation's genetic code was chosen from the parents’ genes, most likely the best combination that could be found. This is only the first, somewhat small, step of the genetic revolution. The next step is the use of optimal genetic codes for the next generation. At this point, inheritance of genes stops. One of the cornerstones of families disappears.

Another step in the genetic revolution, or grand transformation, is the introduction of optimal gestation, done either biologically or mechanically in specifically designed equipment. This is another cornerstone of families. Instead of giving birth, or budding or whatever, the next generation of aliens would be picked up at a facility, or perhaps just delivered to the home of whoever was to be responsible for them.

As noted elsewhere, optimal training and education would be provided to each member of the newer generations. This might be provided at home, but more likely, much would be provided elsewhere, just as we have centralized schools for convenience and uniformity, although there may be other reasons as well. This is another cornerstone of family life. There is almost nothing left, except socializing together, having experiences together, perhaps having some coordination of daily schedules. At this point, or even long before, the alien civilization faces the decision as to whether to maintain family units, or come up with something totally different. Like all major social decisions, it would be decided over generations, and probably implemented as well. But recall that generations are short compared to the life of the civilization. For us, a generation is about twenty-five years, and our civilization, from the first known cities to now, is about ten thousand years, or 400 generations.

It would be possible to explore whether or not families would disappear by discussing the pros and cons, from an alien citizen’s point of view, as to whether or not they should be preserved, or allowed to erode away, or simply abolished at one date in time. But an overview that bypasses that exploration is possible. The family’s essential roles are supplanted by something external, controlled and organized by the civilization itself. That may mean some master computer or distributed computer network, or something else able to compute well makes the decisions from a cost-benefit analysis, or from some other methodology for making decisions in the alien civilization.

Alien citizens would likely have the same type of evolved neural structure for controlling their actions and decisions as we do, as anything else is not likely to work as well. The associative structure we have is good for virtually anything, better for some things like recognizing things and recalling how to behave, and poorer for others such as massive computation and logic. Clearly we can develop and train ourselves to do anything, but it is not always very fast or error-free. The point to be made here is that associative neural structures provide rapid answers to situations, and also often block alternatives, which we know as stubbornness. Stubbornness is a useful trait, or it wouldn’t have evolved, and if it evolved here, it may just as well have evolved on alien planets. This means that the various steps of the genetic revolution may run into stubbornness and downright refusal to make changes, even though the large majority if not all citizens would benefit from them. Thus, like other major social changes, these changes would take generations to complete.

So the bottom line is, would aliens find any benefits to having social organizations like families. Our brains work better in small groups like this, but not necessarily families, and certainly not nuclear families. Since we are comfortable with small group interaction, and if we assume this is because of the way that brains have to evolve in pre-civilization times, perhaps one social arrangement that alien civilizations will adopt, in lieu of families, is small group living. This means that some number of aliens live together, probably with different ages and experiences, but no genetic or gestation connection. No aliens would have genetic connections or gestation connections after the later stages of the genetic grand transition play out.

This means that, for convenience and comfort, there is a quasi-permanent group of alien citizens who share an area and interact with each other more than they do with those outside the group. Perhaps there is a hierarchy. Perhaps the groups survive generations, with members who decease being replaced with new members, provided externally by the civilization. Alternatively as noted in the post on biological factories, there could be biological gestation within the living area, provided space was not too limited. This would add to the continuity of the group.

Another alternative is that the genetic grand transformation takes aim at the alien brain, as well as the other parts of their bodies, and improves it. This could mean minor improvements, say in the flow of nutrients to the neural cells, or it could mean major improvements, such as the addition of new lobes, with new functions. Redesigning the alien brain from scratch might also be a possible option. If that was done, one design criteria might be for independent living, with no need or desire for group living. This is an aspect of the genetic grand transition that has not been thought about much at all. Perhaps it should be considered in depth.

No comments:

Post a Comment